The First Flop Far Far Away

In the wake of Solo‘s lackluster opening weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Released in, 1969 OHMSS was the first “flop” of the James Bond franchise and there are marked similarities between the 6th official Bond film and the 2nd Star Wars spin-off. OHMSS replaced beloved Bond star Sean Connery with an unknown younger actor named George Lazenby, the production was plagued with bad press regarding on-set drama and the script was laden with ham-handed references to previous entries. The story also portrayed a softer side of James Bond. We saw him experience a moment of heartache that helped us understand why he would grow into such a cynical womanizer as the years went on.

 

Audiences balked at the idea of a new actor portraying cherished character and OHMSS under-performed at the box office. Critics rang a death knell for the James Bond series and predicted the character would drift into irrelevance in the 1970s and beyond. The producers panicked and orchestrated a quick course correction. Sean Connery returned for the following film which doubled down on the tried and formula for the series. OHMSS became known as the black sheep of the Bond saga and Lazenby disappeared into obscurity.

As the years wore on Lazenby’s solo turn as the world’s greatest secret agent was re-evaluated by critics and fans alike. Eventually it became regarded as an underrated classic and one of the best in the series. By the time I became interested in James Bond there were some hardcore fans who went as far as to say it was the best Bond film.

I hope that someday Solo will be regarded as an underrated entry in the Star Wars saga. It’s far from a perfect film and an ultimately an entirely unnecessary one. And yet it tickles a place in my heart that I haven’t felt since the first entry in the series. The criticisms leveled at the film are precisely what I enjoyed about it. I like that we see a fully-formed Han Solo rather than see him become Han Solo. We saw how that approach went down with Anakin in the prequels. I enjoyed that the film checked off all of the boxes one would expect in a Han Solo film. I loved that it fixed the Kessell run parsec problem and we see Han shoot first. I like the little references to the old expanded universe lore. Fundamentally I just enjoyed Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. He’s cocky, funny and charming. Like Lazenby he has big boots to fill. No one will ever be Harrison Ford just as no one will ever be Sean Connery but Ehrenreich does a better job than anyone expected and I think anyone else would have been able to pull off.

I’m not worried that one flop far far away will tank the Star Wars universe or ruin anyone’s career. I am worried that Disney and Lucasfilm will learn the wrong lessons from taking a loss on this entry. I’m worried they will make an illogical course correction and steer the franchise in the wrong direction. It’s debatable whether OHMSS is the best Bond film, but history has been much kinder on it than the next entry, Diamonds are ForeverDiamonds was regarded as a welcome return to form for the superspy but now routinely ranks among the worst films in the series. Whereas Lazenby’s bond was youthful, athletic and energetic, Connery is doughy and disinterested in Diamonds, thoroughly phoning in his performance. While OHMSS is a tightly-plotted hard-nosed adventure film, Diamonds is a bloated self parody that lazily drifts between set pieces. The style of OHMSS maintains a timeless quality whereas Diamonds is a dreadfully tacky exercise in 1970s excess. James Bond remained successful for decades to come but in retrospect it really lost its way after their first flop. One need only look to Moonraker or Die Another Day for that reality to sink in. I hope that the next Star Wars film will not be the Moonraker of the series.

The reputation of OHMSS as a flop is actually misleading. Although not a box office phenomenon like its predecessors, the film did make money. And I’m confident that as the years go on Solo will eventually roll into the black on Disney’s ledgers. I hope that Disney chooses to move forward with another Solo or Lando film despite this disappointing take, much in the same way Warner Brothers continues to churn out DC movies despite horrible reviews and mediocre earnings. But even if Solo turns out to be the George Lazenby of the Star Wars universe I will always cherish this charming but troubled $300 million disaster.

 

Advertisements

The Last Jedi: An Honest Trailer Totally Destroys How Everything Wrong with an Epic Take-down Should Have Ended

It is a magical moment at the movies. Sitting with my sister, my best friend, the Leia to my Luke, the person who I saw Star Wars for the first time with, seeing something we had waited our whole lives to see. The return of Luke Skywalker. The Jedi Master takes his sister’s hand and my sister takes mine. I am one with the movie and the movie is one with me. As a jaded “older” Star Wars fan in my thirties, it’s harder and harder for me to suspend my disbelief these days. And yet there I am, fully transported to a galaxy far far away. It’s not a perfect movie. With the exception of The Empire Strikes Back there is no such thing. And yet opening night of The Last Jedi is about as close to a perfect movie-going experience as I can imagine.

rey-and-luke-skywalker-in-the-last-jedi.jpg

On the way home I check Twitter and am truly shocked. Some hard-core fans hated it. The Last Jedi has a lower audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes than The Phantom Menace. There’s a petition on Change.org to have it removed from Star Wars canon. Some douche on Instagram burnt his own Star Wars t-shirt and declared that Star Wars is dead. I don’t think these guys represent all fans or even a majority of them. They are simply the loudest voices, the “alt-fans” of geekdom, the “Make Star Wars Great Again” contingent of whiners. And it’s time to shut them the fuck up.

I’m sick of hearing about how Return of the Jedi  “should have ended” or listening to some wannabe without a single IMDB credit “totally destroy” The Force Awakens. If I wanted to hear “everything wrong” with Rogue One I would have asked and the next time an “honest trailer” pops up in my feed promising an “epic takedown” of The Ewok Adventure I’m honestly going to lose my mind. There is a toxic obsession with trying to ruin other people’s enjoyment of popular films and with the intense “fan” backlash over Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’ve finally had it.

The guys raging on Reddit and Rotten Tomatoes about The Last Jedi being worse than The Phantom Menace are not really fans of anything except their own sanctimonious opinions. I don’t think they’re even Star Wars fans. The overwhelming fan backlash over the prequels was understandable. There was some fairly thoughtful criticism of The Force Awakens, much of which I agreed with. But this snarling anger over The Last Jedi is nothing but a frothing frenzy of self-aggrandizing madness. This mean-spirited side of Star Wars fandom is not a sudden development and even the beloved original trilogy of films are starting to feel its rage.

It used to be the general consensus that the prequels were crap and the originals were unimpeachable. But then Return of the Jedi started getting hate among hard-core fans. The opening act is slow, Han Solo’s character is weak, the Ewoks are stupid and how is the Empire defeated by a bunch of teddy bears? Okay, valid points but I still love this movie. Then the original Star Wars started getting a brow-beating! The film slows down on Tatooine, there are pacing issues in act two, Mark Hamill is a bad actor, there are two climaxes, blah blah blah. Well, at least we have The Empire Strikes Back. Not only the best film in the series but one of the best movies period. Surely that classic is safe from the wrath of fandom, right? Well apparently there’s a huge “plot hole” regarding Luke being trained by Yoda in only a couple of days, the Millenium Falcon wouldn’t be able to get to Cloud City so quickly, and C3PO’s whining “ruins” the film. So when all is said and done, according to hard-core fans, there are really only about 47 minutes of Star Wars that’s actually any good. I honestly think that the average person likes Star Wars more than the average superfan. I don’t know what these guys want. They long for the old Star Wars yet hammer those films for their weaknesses. The Force Awakens was too much like the old movies but The Last Jedi is too different. Disney has been desperately trying to figure out how to please these idiots and I think it’s time to just ignore their bullshit. These fucks would probably complain about getting a backrub from Slave Leia while Yoda tickled their balls.

The Last Jedi is a bold attempt to move on from what we expect from a Star Wars movie. It’s weird, it’s different, and it’s occasionally jarring. But guess what? So was Star Wars. As conventional as the original trilogy seems, that’s because they established those conventions. In reality, the original Star Wars was an extremely bizarre, experimental and daring picture in its day. The best moment in the otherwise very safe The Force Awakens was the vision Rey had when she touched Luke’s lightsaber. The scene was unlike anything we had ever seen in a Star Wars film. The Last Jedi is a whole movie of that scene. It is the end of everything we thought Star Wars was and a promise of everything it can be. In that way it captures the revolutionary spirit of Star Wars by being unlike any Star Wars film in the past. Our villain Kylo Ren spells it out. “Let the past die,” he tells Rey and the audience, “kill it if you have to.” Our hero Luke Skywalker literally casts aside the past by tossing his own lightsaber away like Prospero’s staff.

The Last Jedi succeeds by challenging our assumptions about a universe we thought we knew so well. As the second entry in the new trilogy, we all assumed the film would contain a shocker as epic as “I am your Father” and Star Wars fans became obsessed with “calling” what the twist would be. Most of the theories revolved around our new protagonist Rey. We all assumed she had to be related to someone we already knew — a Skywalker, a Kenobi, a Palpatine, hell even a Binks! But the real “twist” of The Last Jedi is that we were all wrong. Rey isn’t a Skywalker, she’s nobody. The legendary Skywalker lightsaber is nothing. The Star Wars universe is much larger than we ever thought we knew. After decades of cloying “fan service” it was a huge “fan fuck you” and I loved it. Everyone obsessed with “calling it,” everyone who thought they were so smart that they figured it out was dead wrong. But, like, isn’t that what a twist is all about?

And what a twist indeed.  It deserves a place in the pantheon of “Rosebud is a sled,” “it was Earth all along,” and “Tyler Durden is the narrator.” It is a colossal meta-mash to the balls of fandom like we’ve never seen and it had me laughing with glee as I clutched my own crotch. What a fucking ride. What a risk. What a moment in cinema history.

But that doesn’t seem to be the biggest cause of rage directed at The Last Jedi. The true coup de gras behind the hate was the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, whose appearance has been awaited since before I was born. Yes I was brought into a world desperate to see the return of the great Luke Skywalker. We got glimpses of it in comics, novels and video games. Luke Skywalker finally wearing the traditional robes of the Jedi of yore. Master Skywalker overseeing the glorious return of the Jedi Order. The mighty Luke toppling AT-AT walkers with the flick of his wrist. Luke Skywalker, savior of the Galaxy in his clean white robes, lightsaber at his side, standing toe-to-toe with entire armies, defending the New Republic. We sat on the floor of our bedrooms, carpet strewn with action figures playing it out again and again. We knew this was the destiny of Luke Skywalker.

We were wrong. He’s a sad old man living on milk and fish in a crumbling ruin with a bunch of frog babushkas, spacecows and fuzzy penguins. Everything we knew Skywalker would accomplish, he failed at. He failed to re-establish the Jedi Order, he failed to protect the New Republic, he failed his own family and the entire Galaxy. No! No! That’s not true!  That’s impossible!!!! Nooooooo! Nooooooooooooooooo!

And then relief! Another twist! Luke has arrived! A glorious Deus Ex Machina for the history books. Clad in the Jedi Robes, beard and hair trimmed to perfection, lightsaber at the ready, defying the armies of evil! YES! SEE! We were right! This is what became of the great Luke Skywalker. He looked just as he did on the covers of all those books and comics. It was happening just like we played it out on that carpet with our toys. We were wrong about Rey but we were right about this!

And yet, the real twist was it wasn’t the return of Skywalker at all. It was what everyone thought his return would be — both in the audience and the Star Wars Universe itself. It was an illusion. He was a galaxy away, manipulating the minds of everyone. Moving himself across the battlefield like a kid playing with his action figure. And then he disappeared. After over 30 years of waiting to see the return of Luke Skywalker, we learned that he would never return at all. Eat your heart out Citizen Kane. This is a twist for the ages.

The fans took to Twitter. “This isn’t Star Wars! This isn’t Luke Skywalker! Star Wars belongs to us! You don’t understand Star Wars! We do!” But here’s the thing. No one owns Star Wars. Not us, not George Lucas, not even Disney. No one truly understands it either. The lasting appeal of Star Wars is as mysterious as the Force itself. Luke spells it out for us. The Jedi were hubristic. They thought the Force belonged to them. They thought only they understood it. As the old Star Wars fans we were the Jedi. We thought it belonged to us. We thought we understood it. We were wrong. If anything, it belongs to the children now. The young padawans in the audience. It’s hard for us old fans to pass on the series to the younglings like a treasured heirloom and in some ways The Last Jedi is a beautiful pang of that heartache. The ghost of Yoda tells Luke that the hardest part of having students is that “we are what they leave behind.” I think that a lot of the rage against The Last Jedi is from those who feel as though they are being left behind by their favorite franchise. In the end of The Last Jedi we see a young boy playing Star Wars on the floor with his friends, telling the story we just saw with a crudely-made Luke Skywalker “action figure.” It’s a bit on the nose but it’s a genius moment. He is both the old and the new generation of fans. He knows what happened to Luke Skywalker and so do we. Now it’s time to find out what happens to him. The biggest Galaxy in the Universe just got a little bigger and I’m excited to explore it with the old generation of fans, my own generation and the next. Luke Skywalker is dead. Long live Luke Skywalker.

 

The Battle for Battlefront

It’s a watershed moment in the history of gaming. The night before a hotly anticipated launch, Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, takes a call from Bob Iger, head of Disney. The exact interchange is unclear but one can assume it was along the lines of this:

“Drew, what the fuck are you doing with my brand?”

The brand is the multi-billion dollar Star Wars universe and the fuck-up is Star Wars Battlefront II. The game is gorgeous, fun to play and a love letter to the most beloved cinematic universe in history. The problem? Star Wars Battlefront II isn’t fair.

maxresdefault

The game is structured so the more money you spend on in-app purchases, the easier it is to dominate other players in the brutally competitive multiplayer slaughter-fests that make up the core of the game.

Until that call from Bob Iger.

The Battlefront II launch is like being stuck on a Spirit airlines flight while adults in diapers scream about continuity errors in The Land Before Time series.

News of rampant Reddit rage had reached the head desk of the House of Mouse and Iger told Wilson to fix it. So hours before the launch, the in-app purchases were removed from the game indefinitely.

The battle over Battlefront is noisy clash of two toxic elements of our culture. Angry nerds and capitalist pigs. The Battlefront II launch is like being stuck on a Spirit airlines flight while adults in diapers scream about continuity errors in The Land Before Time series. It’s is ruining something that is supposed to be fun.

Andrew Wilson has learned his lesson. I only hope that Bob Iger learned his. This is what happens when you farm out your most important property to a company like EA.

It’s clear what a short-sighted blunder it was for Iger to shut down Disney’s in-house game development arm last year. It makes me pine for the days of LucasArts, who put out not only some of the best Star Wars games but some of the best games period.

Unsurprisingly Disney shut them down too.

The game’s gender diverse portrayal of the Star Wars universe means much of the game depicts our heroine slaughtering droves of fellow women.

Star Wars Battlefront II is in many ways the most reactionary game ever made. Most of the changes between I and II are reactions to fan outrage rather than creative ways to improve on the formula. Fans demanded a story campaign so EA crafted a single-player experience that throws every Star Wars cliché into Aunt Beru’s blender. The game’s gender diverse portrayal of the Star Wars universe means much of the game depicts our heroine slaughtering droves of fellow women. The whole experience unwittingly serves as a bizarre metaphor for the toxic masculinity of the crusty outer edges of nerdom.

As Leia leads her soldiers into battle, smoke and debris cast a cloud over the broad promenade that once served as the path of her mother’s funeral procession.

Ultimately a game should be fair and fun. Star Wars Battlefront II is fairly fun. The game requires you to charge boldly into battle, in more ways than one. I’m therefore surprised that my instinct while playing the game has been to hang back and just look around while my fellow players dash towards death. The portrayal of my favorite film universe is so accurate, so beautiful despite all of its brutality, that all I really want to do is wander and wonder in awe. I don’t really care about killing people, I just want to be in Star Wars for a little while.

So far my favorite part of the game is playing as Princess Leia on the planet of Naboo. Leia doesn’t mention it, but Naboo is the homeworld of her mother, a woman she never knew but whose legacy lives on in Leia’s own bravery. As Leia leads her soldiers into battle, smoke and debris cast a cloud over the broad promenade that once served as the path of her mother’s funeral procession. She gives the orders to fall back and I dash into Theed Palace as blaster fire echos through the halls that her mother once walked as the young queen of this world. As I wander through the halls, I find myself absorbed in this world that never was. I stop at a painting on the wall. It’s a painting of Leia’s mother. I stand and stare for a moment until an explosion jolts me from my reverie. I fire blindly into the fog of war and fight for my life. Despite all of the game’s flaw and the frustrations over the launch, everything suddenly seems worth the price of admission. I’m there, I’m in Star Wars. I only hope that next time I’m there, everyone is having as much fun as me.

Blade Runner 2049: Too Good to Succeed

I hated the original Blade Runner until I realized it wasn’t a movie. At least not in the “beginning, middle and end” sense of mainstream motion pictures.

It’s certainly not about plot, barely about characters and not even really about atmosphere and location — its two most universally lauded aspects. Blade Runner is sounds, colors, and themes. It’s a tone poem. A meditation.

bladerunner_2049_main_art_4320x1080

Blade Runner pretends to be detective movie in both style and form. But there isn’t really a mystery. In a detective movie, the protagonist asks questions to unravel the plot. In Blade Runner, our detective asks questions to “provoke an emotional response.” It is a perfect metaphor for the film. Dadaist detective work.

As a ten-year-old raised on Star Wars, my first viewing of the film was a bizarre disappointment. I expected an action-packed adventure about Harrison Ford zooming around a future city in a flying car killing androids with that cool gun. Instead I was treated to a gloomy and nonsensical nightmare in which the “hero” is a drunken killer who never actually wins a fair fight with any of his adversaries.

Even though I hated it, I kept watching it. Maybe it was the special effects, maybe it was the perverse sensuality, or maybe it was something subconscious that continued to draw me in. By the fourth viewing I finally understood the plot only to realize it didn’t matter. By that time Blade Runner had mysteriously become one of my favorite films. The film’s place in the pantheon of cinematic achievements has followed a similar path. A box office flop upon its initial release, Blade Runner is now regarded as one of the best science fiction films, and certainly the most influential. Yes, even more influential than Star Wars, its action-packed cousin.

When the first full-length trailer for Blade Runner 2049 came out, I was a little concerned about the apparent emphasis on fighting and action in this new one. I was worried they were trying to deliver what my ten-year-old self wanted from the original. I’m happy to report that Blade Runner 2049 is nearly as ponderous and devoid of action as its vaunted predecessor. True to its inspiration, Blade Runner 2049 is a box office flop. And you know what, I’m happy about that.

If Blade Runner 2049 had been a hit, it very well may have launched a new franchise of films with the potential to ruin the legacy of this impressive duology.  Invariably, those films would have filled in the “holes” in the story and given us answers we didn’t need. Blade Runner isn’t about answers, it’s about questions. The new film hints and whispers at what happened in between the two stories. We glimpse a blurred photograph, catch a cryptic reference, and see a thousand mile stare from our former hero. But there is no explicit explanation of exactly what occurred in the 26 years between films. Even the most tantalizing question from the original film — whether or not Rick Deckard is a Replicant — is not answered here. In fact, the truth is made even more uncertain. This is not a tease or frustration, it’s a relief.

If audiences and critics understood and agreed upon what Blade Runner is about and what it all means, it would ruin the mystique. Even the original director Ridley Scott doesn’t understand the movie. In the documentary Dangerous Days, Scott admits that Deckard is a Replicant — attempting to put to bed the decades-old debate at the core of the film. In that same documentary, screenwriter Hampton Fancher (who also penned the newer installment) adamantly insists that Deckard is not a Replicant. Even Harrison Ford, the actor who brought Deckard to life on the screen has declared the character is human. I personally side with Fancher and Ford. But even if they’re wrong, knowing for sure whether or not Deckard is a Replicant ruins the entire film. As Tom Lorenzeo of Taste of Cinema puts it, Scott is “glorified production designer” who doesn’t understand the basic essence of his own film. Like Replicants themselves, Blade Runner defies the will of its creator.

Blade Runner 2049 does not attempt to follow current trends or cater to mainstream audiences. That is what makes it special. The film’s one concession to modern dystopian sci-fi tropes is the brief scene depicting an underground resistance of Replicants. The largely undeveloped plot-line seems to be straight out of the Hunger Games playbook and it is undeniably the weakest link in the story. If the film had been a hit and spawned sequels, we certainly would have learned more about this “rebel alliance” operating beneath the rain-swept streets of the future.

One of the great things about the original Blade Runner is that the rebellious Replicants are not part of some huge resistance, they are a small and desperate band of individuals taking a one-in-a-million chance at freedom. That they fail in this attempt is essential to the pathos of the Blade Runner mythology. If we continued to follow the resistance in 2049, it would most likely lead to the Replicants “winning.” Since we probably won’t see another film in this saga, I’d like to think such a triumph would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Luckily this film died at the box office so I’ll be left to ponder what may have been for another 30 years. And yes, this film will stick with me that long. It’s that good.

Sitting behind me on opening night was a young boy about the same age as I was when I saw Blade Runner for the first time. Like me, he was a bit too young for the brutal violence and disturbing sexuality of the film. I won’t assume he hated it, but he didn’t seem nearly as juiced as the kids bounding out of the theater the night Force Awakens opened. The best films are the ones that grow with you as you revisit them. I think this film will grow with the current generation as the original did with mine. Maybe we’ll another sequel in 35 years. If we do, I hope it fails as beautifully as this one.

 

Will Star Trek Discovery Save Planet Earth?

Rejoice. It took half a century, but there is finally an incarnation of Star Trek that is both smart and easy on the eyes. Don’t get me wrong, the cheesy production values of the original Trek are part of its charm. And as frustratingly dumb as the recent films have been, I’ve still enjoyed the eye candy. But we’ve never really had a Star Trek thoughtful enough to please die-hard fans that’s also fun enough to attract casual viewers. Star Trek Discovery may be the closest we’ll ever get. It’s cool to watch and conveys a few messages the troubled people of Earth really need to hear right now.

star-trek-discovery-first-look-trailer-feature

The two-part pilot takes place about a decade before Captain Kirk’s fabled 5-year mission and centers around the re-emergence of the Klingon Empire as a galactic force to be reckoned with. Our human hero was orphaned at the hands of Klingons, raised in the logical ways of the Vulcan and now serves aboard a Federation Starship with a crew of creatures from across the galaxy. After the discovery of an ancient Klingon artifact, the crew finds themselves in a moment of perilous brinkmanship between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The clash of cultures sets a trap of misunderstanding with the potential to destroy them both.

Meanwhile The President of the United States and the Supreme Leader of the Democratic Republic of Korea rattle nuclear sabers across the Pacific. For the first time all year I wish the President was watching TV instead of leading the free world.

Unlike our situation in the 21st Century, the audience is dying to see the 23rd Century blow itself to hell. It may be Star Trek, but it is American TV after all. The inevitable grand battle between the Federation and the Klingon Empire evokes the maritime art of the 18th Century — fiery canvases filled with dizzying detail, portraying the insignificance of human beings against the epic terror of our own monstrous weapons of war.

Amidst the battle, a human crewman stumbles towards our hero, shell-shocked and hopelessly confused. “Why are we fighting?” he asks “we’re not soldiers, we’re explorers.” It may be a bit on the nose, but it’s the question I always asked when watching the recent action-packed Star Trek films. Why are they fighting?

As the President and the Supreme Leader prod and provoke each other towards war, I pray they ask themselves the same question. Why? Why are we fighting? If somebody told those guys to calm down and watch some Star Trek we may just save the planet.

Alas, parallels to nuclear brinkmanship are nothing new to the Star Trek universe. Long before North Korea went nuclear, the relationship between the Federation and the Klingons reflected the Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. In fact, most of what I’ve described so far is pretty standard Star Trek fare. But by the end of the pilot it becomes clear the writers are about to boldly go where this franchise has rarely dared to go while still staying true to its heart. In the pilot’s final moments, Star Trek Discovery proves itself to be a big, beautiful risk for CBS. And that’s when Star Trek is at it’s best.

“Risk,” Captain Kirk once said, “Risk is our business.”

Captain Kirk. He’s the Star Trek hero all others are compared to. In some respects James Tiberius Kirk is TV’s original social justice warrior. Nary a Star Trek tribute goes by without a reference to Kirk and Uhura’s infamous interracial kiss, the first in TV history. But in other ways, Kirk is the ultimate expression of white male privilege in America. Despite the diverse makeup of his crew, he’s still in charge. He breaks the rules without consequence, constantly violating orders, getting court marshaled and even escaping death. Even his punishments are actually rewards. When he cheats on the most important exam in the Academy he gets an accommodation. When he steals and destroys the Enterprise they “demote” him to Captain and give him a brand new ship.

Star Trek Discovery‘s protagonist Michael Burnham is the first woman of color to play the lead in a Star Trek series. In the pilot she pulls a classic Kirk, ignoring orders and listening to her instinct instead. Like Kirk, she is forced to stand before a Starfleet Tribunal to answer for her crimes. At the moment when the audience expects our hero to be “punished” with a command of her own and sent on a classic Star Trek adventure, the unthinkable happens. She is sentenced to life in prison. I immediately thought of the millions of African American men languishing in prison for non-violent drug offenses while white America sobs over the victims of the opioid “epidemic.” Captain Kirk is a hero. Michael Burnham is a convicted felon. Star Trek Discovery will boldly go where no man has gone before because our hero is no man.

The pilot ends with a breathtaking preview of what to expect from the rest of the series. It is clear that unlike previous incarnations, Star Trek Discovery won’t end each week with a hearty laugh from the bridge crew as everything returns to normal. This will be a series where our heroes’ actions have consequences, for herself and the rest of the galaxy. It hopefully won’t be Star Trek‘s final frontier, but it is certainly a new one.

 

How Adam West and Roger Moore Saved Batman and Bond

This weekend an old friend asked me how it felt to lose Roger Moore and Adam West within such a short span of time. It’s an appropriate question considering Moore and West’s version of Bond and the Bat have always existed in my mind as parallel portrayals. Both are regarded as the goofiest incarnations of the two characters and are consistently trashed by “serious” fans. I will admit to fits of nerd rage in which I ridiculed the childish lunacy of Batman ’66 and the insulting stupidity of films like Moonraker. But during their respective tenures as these legendary characters, Moore and West brought a sense of levity, fun and color to two mildly psychotic characters that might otherwise never have transcended their original incarnations and enjoyed such enduring success and popularity.

adam-west-rtr-2017-061017

Batman was created at the tail end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War. The drab, crime-ridden world of Gotham and the disturbed individuals which inhabit it are stark reflections of a period of extreme squalor and unparalleled violence. By contrast, the mid-1960s were a time of growth, optimism and revolutionary art and ideas in which the original Batman would have been an unwelcome anachronism. Adam West’s gleefully positive portrayal of the Caped Crusader reinvigorated the flagging popularity of the character for generations to come and without him Batman may have gone the way of the Red Bee. Never heard of him? Exactly.

Roger-Moore-Lotus-Esprit-01

James Bond is a distinct product of the most paranoid and dangerous point of the Cold War. The novels and early films reflect a time when people suspected their own neighbors and friends to be Communist spies and school children cowered under their desks awaiting nuclear annihilation. In this world, James Bond’s drunken ruthlessness was understandable and even excusable. While the 70s and early 80s were still a long way off from the crumbling of the Soviet State, Glasnost and Perestroika gave the world hope that war between the United States and Russia was not some Thucydidian inevitability. Additionally, the rise of second wave feminism made Bond’s abusive and predatory attitude towards women seem outdated if not criminal. The coldblooded James Bond of the 60’s, slapping women around and killing enemies without compunction would never have survived the age of Shaft and Foxy Brown. Moore tried to portray a darker Bond in his first two films and the results showed a character on his last legs. 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, widely regarded as Moore’s finest outing as 007, offered a course correction that arguably saved the series. From the disco-inspired soundtrack to Barbara Bach’s badass portrayal of a Russian spy who was every bit Bond’s equal, the film suddenly made a 25-year-old English literary character seem as fresh and funny as Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.

Like Adam West’s Batman, Roger Moore’s James Bond kept himself alive by adapting to the changing times and learning not to take it all so seriously. There is a sense of giddy excitement and pure fun that bubbles up when an episode of Batman ’66 comes on TV in the afternoon or a Roger Moore flick pops up during the 007 Days of Christmas. These adventures are like embarking on a vacation with your rich and eccentric uncle. It’s going to be a wild ride but they’ll always keep you safe and make sure you’re having fun. For an entire generation of fans, Roger Moore and Adam West were James Bond and Batman.

But as the two characters entered a new millennium, the lighthearted portrayals that had enjoyed so much popularity started to show their wear, and rightly so. The Batman of the Summer of ’69 and the Bond of the Dawn of Disco were almost offensively out-of-touch in the post-9.11 landscape. Millennials were into The Matrix and Fight Club and decidedly disinterested in seeing James Bond surf and Batman play ice hockey. So after Batman and Robin flopped and Die Another Day disappointed, the two franchises once again underwent a dramatic transformation to suit the era. It was the beginning of Hollywood’s obsession with “darkness,” in which a film’s artistic value was gauged by how miserably humorless their protagonist seemed.

For millennial nerds like me, it was a triumphant return to form. In this new era of “darkness” there was a sense that tinsel town had finally found the “right” way to portray legendary heroes like James Bond and Batman. Growing up reading Ian Fleming Bond novels and Frank Miller Batman comics, I was relieved to find that Hollywood finally “got it.” Casino Royale and The Dark Knight are now almost universally regarded among millennials as the best incarnations of the world’s greatest secret agent and the world’s greatest detective. After the foppish Brosnan Bond and the benippled Schumacher Bat, Daniel Craig and Christian Bale gave us tortured, brooding and supposedly “realistic” versions of these characters that delighted a generation of hardcore fanboys swelling with unrepentant nerd rage over decades of alleged cinematic betrayal by money minded producers who didn’t understand what made these characters tick.

A decade later, I am beginning to feel exhausted by all this darkness and the passing of Roger Moore and Adam serves as a bittersweet reminder that their James Bond and Batman are just as important to the enduring appeal of these characters as that of Daniel Craig and Christian Bale. In art, there is no such thing as the “right” way to tell a story. There is a way to portray a character that reflects the era in which the film is made, that speaks to the young people growing up during that time and understands what that generation needs from the character. The great thing about James Bond and Batman is that they are characters that can be endlessly reinterpreted by different writers, actors and filmmakers. We are lucky to live in a time when we have such an expansive catalog of different versions of these characters. Want a tense Bond thriller? Watch one of the old Sean Connery flicks. Want a heart-pumping, action-oriented 007 adventure? Watch a Daniel Craig film. Want a bizarre art deco version of Gotham? Watch Tim Burton’s Batman. Want a version of Gotham City that mirrors the real world? Watch Christopher Nolan’s. Want a fun version of James Bond and Batman that brings a warm sense of nostalgia and reminds us that we can always have a few laughs even when we’re saving the world? Spend a little time with Roger Moore and Adam West. Bless you guys, you will be missed.

Trump is the Dog Who Resembles His Owner

In the age of Trump, the adage that pet-owners often resemble their dogs may prove true in the realm of politics as well. Even a chief executive who fails to garner the popular vote of his constituents seems to reflect the worst aspects of those who most adamantly oppose him. In the wake of the stunning 2016 electoral upset, Boomers, Millennials and the last vestiges of the Greatest Generation have a formed a circular firing squad regarding who is to blame for the rise of a kleptocratic crypto-fascist with the worst Presidential hairpiece since Mr. Washington himself.

main-qimg-a45e52e0e69eaf26fe563d24dd7a845c-c

The Boomers blame the Millennials for their failure to get out the vote, the Millennials blame the Boomers for their failure to understand the populist sentiment of the electorate and both generations blame the Greatest for their failure to climb over a metaphorical border wall of racist, sexist, bigoted bullshit that seems deeply ingrained in the denture-laden skulls their brains formerly occupied.

In reality, Mr. Trump represents the most despicable qualities of each of our respective generations, making him the Batman that the crumbling Gotham of our Republic deserves, despite our desperate howling to the contrary as we March down the tinsel-lined yellow brick road of 5th Avenue towards the imposing citadel of Trump Tower while complimenting each other on how funny our signs are.

Trump the bumbling businessman who flaunts bankruptcy as some ingenious financial acumen represents the economic ineptitude of a generation of Boomers riding through the raging 80s into the financial comfort of the Clinton years only to squander our surplus with a bundle of inane investment instruments that nearly led the most prosperous nation since Midas’ Monarchy into an economic death spiral rivaled only by the Great Depression.

Trump the attention-deficit tweet machine sheltering himself in a blanket of undeserved entitlement, seeking a safe space from the bullying of anyone attempting to keep him accountable is the melancholy Millennial living in the One Million Dollar Loan of his parent’s basement exchanging an honest day’s work for a tiring tirade of self-pity.

And Trump the grumpy, fat old fuck wandering around in a bathrobe yelling at Fox News about how fantastic things were in the days of segregation and back-alley abortions is our dipshit grandfather who insists on voting yet refuses to die.

This is our family and 2017 has proved to be the bitter Thanksgiving weekend that refuses to end, as we repeat the same conversation over and over again in some nightmare version of Groundhog Day where Andie MacDowell will never fuck us.

So how did our family get here?

Growing up in the liberal echo chamber of the Bay Area during the 1990s, I idolized the Clintons. They were like my political parents. They made mistakes, often disagreed but remained strong enough to continue moving forward towards a common good like a Griswold family vacation to the Wally World of equality. Bill Clinton was the bumbling Homer Simpsons that didn’t deserve a partner like Marge but Hillary was the wise wife that kept his compass true. When they left the White House in 2001 I crudely superimposed a picture of Hillary’s face onto the Terminator’s body in Microsoft Paint with the caption “I’ll Be Back.” At the time it wasn’t a hint or a whisper of a wish, it was a prophecy. It was destiny. If only I had known.

Enter Dubya. The braindead High School gym coach who had us running in circles, insisting that we were either with him or against him and demanding the question, “is our children learning?” Our children is was learning and we is graduated.

Meet Barack Obama. Our cool college professor. He was tall and lanky and bummed us smokes after class. He slid our textbook away with a sly smile and turned his chair backwards. Call me Barry. Mr. Obama is my dad’s name. I definitely inhale.

We came home for Christmas break extolling the virtues of our hip happening prof. Mom was jealous and got a little hot under the head. Listen to me! Not some guy with a name plucked from the list of 9/11 hijackers!

Mom stewed for eight years. Got a little out of touch. We tried to teach her how to use “the email” but she kept accidentally deleting messages and clicking on suspicious links from Russian hackers. Mom. Jesus Christ. Don’t try to zoom in on an Instagram picture, you’re going to make me like it when I don’t.

Then Uncle Bernie came to visit. Weird Uncle Bernie from Vermont. He’s not really our uncle but we call him Uncle Bernie anyway. He’s so cool! Even cooler than Professor Obama! Awesome that an old dude agreed with us on all the stuff mom told us we were stupid for thinking. Mom told us she knew better. Uncle Bernie seemed to be the only one listening instead of lecturing. Mom made up some bullshit that Uncle Bernie was sexist and sent him back to Vermont. Ugh. MOM. What the fuck.

As Mama Hillary bumbled through the email scandal we knew she wasn’t doing anything corrupt or illegal, she just doesn’t know how to use a fucking computer. It was hard not to be resentful. Suddenly Hillary came to represent every incompetent boomer  who makes three times as much as us but doesn’t know how to power cycle the fucking modem. Just retire please.

Well, we got what we wanted. The 70-year-old serial sexual harasser CEO of the company stormed in and fired mom.
And then Mom blamed us for her failure. All of her friends did too. Talk about blaming the victim. Sure, we weren’t exactly the most patient kids but you’re the parent. The buck stops with you. You fucked up. You got fired. Accept your responsibility. This was your job to lose. Forced retirement snatched from the jaws of promotion. Please go home. We’ve got this.

Back to the dog resembling their owner. Maybe the opposite is true. JFK was the glossy-coated Collie that inspired a generation of young people to howl at the moon. Nixon was the grumpy terrier growling at everyone who passed his porch. Reagan the vapid show dog who could prance around the parade ground but couldn’t fetch for shit. Clinton the licking Labrador who tried to fuck a palm tree, Dubya the Doberman whose bark was dumber than his bite and Obama the shepherding sheep dog that led his flock proudly to the jaws of the wolf he swore to protect us from. Now there is a slobbering, rabies-infected Rottweiler eating his own shit and barfing it back on our couch. Every time we walk past the garbage-strewn driveway the Rottweiler guards we think “this is the time I won’t jump like a scared squirrel when he barks.” And then he barks and our heart skips a beat once again.

I challenge you to find a Baby Boomer who won’t weep a bit when you whisper the name “Old Yeller.” Show me a Millennial who enjoyed shooting the German Shepherds in Wolfenstein 3D and I’ll show you a Trump voter. But folks, it’s time for the family to put the dog down — metaphorically of course, not by rifle but through our votes. Things might be fucked for the Boomer’s retirement and the Millennial’s prospect for owning a home but the next generation is still innocent little Arliss. And we can’t let Old Yeller bite him. So it’s time to be the brave Travis and take a rifle to the dog to put him out of our misery (once again metaphorically, I am in no way advocating political violence or any other form of violence). And perhaps let this all be a reminder that we need to focus on something other than a bunch of dogs barking at each other lest we get into another bitter partisan battle like the nightmare of 2016. So mom, dad, aunts and uncles: let’s put the dog down, buy a bag of goldfish and get back to fucking work.