Mythology

In my previous entry, I said that I seem to find great comfort in Star Trek during times of emotional turmoil. When I moved from Denver to Omaha two years ago, I began a major binge of the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and many of the feature films. Recently, after Mags died and as a prelude to the premier of Star Trek: Picard, I again began to re-watch great chunks of the franchise. I also re-watched the original Star Wars trilogy over the holiday season.

I have some random thoughts about Trek overall, but I want to focus on a common thread that I see running through the major reboots of our time, especially Star Trek and Star Wars.

When we first see Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we quickly discover that he is a vagabond. Far from the relatively happy person he was at the end of Return of the Jedi, he is a galactic burn-out who has separated from Leia and who is now reduced to near homeless status. By the end of the movie, he is murdered by his own son.

In the sequel film, The Last Jedi, we discover Luke Skywalker, another major hero of the original trilogy, living as an embittered old hermit on a secluded island. He voices regret for everything he did as a Jedi, feeling that his efforts made little difference. He ultimately becomes a force ghost, and even though subsequent writers quickly tried to retcon Luke’s initial sentiments in the final movie, the contrast alone signifies major tonal discords in the Star Wars universe.

Now, we meet Jean-Luc Picard after 20 years in Star Trek: Picard. Again, we find a defeated, embittered old man, living on his family vineyard in France, looking back regretfully at his life. Time will tell as to where Picard will end up, but it’s safe to say that he is not in a happy place when we first rediscover him. In interviews, Patrick Stewart seems to refer to the TV series that re-launched his career as flawed in some way.

Why does Hollywood insist in tearing down its own mythology?

It’s not a stretch to lay much of the cynical mindset of the creative community at the doorstep of current-day politics. Stewart did that himself in his own pre-show interviews, siting Brexit and Donald Trump as the key inspirations which drove him back to the role 17 years after the last movie in the franchise.

In a strange, twisted way, we can link these recent events in the fictional world to those in the real world; specifically, those of The 1619 Project, launched last year by the New York Times Magazine. IN it, a series of authors and historians claim that the entirety of America’s existence must be viewed through the lens of slavery. It is an impressive body of work, but it has been disputed by many historians from across the political spectrum. Still, The 1619 Project is now slated to be included in the curriculum of many education systems across the country.

Why are we living in a time when our mythology, as well as our own history, must be torn down? I have no concrete answers. I do think that a good deal of it has to do with the blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy. Terms like, “Fake news,” can easily be reshaped into terms such as, “Fake history,” “Fake philosophy,” or “Fake science.” In this hyper-flexible environment, it is easy to tear down someone’s reality in an effort to supplant it with another. If one’s own substitute reality isn’t readily accepted by the masses, better to plant seeds of doubt with a giant question mark, rather than allowing crystallized reality to continue.

We are eight days away from the Iowa Primary; the first in the 2020 election cycle. I have absolutely no idea where our country will be a year from now. As I age, I seem to know less and less about the real, static world around me.

But I know this. We all need heroes in our lives. As a child of the ‘80’s, I found Luke, Han and Leia to be a great comfort to me. In the ‘90’s, I found Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Data, Worf and all the rest of the Enterprise crews from both centuries to be a continuing comfort. More than that, even as I questioned the possibility of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future, I found peace in the hope of it. Apparently, I still do 25 years later.

I can’t say that I believe in Roddenberry’s vision for the future. There are far too many holes in it. As I grow older, I fear that my worldview comes closer to that of Game of Thrones than Star Trek. This is why I liked Princess Leia much better as a female hero than Daenerys Targaryen.

More than anything, I find classic Trek to be the best form of escapism for me. I love the constant rumble of the engines of the Enterprise D, the childlike musings of Data, the growling observations of Worf and the calm, paternal presence of Picard.

I agree with Irvin Kershner that Star Wars is a fairy tale. Many categorize it as science fiction, but there is very little of actual science in it to explain lightsabers, blasters, droids or The Force. Star Trek tries a little harder, but it too is unlimited by its own ever-changing rule book. I treat them both as fantasy. They have different props and settings from Harry Potter, but they are tonally and thematically similar. In all three cases, they served as fictional beacons of optimism in a volatile world for three generations.

The character arc of Han Solo is particularly tragic to me. When we first met him, he was a criminal; rakishly handsome, callow, arrogant and charming. His self-seeking nature was transparent. He made it clear that he was not rescuing Leia out of any sense of the betterment of his world. He was only doing it for money. Yet, Luke and Leia lifted him up, showing him that he too had a stake in working for something larger than himself. At one point, Han tried to run away from his responsibilities, but he never quite made it before he ended up as a screaming carbonite statue. Yet, his friends risked everything to save him. Han discovered that the price of growing up was friendship, loyalty and honor.

But his story ends with Han as an old space bum who gets a lightsaber in the chest; a lightsaber wielded by his own son. Many young men might very well examine the trajectory of Han Solo and ask, “What the hell was all that for?”

Luke Skywalker did very little to advance his own arc, even before he died. Leia could not do more to empower the next generation of women warriors everywhere due to the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, but given our current political climate, it’s safe to guess that the woke writers in Hollywood would have been kinder to Leia’s legacy than they were to the other two heroes in the original trio.

Captain Picard may yet be able to restore the legacy he holds with classic Trek fans everywhere. It is likely that he will rise from the ashes and redeem himself. He will likely do it by forcing the United Federation of Planets to redeem itself for its wayward ways since he left. Yet, if the first episode is any indication, the tone of the show will be much darker and may prove to be inhospitable for Picard’s calm, measured approach.

Many critics would argue that the time for the wide-eyed optimism that used to characterize Star Trek has passed. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense!!! One need only look at the time period in which the original series was conceived to know that there is always room for hope and optimism. When Star Trek premiered in 1966, America was in the middle of the most divisive military conflict in the 20th century. Rioting occurred in the streets of most major cities as minority groups rose up and marched for their civil rights. Every American institution was questioned and criticized down to its very core. In the ‘70’s, when Star Trek Flourished in syndication and really captured the imaginations of the public, the country also experienced an energy crisis, tension with the Middle East, a mounting drug epidemic and the resignation of a sitting president one step ahead of impeachment. Sound familiar? So please don’t tell me that the times don’t allow for hope and optimism in our culture.

Sidebar: I find it interesting that Captain Kirk’s legacy seems to be unblemished, even though the younger version played by Chris Pine didn’t perform very well in two of the three reboot movies. Perhaps it is because the character was killed off when Trek was still in its creative prime. Even though the manner of his death did not go over well with fans, he died a hero, unlike Han Solo.

I mentioned Harry Potter before. I think he, more than Kirk, Picard or Han Solo, signifies the hopeful hero of our current generation of youth. They didn’t grow up with the U.S.S. Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon in their subconscious. They grew up with Hogwarts. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someday, we learned that Harry, Ron and Hermione did it all for nothing?

Sorry, Katya, but fanfic doesn’t count.

Of Slings, Arrows and Smoking Guns

Folks, I just completed reading “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow. I highly recommend this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. The ways in which the predatory
behavior of Harvey Weinstein was covered up and excused by legions of accomplices from Hollywood to D.C. will chill your blood.

The most disturbing part of the audio book is when you hear the actual recording of Weinstein trying to force himself on one of his victims. I wasn’t prepared for it and it stopped me cold.

My one criticism is over Farrow’s narration of the audio version. His parents are both actors and he has a background in theater. It shows in his delivery. There are times when he swerves into hammy territory (particularly when immitating accents.) This detracts from a subject that should be
treated with the utmost seriousness. Despite his trials and tribulations as he battled to get the story of Weinstein’s victims on the public record, he sounds as if he’s having a lot of fun in the recording booth. This is a small nitpick, however, and should not serve as a reason not to read this impressive (if not disquieting) body of work.

For my blind followers, it is available on both Audible and BARD.

And speaking of Harvey Weinstein, God bless Hollywood! “Bombshell,” the third biopic about Roger Ailes in the wake of his public disgrace and subsequent death after credible allegations of sexual assault came out last weekend. I guess they thought we wouldn’t get the point after the first two.

Look, at this point, I have zero sympathy for FoxNews. If Hollywood
wants to cast stones at the memory of Ailes and laud the bravery of the women who came forward, more power to them. Ailes deserves the slings and arrows
and a network who cheerleads a man like Donald Trump can stand the pounding. However, the contrast in standards is pretty stark to me in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s book.

When is Hollywood gonna bring us an epic about the Harvey Weinstein years? Seriously! If Farrow’s narrative is accurate, the Weinstein affair has all the earmarks of a major thriller; a menacing antagonist, systematically oppressed women, an openly gay reporter who is the son of a celeb also accused of sexual assault, spineless network executives, shadowy foreign surveillance agencies, moles and countermoles, duplicitous lawyers, a ‘smoking gun’ recording… How can ya not love a story like that!?

Maybe we’ll get it after Weinstein is in his grave. Or maybe, we’ll get it after every single Hollywood exec and politician who took money and/or favors from Weinstein is in the ground. Less embarrassment to go with the popcorn,
don’tchya know.

If not Weinstein, what about a biopic of Matt Lauer? They could title it, “Button,” after the device Lauer used to automatically close
his door, thereby holding his victims captive.

I also notice Bill O’Reilly does not appear in the film. That is… Interesting. It’s also interesting that, despite major hype from critics, “Bombshell,” bombed at the box office. I guess the public prefers Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers over Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.

*yawn*

Pass the Popcorn

I’m gonna write about something positive because…well…I need something positive in my life right now.

On Facebook the other night, I opined that I missed the era of appointment television. This was back in the glory days when 24, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Breaking Bad all reigned supreme. I miss the anticipation of a new episode, new plot developments and new water cooler buzz the next day after Tony would whack someone, or Jack Bauer would torture another Muslim terrorist.

That said, 2019 is an exciting year for those of us who have the recent TV nostalgia bug. Three movies are due out this year that serve as codas to previous TV giants.

The first one is a series that I already touched upon last October. Deadwood was a show that was canceled before its time. On Friday, May 31, HBO will correct that grave injustice by running Deadwood: The Movie. We’ll get to see Al Swearengen and all of the gang of Deadwood one last time before they ride off into the sunset. I’ve already shared my thoughts and hopes for the upcoming movie, but of the three, this is the one for which I’m most excited. It’s probably because fans have been waiting years for this thing to drop.

The second one excites me, though not to the degree of the Deadwood epic. David Chase is filming a prequel to The Sopranos called, The Many Saints of Newark. No, guys, it won’t explain the great black screen of doom that still frustrates many Sopranos fans. Rather, it will focus on a young Tony Soprano in the late ‘60’s when the Italians were embroiled in racial hostility with African-Americans. The interesting thing about this movie is that James Gandolfini’s son Michael is set to play young Tony. We’ll see how that goes. The thing that gives me pause is that I think David Chase is going to fuck up the timeline. I just re-watched the entire series of The Sopranos and it was stated more than once that Tony Soprano was born in 1960. At one point, Carmela tells a reporter that Tony was three when JFK was assassinated. So by the time Tony was 15, Nixon would already have been impeached. I don’t know how chase is going to reconcile this obvious continuity error. Still, I’ll go see the movie and hopefully will enjoy it.

The third movie is the one you would think I would be most excited about, but I am the least excited. Earlier this year, Vince Gilligan announced that we are going to get a Breaking Bad movie. Publicists are still playing it coy, but everyone knows that the movie will star Aaron Paul reprising his role as doomed Jesse Pinkman. When we last saw Jesse, Walt had freed him from captivity from Todd and Uncle Jack and Jesse drove off laughing crazily as Walt died in his meth lab over the strains of, “Baby Blue.”

My problem is that this served as the perfect ending to Breaking Bad. Walt died, Jesse was free but scarred for life and Walt’s family may or may not have been able to live in comfort thanks to his efforts on their behalf. Those unanswered questions are part of what makes the finale so good. Not everything had to be wrapped up with a pretty bow on top.

Whereas Deadwood feels completely necessary and welcome and the Sopranos prequel may or may not work, but can’t hurt anything, the Breaking Bad movie feels superfluous. Sure, Jesse was a compelling character, but without the presence of Bryan Cranston as Walt off whom Jesse used to play so wonderfully, the story will feel hollow. Yes, I may be selling Vince Gilligan short, but he gave us Better Call Saul and, for me, the results are mixed. Maybe Breaking Bad is that lightning that only strikes once. Yet, if possible, I will be in the theater on opening night, popcorn and Peanut Butter M & M’s in hand as the credits roll.

Even if all three wrap-up movies suck, it will be a pleasure to have something to look forward to that doesn’t involve a super hero, a transforming car or a talking CGI animal. I’ll take it, and pass the fuckin’ popcorn. If you don’t have any hot butter, I’ll settle for canned peaches. What about baked xiti?

Do Androids Dream of the Boys Locker Room?

I am not going to waste precious space in this blog writing about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The movie blew bigger chunks than you would find in an asteroid field. If I wouldn’t have been bored last Sunday, I would’ve saved my money.

However, there was one point I need to address. I am frankly sick of the idea propagated in science fiction that androids possess sentience.

In Solo, a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) has an android co-pilot named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) It doesn’t take five seconds after we meet L3-37 to learn that she is an android who is on a quest; the great and universal trek for equal rights. It is not atypical for modern Star Wars to insert concepts favorable to social justice in their scripts, but even by modern standards, the character is written in a very heavy-handed fashion. She is, in effect, the Dobby of the script without the charm.

Even though Lando seems to resist the idea that droids are worthy of equal rights, we discover that he implicitly validates the idea of her sentience when we see that he is (“gasp!”) attracted to her. The ironic parallel is obvious and ham-handed; the black character attracted to a machine he views as property, just as, a long time ahead in a galaxy far, far away, white slave owners were attracted to and bedded down people whom they did not, in fact, view as people at all.

How could any reasonable viewer of Solo come to any other conclusion but that droids are, of course, sentient and therefore, do deserve equal rights. L3-37’s cause is just, which makes her death all the more poignant when it inevitably comes.

The writers had fertile ground in which to plant this particular seed. After all, the viewers on whom they tried (and largely failed) to conduct financial extractions mostly haled from a generation that grew up with C-3PO and R2-D2, two humanistic droids who, more than once, saved the Star Wars universe. 3PO was a droid who never met a neurosis he didn’t like. R2-D2 didn’t communicate in spoken language, but his series of beeps and chirps and his diminutive cuteness, made him function more as a hyper intelligent animal, if not a human.

Then, 32 years later came R2-D2 2.0, aka BB-8, courtesy of The Force Awakens. One year after that, we met K-2SO in Rogue One. Now there was a droid who really brought the tude. He might have been the poster droid for the quest for equal rights if he were not already fighting in another rebellion with some actual teeth.

Of course, one might argue that the writers don’t actually think that droids are sentient, but rather, they are using L3-37 as a metaphor for real humans here on Earth. Duh! That trope has been played by sci-fi writers for generations. Nothing pioneering in that.

Ah, but if you want a franchise that takes the concept of android sentience more seriously, you need look no further than Star Trek: The Next Generation, embodied in the character of Lieutenant Commander Data.

Any fan of TNG should know where I’m headed before I get there. Season two, episode nine. Title, “The Measure of a Man.”

Picard and company are docked at an outlying starbase that houses a newly-installed JAG officer. About eight minutes into the episode, a guy named Bruce Maddox shows up and orders Data to report to Starfleet so that he can be taken apart and studied for further cybernetic research and experimentation. Data refuses. Maddox hands him transfer orders backing him up. Data resigns. Maddox says, “You can’t resign. You are a machine. Therefore, you are the property of Starfleet Command and thus, you have no rights.” Picard, of course, legally challenges Maddox, leading to a climactic courtroom battle that would make Perry Mason bow in awe.

But wait! There’s a twist! The JAG orders Number One to be the prosecutor, even though he is a close friend of Data’s and doesn’t believe that Data is not sentient. “Tough titty, said the android kitty,” says the judge, and we’re off to court.

Commander Riker presents his case first and calls only one witness, Data himself. He orders Data to take off his hand, which Data does. Then, Riker deactivates him by flipping his off switch.

At that moment, Riker has won the argument. The judge rules in Maddox’s favor, Data gets carted off to some dusty lab at Starfleet Command and Lore takes over as the second officer on the Enterprise. His first action… To disembowel Worf.

That was in the Kelvin timeline. In the prime timeline, Picard is unnerved by Riker’s compelling case. Then, Whoopi Goldberg shows up for her one token scene in the episode. They get to talking about how history is rife with cultures who have written off other cultures as less than human, thereby making them… Disposable people.

This, my friends, is the emotional money shot of the episode. Maddox is the villain, and he’s a villain because he wants to replicate Data, thereby creating an entire race of Datas who will serve man. But Data is sentient, so that would mean that Starfleet Command is creating slaves and, just like Lando Calrissian, they are sanctioning slavery.

Picard runs with it! Now, we’re back in court. Picard cross examines Data, and we are reminded that the android fulfilled a fantasy that many teenage boys could only dream about. He bagged Tasha Yar.

Then, Picard calls Maddox. He asks Maddox to define sentience. Maddox clumsily answers that sentience contains three components; intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. Picard quickly dismantles the first argument, and no pimply-faced fan with his or her hand deep in the Cheeto bag would disagree. Data is way beyond intelligent.

Picard then turns to argument number two, asking Data to recite his current predicament in order to illustrate his self-awareness. Data complies. This is a little flimsy, but we’ll let it go.

And then… And then… Maddox starts to become unsure. Picard pounces. “Data meets two of your criteria. What if he meets the third? I don’t know what he is. Do you? Do you!?”

Silence.

Finally, the judge rules in Data’s favor, even though she admits that no one really proved their case. Her final verdict is, “I don’t know, but we’re going to defer in Data’s favor just in case he happens to be alive. Besides, we need to keep Brent Spiner around until he wins an Emmy.”

The story is over, except that Picard goes off to get nekkid with the judge, which is a task that usually falls to Riker, except that Picard has a bad history with this lady and the tension has been building all episode. Besides, Picard hasn’t been laid since… Never. And Riker is too busy hanging his head in shame even to take Deanna Troi for a loser’s lap. Data comes in and lets him off the emotional hook. “You were a splendid example of self-sacrifice, sir,” is basically what he says. Then he follows it up with, “I do not resent you, Commander. After all, resentment is a human feeling. As the audience no doubt knows, I cannot feel, because feeling connotes sentience, and I am not sentient.”

He doesn’t actually say that last part, but once these pimply-faced fans go wipe off the Twinkie crumbs and spend about 30 more years in the real world, they figure out that the writers deliberately stacked the deck against Riker. Yes, Riker won the legal battle, but in the 24th century, just as in the 21st, emotion trumps logic.

But who cares, right? Data, after all, is played by Brent Spiner, a very talented actor who is a human being, just as Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Alan Tudyk are all human beings. Just as Disney likes to anthropomorphize animals in order that kids grow up to adopt an anti-hunting, pro-environmentalist sentiment by thinking of Bambi as a human being, sci-fi writers want a new legion of budding social justice warriors to think of the brave L3-37, or Data, every time a kid questions whether he is a boy or a girl, or a parent wants to take their son into the girl’s bathroom, or someone at work demands to be called Rachel instead of Tony.

Just as Picard stops short of pushing forward with his argument because he likely could not demonstrate that Data does not, in fact, possess consciousness, the new woke Star Wars crowd should not bother to ask certain critical questions. Your honor, isn’t it true that computers can only do what their programmers tell them? Your honor, if you flip off Data’s switch, couldn’t you flip it back on again in 20 years, just as Data did with his brother Lore? But why can’t you do that with Bernie Sanders? Your honor, if I see a penis on a boy, but he says he’s a girl, wouldn’t a little healthy skepticism be in order?

And the answer comes back like a hyper echo. “Fuck off, bigot!!!”

Ok, friends. I can’t resist. Real quick, here are five reasons why Solo blew big asteroid field chunks.

5. As previously stated, L3-37.

4. The movie should have been a buddy adventure featuring Han and Lando, rather than a romantic adventure featuring Han and Q’ira. Yeah… I know. Strong female movie characters, yada yada yada.

3. It was doomed from the start. No actor could possibly succeed Harrison Ford. That aside, Han was the ultimate alfa male. Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo seemed like a wiseass college kid who acts oppressed, but secretly gets a pedicure three times a week.

2. Darth Maul appears in the movie. Ok, think about that for a second, then think about the timeline of the prequels. Does Star Wars have a Kelvin timeline, too?

1. The writers eviscerated the spirit of the Han Solo character. Han’s backstory was boring. The Han Solo we met in the original Star Wars was a self-centered, greedy, cynical, cheeky anti-hero who was ultimately redeemed. This guy was a straight-up hero whom the writers contorted to fit a mold. In other words, modern Han would not have shot Greedo first… Unless Greedo was a Trump supporter, of course.

Now that I got all of that off my chest, I’m gonna go watch Star Trek TNG, Season three, episode 16, “The Offspring.” Damn! I still get a lump in my throat every time Data’s daughter dies.

Qapla!

I tell ya what… I’m gonna say this with love and respect to Potter fans everywhere, especially Katya. There’s a reason why the Potter universe will always be inferior to the Star Trek universe. The reason is simple, and it can be boiled down to one word. Klingons.

There are no Klingons in the world of Hogwarts. You have werewolves and headless ghosts and Death Eaters and giants and centaurs and Dementors and hippogriffs and elves and dragons and goblins and wizards and all that, but no Klingons anywhere.

I’ve been making my way through Deep Space Nine, and it’s not a coincidence that the show went from good to great when Worf came on board. Because in Worf’s first episode, the Klingons get pissed at the Federation and invade the station. And you know what… Even though they ultimately stand down, they put up one hell of a kick-ass fight. Gone is the nerd dialogue and overtures to peace. All you get is a bunch of roaring, grunting Klingons marauding their way through the station.

And then there’s that episode where Worf is a prisoner of the Dominion and takes out about 25 Jem’Hadar soldiers before they finally get the point. He’s like, “Let me rest for 30 seconds and sip my prune juice, then we’re back at it, bitches! It is a good day to die! Rahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

And as for the Borg, two words: “Assimilate this!”

You know what… I’m convinced that Hagrid was actually a Klingon who somehow got stuck on Earth because of some freak accident in the space-time continuum. Or maybe Q was playing a joke on the magical creatures of the Potter world by making Hagrid forget that he was Klingon. That’s why he was so weepy all the time. I know Klingons don’t have tear ducts, but whatever.

You know what would happen if a Dementor tried to kiss a Klingon? He would breathe on the Klingon, and said Klingon would become offended and deliver a death scream in the Dementor’s hooded face, and the Dementor would be chasing his own ass all the way back to Azkaban. No question. Depression!? Warriors don’t get depressed.

Lest you Potter fans feel picked on, I have to admit that I don’t even think Darth Vader could take a Klingon in a battle. Vader is probably my favorite movie villain of all time, but facts are facts. Vader would throw some Klingon on the ceiling with the force, and the Klingon would kick his way back down to the floor and laugh in Vader’s masked face. Then, Vader would draw his light saber and the Klingon would say something like, “What a pretty toy you’ve got there, but the Sith have no honor,” before he took his bat’leth and decapitated Vader.

How many women are reading this right now and laughing at me. Well, I return your laughter. You criticize me for thinking that Klingons are all that and a bowl of gagh, but how many of you actually think that 50 Shades of Grey is real? You gals need to go out and find yourselves a Klingon male. He’d be perfect for you. He dresses in leather, growls a lot, gives orders and engages in ultra-rough sex. I won’t out some of my female readers by name, but you know who you are and you know I’m right.

I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I don’t even think Walter ‘Heisenberg’ White could take out a Klingon. He’d try to talk his way out of a confrontation, and… You think Gus’s box cutter was messy? Ok, I admit it… I’m getting pretty far afield here.

I tell you this… I think Klingons exist right here on Earth. But God has his reasons why they can’t appear in their humanoid form. So, God is masquerading them as pit bulls. Think about it. Pit bulls are aggressive and could tear a human apart if given the chance, but really, they’re just misunderstood. They are actually very joyful creatures that just want to have fun. If you give them some raw meat and play with them, they’re all good. That’s exactly how Klingons are.

Now cats… They’re Romulans in disguise. Always sneaky and cunning and you never know when they’re gonna strike. They like to toy with their victims before they deliver the kill. I’d like to pursue this line further, but I need to clean Mags’ litterbox before the caffeine wears off.

By the way, if you disagree with my views, all I can say is, you’re a Patak!

Valse Triste

After nine years of patience, I finally saw No Country for Old Men last night.

This movie should’ve had everything for me; a crime thriller headlined by Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, a west Texas backdrop, a murderous psychopath, an old-fashioned sheriff, a briefcase full of money and a drug deal gone bad. A recipe for happiness for a guy like me.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed. I don’t get it. The critics love it. Fans love it. Rotten Tomatoes loves it. What’s wrong with me?

It wasn’t a bad movie. I just wasn’t blown away. I didn’t feel that emotional gut punch that I get from really great movies.

When I watched The Godfather, I understood the hype immediately, and that was long before we got to the climactic bloody baptism montage scene. Same goes for The Departed. How can you hate a movie in which the final line isn’t a line at all, but rather, the spit of a silenced gun blowing a guy’s face off while a rat crawls around? I was a bit cooler toward Goodfellas, but understand why it’s considered a great movie.

But No Country for Old Men was just meh for me. I understand the themes of destiny versus chance as symbolized by the fateful coin toss that serves as the killer’s trademark. But I found Chigurh to be underwhelming. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by other fictional villains such as Walter White, Tony Soprano and Lorne Malvo.

Malvo makes me think of Fargo, which is also haled as another crime classic by the Coen brothers. I didn’t care for that one either, though I love the TV series knock-off, which is a wonderful example of the student surpassing the teacher.

Maybe the Coen brothers are the problem, or rather, my problem is with the Coen brothers. Sometimes, the best director or writer in the world just can’t make that emotional connection. Steven Spielberg is that way. Whether it’s Indiana Jones or Jaws or even Saving Private Ryan, I just don’t feel that emotional hook that is required of good storytelling. Private Ryan is wonderful at simulating wartime combat, but as a story, it’s kind of thin.

Anyway, I’m done now. Except to say that I also saw Sicario this weekend. Now there’s a film that does indeed live up to the hype. The first 2/3 of it is a standard story about a naive FBI agent plunged into the dark world of the drug culture along our southern border, but the climax elevates everything that came before it.

I guess one out of two ain’t bad. I wonder if Chigurh would agree.

There is No Sulu. Only Zuul!

I have no plans to go see the Ghostbusters reboot. It’s not because I’m sexist. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t do it for me, but whatever.

The reason I’m not going is the same reason I have no intention of wasting time and money on the latest Star Trek installment. I don’t care that Sulu is gay. I mean… George Takei doesn’t like it, but what does his opinion matter, right?

I was talking with Joe and we were commenting on the fact that we never go to movies anymore. It’s not the cost that is prohibitive. I’ll pay $12 to see a good movie. It’s not the visual medium. Most major theaters have audio description for the blind now (and sometimes, it actually works.)

The reason is more basic. I officially have reboot/sequel burn-out. I firmly believe that Hollywood no longer has any originality when it comes to blockbuster entertainment.

Let’s take a look at the biggest movies from the Spring/Summer season of this year:

Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War
The Jungle Book (this is the third film interpretation of the Rudyard Kipling novel)
Warcraft (based on a videogame)
Finding Dory (sequel)
X-Men: Apocalypse
Star Trek Beyond
The Legend of Tarzan
Ghostbusters
Suicide Squad (another comic book movie)
The Purge: Election Year (sequel)
Jason Bourne (sequel based on the Robert Ludlum novels)
Independence Day: Resurgence (sequel)

The only two original movies I can find that have done well at the box office this season are Zootopia, and The Secret Life of Pets; both animated movies geared for kids.

Now, let’s contrast this list with the top 10 grossing films from 1984; the year the original Ghostbusters was released:

1. Beverly Hills Cop
2. Ghostbusters
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (sequel)
4. Gremlins
5. The Karate Kid
6. Police Academy
7. Footloose
8. Romancing the Stone
9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (sequel)
10. Splash

Let me clarify that those 10 films were from the entire year, not just the summer season. Only two sequels out of 10. Not one animated flick! Videogames were still B-grade entertainment. Honest to God… Can you imagine a movie based on Pac-Man?

In closing, let me say that the glut of sequels and reboots shows no sign of ebbing. Coming soon, we will be treated to remakes of Ben-Hur and The Magnificent Seven.

If there’s any justice, the ghosts of Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston will send a giant marshmallow man to Hollywood. There, he will take a giant, sugary crap all over that festering town, because ghosts love symbolism. And it won’t be no wimpy 50-foot marshmallow man. Since Hollywood has to do everything bigger and better, it will be a 500-foot version.

If it survives an attack on Hollywood, maybe Seth MacFarlane could talk it into stopping by Trump Tower for one final push. Wouldn’t it be great if that Staypuff stud could do what the GOP couldn’t and, dump Trump?

Roll On, God’s Will

I’ve tried to hold my tongue on this because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but the plot is spoiled out there, so let me address some of the hysteria surrounding “Me Before You,” from the disabled community.

For those of you who are guilty of being, “Ablest,” and may not recognize the reference, here’s a friendly nudge. “Me Before You,” was a romance novel written by Jojo Moyes, which has now been adapted into a movie. The story takes place in merry old England and follows an active rich guy (Will) who is paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. A young girl (Louisa) who is a bit of a dim bulb takes a job as his caretaker. Long story short…Will encourages Louisa to become more educated and learn more about the world. She tries to convince him that he can still live a full life, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair. After six months, he admits that he’s had a better life than he has ever known, but flies off to Switzerland, where a doctor helps him drift off into the big sleep. But he leaves Louisa a nice nest egg so she can continue her education.

First, this is not an anti-disability movie. It is a pro-right to die movie, just as “Million Dollar Baby,” was. Where was the outrage over that? Could it be that Clint Eastwood just makes euthanasia look much more sexy? For all of you disabled leftists out there who support individual choice in the right to die arena, congratulations. You got what you wanted. How do you like it?

Sidebar: Get ready for the time (it isn’t too far away) when the abortion of disabled fetuses becomes much more common. Same concept… Other end of the spectrum. But it’s about personal choice so it’s all good, right?

Second, many so-called disabled activists are outraged because Hollywood depicts other minorities in a favorable light, while still looking down on the disabled. People, are you really surprised that we are at the bottom of the pecking order? The game of identity politics burst onto the scene in the 1960s. It was elevated to an art form in the 1990s. Why do you suppose the disabled haven’t gotten very far in the entertainment arena? Think hard. This is not a rhetorical question.

Third, many disabled bloggers (who often traffic in sanctimony) trumpet The notion that Jojo Moyes had no business writing this novel in the first place. One blogger says, “This wasn’t her story to tell.” This is a spurious argument that smacks of more than a little arrogant condescension. Larry McMurtry wasn’t alive in the 19th century. Does that mean he should’ve foregone the writing of Lonesome Dove? Dennis Lehane has written several novels dealing with racism. Should we burn his novels and lambaste his credibility because he’s white? Of course not! You can argue that Moyes’ novel was poorly researched or poorly written, but in a free society, you don’t get to decide who should and shouldn’t write what.

Finally, you know what Internet petitions are good for? Nothing! If I was really feeling generous, I could print one out with all 56,000 signatures, wipe my bum with it, crumple it into a filth-smeared wad and leave it in the compost bucket at work as a token for my greenie-weenie coworkers. One petition author whines, “Hollywood! Why do you want me dead?” Another calls this movie, “a disability snuff film.”

Folks, a snuff film is a movie in which someone is actually murdered for the purpose of exploitation. Nobody died in this movie. I know it’s common to employ hyperbole to garner attention, but for god’s sake, at least be accurate!

Ok, I’m done. Rant over. I’ve worked out all my stress, as well as other things while composing this on the toilet. Can somebody grab me that petition from Change.org out of the printing tray? I just ran out of toilet paper.

P.S.: As I stated at the beginning of this entry, I’ve not read the book or seen the movie. I have no intention of doing so. I have a lot of Hardy Boys books to get to before I’ll get around to reading a romance novel. I also don’t know anything about the writing abilities of Jojo Moyes. That said, irony often escapes the masses and subtlety is often drowned out by the megaphone of social media.

That said, some disabilities are involuntary and some are self-imposed. That is very likely the over-arching theme of the novel, if not the movie. Will chooses to allow his disability to rule his life and ultimately, his death, but he gives Luisa the wisdom and the tools to make a different choice for herself. Life is about choices, no?

I originally wrote this rant on Facebook. No one shared it; not even Evaney From Miami. I did get called, “A confrontational dick,” by Kevin; a guy who doesn’t even follow me. Thanks, Kev. Love your passion. You must be a Trump supporter.

Yeah…Trump. There’s a real handicap right there. Who am I to judge Will Traynor? If The Donald wins in November, maybe I’ll fly off to Switzerland for a consultation with Dignitas.

Praise Walt and Pass the Cobbler

We’re now two seasons into Better Call Saul, the prequel to AMC’s crime epic, Breaking Bad, which tells the back story of Walt and Jesse’s shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here are a few thoughts:

If you’re looking for Breaking Bad 2.0, this ain’t it. The transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman does parallel that of Walter White to Heisenberg, but the change is much more subtle. Whereas Walter was a meek chemistry teacher who became a murderous drug lord, the path that Jimmy treads to become Saul is much shorter and narrower. Jimmy was always a theatrical con man who merely changed his name and his clothes. The series reflects this.

There is more comedy in the prequel. The cliffhangers and dramatic gut-punch moments that hooked fans of the mother ship week after week just aren’t there for Saul. By the end of the second season of Breaking Bad, we’d had shootings, beatings, a strangling, poison gas, a plane crash, a blackmailing junkie choking on her own vomit, a mercury bomb in a drug lair, more shootings, more beatings, an exploding human head on a turtle, a junkie’s head crushed by an ATM, Hector ringing his bell in a wheelchair and bloody body parts in an acid bath.

On Saul, we’ve had a couple of shootings, a couple of beatings and…umm…that’s pretty much it. You guys can call me bloodthirsty if you want, but is it too much to ask that we get a little violence with our crime show? The more twisted, the better. He he!

Another flaw in the slaw is the fact that Bob Odenkirk doesn’t possess the leading man qualities that made Bryan Cranston such a force of nature. Odenkirk was pitch-perfect as a supporting player for Walt and Jesse; a comical figure who would often stir a healthy dose of levity into an otherwise dark mixture. Odenkirk’s limited range is high-lighted when he carries the emotional burden of the show.

He is at his best when he is running a scam, whether it is on a drunk in an alley, on Ken Wins at a swanky hotel bar, or on the psychopathic Tuco Salamanca. He owns the stage when he is creating a flashy commercial, scheming on how to put one over on his lawyer bosses, or skirting ethical guidelines in service of an elderly client.

The cracks in Odenkirk’s armor appear when he plays the more emotional scenes, particularly against his mentally ill brother, Chuck. Jimmy McGill exhibits a mixture of compassion, vengeance and sibling rivalry with his brother. Odenkirk is competent in the illustration of this emotional gambit, but he does not excel at it as did his meth-making predecessor.

Of course, many of us aren’t really watching as much for Saul as we are for the further adventures of Mike Ehrmantraut. Next to Walt and Hank, Mike was one of my favorite characters on Breaking Bad and I freely admitted that I cared much more about his origins than those of Saul Goodman. One of the things I was hoping for in the prequel was more screen time for Mike and little Kaylee.

But thus far, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. Mike was reduced to cameos in the first few installments. Things turned around with the telling of his arrival in Albuquerque in the flashback episode, “5-0.” This was, in my opinion, Breaking Bad quality work. It’s no coincidence that it was also one of the darkest episodes of a series that is otherwise much lighter in tone.

After “5-0,” Mike seems to have been reduced to a supporting role. I realize that the title of this series is not, Better Like Mike, but I don’t care. Jonathan Banks is amazing in this role and Mike is a more compelling character than Saul. I do have a preference of crime shows over comedies, so that may explain my bias. Still, I think the majority of Breaking Bad fans would agree with me on this point.

Maybe the producers of Better Call Saul just want to take it easy on ol’ Mike. As of this writing, Jonathan Banks is 69 years old.

What the hell am I talking about?! My parents are both 69 and they still kick ass and take names! Age is no excuse. We like Mike!!!

Going forward with season three, the writers are going to have to darken the tone of the series. Yes, Saul isn’t a blood-soaked crime epic, but it has a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it, as if it can’t decide if it wants to be a full comedy, a legal drama, or another Breaking Bad. Jimmy McGill isn’t yet the guy who urged Walt to send Jesse to Belize, but he needs to start taking more than baby steps to get to that point before he loses my interest completely.

Now, let’s discuss the 500-pound chicken in the room. We’ve seen quite a number of crossover characters from the original series, but no one but the most ardent BB fans care about Lawson the gun dealer, Stephanie the realtor or Fran the waitress. We’re watching so we can cheer with glee when Tuco breaks a couple of legs, when pre-stroke Hector walks into a bar and talks nice to Mike, and when his silent nephews (The Cousins) stalk little Kaylee from a rooftop.

That said, every fan in the world is going to scream loud enough to tweak Mike’s hearing aid when Gustavo Fring returns to their small screens. Frankly, the finale of season two was a big disappointment because it was all build-up with no real payoff. We know Mike’s not going to kill Hector, but all we get is a cryptic note on his windshield? C’mon! Gus needs to make his presence known in season three and it needs to happen sooner than later.

I’ve been critical in this writing and it belies my opinion that Better Call Saul is a good show. As usual, the supporting cast is stellar, especially Michael McKean as Jimmy’s brother, Chuck McGill, and Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s on-again, off-again romantic and legal partner.

Sidebar: Wouldn’t it be great if Kim could somehow be the one who defends Jesse if he ever got caught? It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it will happen.

Yes, Better Call Saul is a good show. But that’s all it is…good. It’s not crazy good as was Breaking Bad. It’s not appointment television. I like the show, but I love eating all of Katy’s popcorn and annoying her while petting Tytus the cat.

Maybe there are people out there who think Saul surpasses Heisenberg. Fair enough. Entertainment is subjective. People think Donald Trump is worth voting for and I’m entitled to think those people are dead wrong. If you disagree with me and think my comparisons of Saul to Breaking Bad are spurious, ask yourself an honest question. Would you be watching Better Call Saul if it were a stand-alone show that had no connection to Breaking Bad? My answer is…uh uh. What’s yours?

Come on, now. Be honest.

Fascinating!

One year ago today, Leonard Nimoy passed away. I was sitting in the control room at work when the alert flashed across my phone. I sat there and absorbed the news and hoped no one would come in as tears dampened my eyes. I’m sure Mr. Spock would not have approved, but as he so often reminded audiences in his post Star Trek career, Leonard Nimoy was not Spock…or was he?

The impact of the half-Vulcan, half-human First Officer aboard the fictional, futuristic U.S.S. Starship Enterprise can hardly be exaggerated. Up until 1965 when Spock was invented by Gene Roddenberry, extraterrestrial aliens were almost always viewed as hostile, evil forces who were bent upon invading Earth. Think “War of the Worlds,” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” If they didn’t want to conquer humanity, they wanted to imperiously save us from ourselves as in, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Spock represented a more optimistic relationship between humans and those of other worlds, embodying the notion that those of different cultures can work together for a set of common goals.

This isn’t to say that Spock embraced his human side. On the contrary. IN alignment with Vulcan culture, he suppressed it and was made to feel ashamed of his emotions. Whether intentional or not, this showcased a flaw in Spock and the Vulcan way of life. Some might disagree, but I believe that denying a large portion of one’s nature is…wait for it…illogical. Of course, many ancient Vulcans did continue to embrace their emotional nature, thereby seceding from Vulcan and becoming Romulans, a race depicted as mostly evil throughout the course of the franchise.

If the series had centered around Spock, it would not have lasted five episodes. A large part of what made Spock such a compelling character was the friendship he maintained with Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy. They were the perfect triangle; Kirk, the bold, adventurous leader who was not risk-averse, Spock, the dispassionate pragmatist who viewed everything through a logical lens, and McCoy, the antithesis of Spock, the compassionate healer who constantly wore his emotions on his sleeve. It was not the various encounters with Klingons, parallel universes or retired Greek gods that made the series so fascinating. Rather, it was the emotional core of the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy that brought viewers back week after week.

William Shatner was the star of the original series, but Spock was it’s most popular and enduring character. I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that Nimoy was probably the superior actor of the three main leads. In fact, with the possible exception of Mark Lenard who played Spock’s father Sarek, Nimoy mastered the complex intricacies of the Vulcan culture and remains unparalleled to this day. From the Vulcan nerve pinch to the Vulcan mind meld to the curious split-fingered Vulcan salute, Nimoy owned the essence of what it meant to be a Vulcan. Many future actors such as Tim Russ, Kirstie Alley, Jolene Blalock, Zachary Quinto and Kim Cattrall have tried to imitate Vulcans, but they don’t even come close to the subtle nuances that Nimoy brought to the role. Russ as Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager is particularly painful to watch. He sounds like a guy who is about to read you the stock reports on the radio. Quinto tries to portray a young Spock and he won Nimoy’s praise, but for my dough, he has the opposite problem, sounding too emotional.

The concept of Spock proved so popular that all future incarnations of the original series had to (ahem ahem( borrow from the Spock character. They did it twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation. They didn’t give us another Vulcan, but instead, we got an android named Data who viewed everything through the same emotionless lens. The twist…rather than having him suppress the humanity that he didn’t have, Roddenberry embarked Data on a quest to become more human. The other homage to Spock came in the form of Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor who was half-human, half-Betazoid.

Future series also borrowed heavily from Spock. In Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Odo is the outsider alien who can never fit in and be happy anywhere. In Voyager, B’Elanna Torres is a half-human, half-Klingon engineer who constantly struggles with her identity. We also got a ship’s doctor who was a computer-generated hologram, thus enabling writers to continue the ‘no emotions’ trope. In Star Trek: Enterprise, we returned to the Vulcan science officer concept, along with an alien outsider doctor played by John Billingsley. All of these characters are cheap knock-offs of the original, to a greater or lesser degree.

You can talk to me all day about budgets, special effects and wooden acting, but Leonard Nimoy’s turn as Mr. Spock was a truly groundbreaking turn in television that has never been matched since in the Trek franchise. He was awarded with the juiciest dramatic moments throughout the course of the show’s history. Included were:

“The Naked Time,” in which the Enterprise is infested by a virus that causes the crew to act as if they were drunk. Spock is infected and hides in a rec room as he cries openly with shame and tries to regain control of his Vulcan side.

“The Galileo Seven,” in which Spock takes command of an away mission that goes disastrously wrong. Some of the crew exhibits bigotry toward Spock, which offends McCoy greatly. Spock also learns that sometimes, the logical way is not always the correct way.

“This Side of Paradise,” in which Spock is infected by spores that cause him to become happy and passive, along with the rest of the crew. Kirk must prod him back to duty by playing on race hatred, which triggers Spock’s own repressed anger at being a half-breed.

“Amok Time,” which is probably the best Spock episode. Spock begins to act in an atypically erratic manner. As it turns out, he’s hornie, which is something that only happens to Vulcans every seven years. To cure his lust, he must go back to his home planet, where he must get married and ultimately tries to kill Kirk. It sounds weird in writing, but believe me, it works!

“Journey to Babel,” in which Spock’s estranged parents come aboard the Enterprise during a dangerous diplomatic mission. Spock must choose between family loyalty and his duty when his father, Sarek, is suspected of murder.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which contains the single most heartbreaking death scene in all of Trekdom. Yes yes, I know that Spock will be resurrected in the next movie, but I still shed tears every time I watch Kirk and Spock saying what they think is their final goodbye through a glass wall after Spock heroically saves the ship from danger, thereby sacrificing himself in the process.

On a personal level, I was hooked on Star Trek the original series from Junior High onward. Captain Kirk was my favorite character as a kid. And why not? He never faced a problem he couldn’t handle. As an adult, my appreciation for Spock has grown exponentially. The idea of a character who is a constant outsider and who must continually manage his inner struggle is appreciable to me. In those gloomy times after a break-up or some other loss, I harken back to Spock’s words after his girlfriend dumped him.

“She is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not nearly so pleasing a thing as wanting. ‘Tis not logical, but it is often true.”

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy. May your memory live long and prosper. Thank you for all of the happiness your talents have brought to me over the years.