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: , ,
Sep 052018
 

And as a follow-up to my last post, my wild guess is that this op-ed was written by a Pence proxy and announces to the few republicans needed to support impeachment that there is a safety-net in place, that the back-up team is ready, and that they can act to save the party.

Et tu, Mike?

If this were a cheap novel, that’s how I’d write it.

 September 5, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Sep 052018
 

The New York Times has just posted an anonymous editorial by an “senior official” inside the White House claiming to be part of a “resistance” that is working to save the country from Trump.

Some thoughts.

This “insider”—who could be anyone from Mike Pence on down—tells us nothing new really. Yes Trump is incompetent. Yes the White House is toxic and chaotic. But that really isn’t news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Neither is this whistle-blowing. Trump is surrounded by people as unprincipled as he is. Some are making moves to save themselves where the rest of us can see. But this isn’t rats jumping ship. At best, it’s one rat checking to see if they can make some space for themselves and some friends somewhere under the seat of a life-raft. Not for now. For later. And just in case they need it.

To which I say: it takes quite a trick to come off as a cheaper and more cynical than Trump and his still-loyal toadies, but this writer manages it.

Whoever wrote this is a coward in the service of a full-on criminal-become-president and they are attempting to rewrite that service as something principled and heroic. I don’t actually know how to respond to something so base. I mostly feel contempt because if what this writer states is true—and we’ve more or less known that it is for awhile now— and if they do care about the country then the only ethical, moral, reasonable or honorable thing to do would be to go to Congress, to testify on the record under oath and to try to help fix the problem.

That’s not what this person does though. Instead, they continue to work for Trump’s administration, they speak out but only anonymously in order to protect their job, and they do this for the most craven reason imaginable.

As they write:

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

“I Am a Part of the Resistance”

Which means, once unpacked and translated:

Even though this entire piece is written to say that Trump is a danger to the U.S., to the world, and to the very ideals of enlightened democracy and even though we (i.e. “the resistance”…but not the leftist resistance, eww) must thwart Trump’s impulses and instincts at every turn, and  even though we want you to admire us for doing so, we are staying on as tools, and we are hiding behind anonymity because Trump’s ongoing shit-show has given us cover to effectively implement our own extremist partisan agenda. We’ve largely dismantled the EPA and clean energy initiatives. We’ve hobbled health care. We’ve stolen and transformed the Supreme Court. We’ve served up huge tax cuts to our donors and future employers, and we’ve done all of this while acting tough and pretending to be super patriotic as we used the money for grandma’s social security checks to buy more guns. In other words, despite what you’ve heard in all the negative coverage—which 50% of the time we are totally okay with, because “fake news”—this administration is a huge success, HUGE, and we’re standing behind it everywhere except in this op-ed. And yes, we’re continuing to cross things off our backers’ bucket lists as fast as we can. So “Go Team!”

But back to my point, obviously Trump is very mean and very bad, and like you we’re all focused ONLY ON THAT even to the point of stealing a paper from his desk once. You’re welcome. And we want you to know that when we’re not using Trump as cover for doing everything we’ve dreamed of doing for years but couldn’t, we are also definitely resisting him, reigning him in and saving you—and the world—from him. (Because he’s such an idiot, right? I know. Tell me about it! And we have to live with him EVERY DAY! Can you imagine?)

And that is why we’re writing: to let you know the good work we’re doing so that when he’s gone and there’s no more cover and we all have to stand up and be counted either as cronies or as part of the resistance, we can be counted as part of the resistance. And then we want to shuffle off into Crony Valhalla as members of Pence’s campaign team or maybe as consultants for Big Oil or Big Coal or Big Pharma or maybe even as a commentator on a cable news show where we will provide “balance” by offering hack partisan “insight” in order to make the media “fair.” When we do one or all of these things, we hope that you will remember our heroic struggle on your behalf and be grateful.

My takeaway:

Trump is to the current crisis like HIV is to AIDS. He’s the disease, but not what kills you. It’s the cancers and the parasites—like whoever wrote this op-ed, and like the people who will glory in it as proof that the White House is rotten and stop there, and like those who will take comfort that there are “good people” inside the administration fighting the good fight (praise be Jesus for using even the wicked!)—it’s these cancers and parasites that are killing a country made weak and vulnerable by Trump’s presidency.

I’m angry.

 September 5, 2018  Reflections 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:
Aug 122018
 

Last year when my Mom visited for Thanksgiving—Canadian Thanksgiving, in October, not the American holiday in November—we decorated my newly rebuilt porch with strange pumpkins and squash. I fetched a birch log from the wood pile, and we had a holiday arrangement that looked good enough to keep around for weeks rather than days.

After the first freeze though, everything sagged. So I went out, collected the soft fruit and tossed everything in the garden. Winter came. Then this spring, I went out to turn the soil and everything had broken apart and come to pieces. I saw seeds, but ignored them. They sprouted though, and I’ve kept them all, pushing them back off the peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and rhubarb, but otherwise giving them free rein to do what they’d like.

So now I have acorn squash, regular pumpkins, white pumpkins, very strangely shaped and bright red pumpkins. I have acorn squash, some kind of yellow squash I don’t recognize. Maybe more even. And they are growing everywhere, even on the fences, producing improbable fruit and it’s exciting and encouraging.

There’s wisdom in leaving things alone, letting them be.

 August 12, 2018  Moments Tagged with: ,
Jul 302018
 

Home from Mexico, I started looking at the calendar trying to figure out when I could arrange a trip to see family. I hadn’t been down since my brother’s wedding and, come fall, that was going to be two years. It was a long time.

Life’s complicated though, so once I started trying to figure out when I could string together five or six days during the Fall term, I realized that “next summer” was a real option for getting down to see everyone. Then the Beav stepped in: “Why not just go now? You have a a few weeks before classes start again.” It was obvious and brilliant.

The trip begins

So after a couple calls and a few days to take care of some house chores and some Montreal errands, I jumped in my car and drove down. It was a two day trip (20 hours) both ways, but went well. I kept the windows down, the radio off and watched the landscape. Crossing the distance on my own made the two poles of my family life feel closer together.

The visit was great and a surprise: I’d only told mom and my brother. For everyone else it was all very “what are you doing here?!?!?!” when I showed up at the beach. (Well, mostly that. My sister and spiritual twin divined from signs too obscure even to mention what I was up to.) 

Heading home…almost there.

Back now and waiting for Mom to arrive tomorrow for a week’s vacation in Montreal. Clearly, but unexpectedly, it’s turning out to be a summer of partying.

 July 30, 2018  Travel Tagged with: