Sep 122018
 

Imagine: Ted is a gorilla not a teddy bear.

Imagine: Walberg is The Rock and not from Boston.

Leave the rest.

So: these life-long friends have a special bond but suddenly fall on rough times and can’t get along. At. All. Eventually though, they work it out. Yeah, they’re rude to each other, vulgar even, but that’s how guys are together when they’re buds and need to say “I love you” but can’t. And before the credits, Walberg—I mean The Rock—gets the girl!

In this way the film ends: two buds and a babe. Happily ever after.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Sep 122018
 

This movie is so much better than Prometheus, and, as my brother said to me over the summer, it makes that earlier movie appear better in retrospect than it was at the time. This is fairly hesitant praise though and begs the question, what’s the problem with these new Alien movies? My thought is that they suffer from real confusion about their subject and their narrative obligations.

The most obvious of these obligations is that Aliens movies are about the xenomorph chasing humans in a labyrinth. The first two films and the director’s cut of the third stick to this subject and excel by offering variations on it. The second increases the numbers of monsters and people. The third explores the perversity which leads some people to empathize with a monster. The three later films, however, all stumble in their attempt to vary or enlarge that basic principle.

Alien Resurrection is, in a sense, the most confused and the most honest about its problems. Its representation of the xenomorphs approaches parody, which I read as an implicit, perhaps unknowing acknowledgement of the limits of the series’s basic monsters-in-a-maze premise. It gasps for air in an ultimately failed effort to develop story material from the veneration of Ripley and the ongoing ambivalence toward the inhuman android looming over each of the previous films.

Prometheus jettisons all of this in favor of origins and creation mythology. It aims to take a series based on a sci-fi revision of the dark house movie and turn it into “cinematic universe.” It is, in other words, what an Aliens movie looks like in the age of three (and counting) Spider-man reboots and The Avengers.

To the extent Alien: Covenant surpasses its predecessor—and it does—it surpasses it by overtly returning to the narrative touchstones of Alien and Aliens, repeating the iconic moments of those films as a narrative collage, as if these moments were established paroles in a generic discours. Ultimately though, I don’t think the film cares much about these moments or even its xenomorphs. The face huggers and chest-bursting and the slobbering, metallic beasts are more-or-less instances of the film pandering. What seems genuinely to interest the film but what it is too timid to embrace as its subject are the dangers posed by an uncanny and out-of-control synthetic intelligence, a motif found in every Aliens film since the first but that here seems to beg to be exploited as primary material.

It seems clear to me that in Covenant the true threat, the true parasite, is artificial intelligence lodged in an android body. This threat is a legitimate source of felt horror in our contemporary moment. The Aliens movies offer a vehicle for representing and exploiting it. But this latest film doesn’t do so, choosing instead to place its narrative chips on new stagings of familiar scares.

So as the credits roll, I feel relief. Finally, a real Aliens movie. Yet I also feel genuine disappointment because in this film, the true monster only shows—what?… itself?… himself?… the uncertain status of the artificial is part of its monstrosity, and it is this monstrous anti-humanity that seduces and captivates. Yet it reveals itself in only two or three scenes. So I walk away from the movie wishing that it had been different than it was and better.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Aug 262018
 

The darkness of this movie isn’t in the villain-protagonist’s victory. It isn’t in the deaths of major characters. It isn’t even in the obvious cynicism of those deaths as a set-up for the next film and their take-backs. It’s in the movie’s bleak view of love.

Thanos seizes the soul stone because he loves Gamora enough to make killing her a sacrifice. The heroes on Titan fail to defeat Thanos because Peter Quill loves Gamora so much that he lashes out over her murder rather than helping his teammates. Thanos can step back in time to pull the final stone from the Vision’s forehead because Wanda Maximoff loves him too much to risk his life by destroying it when she had the chance.

Love ruins everything in this movie and that fact runs contrary to a core tenant of the ideology of the action-adventure genre Marvel’s films sit nestled within: that in moments of danger, your love for a spouse, a child, or a buddy will give you strength enough to keep going, to do the impossible, to win.

Not this time.

 August 26, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Jun 232018
 

Elizabeth Kostova’s novel is a baroque return to and elaborate reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, only this time without any pretense that the women are desperate souls needing protection or that the men can save even themselves. It’s also extremely well written: the narration follows (in every chapter save one) a fixed pattern of frame and flashbacks recounted trough letters, journals or stories told over dinner that, once established, lends real energy to what is a very long book. The complicated reworking of the history of Ottoman Europe is completely fascinating.

I’m a sucker for vampire fictions whether written or filmed, so I often doubt my judgment about stories like these. For this book though, I feel confident recommending it to friends. For my part, as soon as I finished it, I ordered The Swan Thieves.

 June 23, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jun 232018
 

Octavia Butler’s novel tells of a modern black woman, drawn back through time to save a slave owner’s young son from drowning before returning to her own time. Over the course of the novel she will be drawn back to save the boy repeatedly, will watch him as he grows older. Because time moves at different rates in the two narratives, the protagonist is never sure how long she’ll be trapped living as a slave. Sometimes it’s years. And when her white husband travels back with her in the middle section of the novel, he finds himself trapped alone in the past and grows old there while only a few days pass for his wife.

I didn’t know Butler and didn’t know what to expect, but this book is writing of a very high order. I started reading and couldn’t stop, finishing the novel at a breakneck pace over the course of a single evening. It was that powerful.

 June 23, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jun 042018
 

Ruskin would have hated this book as pathetic fallacy pushed to the far reaches of decadence. Many of my students were skeptical of it for the same reason but without realizing there was a name for what they saw simply as unscientific bias. Those who loved it were mostly silent, only sharing in their essays how deeply moved they were by Wohlleben’s celebration of forest communities.

My thought? Most of my students have never been in woods thick enough to block their view of clear land. I’d be surprised if any of them had ever walked through a genuine forest. So language that pushes them to imagine trees as something other than biological machines for pumping water and sucking up carbon is good for them. And by that I mean good for their souls.

 June 4, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with:
Jun 032018
 

When my mother came up last year, I bought her the first book in Louise Penny’s series of murder mysteries.

They’re set in the Eastern Townships, and I thought it’d be a nice reminder of Quebec when she was reading it back home.

Turns out she loved the first book and has now run through the entire series.

When she was midway through and praising them on the phone, I decided to give the first book a shot, even though I don’t usually like mysteries.

And what a nice surprise, it was great and I’ve bought the second and third for a rainy weekend sometime.

 June 3, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with:
May 272018
 

Marvel does Inception.

Sigh.

If there had been even one more episode, I wouldn’t have finished. But I got to four in a binge and realized I was half done, so I gave it a shot.

Sigh.

It’s interesting to see self-consciousness about the medium that is neither political nor anti-consumerist. Sets off the value of Soloway in Transparent and I Love Dick by way of contrast.

 May 27, 2018  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
May 132018
 

A one man show in which Alexander the Great, on his deathbed, offers a chronological history of his military campaigns in Asia. I’ve been working through a history of Ancient Greece and was interested.

Laurent Gaudé’s script is like a textbook—I’m actually not sure why it would have be written or staged as a play—but the actor Emmanuel Schwartz uses it as the occasion for a show of force. I didn’t necessarily care for what he was doing and his performance was often by necessity of arbitrary—the text isn’t creating options for him—but there’s no denying that it’s powerful work.

Apr 142018
 

A marriage comedy set in a world in which witches and future tech are at war with each other.

The lovers are kept apart in their youth by parents and counselors, all of them people with agendas. When they are older and have settled into their separate world views, they are kept apart by their mutual incomprehension and learned distrust. When in the final scenes, they come together, their totems—a magical tree, a powerful social network—merge, saving the world.

 April 14, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,