Some takes on 2017, before it ends

The end of 2017 is nigh. And with it, the top ten lists, the retrospectives, the predictions. Rather than the Top Books Published in 2017 or the Best Films of the Year or anything like this, here’s my list of opinions, ideas, and arguments that I have not already written about in 2017 and would like to make sure I write about before the year is up and they become potentially irrelevant.

So, here we go.

The Literature Takes

One. Are we living in Vonnegut’s unfinished final novel?

I’ve already written about how painfully the current world resembles a Vonnegut novel. But as nuclear war ticks closer, metaphors invade real life, and madmen in decline occupy the highest positions of power, it’s worth wondering if we might simply be living in Vonnegut’s world.

According to his book A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut had an unfinished novel at the end of his life, a novel with little-to-no prospect of ever being finished. He called it If God Were Alive Today and describes it as

“…about Gil Berman, thirty-six years my junior, a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.”


Is it possible that this is where we are right now? Is Vonnegut writing our history from a different place? Is this idea really dramatically different than Elon Musk saying we living in a simulation? Or the suggestion made by philosopher David Chalmers that we are not just in a simulation, but one that is breaking? Wouldn’t it be at least more reassuring to think that we are in a Vonnegut novel, rather than a computer program that is slowly breaking down? Continue reading “Some takes on 2017, before it ends”

What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?

The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.

Where is Mr. Robot’s mind?

Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself,  and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.) Continue reading “What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?”

Please, No More Origin Stories of How Evil Villains Used to be Good Guys or Children

If you haven’t heard, the latest complete failure at the box office was the flaccid reboot Pan, an attempt to create a franchise out of the Peter Pan story by starting with Mr. Pan’s origin as a young boy on an adventure to Neverland. In which the villain is Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Peter’s best friend is a guy named James Hook.

Okay, Hugh Jackman. You're too good to keep playing Wolverine but you'll do THIS?
Okay, Hugh Jackman. You’re too good to keep playing Wolverine but you’ll do THIS?

That’s right: in the new version of Peter Pan that you didn’t see, Pete’s best friend is a young, two-handed, two-eyed Captain Hook in his pre-pirate days. Meaning that the narrative is an origin story that includes a tragic bromance in which we watch one of the central characters become a villain.

This is the exact reboot/origin story/cheesy narrative that we do not need. And it’s a strange trend, with examples including the Star Wars prequels, Wicked, and a variety of superhero films and television shows in which the villain first appears as a classmate, friend, or family member of the hero.

It’s redundant and unoriginal and redundant.

As stated above, there is very little original left in the idea of “let’s imagine what happened in the part of the story before what we’ve seen,” whether its Pre-Pan or Not-yet-sleeping Beauty. It would perhaps be more interesting if it wasn’t so common, but there’s no longer anything unique about the idea that “what if Poison Ivy was a little girl before she became a bad guy” or “guys, maybe the wicked witch wasn’t always wicked?”

It’s sad and disturbing, but not in a compelling way.

There’s something very sad about a narrative in which we see a kid become a villain. There’s a reason that no one has made a summer blockbuster about Adolf Hitler as a kind little boy who becomes corrupted by evil. It would be disturbing and awful and sad. Although, based on the trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone creates an gritty origin story in which Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate are classmates who fight a battle against Herod before Pontius becomes a villain and Jesus becomes a hero.

The only good example of this trope is Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot, because at no point is Michael Myers an innocent young boy awaiting corruption. He’s evil from the start, killing animals in his bedroom and classmates after school. This works because it’s an over-the-top absurd slasher film in which Zombie’s endgame is overwhelming the audience with a visceral, brutal experience.

Yes, I kinda liked Rob Zombie's Halloween.
Yes, I kinda liked Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

Other than that, this cheap trope of the eventual villain beginning as a child is too brutal for a children’s story and too obvious for adults. Even the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy was weakened by the hackneyed writing that turned James Franco from Peter Parker’s bff into Green Goblin Junior.

It paints the world in unrealistic terms.

Here is the narrative we’re given in this unneeded origin stories: “He was good, and then he became evil.” The one exception is probably that of Darth Vader, in which the narrative is “He was good, and then he became evil, but then he became good for a second right before he died and then he went to Star Wars Heaven.” Either way, it declares that the world is good guys and bad guys.

The worst part is that these narratives often pose as “darker interpretations” or act as if they’re asking poignant questions about morality and heroism, when really the only question they ask if “what’s an easy way to show a good person become a bad person?”

It eliminates suspense from the story.

“Oh, his name is James Hook? So what, he’s Captain Hook? Yep. Okay. Wait, I need to watch him become Captain Hook for the next two hours? Great. This is exciting and suspenseful.”

I wonder which Batman villain Ivy Pepper will grow up to be.

This is the trouble with prequels and origin stories. They’re often yawn-inducing, because we know exactly what’s going to happen. Even Better Call Saul, a show I kinda like that provides some good laughs, suffers from the flaw that it’s completely unnecessary and we know what the ending will be. I mean, the ending already exists. It’s called Breaking Bad.

With Pan, we have reached peek reboot. And it’s a good lesson for anyone who has plans for an upcoming reboot or origin story or prequel, whether it’s the Adventures of Young Jesus and Pontius described above or the inevitable Back to the Future reboot.

Let's hope that the Pepsi Perfect is just a fun thing that's happening, and not the first step of the Michael Bay reboot of BTTF.
Let’s hope that the appearance of Pepsi Perfect in real life (first seen in Back to the Future 2) is just a fun thing that’s happening, and not the first step of the Michael Bay reboot of BTTF.

There is only one way to make a reboot work now: you need to make anything possible. Don’t write the story into a corner in order to match the original plot points or the expectations that the audience has. Ensure suspense by making anything on the table. This is some work and some don’t. Batman Begins and its sequels gave us moments we’d never seen; Craig’s Casino Royale killed the villain and the love interest surprising, unexpected scenes; Man of Steel, on the other hand, failed because it opened with the exact same Superman origin story that we’d seen a million times, in which the baby Superman is put into a spaceship and sent from Krypton to Earth.

So, please, if you are currently hard at work on a gritty reboot in which we see a familiar villain begin life as an innocent, a hero, or a child: ask yourself if you are providing us with anything new and anything that anyone wants to see.

Five Films That Would Benefit From Force Ghosts

There is at least one major question about the new Star Wars film that goes unanswered: will there be Force Ghosts?

Will you be back?
Will you be back?

At least, this is what I’m wondering. Obi Wan’s Force Ghost really kicked up the original trilogy a notch, and I doubt I’m the only one who thinks Liam Neeson should have made a few posthumous appearances in Episodes II and III.

But the question is, why don’t all movies have Force Ghosts in them? And I don’t mean all Star Wars movie. I mean all movies. (I’m also unclear on whether or not Force Ghost should be capitalized, so I’ve chosen to capitalize it throughout the article).

Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed in Creed.

The new Rocky spin-off (or whatever you want to call it) looks amazing. But Rocky training Wallace Creed is not enough.

Where's Apollo?
Where’s Apollo?

I understand that the creators felt it would be too much to bring back Creed senior, considering he died in Rocky’s arms in the fourth film of the franchise.

We need the original Creed, Mr. Weathers, and if we are going to stick to the canon then the only option is through a Force Ghost.  Imagine if, as Wallace gets up there for his big fight, he looks and see the original Apollo Creed standing next to Stallone. Cheering for him. It has to happen.

Han Seoul-Oh in every Fast and Furious future sequel.

This dude is the best thing about the fifth and sixth fast, furious films… although he died at the end of the third one. Which makes no sense, but it is what it is. (They’ve explained it by saying that the third one takes place AFTER the sixth, which makes no sense but let’s just accept that and try to work around it.)

This cool guy.
This cool guy.

Unless they decide to retcon him back to life, which I would be okay with because I think it’s something that this franchise should be okay with, the only other way to bring him back is that he’s a Force Ghost driving a Ghost Car. Or he appears in Vin Diesel’s passenger seat and gives advice and reminds people not to drive too fast or they might die in a fatal car accident like he did.

Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic World

How much better would it have made Jurassic World if, when the kids find the jeeps in the old abandoned Jurassic Park complex, there was a ghost of Jeff Goldblum hanging out there.


He could discuss chaos theory and give them advice based on his previous dinosaur adventures. Maybe he can be in Jurassic World 2: Jurassic Universe?

All the previous James Bonds, lined up in a row, looking at Daniel Craig, at the end of his last James Bond movie

Something like this. (Photo from this site.)
Something like this. (Photo from this site.)

It would make for a pretty powerful moment, and would also be a nice way to confirm the old “James Bond is a codename” theory.

Bobby Fischer in Searching for Bobby Fischer

One controversial element of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer is that Fischer never saw the film, didn’t like his name being used, and received no monetary compensation for it being made.

Fischer in Leipzig in 1960. Perhaps he could be added back in with a hologram, similar to Tupac at Coachella?
Fischer in Leipzig in 1960. Perhaps he could be added back in with a hologram, similar to Tupac at Coachella?

But what if they had offered him the role of himself, as a Force Ghost, at the end of the movie, cheering on the protagonist? That would’ve both made Fischer feel better AND made it a better movie.

Every movie ever?

The real question might be: what movies shouldn’t have a Force Ghost in them?

If the Candidates were Sci-Fi Movie Characters: A Cheat Sheet to the 2016 Presidential Election

During the last presidential election, Rick Santorum famously told the media that he felt like “this campaign is like an episode of ‘Survivor.’ It’s just a matter of staying in there and doing well.”

It’s hard to disagree with Santorum, especially when the field is this crowded and complicated, stuffed with minor characters and distractions. But to me, there is something that it resembles even more than Survivor. It reminds me of a science fiction movie, specifically one in which the ensemble cast is picked off one-by-one.

The current cast of presidential contenders is now three times the size of the cast of Alien.
The current cast of presidential contenders is now three times the size of the cast of Alien.

It’s standard for Science Fiction films to either wipe out all the characters, all the characters except for one, or leave us with a small rag-tag team of survivors.  Examples include: Alien, Predator, Pitch Black, Armageddon, The Matrix, Sunshine, Deep Blue Sea, any zombie movie ever made, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Each of these films begins with a large cast, which we see gradually whittled down until only one or two actors are left. Usually, it’s the actor who got paid the most to be in the movie, just like it’s usually the candidate who spent the most.

Sometimes you know exactly who will make it.  And other times, it’s hard to predict who the last human standing will be.

(Please note: when I draw these comparisons and ask if a candidate will “make it,” I’m referring only to their chances of remaining until the end of the election. I’m not suggesting anyone is getting eaten by aliens or turned into a zombie I also haven’t included the photos of the candidates, only their counterparts, because I think  we all know what these candidates look like).

Let’s take a look at the who’s who.

Continue reading “If the Candidates were Sci-Fi Movie Characters: A Cheat Sheet to the 2016 Presidential Election”

Why Harper Lee’s “New Novel” is the Literary Equivalent of Greedo Shooting First

People love pretending that there is a new novel by Harper Lee, available in stores now. But we all know there isn’t.

I’m not going to go into all the details of it, because there are enough articles that already do, but basically: it’s likely that Harper Lee is being exploited, her supposed new novel is really just an early draft of the famous novel everyone has already read, and lots of highly questionable things have happened in this whole situation.

The main reason that I’m not going to read it is simple. I like To Kill a Mockingbird, and I don’t want to ruin it for myself.

Society has one simple trend: whenever something can have more money squeezed out of it, it will have more money squeezed out of it. Oftentimes, this takes the form of toys, food, spin-offs, sequels and prequels. But sometimes it takes a more sinister form.

What's next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?
What’s next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?

Of course, there are times when Director’s Cuts are needed. Blade Runner is a great example. The original film is so chopped up and bizarrely edited that the story lacks continuity and swims with nonsense. The Director’s Cut, for the most part, fixed those flaws. Continue reading “Why Harper Lee’s “New Novel” is the Literary Equivalent of Greedo Shooting First”

Can Darth Vader Be Forgiven?

So.  The new trailer for the new Star Wars is out.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Episode 7.  If you haven’t watched it yet, here you go:

Okay, did you watch it?  As you saw, the entire thing is set to a monologue by Luke Skywalker, talking about the Force and his family.

The one aspect of it that I find most notable is that, when referring to having a strong gift for the Force, Luke does not say my father had it, but my father has it.  This suggests that, in Luke’s opinion, Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, should be referred to in the present tense and not the past.  (Yes, the dialogue is based on a very similar monologue in Return of the Jedi, but that doesn’t explain why he is speaking as if his father is still alive.) Continue reading “Can Darth Vader Be Forgiven?”