Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

"Well, that was fun."

I thought I should get it out there right away, as we were exiting the theatre. I've sometimes held on to my opinions, usually a clear sign that I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong with the movie. I didn't want to be Daddy Downer, yet again. I knew what was wrong with this movie, yet I enjoyed it regardless. Might as well own up to that fact, I figured, and give the young 'uns permission to express their own delight.

The girls weren't having any of it. "That's the third time they've used this plot! The third time in a row!" "So have people stopped scoring movies altogether? Is it all just, 'Greatest Hits,' all the time?" "You mean, 'It's all Marvel, all the time!'" Etc., etc.

All very true, of course. There were a few negative observations of my own I could have added -- principally: the fighting was a bore. I mean, just how many exciting songs can you create using the same three chords and 4/4 timing?

Still, I couldn't get over just how much I enjoyed the interaction between Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty. There weren't any surprises in the dialogue, but TOS dialogue could hardly claim to have broken any screenplay templates.

What was evident was that these young(er) actors had grown to completely embody these cherished characters from another age -- and it was a delight to see. We've lost three of the principals, and Shatner has embodied himself for so long he's utterly dwarfed what made Kirk Kirk. But the way these four played off each other finally got me thinking, This could actually go somewhere.

Odds are stacked against this ever happening. Star Trek works best as television, and these are big names on the big screen. Whether or not there is ever another Star Trek movie in the pipeline is always an open question.

But if someone can persuade me that there's an artful hack writing original Star Trek novels worth reading, I do believe I'd be envisioning this younger cast wearing the primary colours.

"Same questionable taste in civvies -- gentlemen, I believe we're good to go!"

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Cartel, Don Winslow

The CartelThe Cartel by Don Winslow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to wonder if watching Oliver Stone's manipulation of Savages wasn't a game-changer for author Don Winslow. In Stone's hands, it became quickly obvious to viewers that any concern for the fates of the American protagonists at the centre of this drug-deal-gone-bad caper was almost comically misplaced. The Yanks were typical kids -- in their mid-20s, maybe, but acting out like early adolescents in a gated community while the parents are on vacation. Brooding, petulant, narcissistic, self-indulgent on any front that occurred to them -- um, were we supposed to care?

The Mexican heavies, on the other hand -- what was going on with them? Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro played their respective roles with a ruthless cool that hinted rather chillingly at the desperation roiling beneath the veneer. The more we saw of them, the more we wanted to know. They seemed to hold the actual moral centre to the story, and yet they were the villains.

Then again, I haven't read the novel -- it could be Winslow was well on his way to blowing into flame the moral heat that takes hold of anyone with a little familiarity of how the so-called "Drug Wars" are conducted outside the borders of the United States. 

The Cartel is all about "the Mexican heavies." There is a single American protagonist -- Art Keller -- whom the reader cares about only to the degree that Keller learns to care about particular victims of the Drug Wars. And wow, are there ever victims -- scores of them. Their particular stories, within the larger story (morally-compromised Good Guy chases morally-haunted Bad Guy), are filled in with a deft and sympathetic touch. As the novel progresses, so does the body-count -- into the hundreds of thousands.

The litany of the dead does, at certain points, over-burden the narrative velocity. But how could it not, unless the author was finally indifferent to the scene he strives to describe? Winslow is clearly anything but indifferent, and that seething, personally invested indignation is what sets this work head and shoulders above his earlier fare.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Van Gogh's Death

When I visited Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum last fall, I wondered if this account of Vincent's death mightn't have gained some traction.

"Do I not look 'upbeat'?"

Answer: nope, not one iota.

This is the Vanity Fair piece. If VF's "Hardy Boys" narrative bugs you, consult Naifeh/Smith's recent biography for a more authoritative accumulation of detail and arcana, presented in measured tones. You'll find this (as presented) plausible and even likely "alternative" account in an appendix, buried beneath 900+ pages of the rest of Vincent's troubled life.

I can't recall if the Museum's gift shop was selling Naifeh/Smith's bio (I can't imagine they weren't -- it has the authority of heft, if nothing else). But I would have thought the museum's curators would have been keen to add their own footnote to their public narrative (note how, at the conclusion of the VF piece, one curator concedes the scenario's plausibility).

When it comes to capturing the public imagination, it seems nothing succeeds like suicide.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Blessed(?) Distraction

Let's focus for a moment on geek franchises -- shall we?

Star Trek Beyond: I am not at all primed to see this, though if it affords me a chance to hang with my elder daughter I will happily stand in line and pay for the experience. She remains excited as the date of release draws closer -- she even expresses fondness for the previous movie, a bold but lonely position to take in our family. Chris Pine's cute-factor has exemplary cachet with her, I suspect.

But let's be honest: it's not looking promising. The actors are in full dog-and-pony-show mode, and the reveals they're letting slip are decidedly underwhelming. Example 1: Sulu is gay! The Onion AV, in a rare critical lapse, dubs this "a sweet tribute to George Takei." George, meanwhile, is having none of it -- citing this as the thoughtless sort of gratuity that characterizes franchise low-points.

Takei suggests Nimoy would have balked at this as well, and I believe he's right. Gay Sulu is an egregious retcon of the original timeline, in which Sulu is straight as an arrow. Whether Sulu's sexuality serves any purpose in the forthcoming narrative remains to be seen, of course. But as it stands this flourish has more than a whiff of the sort of "why not?" thinking that went into the franchise's most lamentable creative decisions, like Kirk's death(s).

"Perhaps it plays better on the big screen."

Moving on to Example 2: Simon Pegg had a hand in the screenplay! On the face of it this is good news. Pegg's understanding of geek and nerd psychology is impressively deep, as evidenced in his memoirs and previous screenplays. And he speaks highly of director Justin Lin -- but then Pegg speaks highly of everyone, in his unique, simultaneously jocular and pained manner, and this is where doubts set in. The takeaway for me, alas, is that Pegg tried to quit three times, and swears he'll never write for the franchise again.

"Rewrites, Mr. Pegg! We need those rewrites!"

Still and all: my daughter is excited. And maybe she's right to be -- after all, I've been wrong on this matter before.

On the other hand, if Pegg's script includes an abundance of penis jokes, her ardour for the film might cool dramatically. This is the daughter who sat through Deadpool with me, and although I was a giggling fool throughout the duration, the best she managed was a pained smile. Daughters don't laugh at dick jokes when their father is in the room, I guess.

"Dick jokes? Naw, man: I'm all about ..."
I enjoyed the movie, and could even stand a second viewing to catch some of the stuff that flew past my notice the first go-round. But at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter how blue or "meta" the exercise gets -- it's still a Marvel movie.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Spinning My Wheels

Tuesday morning. I checked the clock and figured I had enough time to squeeze in a quick bike ride.

Seven kilometres out of town I dropped my water bottle. I slowed to a stop, then dropped myself (damn cleated pedals!).

Realizing I posed the greatest threat to my own personal safety, I turned around and went home.
It's only a flesh-wound.
I cleaned myself up, put on the suit, got in the car and drove down to my younger daughter's high school commencement. The emotional churn would have to be expressed some other day, some other way.