Pop Culture


I did not like JJ Abram’s film “Super 8” which surprised me because I enjoy his “Star Trek” film so much.
Where did “Super 8” go wrong?
I feel it was because the story was fundamentally poor in its plot, themes, and characterization.

There also was the failure of the runtime which was plumped up by scenes that were unnecessary
and a lack of momentum or driving impetus.

THE STORY
But let’s start with the story structure:
It starts off with not one but three “scenes of transition.”
We see Joe (a pubescent young teen–transition!) morose at the wake of his tragically killed mother…
and then right into the Last Day of School Before Summer Break!
These kinds of scenes are pretty common movie starters. They are intended to give us a sense of ‘people at a time of change’ and can give the story its “challenges the characters must face and triumph over.”
Not bad all said but having these two scenes put together led to dragging down the story–not to mention the brief scene that actually comes before these two in the factory where we see the “Days Without an Injury” sign being changed over.
This all led to a slooooow feeling. Couldn’t some of this be filled in later as backstory? Yes, it could have.

JJ Abrams included a number of scenes that did not add to the story including:
1. Deputy Lamb telling his son Joe that he was going to send him away to a baseball camp over the summer.
2. The dropping off/picking up of the film at the camera store. These ‘set up’ that the clerk character…why? Necessary? No.
3. The “dogs have left the county!” scenes. Did we ever even see Joe’s dog? Did we ever see it come back? Ugh.
4. The “concerned citizens townhall meeting.” This was for what? For Deputy Lamb to find out about the Air Force’s radio frequencies from an old HAM radio user…oh.
5. The Sheriff learns about Walkmen Tape Players (how retro!) before being attacked.

There are others to be sure but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Let’s turn to how the ‘facts/events/motivations’ of the story are inherently confused:
The Science Teacher from Lillian follows the train carrying the Alien all over the United States then decides to “free the Alien” by waiting until the train comes through Lillian and drives his truck onto the tracks to crash the train.
I see.
Coincidences of the train’s passage through the town of a traitorous Scientist Who Sympathizes With The Alien aside, we are expected to believe that when a truck is hit by a train the train will fly apart, derail, burst into flames, send entire train cars hurtling through the air…and the driver of the truck will live.

We are to accept that the Air Force arrives at the train wreck immediately (were they on the train?) but cannot figure out how to stop a car driving away (“Anyone get a license plate!?”).
They find Kodak brand film boxes at the site of the crash and then don’t think twice when they see teenagers filming in town.
We are told that the guy who feels guilty about Joe’s mom dying the day that she fills in for him at the factory is angry about Joe hanging out with his daughter. Huh? Why? I can understand Deputy Lamb having a grudge or bitterness, but having Alice’s dad give us this “Romeo and Juliet” vibe just doesn’t jibe with me.

We are told that the Alien ‘just wants to go home’ and we are meant to feel sorry for it I guess?
But the Alien seems to be attacking and kidnapping people to save for late-night snacks. Are we now just to shrug this off as a “oh well, everybody’s got to eat” kind of thing? E.T. liked Reese’s Pieces.
When the Alien attacks the bus that Joe and his friends are in with the Air Force guys, I totally saw it coming. As they were on the bus, I thought: “Alice has mentally connected with the Alien and told it that Joe and her friends are cool and will help it.”
So when the Alien attacked I wasn’t surprised because I thought that it was trying to help the kids but it turned out that the Alien just was kinda randomly eating people. Gobble gobble! Uhhhh, what?

So the theme of the film is….Grief can be overcome. Right?
We start the film off at a wake, and Joe’s locket with the picture of he and his mother is a reappearing plot device.
When Joe has his ‘climatic moment’ he tells the Homesick Alien “Bad things happen. I know, bad things happen.”
And then when the Alien’s Homemade Spaceship is drawing all the metal in the city towards it like the X-Men’s Magneto is pissed off, Joe looks one last time at the locket and let’s it go. Ahhhh. Catharsis.
But JJ Abrams wasn’t satisfied with just that. He needed to really kick it up a notch! How?
By actually showing character growth and change in Joe? By establishing the relationship between Joe and his Mom?
No, by doing some pretty weird choices like…
1. Having Joe descend into the Alien’s Lair through the graveyard, conveniently discovered by Joe as he lounged on his mom’s grave marker.
2. Alice’s mother also be gone–her vacancy is spoken of by Alice’s dad.
3. Alice watches home movies of Joe as a baby with his Mom that are silent and show the mom with her hair blowing around like she’s in a shampoo commercial.

As an aside, can I just complain for a moment about the “Save The Princess” trope that
happens here and in virtually every movie with a young male hero?
a. Woman is introduced
b. Sexual tension
c. Woman is kidnapped or stolen away by mafioso or dragons
d. Male hero saves her, making out ensues
Booooo. Aside from “Die Hard” this ol’ cliche is one of my least faves.

But enough of the ranting about the story line,
let’s move onto…

THE CHARACTERS 
There isn’t much in the way of well-rounded characterization in the film.
We know that our hero Joe must overcome his grief (and of course, ‘get the girl’…see ‘save the princess’ rant above)
but that’s about it.
He’s able to have a bit of a confrontation with his father about him seeing Alice and we’re given the lines from Joe:
“She’s kind! She’s nice to me!”
Did kids ever say “kind”? I grew up in the early 80’s and that word had left the vocabulary of youth by then I guess.

The character who I liked the best was actually Charles, the young film director.
His attention was spurned by Alice, he was an ambitious and talented film buff, he was able to confront Joe in a realistic way, and is able to interact with his family in more interesting ways than the other youth.

Well, that’s not saying much. The troupe of youngsters is too big for the purposes of the story and we are left with a “firebug with braces”, a “cowardly kid”, another “forgettable kid who gets injured”, and of course Alice and Joe who are pretty uninspired and flat characters.

HOW SUPER 8 COULD HAVE BEEN A BETTER MOVIE….

1. Just jump us off with the school letting out for summer scene and give us then the set-up of Joe suffering from his mother’s untimely death and perhaps even that he won’t be able to shoot the movie because his Dad is sending him away to baseball camp. “Well, then let’s shoot the movie this weekend!” Give a ‘time crunch/race’ element to kick off the kids’ movie project.
2. Focus on the perspective of the youth. There are way too many scenes without them. Why do we have the scene of the Air-Force guys with the injured Science Teacher? Or the scenes in the Police Station? Give us the feeling of children locked in a crisis that the adults are not able to handle. This creates its own tension: just like adults were powerless to save Joe’s mom, they are now powerless on a large scale.
3. Cut out the “Scooby Doo” scene of the kids breaking into the school and sitting around reading manila folders and reviewing movies like The Bloodhound Gang meets the Warren Commission.
4. Drop the ‘Alien is just a weird looking E.T./Shelob thing that wants to go home!’ thing and create the Alien as a mysterious Creature whose intentions, origin, and purpose are more difficult to grasp and understand–like the grief that Joe is experiencing.
5. Give Joe a reaction of anger when he finally learns that Alice has been keeping the truth about her father’s absence at work indirectly leading to his Mother’s death. This will give a tension that must be overcome between the two, a “lover’s quarrel” in a sense. This will lead to…
6. Joe being the captive in the Alien’s Lair and it is Alice aided by Charles who come to save him. Grief can be helped with the support of loved ones (Alas, it never is fully defeated–it only is coped with) and Joe’s Dark Night of The Soul with the Grief Alien could be triumphed over with the aid of Alice and Charles. By the way, why did JJ Abrams decide to have the Fireworks kid come with him into the Lair? We don’t care about him or their relationship! Ugh.
7. The Alien escapes or disappears in the end. Not vanquished, just dealt with. Joe is reconciled with Alice, Charles gains new respect from his family and finishes his (awesome) movie, and roll end credits.

AND THE BIGGEST LET DOWN WAS….

Speaking of the end credits!!
At the end of the movie I was very disappointed. I thought that the story line was so hackneyed and sloppy that there
must be some kind of explanation!
And that explanation could be: That all of the movie was created in the mind of Joe. That’s right. At the train station while they film Alice’s big ‘goodbye scene’ maybe Joe’s imagination takes over and the rest of the movie was intended by JJ Abrams as a look inside the mind of an adolescent boy.
As the end credits rolled and they played the ‘super 8’ movie created by the youngsters, I thought for sure that we would not see any evidence of the tragic events actually included in the film. I thought that JJ Abrams would be smart enough to show us the movie without any sign that the train actually crashed or the Air Force came to Lillian or anything like that so we could imagine that the filming was mundane and the movie we just watched was the fantasy of Joe as a way to cope with his mother’s death. Nope.
Ugh.
That’s it. Just an ugh.

Frothy ol’ Santorum is virtually impossible to reach.
Why?

Go to his campaign website. Is there a place to email or call?
No.

There is good reason this person’s name is mud.

In the recent GOP debate where a soldier asking about freedom was booed, Santorum responded but did not thank the
soldier for his service to the nation, nor did Frothy quell the crowd and say that all members of the Armed Services deserve
respect.

Is there a way to tell Frothy how you feel as an American? No.
Why is he hiding? What dirty secrets does he have to hide?

In the HBO series The Wire, fictional Baltimore mayor Tommy Carcetti says this:

“…I am, God forgive me, a politician. But I am also someone who ran for public office because I believe that there is a different way of governing and I believe that in the end we will be judged not by the efforts we make on behalf of those who vote for us or those who contribute to our campaigns or those who provide for our tax base. I believe that we will be judged by what we provide to the weakest and most vulnerable. That is the test. That is my test.”
This scene can be found in season five episode “The Dickensian Aspect” teleplay by Ed Burns, story by David Simon and Ed Burns.

Wouldn’t it be great if all our leaders genuinely passed this “Carcetti Test?”

Bob Marley: Using Art Towards Peace and Justice

 Though Bob Marley passed away many years ago, his legacy and music continue to inspire young people all over the world. Why is this so? How can one person who was born into a poor small town have such influence?
Not only was Bob Marley a talented musician, but it was Marley’s quest and work toward for non-violence and social justice that made him a true superstar and inspiration.

Marley was single minded in his dedication to the people of Jamaica and Africa, but he also saw that there were changes that needed to take place throughout the world for true peace and justice. In his song “Revolution” he writes,

Let righteousness cover the earth
like the water cover the sea
…”

It is true that wherever there are people who are hurting or who are under pressure and oppression, they find a strong voice in Bob Marley to lift their hearts and inspire them to change their communities with positivity and art.

If you ask most people, they will tell you that Reggae music is the most well-known, or quintessential music of Jamaica. But this was not always the case!

In fact, Reggae did not enter into the Jamaican culture until the late 1960s. Just as great social change was occurring in the United States at that time as brave people struggled for the rights of women, African Americans, Labor Workers, so too was Jamaica experiencing a cry for change.

In Jamaica’s early history, the Spanish began to populate the country and brought with them African slaves. Later on, the British Empire established a colony in Jamaica and also brought slaves from Africa.
Jamaica saw many slave uprisings during the British colonial rule as courageous freedom fighters stood up against inhumanity and tyranny. Through these uprisings, small concentrations of free black people were eventually created throughout the island.
In 1832, thirty one years before the United States Government ended slavery, the British Empire abolished slavery—including on the island of Jamaica. Despite years of harsh and cruel treatment by the European White rulers, the freed slaves were strong in their pride and identity and they kept many of the traditions of African heritage, which was retained in their language, art, and music.

In the 1960’s Reggae music became a powerful expression of the African traditions celebrated by the people of African descent throughout Jamaica. Reggae was felt to be a rejection of European influence and a sign of proud heritage as they sang and played the sounds of traditional African music. The lyrics of many Reggae songs often are also highly politicized, which stems from the fact that reggae was developing just as Jamaica was entering a time known as the Cultural Revolution.

Although Bob Marley did not invent the sound of Reggae music as we know it today, Marley helped popularize Reggae music throughout Jamaica and the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. Marley’s music touched the longings of people striving for justice and human dignity. His songs dealt with strong themes such as peace and love and also his feelings about black oppression and poverty in Jamaica. Marley saw the power that art has to change people’s opinions and to bring hope to those who have been marginalized by society.

One of the main purposes of reggae music was to empower the Jamaican people and to help instill in them a sense of pride for their African heritage. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Jamaicans began to see themselves as culture unto themselves for the first time and they wanted to embrace those things that made them uniquely Jamaican. Reggae music was a large part of their effort to take back their culture. Marley’s music inspired and empowered the Jamaican people and showed them the way to lasting social justice was through non-violence and mutual love and respect between individuals and cultures. Although much of his songs were focused on the peace and love themes, he also politicized many of his songs. His songs that had a political bend or focus relayed his disdain for the Black oppression and poverty that was happening amongst his people in Jamaica at that time.

In 1976 violent clashes between two major political parties inspired Marley to play the Smile Jamaica festival with hopes of inspiring non-violent solutions among his people. A group of angry rioters were upset at Marley’s approach and decided to assassinate Bob Marley. Just days before the concert was scheduled, gunmen entered his family’s home, shooting Marley; his wife, Rita; and his manager, Don Taylor, in the middle of the night. Thankfully, they all survived, and despite his injuries, Marley did not let opposition stop him from his goal of bringing peace through art. Remarkably, Bob Marley performed at the festival just two days later, saying, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

Bob Marley never let the troubles of the world dissuade him from his goals. He had a vision for his future and a great hope for the world. Marley knew that when courageous people organize together in non-violence and compassion, those people could achieve anything. While some might see the negativity of the world and become overwhelmed by it all, Bob Marley stayed positive and allowed the love of people and music keep his heart uplifted. In the song “Positive Vibration” he sings,
Say you can leave that negative way
If you know what I mean
Make way for the positive day
…”

Is Bob Marley’s legacy alive today? Yes. His memory lives on wherever people join together with a love for peace and justice. Many people continue to lift up the spirit of peace and justice through art just as Marley did through his music. Who knows? Maybe someday it will be your art that people will celebrate for its positivity!

After thinking about this wonderfully beautiful film for almost two months, I finally (perhaps foolishly) feel ready to mutter a few of my frayed synapses’ most muddled concatenations.

I understand that Trier constructed Antichrist in such a way as to be available to a number of interpretations. He does this through utilizing symbols that nod to a number of possible sources.
So while saying that, I do feel that looking at Trier’s pattern of motifs and statements from his body of work one can make better sense of what he’s doing here.

Most informative to Antichrist are the films where Trier re-imagines Christianity: Breaking the Waves, Dancer in The Dark, Dogville, Manderlay. These films are inventive and challenging presentations which riff on themes of The Leap of Faith, and Saint as Martyr usually with the background of human injustice and cruelty.

Antichrist fits right in with these previous films because it immediately requires the viewer to question themselves:
“What is ‘Christ’?”
“What is it to be ‘Anti-Christ’?”

I was very tempted upon finishing Antichrist to pit it as a ‘counter’ or antithesis of the Christ/Saint/Martyr themes of the other films, as though maybe Antichrist was ‘about humanity’ or ‘a view of the world without God.’
I see that this was wrong.
Why?
Because Trier has always asked of us to see each of us as living Christ events. The potential for each of us to perform ‘impossible leaps of faith’ and the non-rational means and often tragic conclusions of these ‘leaps.’
He asks of us to see Christ’s humanity, and humanity’s potential to enact the divine in the midst of our largely banal, cruel, and chaotic world.

So what or who is the Antichrist implied here?
I believe that it is the ‘Chaos that reigns.’
It is meaninglessness, the force that surrounds us at all times that tempts us to see our lives as without order, meaning, without value.
The position that I believe Antichrist takes is that this force of meaningless chaos is real. It is the real state of things. It is however conquerable through our each making a ‘leap of faith’ as it were.
This triumph of the human spirit is not a synthesis or balance of Reason and Intuition, or Order and Chaos–it is the abnegation of these as opposing poles and transcending them in Pure Resolution or Survival.

Antichrist is the description of the triumph that occurs in one’s affirmation of life through their decision or choice. When one accepts the meaningless chaos and still rises with a ‘yes saying’ to life they pass through death and are recreated and mark a ‘Christ event.’

Here’s how I came to this view:

The film begins with a creative act: the act of making love. In the midst of creation, there is loss–in this case the loss of a young life. Decision is definitive. It says yes and it says no. Future is created and possible futures are cast off. We cannot know all the outcomes or consequences of our choices and we must accept that in our life-creation there will be potentially hurtful and destructive effects. This can be one definition for the ‘state of sin’ in the world.

From this moment of ‘decision’ our characters embark on paths that illustrate ways of trying to contain or control chaos. The husband and wife portray different ways that one may ‘wrap their head’ around this existential burden and we see that rationality and madness, science and magic, are just different paths of coping with or trying to control life.

Ultimately the husband finds that these concepts are not enough–one cannot shirk off or end the power of Antichrist. One only can continue, persevere in the face of it.

Integral to this idea in the film is the appearance of bodies in the forest. At first there are only languishing or lifeless bodies covering the forest floor as the couple make love: the quest is almost fulfilled, concepts of madness and reason are being dissolved–
then in the Epilogue we see the weary and battered husband as triumphant and he is joined by fully formed and living people.
These people are the new future, continued possibility, Life flooding towards the Hero of Faith.

This past week an event largely expected to have a semblance of class and shared enjoyment was turned into a one-woman ego explosion as Anne Hathaway chewed the scenery at a twelve year old’s birthday party.

Justin Uris’ parents had asked Hathaway to emcee his birthday with the best intentions but watched in horror as Hathaway stole the party from under the pimply visage of their son.

Said Justin, “She came out to the patio with her hands on her cheeks in this ‘Home Alone’ pose or something and right away I knew my party would never be as cool as Sheldon’s party when he got a Wii.”

Reports from Justin’s tween-aged peers suggest that Hathaway came across as either “a phony ass”, “a punk”, or “an ass kissing phony ass punk.”

Video of the party from several iPhones show Hathaway breaking into a bizarre ballad to Hugh Jackman, who is also seen to be weakly smiling through his horror.

“I wanted a birthday party,” Said a teary eyed Justin “but instead I got Anne Hathaway’s imitation of a vacuous grinning idiot zombie’s debutante ball. I hate Anne Hathaway.”

“So do I.” Chimed in a barely conscious James Franco.

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