The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Don’t Think About It

watching movie popcorn

If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, then repeat to yourself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax…”

These are the last lyrics of the theme song to Mystery Science Theater 3000. This caveat exists because the premise of the show isn’t about the setting or characters or universe. It’s about making fun of bad movies. You don’t need an aesthetic for that (and in fact, RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic have proven you don’t). It’s just some pleasant decoration around the content. A wrapper. It’s not meant to be thought about.

And yet people do.

There are countless fan fictions, fandoms, cosplay, puppet construction, books, plays, and FAQs

Remember when Star Wars premiered? (No, probably not.) It was popular, but it was still a movie. A combination of samurai cinema and war films dumped into science fiction and goofy shit like space apes and robots with anxiety and cinnamon bun heads.

I mean, think about Darth Vader without any context. Hard to do, I know, but look at him standing there. Black boots, bulbous helmet out of Mars Attacks, laser sword, and a cape. Kinda goofy, isn’t it? Then thirty years later happened and now the red & white droid that breaks down as Luke and Uncle Owen are walking away from the Jawas has a backstory. It has a backstory!

The coffee maker has an action figure. Jabba’s band has an album. More brain cells have been killed in the name of Star Wars than thinking of solutions for world peace.

The whole reason I’m thinking about this is because of the “Movies with Mikey” video essay about “Bill & Ted” in anticipation of the third movie. He’s a great analyzer but one of his repeated motifs through the piece is “don’t think about it”.

The reason is that the premise is silly. Two stoner rockers need to pass history class with an awesome presentation or the band will break up. This is a problem because, in the future, they write the song which unites the world in love and peace.

So a representative of that future gives them a time travel device so they can retrieve historical figures for their report. Straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will.

Immediately, discerning minds among you will have several questions. Is this really the best way to help Bill and Ted? Will abducting historical figures disrupt the past? Will giving them information about the future affect their work from thereon? Why are there no records of the figures talking about their adventures at the San Dimas mall? Do they need supervision operating a device that could wipe out space and time? Why is it a phone booth? (Besides ripping off Doctor Who.) How can a ten-digit number signify an exact place and time from at least 1 million BC to 2655 AD? Any point on Earth, any point in time, down to the…day? Because Rufus says to get to tomorrow, you have to dial one number higher. But then a clock for “present” San Dimas is still running? And I’m not even going to get into the fundamental questions which plague even the best stories about time travel. There’s very little about the story that makes sense (but that’s par for the course in any story involving time travel).

What does Mikey say? Don’t think about it.

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me lampshades this specifically. As Austin is trying to understand the causality of time travel before he goes back to 1969, his boss says “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.” Austin himself turns to the camera and, with a wink and a nod, agrees.

But I can’t enjoy myself! Because I do think about those things! My mind is trained to. It comes from all those games like Dungeons & Dragons and Chess and Magic: The Gathering where you have to remember a hundred different conditions and reactions and bonus effects and strategies that are all going on at the same time. It comes from my education as a programmer, where you’ve got to remember what fourteen million lines of code do because it’s all a Jenga tower made of spaghetti. I have to think about these things–it’s what I do!

I’m not a fan of the idea “don’t think about it” axiom when it comes to consuming media. That’s a bad path to go down.

For one thing, it lets bad media “get away with it”. Crap TV and movies only meant to exploit your attention and take your money (stuff like Reefer Madness, Mac and Me, Catwoman, Gigli, Glitter, Showgirls, Batman & Robin, and The Land Before Time 87).

For another, it’s used as a defense against people who say “How can you like this? X, Y, and Z are wrong with it. If Q is true, nothing in the plot works. How can character R be so stupid? All these plot holes and character mistakes make no sense.”

“Don’t think about it.”

For another, people love thinking about it! They must–that’s why there are shows like Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis and The Game Theorists/Film Theorists and Cinema Sins and Mythbusters. That’s why there are DVD commentaries and “behind the scenes” documentaries. Who thinks about how long Bill Murray was in a time loop in Groundhog Day? Millions of people, that’s who!

Knowing how the trick works doesn’t necessarily take away the magic. If you turn off your brain, you can’t appreciate it when they do get things right. It’s the little touches that show that people put EFFORT into the creation of the piece. That means they cared. And if they cared, you should be allowed to.

So there’s the question: Should you think about it? Should you not? Is it up to you? Does the combination of viewer and thing-being-viewed make the difference?

I think the key to remember is that no story is flawless. (“No movie is without sin.”) Citizen Kane, always considered the best of the best of the best in cinema, has a huge plot hole: the whole movie hinges on discovering the meaning of “Rosebud”, his last words. But Kane dies alone, so how does anyone know what his last words are? None of the movie should have happened.

Gone with the Wind has an electric lamp and It’s a Wonderful Life has a disappearing wreath between shots. How does Andy Dufresne reattach the Raquel Welch poster so securely after his escape in The Shawshank Redemption? In The Karate Kid, the referee explicitly states that hits to the face are not allowed. How does Daniel-san win? A glorified kick to the face. And we shall forever debate whether Jack could have fit on the door next to Rose.

Did any of these mistakes affect your enjoyment of the film? Did you even notice them? You probably will now, but how much will it change your enjoyment? Not much, I wager. Fiction helps us understand reality. Just like kittens play-fighting or your kids playing with action figures. It’s a safe space you can explore ideas or simulate new ones without hurting anyone. Everything from Casablanca to Bill and Ted.

It’s the movie’s duty to create more good parts than bad. That doesn’t mean expensive special effects or complex acting nuances. It means creating a playspace with emotional investment, rather than logical. Movies with nonsensical premises, like Mrs. Doubtfire or Edward Scissorhands or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs don’t get trashed because the story pulls you in. (And if I knew how they do it, I’d bottle it up and make a million dollars.) But I do know that without investment, your attention wanders away to the problems.

It’s like ants in your sugar. One ant can be picked out. But the more ants you have to pick out, the less appetizing the sugar gets. Or like a diamond ring–if you don’t like the husband, you start seeing the flaws in the rock.

Now, you can get TOO emotionally invested in a movie, like Star Wars or Harry Potter where it becomes your whole identity. (Also applies to things like music, sports, YouTubers, female pop artists, and podcasts–anything with a toxic fandom.) A good story brings characters to life. But when you confuse those characters with reality or choose to give up on reality and live in the illusion, that’s a problem. Especially when it starts hurting others. You choose the movie, don’t let the movie choose you.

But to say about any movie “don’t think about it” is to let others get away with poor quality and low effort. It gives carte blanche to bad actors, malevolent producers, maniacal writers, and anyone who uses story-telling to exploit people and gain money. If you don’t care about the obvious distracting flaws, why should they? That’s why people get away with The Human Centipede and Caligula and Old Fashioned (or any Pureflix movie) or The Oogieloves. They advertise nasty sex or gore-riffic violence or reaffirmation of your Christian values or 90-minute distractions for your kids.

I’m going to watch Bill and Ted 3. And I am going to think about it. And it’s up to the movie whether or not it’s earned the right to rise above the flaws & mistakes. To create give & return in the characters so that I’m no longer looking for the strings holding the flying saucers.

You can think about it too much, but you should always think about it.

The Flaw in the Defense of “Cuties”

cuties fruit orange citrus

Anyone justifying the existence of Cuties is missing a crucial aspect of the puzzle. The plot is the same thing as “Bend It Like Beckham”, but meaner. We all know the huge problem with it–it sexualizes twelve- and thirteen-year-olds in the context of modern dance.

Its defenders say the movie is actually a critique of the hypersexualization young women. That it’s presenting the content in a negative light. It’s about the “dangers” of such activity.

That’s bullshit.

There are 2-3 minute montages of them dancing outside, on stairs, on a stage. Wearing revealing outfits. Twerking, thrusting their hips, gesturing to their vaginas. That’s not criticism, that’s a music video.

You know how I know? You could tell the same story using magic and nothing would have to change. Have the girls practice close-up illusions, card tricks, coin tricks, prestidigitation, escapology, levitation through a hula hoop, street/guerilla performances. Have them trick the security guard by doing the “pick a card” routine and he’s so impressed he leaves them alone. Montages of cards flying through the air, getting trapped in the box, as they learn their skills. You could even keep the same “rebelling against religious values” theme since magic is “witchcraft” or “grifting”. And the ending is a bunch of adorable little Zatannas on stage doing their final routine. Instead of debasing women, it’s empowering.

Another reason how I know? No one ever has experiences any negative consequences for their actions. In fact, the characters are rewarded. They twerk for a security guard to get out of trouble. One takes a cell phone pictures of her genitals and posts it to social media to get popular. The main character pushes someone in the river. They take a picture of a boy’s private parts.

No one ever gets in trouble for this. The movie never shows “Thirty Years Later” when they’re all strippers and strung out on heroin.

Another, less used defense is that the film is French, so there’s a cultural divide in how sexuality is perceived over there. I say, if this is acceptable content in your culture, maybe your culture sucks. Just because it won a Sundance award doesn’t mean quality. Suicide Squad won an Oscar too.

Don’t pretend this movie is trying to be Kids. The intended audience is the same as the child beauty pageant judges in South Park’s “Dead Celebrities” episode.

Field of Dreams is Stupid and You’re Stupid for Liking It

field of dreams poster

Boy I’m getting all my controversial opinions out, aren’t I?

Field of Dreams is on everybody’s “Best Movies” lists, but it’s a stupid movie and no one understands why. I guess because it makes them “feel good”. Which, I guess, is fine — art is supposed to make you feel something. I suppose it’s satisfying to see a jerkass yuppie blowhard get his comeuppance or an affirmation that the life choices you made weren’t mistakes or to see a grown man get a second chance to bond with his father.

And it all hinges around baseball. That god-given, American-as-apple-pie (suspiciously-similar-to-English-cricket) sport of kings and peasants. It’s Hollywood’s go-to pastime and cinema darling. Easy to pick up, hard to master. It has so many aspects ripe for stories–the economy (Moneyball), triumph over prejudice (A League of Their Own, 42), relationship woes (Fever Pitch, Trouble with the Curve, For the Love of the Game), thriller (The Fan), coming of age (The Sandlot), wish fulfillment (Rookie of the Year, Little Big League), and of course, the good old underdog story (Major League, The Natural… and pretty much all the rest). But then we got Field of Dreams, which is a… ghost story… where ghosts are nice?

And by the way, why is it that one guy can’t see the ghosts and then can suddenly see them all after one steps out. And why do the ghosts appear as the age they were at their baseball prime, but they seem to remember everything of their lives? This is my complaint about ghost stories in general — ghosts have no rules so nothing matters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ghost baseball

Here’s my first problem: the main character has no character arc. What’s his problem? Well, he’s bored. He’s a man of the land, beholden to his bills. He feels like he’s missing something, that he’s meant for something more. Well, isn’t that white privilege in a nutshell. You’re stuck in Iowa, that’s your damn problem. People in Iowa look at Des Moines like it’s Capital City. (“Man, if I could just get to Des Moines I’ll have ‘made it’.” “We gotta get to Des Moines this weekend.”)

That’s what he wants. What he needs is to reconcile with his father. All he wants is to have one last “catch” with his dad. Well, that’d be fine except that it never comes up. None of the problems or conflicts in the plot have anything to do with his father. In fact, you forget he’s even a factor until the end of the movie.

And what’s worse, the movie doesn’t show you any of these motivations, it TELLS you. It tells you in the opening narration. It tells you in an actionless dialogue between him and his wife. What does that make the plot? A bunch of gibberish.

The inciting incident for the plot is that Kevin Costner hears a voice. It tells him to build a baseball field. Why does he do it? Because there’s no movie if he doesn’t. It’s like the Gremlins rules. I mean, I love Gremlins, but no sunlight? No water? Those are the two most abundant things on this planet. How have gremlins not overrun the world by this point? How does Gizmo live without getting water to drink? They make the rules silly so that they’re impossible to follow. Because if they are followed, there’s no movie.

Anyway, back to Kevin Costner. Nothing he does is character-motivated. He doesn’t build the field because his family will starve if he doesn’t, or it’ll lead to seeing his father again. He just does it because someone told him to. This is what we call “railroading” in the D&D world. The Dungeon Master is putting out notes and clues so the players will go where HE wants them to go. He doesn’t let them act according to their motivations, their wants, their mistakes, desires to love and protect and sacrifice. So what does this voice want? To get America to appreciate baseball again?

For instance, there is no reason that, at the baseball game, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) should suddenly jump in front of Kevin Costner’s car just as he’s about to leave, thinking he’s failed his mission, and confess that he saw the ghostly message on the jumbotron too. It’s so dramatic it’s comical.

What should have happened is that, after this white guy talks his ear off about voices in his head and old dead baseball players in his yard, he sees the Jumbotron get all screwy and display a message about Archibald “Moonlight” Graham and goes “Holy shit! Did you see that? The Jumbotron’s messing up and no one else can tell! Are you seeing this?” No, he just keeps it to himself so we can have this cinematic revelation later.

“We’re coming for you, Barbara…”

Since we mentioned him, let’s talk about “Moonlight” Graham and his strange subplot. Kevin Costner does some research and finds out he was a kid who played one inning, then became a pediatrician. What does Kevin Costner need to do for him? Nothing, I guess, since he’s quite dead. But then he time-travels to 1972 and has a conversation with old Dr. Graham (or his ghost–who knows), in which he affirms how he’s quite satisfied with how his life turned out. Everything seems resolved.

EXCEPT, on the way back home, they pick up (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham. They take him to play baseball with all the other ghosts. Later, when Kevin Costner’s daughter starts choking, there’s a big dramatic moment where (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham has to step off the baseball field and become (the ghost of) old Dr. Graham. (More ghost rules: how does he know he can save the girl if he’s not old enough to have gone through medical school yet?)

So what was the point of that? Didn’t we already establish that Dr. Graham accepted his life choices? Why did we need to show this again? And what does it matter — he’s a frickin’ ghost. He can’t change. He can’t influence lives anymore. But the story is treating him like a protagonist who needs to learn a lesson. What is this for? Who is supposed to see this?

Speaking of ghosts — fuck “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Even the movie doesn’t make him very likable, and it’s supposedly painting him as a good guy. He’s a cheater. He’s a stubborn asshole. He’s a moron. He changed his story throughout the trial. He took $5,000 but says he “did nothing on the field to throw the games in any way”. If you take money to commit a crime, but don’t commit the crime, that’s still wrong. Even if he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t speak up when others did. He could have done something but he let it happen. It’s like what Spider-Man said in Captain America: Civil War.

But the thing I most hate is James Earl Jones’s speech at the end, basically browbeating us with “why this movie is so great and you should like it and if you don’t like it, you’re a communist.” And it sucks because James Earl Jones is a highlight — it’s nice to see him playing someone who’s not a king or an emperor or the voice of one. But here’s what he says when the yuppie brother-in-law tries to convince Kevin Costner to sell the farmland and he can’t think of a reason not to (other than the ghosts in his corn):

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers. Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it? That sounds frickin’ scary to me. How? How did they know? Are they zombies? Brainwashed? And there’s life after death? Ghosts are real? Does this suddenly prove the existence of God? Holy shit, forget baseball — this changes everything.

But even if divine intelligence hasn’t been proven, the whole thing sounds pretty apocalyptic to me. The last shot is this huge line of cars jampacked on the road to his house. Everyone’s suddenly been called to this farm field in Iowa. They get there and it’s “Why am I here? I suddenly had the urge to take my family two hundred miles away, ignored my job, forgot to feed the pets, and didn’t bring my wallet.” Plus, Kevin Costner’s farm is going to be trashed. Remember Woodstock?

“They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines” — bullshit. Do you see those cheap bleachers? Maybe, like, ten people’ll fit into those seats. The voice told him to build a field, but it wasn’t specific on seating capacity, unfortunately.

“Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon.” I just have no idea what this means. What does it mean to “sit in shirtsleeves”? Does one “sit in jeans”? Or “sit in a hat”?

“It’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” You do realize that not everyone likes baseball, Terrence? Not everyone likes sports. Some of us like our cosplay or video games or tabletop games or puzzles or self-fitness or non-competitive sports like American Ninja Warrior or Wipeout or competitive non-sports like The Masked Singer or RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“Baseball has marked the time.” What, did time not start until 1871? Was there no American history before that? Was everything else unimportant? Incidentally, no one invited Satchel Paige or Smokey Joe Williams onto the “field of dreams”, did they?

Can’t wait for this guy to sit in the stands in shirt-sleeves.

And at the very end, Kevin Costner gets his catch with his dad. He gets to “resolve” things, although they do it in a very manly way where no one expresses any feelings or apologizes. Plus, it’s his dad before he had his kid. So while Kevin Costner might feel reconciled, it’s not reciprocated. The father (who is a ghost) doesn’t understand what’s going on and gets no catharsis from it.

I mean yeah, maybe I’m being nitpicky and pedantic here. But this is supposed to be a story about faith and redemption, and I don’t see where the events of the plot reflect that theme. And I don’t see the story of a man overcoming obstacles to get to his atonement (and what he needs to atone for doesn’t seem significant). I see a man being forced into action with no stakes, no regard for motive, and no idea what the end goal is. The puzzle purely exists so that pieces can be put together, not to make a beautiful picture.

Sub-Worlds in Horror

super mario minus world

Since I’m noticing trends these days (and why not, I’ve got nothing to do but stare at the ceiling while contemplating civilization and life and the meaninglessness of time), here’s another one.

Is it just me or is there a thing about horror movies and thrillers hinging on some kind of subworld? Especially since the year 2000. Stranger Things has the “Upside Down”. Insidious has the “Further”. Coraline has the world of the “Other Mother”. Get Out has the “Sunken Place”. Even Us had a subworld with its secret lab maze under the carnival. I didn’t see Don’t Blink, but I guess that has some kind of Bermuda Triangle thing going on. And there’s the room in 1408, although I think that might just be haunted.

I know alternate dimensions are nothing new in speculative fiction, but it seems horror especially has been using this as a trope lately. Why? Usually horror movies prey on fears that consume us in our current society. But I’m not sure which one this is or why it’s coming up now. Is it preying on the fear that there’s some kind of other society that we know nothing about that could rise up and invade any time?

Is it rooted in climate change? The “Upside Down” does look pretty polluted.

Is it manipulation? In both Get Out and Coraline, the extra dimension is used as a way to placate the victim, luring them somewhere so the bad guy can parastically use them.

Is it… is it… ghosts? I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything for Insidious. That movie was so stupid (and the impetus for this article) I had to write something about it. I mean, the bad guy is called “lipstick-faced demon”.

Lanterns helpfully provided at the entrance to extra non-corporeal dimensions

Aren’t we a little old and jaded to be scared of “demons” and “ghosts” anymore? Didn’t Buffy put that whole genre to rest? Nowadays, horror’s family-oriented (The VVitch, The Babadook, Us, A Quiet Place) or functional relationships (It Follows, Get Out). Not ghosts and goblins.

Or maybe it’s just me who’s old and jaded. I’m so jaded Indiana Jones tried to steal me to put in a museum.

get out sunken place

Bird Box: It’s a Metaphor

bird box poster

Saw Bird Box over the weekend. I know it was good, because I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking about it so much. Replaying every scene in my head over and over.

It’s just everything. Just good storytelling, good movie-making. I tweeted, while I was watching it, “No one should ever be allowed to make something this good.”

Or it could be horror movies. The last time this happened to me was Saw. And that was as much being scared of the irony vs. deconstructing the plot holes (there’s no way that guy could lay on the floor that long and not move). Anyway, Bird Box.

The whole thing’s a metaphor for becoming a mother.

tfios augustus waters cigarette metaphor

There’s been a strange increase in this new genre of “family horror” (a name which is terribly misleading) in the past handful of years. The Babadook, Hereditary, A Quiet Place*, Halloween (the newest one), The VVitch, mother!, Insidious, 10 Cloverfield Lane. Women are no longer in trouble because of an axe-wielding masked maniac. Now they’re in trouble because something’s trying to hurt their kids. The allegory of sex has become the allegory of parenthood.

*It’s kind of funny that the two best horror movies of the last two years–“A Quiet Place” and “Get Out”–are opposite each other. Think about it. Both are “Monster in the House”, but one is about one who gets treated as the invading monster and the other is about a family attacked by the invading monster.**

**And while I’m thinking about it, “A Quiet Place” and “Bird Box” are kinda opposites too. In one, you must be soundless. In the other, you must be sightless.

bird box see no evil monkeys

The Babadook is the most obvious allegory for family trauma. It represents the feelings of guilt, grief, and depression after a traumatic death (her husband, in this case). As the “Babadook” gets closer, the mother acts out against her child. (Or is it the other way around and she acts out, causing the Babadook to move closer, hm?) She only wins when she confronts it, both the monster and her husband’s death. But, like grief, it’s not something she can get rid of. When the movie ends, it’s still in her basement. The grief is never going to go away, but it’s manageable.

babadook
Babadook-dook-dook, Dook of Earl, Earl, Earl…

In Bird Box, the story starts with pregnant Malorie… who is surprisingly uninterested. She’s dispassionately painting some dispassionate people while her sister gets all her groceries. She’s pretty unattached to everything. I thought maybe she was on the spectrum at first. She seemed like she couldn’t understand empathy.

Anyway, the doctor tells her “the baby is coming whether you want it or not, so you better get used to it”. That’s the first time she throws up. It’s not morning sickness, it’s nerves. My wife did the same thing.

flex seal bird box

The whole movie is an allegory for the unknowns that come with being a parent for the first time. Hence the blindfold–you’re going into it blind and there’s nothing that can guide you. Dr. Spock can write as many books as he wants but he’s not going to be there at 3 in the morning when your kid is crying and can’t stop.

Malorie seems like a woman who always knows what to do. A good planner. Someone in control. Parenthood is not about that. It’s about rolling with the punches. Adapt, overcome, survive. Be like water. You’re driving blind (which they actually do).

So as soon as shit gets cray-cray, she’s in a house with other survivors. Now, we all know that the biggest threat in these movies isn’t the monster, but man.

facebook monster man

So who do the survivors represent? Well, when you have a baby, your relationships with people are going to change. You don’t have as much time as you used to. No one wants your job but everybody thinks they can do better. So you got Charlie (the weird cousin), Greg (the helpful gay guy), Lucy (the useless friend who says she’s going to be there for you because she’s always out on Friday night in her selfish hedonistic ways), and Douglas, the angry father-in-law with a shotgun (played by John Malkovich, need I say more?).

We also got Olympia. She’s also pregnant, and she’s the other side of Malorie’s coin. She’s all excited, but also never experienced hardship. She’s the sweet innocent who lets in Gary, the impetus of their demise.

Gary is the guy a single mother dates who says he’s going to be there for you, be there for your kid, but just wrecks everything. Takes it all away. I think the movie was too nice letting the handsome Tom survive.

So now Malorie’s got her own kid and Olympia’s. And her fears have come to fruition. Tom, the co-parent, is the fun one, but she’s the hardass. Get to bed, brush your teeth, do not take off your blindfold or I will hurt you. She doesn’t even give them names, they’re “Boy” and “Girl”.* Is this her spectrum showing? Or is this some kind of Adam and Eve grandeur.

*(Please please please let this movie be popular enough to start a new naming trend, like “Bella” and “Khaleesi”.)

bird box blindfold sandra bullock pinata

Anyway, the backstory is over and this is where the “movie part” of the movie happens. All the tension and drama and action. So we don’t get to wrap up this allegory until the end. Everyone has wandered off and Malorie makes a plea to her children to come back. This is especially poignant with Girl, who she threatened before because she went wandering after Malorie, thinking she was in trouble, and got harshly reprimanded.

Malorie promises to let her listen to the end of the story, to show her wonderful things. This is both the dark night of the soul and rising up to the challenge. Because being a mother isn’t about control or “winning”, it’s about being and staying together. And when they’re safe, Malorie gives them names, indicating their new, more personal, relationship.

bird box monsters
New D&D campaign

So that’s Malorie. That’s her journey from detached and connectionless and depressed to smiling and content. Really, you don’t even need monsters for a story like that. So then, what is the monster?

It’s her.

It’s Malorie’s own self-judgment. It’s the monster she sees when she looks inside herself. Think about it–people who see the monster become locked off. They can’t be reached, can’t be reasoned with, can, and become conclusively sad. They can’t love or be loved. And that’s what she sees when she looks outside her body. She is cut off from people, accepting of no love, only sadness and fear.

bird box eyes

The crazies play a role in this too. They’re byproducts of the monster. They bring others down around them, make them sad. They’re what Malorie is afraid for the people around her. They’re going to drag everyone down with them.

And the reason why victims of the monster commit suicide is because that’s what Malorie’s thinking in the back of her mind. She’s worried that she’s not worth it in the long run. You’ll note she’s never very happy during the movie. Not that that’s surprising given the situation. But also, she has nothing she’s moving toward, nothing to go to. No reason to hope. She’s afraid she’s not worth being here. The monster is Malorie’s worst self.

bird box sandra bullock blindfold

Since these scenes are sprinkled throughout the running time, they’re meant to run parallel with the flashbacks (and you can see that with the “one of you will have to look” kind of thing and the placement of the psycho in the river with the psycho in the grocery store). In this way, the scenes in the present show us the tension and mood for the past. Malorie is still a hardass and still not quite capable of loving her children. Not till the very end when she realize what she could lose–the future. More specifically, their future. Cause parenthood isn’t about you, it’s about helping someone else.

So yeah, that’s Bird Box. I was surprised that it’s Rotten Tomatoes score was so low. It should have been at least a 70%. And Sandra Bullock hits all the right buttons.

bird box kfc chicken

Where’s the Other Side of the Abortion Debate? (a.k.a. why media uses the ‘pull-out method’ when it comes to abortion)

abortion parenting adoption crossroads

It’s time to talk about abortion. And as a straight white male, I feel the most qualified.

I’m pro-choice, so if you already know nothing’s gonna change your mind, better skip this article. It would be a waste of your time.

My base line is that I have no right to make decisions about procedures I know nothing about and can never experience. Men may have a say, but women need to design the rules. Men don’t get more than that until something makes them obliged to share the consequences of a baby.

I’m in favor of giving women choices, but for some reason people think “pro-choice” equates to “pro-death”. Pro-choice means don’t make a blanket ruling for all women everywhere. It means each woman gets to make that choice for themselves. It means they make that call. If the government or conservative Christians want to influence that decision, they’ll have to go up to each woman individually. Having the right to choose is different than actually making that choice, but that’s not how they paint it. They make it sound like every pregnant woman is going to get one.

Even though legal abortion has always been favored by Americans, the government — state, federal, local, whatever — has been pretending that they don’t. States make laws that, while still legal, make it nearly impossible to get one. They do anything they can to paint Planned Parenthood as an dead baby factory. Pass laws that require physical exams or waiting periods (read: chances to talk you out of it) or a hard cut-off date that’s so close to when pregnancy can be first detected it gives almost no opportunity. I don’t get why. What money is in it for them (besides lobbyists, but they can’t be contributing that much, can they?)

First of all, it’s unfortunate that the term we have to use is “abortion”. That’s such a ugly sounding word. a BOOR SHUN. That B is what really makes it misophonic. Some doctors use “termination”, but that’s not better. Makes you think of The Terminator. You may be laughing but words are influential, as I’ve mentioned before. I believe it’s the reason Blu-Ray conquered HD-DVD. They’ve done studies that show men and women react to neutrally-spoken out-of-context words. And it’s the reason we say “faucet” and not “spigot”. I’m not saying everything’s solved if, instead of “abortion” we say “fleebydeeby”, but much of the debate is bounded in rationalism vs. emotionalism.

homer simpson flanders crabgrass fence
“There’s nothing wrong with crabgrass. It just has a bad name, that’s all. Everyone would love it if it had a cute name like ‘elf grass.’”

And I’m not discounting emotionalism. It is a valid method of reasoning and criticism. Something doesn’t feel right. You don’t know why, but it feels wrong to put this knife into that guy. I probably shouldn’t do it. Lindsay Ellis put it better in her recent “Q & A”.

At the end of the day your feelings are your feelings. Feelings are not rational. You can rationalize them by having supporting evidence. But at the end of the day, if you have a criticism, it’s probably because you had an emotional reaction. Finding words and supporting evidence and being able to articulate why you feel that emotional reaction is the best you can do. And I think the worst people can do is have an emotional reaction and not really explore it and not really put words to it, not really articulate why they feel the way they feel. Either that or just delude themselves, which is also really popular these days.

The problem is that people don’t understand what motivates them, why they are feeling the way they feel. That’s why emotionalist arguments seem empty — the evidence to prove or persuade is purely personal (I did not mean to put so many p‘s in there). So the provocateurs end up yelling and screaming, balling their fists like babies, and blaming and shaming.

But what emotionalism does have is art and this leads to my thesis. Even though the majority of people are in favor of abortion, mainstream media ducks the issue completely. By skirting or avoiding confrontation with the issue (so they can make all audiences happy), one side gets more exposure than the other.

This trope is called Good Girls Avoid Abortion. If a story brings up the issue, it’s always with a negative connotation. It’s always the worse of two bad choices. It overshadows any other plot, becoming the theme, which is oversimplified into “quick and easy” versus “long and difficult… but rewarding?” And since so many stories are about “doing what’s right vs. doing what’s easy” (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.) it gives unfair advantage.

It’s the bad girls (read: sluts) who get them and the douchebags who suggest them. Although, really, it’s the writers standing on both sides of the fence. Having the break room cake and eating it too. And adoption, though probably the best choice, is rarely invoked because viewers always expect it as a future plot twist, like Morgan Le Fay coming back to kill King Arthur. Of course, the writers aren’t the one who has to carry the baby to term. They’re not risking the health of the older woman or raising it at nineteen with no money. Why don’t you go be homeless and live with your kid in a women’s shelter?

abortion movie

In movies, if the issue comes up, that’s all the plot is about. There’s never a side character or side story about it. Except in the case of Dirty Dancing, but it’s still for the benefit of the main characters. A background dancer (one of the dirtier ones, I wager) has one in her home where the conductor takes her money, performs poorly, then leaves. That requires Baby to fetch her father (a doctor) for help. It’s a whole big turning point where bonds of trust are forged and hearts are warmed. Baby shows that she’s not just a condescending aristocrat, and so on and on.

dirty dancing abortion

But it portrays abortion as this scary back alley thing where some guy will shove a knitting needle up your ass. Which it was, back in this time, pre-Roe vs. Wade. But for a lot of women, this is their first exposure to the potential reality of getting an abortion. And it’s quite negative.

Then there’s the big ones like Juno and Knocked up. At first, titular Juno thinks she’s just going to “nip that thing in the bud” as she says, not doing any favors to imagery. But on the way, she has one pitiful protestor to ignore until she mentions the baby has fingernails. Of course, being so quirky and twee, that’s what makes her turn around. Not the heartbeat or anything like that. The best part is fetuses don’t have fingernails at that age of development, so the whole plot is based on misinformation, like Lucy.

juno protestor

Thankfully, Juno opts to put the baby up for adoption. But it’s open adoption — meaning she gets to choose the parents and throw out certain decisions as if she’s going to be the parent. As if she’s going to be the one getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning when it’s crying. Most of the story is about her relationship with the adoptive parents and the conflict it creates. But at least, in the end, no one changes their mind at the last minute. My problem is that the abortion thing had to be in there at all. It doesn’t affect the plot, and it’s still treated as the worst choice.

Knocked Up is even worse. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl have a drunken one-night-stand. He “almost” uses a condom, but she says something about hurrying up that he misinterprets and now we get a movie poster with nothing but Seth Rogen’s stupid face.

knocked up poster seth rogen

Why why why would you ever keep a baby created from that kind of situation. This man has no job, no money, no ambitions beyond getting stoned and possibly being interested in thinking about making a website with clips of celebrity nudity. Meanwhile Heigl has a career she cares about and is trying to build up. She has nothing religious holding her back and no reason to think she couldn’t have a family in the future. The only people who suggest abortion are the assholes. Almost the exact same thing happens in Look Who’s Talking. (Although I don’t know how old Kirstie Alley is supposed to be in that. 22? 32? 42? She looks as old as my Mom. But the guy she’s fucking looks like a grandpa.)

kirstie alley look who's talking
Also what’s the deal with that cubicle wall?

It gets worse in science fiction. It’s not so much the wrong time or few resources (in the future, they just stick babies in one of those Buy n’ Large daycares where robots look after them). But where the big problem is risk to the mother’s health, they still refuse to terminate the pregnancy. She’s going to have that baby or die trying. In The Fly, Geena Davis has sex with post-accident pre-brundlefly Jeff Goldblum. Even after she knows her baby won’t be human, she still wants to carry it to term (thus, we get The Fly II, where she dies in childbirth. Good call.)

There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where there’s an alien species who wants to know what humans are. And I guess way to learn it is to do it. So it impregnates the sexy one with itself. Of course, the crew doesn’t know this, they think she just became spontaneously pregnant. Worse yet, the fetus is gestating wildly fast. Fast enough it could kill her. I mean, like, nine months in a few days. So total alien, totally unwanted, and totally threatening. But NOPE, gonna keep it. This is Star Trek — the galaxy’s all about ethics and morality and human futurism.

data pregnant troi star trek
And don’t forget the comic relief where the Spock stand-in has to help deliver.

In Twilight, Bella is vomiting blood and suffering a broken spine. Just gestating is actively . Labor might kill her and the baby in the process. And she STILL won’t consider termination. Better to die a noble warrior’s death than have that sinful abortion. What else would you expect from a Mormon.

bella pregnant twilight
“Yes, nurse, this patient looks suitably healthy to deliver a baby in hard labor.”

TV shows always have at least one episode where a main character faces a surprise pregnancy (either real or false). More times than not, they keep it. It’s just too much of a gimme for writers. A pregnancy gives you nine months to write jokes about swelling feet or food cravings. Then it provides a natural climax for the season finale. And if it’s enough to pull you out of the ratings slump that provoked this plot in the first place, you’ve got all those baby hijinx situations for next season. You’d be a fool not to snatch that low-hanging fruit, no matter how undesired or consequential the pregnancy would be for the woman. Half the time it’s because the actress got pregnant in real life, so why not take that flag and raise it?

Teen soaps are prime breeding ground (pardon the pun) for this. In Switched at Birth, we have Lily who has an unwanted pregnancy. She just broke up with the father. They are both 21. He is unemployed and she’s working at Krispy Kreme or some place. And an amniocentisis shows the fetus will have Downs’ Syndrome. Everyone tells her she should end the pregnancy… except for one person. And that’s the person who changes her mind. Of course, you’d figure this is the conclusion they come up with, given this is a family drama on the Freeform used-to-be-The-Family-Channel network.

But I’m from a previous generation, so I don’t know much about these new-fangled shows. Still, the trope was plenty present in my time. In Beverly Hills 90210, the quintessential teen drama, Andrea, a.k.a. the one with the glasses (so you know she’s a good girl) gets the treatment. Her whole deal is that she’s just started dating the father, she’s eighteen, she’s a freshman in college. She doesn’t want a baby. She’s not in any ideal situation for a family and since she has glasses, she’s rational, so she decides to get an abortion. But she gets the “change mind at last second” twist because we can’t have Andrea be bad.

Meanwhile, in Party of Five, a sister melodrama on Fox, Neve Campbell’s character got the “one-and-done” episode where a convenient miscarriage lets her avoid a decision. God decided just to “nip that in the bud there”. The aforementioned BH90210 had the same thing happen to Kelly.

Now onto sitcoms. Oh, sure, we can occasionally bring up this “dark” subject in a comedy, but very rarely. Wouldn’t want to stopper the laughs from “Malcolm in the Middle”. This is a case of “actress got pregnant so we have to write it in somehow”. And ignores that A) this woman has to be at least in her late 40’s B) they are slightly above the poverty line, mostly because C) they already have four boys — one had to be sent to military school and the three others are headed the same way. I mean in the “set the house on fire, can’t be left alone” sense. Like real life first-season Bart Simpsons. But nope, the family never considers it, even though it’s clearly a valid* option.

*Note, I’m not saying the “right” option. In these cases, there is no such thing as a right or wrong decision, just what appears to be best at the time, which is a matter of rationalism vs. emotionalism. More on that later.

Similar events happen in Roseanne, Frasier, and Friends. All unmarried women. All in mid-life. All with excellent careers. All with fathers unwilling to be a parent. Roseanne’s the only one “edgy” enough to have some character development attached to it. But in the end, the baby is kept, despite the consequences.

murphy brown title card

And Murphy Brown started it all. I guess you have to be really old to remember, but there was a hyped controversy thanks to Dan Quayle. Remember Dan Quayle? Remember when he was the only elected official we had to worry about? Those were the days. God, I’d suck someone’s dick to have Dan Quayle back.

Anyway, he made a big stink when he cited Murphy Brown as the cause or result of the degradation of family values (I’m not sure which he was siding with) what with them unmarried womens raising a child without the man-beast. Candice Bergen, to her credit, didn’t stay silent. She wrote the single-ness and baby-ness into the next episode with vigor and gusto (which sounds like a pasta dish) motif-ing that families come in all shapes and sizes — no one has better or worse “values”.

These are all shows you know. They all have abortion brought up. No one is ready to have a child. But none of them choose that choice. There’s plenty more egregious examples on the trope page. I had no idea anime had so many. No matter where you think “life begins”, no one can argue with “don’t do anything and you can’t be wrong”.

But my point is, the exhibition is one-sided. It’s not that these plots exist, it’s “where are the other sides”? Where are the women who choose abortion? Why not show their journey? It’s not like there isn’t plenty of conflict to exploit. Why not show the problems with finding a clinic? Or navigating the onslaught of protestors and harassers? The expense?

The only place I’ve seen it ever was in G.L.O.W. (on Netflix), which doesn’t treat it as a plot point, not a character moment, not as a mistake. It’s just an event and no one speaks of it ever. It seems like they show it just to show it. But sometimes, that’s how it is in the real world — no pathos or circumstance.

You ever watch politicians? They either declare themselves “pro-life” or don’t bring it up at all. Being pro-choice makes more rational sense, but it feels like the arguments fall on deaf ears becaue the opposition will only hear of sanctity and morals. Justification rooted in faith and belief rather than proof. But they keep being crazy about it, citing facts that aren’t true and using “shock and awe” tactics.

When you’re thinking about any moral issue, you have to ask your five questions:

1) Will it do harm or provide care? (This isn’t an “either/or” but an overall. You have to cut someone open to get that cancerous tumor out.)
2) Will it be fair to all involved? Or at least be reciprocal? (Meaning is it square for all sides. Or “does the punishment fit the crime”?)
3) Does it maintain loyalty?
4) Does it respect authority and/or tradition?
5) Does it violate what is sacred? Is it abhorrent? (by this, we mean “disliked because of immorality”)

So you see both pro-choice and pro-life have a grip. It’s 1 & 2 versus 4 & 5. (3 doesn’t seem to apply to either side.) Any of them could be correct. There is no such thing as “wrong” on this topic. Abortion provides care, but it feels wrong. And sanctity & tradition, while valid, have also been used to justify segregation, anti-semitism, and white nationalism. People who argue for values are the same ones who turn out to be Roy Moore or Anthony Weiner or Denver “Bigfoot Erotica” Riggleman

referee foul logical argument fallacy

Okay, that’s fair. But you should declare an “appeal to emotion” for the other side.

referee foul logical argument fallacy
Those penalties offset. First down.

Thank you. And keep this in mind: An argument is when you are trying to determine WHO is right. A conversation is when you are trying to determine WHAT is right.

This blog was inspired by this article.

Screw Your Misery Over The Last Jedi

star wars last jedi

That’s it. I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more. I’m sick of these entitled crybabies whining about “The Last Jedi”. They’re making fan-edits to cater to their own “vision”, they’re making Change.org petitions to remove it from canon. And yet they can’t come up with one good objective reason for this hate. Complaining that’s not how the Force works? Go ahead, make that argument. You do realize that the Force does not exist, right? That it’s a construction of imagination and, therefore, it can do anything the writer wants? You’re all a bunch of fucking entitled, obsessive morons who had every opportunity to succeed in life but failed. Stories belong to their readers, but that doesn’t mean you can change what they are. 

But I want to talk about the biggest hot take–Luke isn’t acting like I want him to I think he should Luke.

I think these people complaining see too much of themselves in Luke. They’ve grown old and bitter, fatigued with how the creators treat their “mythology” as a business, too influenced by MST3K and South Park, like it’s cool to deconstruct everything to feel important. Finding the flaws in everything makes you feel superior. But like they say in Ratatouille, the critic who decries a work of art for being mediocre isn’t half as important as the creator who made it so.

I totally believe Luke would become jaded and bitter and cynical about Jedi. Maybe, after seeing everything that had happened, he believed the Jedi’s time had passed. Like Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, the Jedi had their shot, and the universe evolved out of them. Let me give you three reasons why this makes perfect sense to me.

1. The Far Past

Let’s assume that Luke learned the history of the Jedi he didn’t have time for because he was fighting a war. A reasonable assumption, given that, as sole representative of all Jedi and teacher of the new generation, he’d want to know his legacy. There might not be many records left (authoritarian empires like to rewrite history) but the force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin were all there. They could give him an oral history (Yoda’s certainly old enough). In other words, Luke watches the prequels.

And he learns the Jedi went from noble peacekeepers of the galaxy to a council of snooty politicians sitting in a room, handing out decisions about trade routes for places they had never seen. The High Council was more concerned about midichlorians, rules about marriage, and who gets into their little inner circle than actual philosophy. Maybe ten thousand years ago they were the galaxy’s guardians–noble warriors using might for right–but ten thousand years of peace makes people complacent.

That brings us to…

2. The Near Past

So in learning about the Jedi Council, you have to include their downfall, brought about by a small boy. He would have seen all of Anakin Skywalker’s history, what turned him to the Dark Side. Of course, Luke would want to know this–he’d want to know A) how a Jedi turned to the Dark Side, in order to prevent it from happening again and B) what the Jedi Council did in reaction, paranoid, hunting the Emperor down, the one guy who gave Anakin the time of day. Mace Windu viciously attacked Palpatine, causing the hatred that fuels Vader. Morally wrong, but justified in-character. I might do the same thing in his place.

Anakin Skywalker did everything he could to stop the thing he feared the most, the loss of his loved ones. But in the end, it happened all the same. The Jedi way forced him down the Dark Side to prevent it. So what else was there for him at the end but to embrace it totally. Especially since he’s living in constant pain from what Obi-Wan did to him.

And maybe Luke sees this and wonders, if the Jedi, ten thousand strong, could have been destroyed by one man, how great and powerful were they really?

3. The Immediate Past

Luke sees all the things Darth Vader did. All the horrible deaths, torture, genocide, child murder, planet devastation, done by a single wreck of a human. For nineteen years, he cut through anyone in his way with the fire of a thousand suns, like Sherman’s March. He came in like Aegon Targareyn the First, landing on Westeros and forcing the nine houses to bend the knee. He eliminated traitors with prejudice, tortured P.O.W.s, made deals with criminals. There was no moral code stopping him from victory.

But in its context, Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker was one man. One aberrancy after eons of peace and prosperity. Like a mutation. A black plague. A fluke. He may have almost wiped everything out, but there’s that word–almost. It’s been tough times, but the war is over. Now is the time to rebuild. The threat of the empire is over. We’ve learned from our mistakes, instituted prevention. For another Darth Vader to come along would take ten thousand more years.

Enter Ben Solo.

How would it feel if, after defeating the strongest dark lord, the most powerful Jedi ever seen, you find out your nephew is the same. He’s been putting up Sith posters, talking about how great the empire used to be (“at least they made the Star Destroyers run on time”). You sacrificed so much to defeat Darth Vader, and here you are raising another one. It’d be like if you were the one to kill Hitler, and then you find out your grandson is a Neo-Nazi.

It doesn’t matter whether Luke knew Snoke had already gotten to him or not, the damage was done. There’s another potential Sith Lord in your bunk bed. Wouldn’t you want to just chuck it all and say “what’s the point?” Wouldn’t you say “this Jedi stuff is bullshit, if it’s just going to keep creating Darth Vaders”. Luke may have begun to think that the force is too powerful for anyone to handle. If you have a powerful weapon, better to destroy it than let it fall into the wrong hands.

Conclusion

I think Luke is acting completely in character, just like how Anakin Skywalker would have been a whiny, self-centered brat, using arrogance to hide his fear that this could all go away. Your complaints didn’t change anything then, they won’t change anything now. Luke’s been living with failure for twenty years. The whole point of the movie is that failure is not bad. Failure should not be run away from. You learn from it, use it to teach others. Luke is this movie’s protagonist, not Rey. He’s the one that learns something. He’s the one that changed.

Besides, how seriously can I take you when “your kind” releases a fan edit that removes all people of a certain gender from a movie. Taking out Jar-Jar is one thing–he’s comic relief with no impact on plot. But you can’t digitally remove 50% of the cast. What are you expecting? Is this supposed to be a statement? Satire? That someone burnt calories on such a bad idea blows my mind.

MRAs are complaining that the events in Last Jedi are against canon. Where’s the evidence? I don’t see anything that contradicts established canon. There are things that establish new canon, but point out something that says “in Episode X, someone explicitly says they can’t do Y, but they do Y in this movie”. Show me where that happens, where it’s not conjecture or supposition.

And it can’t be a “well blah blah blah wouldn’t-” No! Character errors are not errors. You don’t know what Luke’s been through from the Battle of Yavin to now, so you can’t tell me what he would and wouldn’t do. People change. People’s minds change. Their motivations and beliefs change. So don’t tell me Luke is the same wide-eyed farm boy turned hero from Return of the Jedi, especially after having his father die in his arms. Tell me that wouldn’t change a person.

 

I think the people complaining are the ones who ate a steady diet of expanded universe novels between 1980 and 2015. Their Luke is the one that continued having adventures, fighting General Thrawn, falling in love with Mara Jade, established a New Jedi Order, ended several wars, including a second Civil War, etc. But this ain’t that universe. The novels were “the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker”, like the legends of King Arthur or Greek myths. On-going stories, mixing and adding characters, all attuned to the time they were written.

This ain’t that world anymore. This is Star Wars: The Next Generation. This is a new set of characters with their own trials to get through, and the world of Episode 4/5/6 is in the past. The universe has moved on from that point. There is a new order. And since events have transpired in a different way than the EU, yeah, characters aren’t going to act the way you think they should. Because the fact is, those novels were written in a different time. Just think of the presidents that have passed through office since 1983. 

Don’t watch the movies to find the next clutch of settings and characters for fan art. It’s not a newsletter–Updates from a Fictional Galaxy. Don’t watch it to see the same thing that made you happy thirty years ago.

Anyway, when it doesn’t go the way you want, just tell yourself a wizard did it.

Coco’s Stupid Anti-Piracy Message Ruins Coco

coco family movie poster

I saw Coco this weekend. Good movie, emotionally comparable to Up. Seems predictable though (even my eight-year-old told me she’s sick of stories where someone good turns out to be someone bad e.g. Frozen, Toy Story 2, Up, Monsters, Inc., Wall-E, Toy Story 3, etc.) But there was a thing that bothered me — a thing that ruins the movie experience (besides the four year old behind me who can’t shut up and shouldn’t have been taken to a movie if he can’t stay quiet).

Before the movie, three people from Pixar are standing outside and talking about how they made the big shot where they feature the Land of the Dead and how many animators it took and how many layers and so on and thank you for seeing our movie in the theater. The whole thing is a thinly-disguised attempt to dissuade pirates. A little less harsh than those dark blue/scary font short films.



Problem is, it’s not better. For one thing, this is going to do nothing to discourage piracy. If someone’s going to steal the movie, they’ve already done it. This is punishing the people who paid to see it. It’s like those “Click It or Ticket” or “Stop Senior Abuse” bumper stickers. Well, I was going to smack around an elderly woman today, but after seeing that bumper sticker I’m reconsidering it.

Second, you just ruined the best shot in the movie. I’d seen glimpses of it from the TV, but nothing that equals its grandeur, more like seeing a thumbnail. But then they put it on the big screen in their little vignette, and now its ruined. I don’t have any context to it, so I can’t appreciate it in its natural setting. Now I’m A) anticipating the shot B) instead of thinking how cool this looks I’m thinking about how they made it.

And now I’ve ruined it for you.

Come on, Pixar, you’re better than this. You KNOW how to make movies. I figure some bigwig production executive said “hey, you need to record some anti-piracy message. Make it personal so it doesn’t sound threatening. Or transparent. Or effective at all.” It’s like when they ruin reality TV with bumpers and commercials for shows. Example, a voiceover for “Dancing with the Stars” says “Whats-his-face has a shocking surprise that makes the judges heads turn.” And while the voiceover is going, they show him on an elephant or a unicycle. Totally ruins the suspense, the angle, and most of all, the need to tune in to find out. Idiots.

What is Saturn from “Beetlejuice”?

beetlejuice otherworld saturn titan sandworld

So here’s a question I’ve been wondering about since I was seven years old. What the hell is that place in Beetlejuice with the desert and the two-faced sandworms and the moons and time apparently moving faster?

What do we know? Well, our first glimpse happens when dead-Alec Baldwin walks off his front porch. The camera whips around weirdly and he’s there. It’s like he’s on a different world–dark blue sky, green planet, weird stone coral-like structures (I assume they’re stone). Something is moving in the sand, something serpentine.

He spends about five seconds there. Then dead-Geena Davis pulls him back on the porch and tells him he was gone two hours. But this is dismissed quickly for other revelations. I have no idea how she pulled him back on the porch. Was he just standing on the step? Staring into nothingness all that time?

Another time, dead-Geena Davis tries to leave the house. Dead-Alec Baldwin follows her. They both end up on “Saturn” and are immediately separated. They can’t even see each other, like they’re miles away. But somehow they find each other, and rediscover the door back to their house. This is the first appearance of the sandworm, which they narrowly avoid thanks to a well-timed Davis slap (precursor to The Long Kiss Goodnight?).

*Seems like time moves differently whenever they’re not in the house. After they draw a door and meet with Juno, they find the family totally moved in, and they’ve been gone three months. So it’s not just the sandworm place. Are they part of the same plane of existence, just different locations?

sand worms beetlejuice

Next, when we finally meet Beetlejuice and he’s making his pitch (was this all a precursor to Michael Keaton’s role in The Founder?) and he says “Look, you’ve been to Saturn! Hey, I’ve been to Saturn. Whoa, sandworms, you hate ’em, right?” So that means it’s a place common to all dead people (also exemplified by the fact that dead-Genna Davis rides one into her house). Also, how does Beetlejuice know by looking that he’s been to Saturn. Does that “look” mean “look at you!” or “look here, buddy”? Also, Beetlejuice can teleport people there?

beetlejuice saturn sand worm

Okay, so WTF is this place? Is it a planet? That’s what I thought as a kid, since I didn’t know any better. They’re being transported to the planet Saturn. But that doesn’t explain the time-movement, the sandworms, the door, the lack of rings, the fact only dead people can see it, that it’s a gas giant with no solid surface or breathable atmosphere.

Is it some kind of underworld? Saturnus is the romanization of Cronus, the titan that was the father of all the Greek gods until Zeus fooled him. He was a symbol of wealth and agriculture (but so was just about everything) and time. Except for that last one, I don’t see the relationship here.

In the cartoon, the sandworms live in… Sandwormland, which is below the “Neitherworld” (Beetlejuice’s realm).

Here’s a quote from the TV Tropes – Headscratchers page:

[Wikipedia] says that in an earlier draft, it was called Titan rather than Saturn (which might explain the giant moon in the sky: that’s probably Saturn itself), and that might still work, since Betelgeuse says “you’ve been to Saturn” (he didn’t say they’ve been “on” Saturn, so maybe he meant the Saturn moons).

Here is that Wikipedia quote:

“Skaaren’s rewrite also altered McDowell’s depiction of the limbo that keeps Barbara and Adam trapped inside of their home; in McDowell’s script, it takes the form of a massive, empty void filled with giant clock gears that shred the fabric of time and space as they move. Skaaren had Barbara and Adam encounter different limbos every time they leave their home, including the “clock world”, and the Sandworm’s world, identified as Saturn’s moon Titan.”

postcard saturn sand worm beetlejuice

So I guess we could call this place Limbo, like in Dante’s Inferno, but this doesn’t explain the deal with the sandworms who… eat ghosts? Is the place one big Pac-Man level? (But not really, since Beetlejuice survives getting devoured by one?)

What the hell is this place? I wanna know!

beetlejuice video game screenshot
This is more of a limbo than anything.

The Books I Read: July – August 2017

bookshelf books

norse mythology neil gaiman
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I expected this to be like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. And I got what I wanted. It’s a tightly paced retelling of the old Norse creation myths. Problem is, there aren’t many of them. I suspect that’s more to do with lack of surviving source material, given what Neil Gaiman says in the foreword. Maybe a long time ago there were scrolls and scrolls of Loki and Thor stories. Now all we’ve got are comic books. And if you’re any fan of Marvel’s interpretations, this is required reading.

The nice thing is that the re-tellings are up to date. I expected something Shakespearean or textbook-dry, like Hamilton. But the narration feels like an old storyteller sitting down by the fire, telling yarns to the grandchildren. The details behind Ragnarok and Fenrir and Loki are fascinating. It’s funny and suspenseful and creative. There are one-liners and drama and character flaws & flawed actions. It’s flavorful.

If you haven’t picked up Neil Gaiman before, this might be a good one to try. The content doesn’t consist of his usual dreamlike, abstract faire (that I’m not too fond of either). And you can tell it’s material he’s passionate about.

tough shit kevin smith
Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith

One night, before going out, Kevin Smith asks his wife “Can I stare at your asshole while I jack off?”

So depending on your reaction to that line, you can judge your potential interest in this tome.

Kevin Smith is, uh, an interesting fellow. Well, what I can I say? He was one of the voices of a generation. You look at the nineties and people think Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Kevin Smith. The guy is, at heart, a storyteller. I could listen to him talk about Superman and the Giant Spider all day.

And that’s what this book is. You get to hear how he met his wife, the making/publication of Red State, the Southwest “too fat to fly” fiasco, the up and down relationship with The Weinstein Company. The nice thing about Smith is he’s able to admit his wrongs and justify his rights. He never assumes he’s the smartest guy in the room and always gets feedback on if he’s showing his own ass (because that’s easy to do when your content consists of stinkpalming stoners and Carlin-esque religion satire).

The book is equal combinations of crudeness and heart, black humor and childlike wonder. It’s a good book for insight on the Hollywood scene, especially for potential indie film-makers. And it gives more inspiration that “you can make it” than “this is how to make it” (which is really all luck more than anything).

the killer angels michael shaara
The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Sharra
(unfinished)

I might have finished if I hadn’t realized there were SparkNotes for it. Also a movie. Also, I didn’t care enough about the characters to know if they lived or died. And these are real characters that I know if they lived or died (spoiler: they all died… eventually).

I put it on my to-read list because I heard that this is the book that inspired Joss Whedon to make Firefly. Well, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. But when I got to 40%, I realized I had gotten everything the book had to offer. The prose is dry and the characters read robotically. Maybe that’s to do with their military upbringing, but it’s hard to sympathize with the team that’s not fighting for the right side, even if they may or may not “believe” in that side’s cause (which is stupid, but I’m digressing).

If this was meant to teach me about war novels, I learned that they are boring. The plot is mechanical. Arguing about strategy–“take that hill.” We took that hill. Our guys got shot. We shot their guys. Argue, argue. Decide on more strategy. It’s how I imagine Warhammer novels are.

And then there’s the constant self-doubt of anyone in power. I imagine that’s true, but it gets annoying to constantly read about. The historical factor isn’t enough to pull me in either. Plus I know how it ends. So what did I come here for?

terry pratchett going postal
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The city government grants a con artist a second lease on life if he can get the post office up and running. The mail system’s fallen into disrepair since the clacks (a telegraph/semaphore system) went up. But the evil business that owns them has been embezzling and employee safety has paid the price. So it’s David vs. Goliath as the thief has to figure out not only how to eschew his criminal background, but also how to deliver floors full of letters as he avoids the shadowy businessmen.

This is an adventure story. It’s not dissimilar to any other Pratchett – if you’ve read one of them, you’ve know what to expect. And this won’t convince you otherwise. I picked it up because it’s the highest rated/ranked Discworld novel in the series, and thought I should read this if not any others.

I consider Pratchett to the be the fantasy equivalent of Douglas Adams. That means events take a backseat to world-building and situation-explaining. Plot pacing is sacrificed for humor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Written humor is hard because you lose all elements of timing. So if you can get a chuckle out of anyone, you’ve accomplished a great deal. And this got several chuckles from me.

The key negative is the unlikable characters. The con man doesn’t really want to be there. The government is forcing him in this job on threat of death. His chief ally at the post office is an old man who’d rather see tradition served than do any work. Plus a young man who might be autistic (he collects pins and goes into fits when routine is broken). No one is particularly charming, but Iron Man seems to get away with it. The other problem is too many subplots, due to the too many characters, which is par for the course in Discworld.

It’s a book of contradictions, but a solid four stars.

13 treasures
13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
(unfinished)

It’s full of cliches. The story makes a promise in the first chapter that doesn’t get fulfilled or hinted at for the next four or five. Which means it’s a cheat.

This girl is apparently the one who can see fairies and thus under their constant threat (because she could reveal their existence). This means a bunch of hijinks that can’t be explained has already happened and the mother has no choice but to send her troubled child to live with her grandmother in the country. There’s a neighbor boy who’s kind of annoying, weird neighbors, parents who don’t understand, falling in love with a library, and a witch who gives her a trinket for no reason. Didn’t I see this already in Coraline?

There’s more narration than dialogue. No one has any personality. The character makes no connections or relationships in this new setting. Events happen without being rooted in some cause. The protagonist has no “save the cat” moment. She’s a whiny inactive protagonist. And lots of telling. There’s even a gypsy woman (and I thought that term was racist).

This is just some thirteen-year-old’s badly conceived fantasy.

the rest of us just live here patrick ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

All the characters here are broken. And thus, interesting. But this is not a fantasy novel. This is a standard YA novel with real-life problems. Non-real elements are minor and don’t affect the plot.

Something’s going on in the background of said plot. Something “Harry Potter” or “Buffy” involving a Big Bad and Apocalypses. But that’s not what the story is about. This is about the extras that end up in the B-roll, when the cameras pan over the ambulances. Who are those people?

One is gay. One is going to a war-torn third world country after graduation. One is a recovering anorexic. And one (the main character) has a compulsion disorder. There is magic in the world, but no one is using it. No one wants to. They’ve seen what happens to the kids who do. They’re stressing about college, graduation, dating, whether he-likes-her-but-does-she-like-me. It’s nice to see a deconstruction of the hero’s journey, but hard to do well. This one does. The style reminds me of John Green writing a Harry Potter background character or A.S. King (“Please Ignore Vera Dietz”).

stephen king just after sunset
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
(unfinished)

I read the first six stories. Only one provoked any reaction from me, thus I put it down. They’re all typical Stephen King — overwritten and full of generic description. I think he’s said everything he’s needed to say, and now he’s repeating himself.

Plus the thing about short stories is that they never seem to matter to the world within. They’re never important or epic. There’s no point to invest in one because it’s gone as soon as you do. They’re just slices of life.

They’re also not scary. He’s gone from tangible horror to the existential slipstream hypnosis or something like that. There’s a Family Guy joke where King’s publisher is asking for his next idea. King looks around the office and grabs a lamp. “For my next book, um… this couple is… um… attacked by, um… a lamp monster! Oooh…” There is LITERALLY a story like that, but it’s a stationary bike. “Ooh, look at the scary stationary bike. Ooh, you don’t know where it’s taking you. Ooh, is it making you hallucinate or is it real?” Please.

i hated hated hated this movie roger ebert
I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert

I enjoyed “Your Movie Sucks“, and thought this one would be even better, because it might include more movies I’m familiar with. But that’s not the case. It cuts off in 1999 and includes a ton of stinkers that I don’t remember at all. (There’s even a review of a MST3K movie, I thought that was a neat anachronism.)

This one seems to lack the vitriol that the sequel had. Probably because Ebert hadn’t reached peak cynicism yet. I thought I’d enjoy hearing his witty evisceration of my nostalgic classics, but those were few and far between. It’s too bad you can’t buy just the reviews of the movies you want to read about.

the long way to a small angry planet becky chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I cannot remember why I put this on my to-read list. It’s like a combo of John Scalzi and Leviathan Wakes. The characters are colorful, like a readable Firefly, but painted with a comic book brush. So they’re actually happy–not sullen or brooding or grimdark. That’s weird to me, but welcome. But after I finished, I was of two minds about it.

One one hand, it’s amateur hour. The entire middle could be removed without affecting the plot. Each chapter is episodic and self-contained. Some characters get a lot of screen time. Others you forget are there.

There’s an illusion of consequences to character actions… but nothing really happens. For example, the main character has a “the liar revealed” moment, and it affects nothing because everybody is so nice. No one dies. No one loses an hand or a mentor. Nothing changes anyone or anything. Nobody gets to say “Man, I regret doing that thing” or “I was wrong to do that”.

Finally, the “episodes” get transparently political. There is one that’s an immigration allegory. One that’s a LGBTQ rights allegory. One about religious freedom.

On the other hand, these are fun characters. They’re enjoyable to be around. They’re funny and smart, they don’t make stupid decisions. They’re practical and don’t fall into space opera tropes. It’s a little like Star Wars if it was created by the person who wrote My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s not morose empire drama. But I don’t think I’ll read the second one.