On Fandom Hope/Hype

Today has been officially labeled as “Back to the Future Day” as it is the actual day in which Mary McFly actually traveled through time. Ignore all the shitty memes. It really is today. So, of course, social media has been inundated with people posting Back to the Future related posts. It’s kind of cool, a bit odd, and at times just weirdly confusing.

Honestly, though, I am just content that there is a method and manner of nerds, geeks, and dorks to communicate and congregate, even when distance is a factor. I like that so much of the media and totems of goofy and dorky media has become mainstream, but I wonder if we are reaching critical mass. Is the hype and bubble about to burst and explode a massive blow-back onto the nerds and geeks of the world?

I mean just look at all the media (both old and new) around the upcoming Star Wars movie. There are toys, books, videos, commerce tie-ins, etc. Hell, the latest trailer premiered during a Monday night football game. It was pretty awesome though.

So, is geekery and nerddom reaching a tipping point? Truthfully, I have no clue. I know that nothing, at least nothing I have seen thus far, can grow exponentially without loss and consequences. And most likely the mass saturation of comics, films, television, etc. will probably reach a level in which it can no longer sustain itself.

However, I can enjoy all the amazing and astonishing creations, both new and old, being given life and deal with the fallout, if and, when it happens. i can’t control the media being produced or it’s eventuality, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy the ride as it happens. Thus, I suppose that is what I, and maybe all of us, should do.

Besides, have you seen that trailer? I know the movie might end up being shit, but the hope and expectation for the possibility of the movie is more than enough for now.

Lessons From…The Admiral: Roaring Currents

I am a big fan of Asian cinema and movies. Loved the over the top Chinese kung fu (still think Drunken Master is the epitome of Jackie Chan’s work) and martial art films and the suspense thrillers that South Korea (Old Boy, anyone?) has been making recently. While the films from before 2000 were usually low budget and more campy/kitschy, recent movies from the East have been well done and more concerned and attentive to story, effects, characterization, and utilizing the medium to greater narrative potential. (Similar to the evolution of film in the West because our early films were not exactly high art either).

Honestly, this is probably why I have no issue paying for Netflix or Hulu because there are always random foreign movies and television shows to watch and enjoy. (Seriously, Korean dramas are infinitely better than 90% of American ones) During the weekend, a recommendation kept popping up and I finally gave in. I saw The Admiral: Roaring Currents on Saturday and was pleasantly delighted by the film.

Right? Don’t you want to go see this now? Anyhow, the film got me thinking and as usual I felt the urge to write a post on some thoughts. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Spoilers...

Spoilers…

The film, as seen in the trailer, tells the story of the Battle of Myeongnyang, a famous naval battle in 1597 between the Korean Joseon kingdom’s navy led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin against the invading Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait. However, the actual battle does not really happen till near the end of the movie as most of the film is about Yi Sun-sin strategizing how to overcome the greater Japanese force and deal with his dwindling, frightened soldiers. In fact, this is one of the core themes of the film; fear and how to utilize it. Not coincidentally, it also happens to be the first lesson. Fear is simply an emotion and state of mind that can be used, controlled, and wielded like any other tool at your disposal.

All of Yi Sun-sin’s men have heard about the vast number of ships that the Japanese navy has. On top of that, they are aware of the losses suffered by another general at the hands of Japanese ships and the massive army that is on route to the capital. They are a small band of warriors, only 12 ships, against the full might of a superior force. Every single soldier is basically shitting themselves and spreading their fear and doubt to their fellow fighters and the peasants of the small village they are currently at. Yi Sun-sin sees this and understands that his men have lost heart. He knows that the odds are stacked against them and that they are probably doomed; however, he also is aware that the loss of hope is the worst possibly outcome. For his country and people to survive whatever outcome awaits, Sun-sin knows that they cannot succumb to the uncertainty and horror of their fear.

To be fair, I would probably be terrified if I had to face this with only 12 boats and a handful of men.

To be fair, I would probably be terrified if I had to face this with only 12 boats and a handful of men.

While I definitely love big action movies with idiotic fight sequences, what I really love and prefer about these types of films is that the protagonist has to implore some actual strategy to win. Frankly, the best generals, fighters, and battles were not the ones that were just tough and hearty. The ones that stand the tests of time and are remembered throughout history are the ones that involved a bit of intelligence, cleverness, and strategy. The Battle of Thermopylae (aka 300 Spartans thing) only happened because Leonidas was not an idiot and realized he could use the area to his advantage against the superior numbers of the Persian army. Same for most other well known military individuals, honestly. Strategy and intelligence trump sheer will, power, or strength 9 out of 10 times.

Yi Sun-sin knows how perilous and dire his circumstances are. However, he is no ordinary soldier. He is an admiral of the Joseon kingdom. The Japanese navy know this man. Its generals and admirals have lost battles and ships and men to this Admiral Yi Sun-sin. They know what he is capable of and a few among the Japanese ranks fear what he can do. Yi Sun-sin knows this and decides to use fear as a weapon and source of inspiration. He faces the immense Japanese forces alone, ordering his forces to stay behind, because of their fear. During the initial battle, he uses his knowledge of the waters and weather to trick his opponents and over power them. Granted its only the vanguard of the full force but that small victory inspires his men to finally move and great fear in the Japanese forces.

Yeah, I wouldn't want to be in a fight against this dude. Even 1 on 1.

Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be in a fight against this dude. Even 1 on 1.

Eventually, Yi Sun-sin’s actions are enough to show the Japanese navy what they can expect if they continue to act against Joseon. The Japanese navy knows the costs of victory and turn away instead. That is the final lesson. Sometimes the only win we can achieve is simply making the other player leave. It’s not total. It’s not glorious. There will probably not be ballads and stories told about how you kept them at bay or from completely winning, but it keeps you alive and able to go on. And that is something worthwhile.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Pride

On Saturday, I watched the film Pride. Truth be told, I had kind of forgotten that this was in my queue, but I was pleasantly surprised when it arrives. Yes, I am still one of probably a small percentage of individuals that still has a Netflix DVD plan. It’s useful for moments and small films like this one.

It is an independent film based on a true story. Obviously, elements have been changed for the sake of narrative and drama, but overall the core narrative is still a worthwhile watch. The story revolves around a small group of British lesbian and gay activists raising funds and awareness for/of the plight and struggle of the unionized miners of Britain during the summer of 1984 when they were on strike. It is an intriguing film that I highly recommend. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Does continuous use of this imply I have a problem?

Does continuous use of this imply I have a problem?

Honestly, the film itself is chock-full of intelligent wisdom and debate all on its own, I am almost tempted to just tell you to watch the film in its entirety and be done with it. However, I will try to focus on a few stand out points and examples. The first lesson comes directly from the words of Dai (played by Paddy Considine) the leader of one of the protesting miners group: “It’s friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.” 

This is the basis of the film. Uniting with others to confront and defeat a stronger, more ruthless foe;  in this case, gay and lesbian activists teaming up with the miners to take on the oppressive English government and its policies. No one has ever managed to do anything on their own and when taking on such a powerful force as the fucking British government, you need some backup. They may have had initial differences, but these two groups knew they could do far more in unison than separate. Together they changed the entire fucking country and made history.

Two hands clasped together in unity and defiance.

Two hands clasped together in unity and defiance.

Of course, no movement is without some obstacles and the film does not back away from that, even if the issues present resolve themselves rather quickly. After the miner community overcomes their homophobia (mostly and because of dance number mainly), they are still faced with the near impossible task of actually taking on the British government. Eventually they become dejected and miserable and begin to lose hope. As one character puts it, “Nothing worse than a hopeless cause. Once that happens you’re dead.”

This is obviously two fold for both the miners’ protest and the gay rights movements in Britain. The miners are feeling the pain and turmoil of a long battle and are unsure how to carry on (in grand English tradition). In order to keep their spirits alive, the women of the mining community sing a song during a winter celebration to keep their hopes up. Sometimes the only thing we have amid the worst of times is our own resilience and knowledge that we are not alone. It is not much but it enough to help us through. This scene best exemplifies this idea.

There is one final aspect I wanted to touch on in this post. During the pro-miners campaign the original support group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), have a bit of an internal schism over ideologies and politics. As members have a “private” disagreement in public, an older woman chimes in and basically says that she doesn’t care about what they want to do or say as long as they stop interrupting the BINGO game that is being played.

While intended for comedy, the point remains discuss, debate, and argue over the nuances of politics, social etiquette, responsibility, etc. but at the end of the day, you still need to actually do the work. As a former grad student (and possibly prospective), this was one of my biggest gripes of the classroom. There were a bunch of, usually, white, middle-class, twenty year olds arguing over the nuances of oppression and theory without ever actually doing anything (for the most part as there were a few that would actually join protest movements and such). In the end, talk is easy; work gets things done.

Sometimes, work even leads to large parades.

Sometimes, work even leads to large parades.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

Just in case you have been living under several boulders without internet access for the last few weeks, here is the much discussed Star Wars trailer:

It still gives me chills. Seriously, after the disaster of the last trilogy, the idea of anyone trying to continue to play in this universe on such a grand scale was nauseating. As in actual stomach pains. I was pleasantly surprised by both the tease/trailer and the generally positive reaction to it (mine included). Frankly, the amazingly positive response got me thinking and as it usually goes, thinking became writing and lead to this post.

Do I still have to justify using this thing? I just like it, okay.

Do I still have to justify using this thing? I just like it, okay.

I think one of the major reasons why virtually everyone seemed to love this trailer was simply because after viewing it (repeatedly) you still have no fucking clue what the story is. Seriously, most trailers, even teasers, have big reveals of what is going to happen or will occur during the film. I don’t know why many film studios are in the habit of doing this, but it is kind of annoying and takes away from the actual impact a film narrative could have. I know it’s a cliche but it is so for a reason; less is more and sometimes the mystery, not the answer, is the prize. Please, to all creators, keep the mystery alive as long as possible. The payoff is well worth the wait and price of admission. Be more Star Wars and less Terminator: Genysis.

Beyond that, the trailer just looked fun. It somehow captured all the old feelings of nostalgia, humor, and excitement of the original trilogy while managing to keep things new, interesting, and, for lack of a better term, fresh. There seems to be a push for dark, gritty, realism in entertainment media. (See pretty much all of DC’s upcoming cinematic universe for examples) People have to get it in their heads that “dark and gritty” does not equal “adult or mature.” It’s kind of how in high school and college, a few of your friends really get into nihilism and Nietzsche and Ayn Rand for like a minute and then hopefully come to their senses. In reality, there have always been mature and adult themes, ideas, and narratives in entertainment media. It was just that they were interlaced and mixed with the colorful and funny and juvenile. (See DC’s earlier animated universe for examples. Shout out specifically to Batman: The Animated Series) Basically, just because something is colorful, weird, funny, or even intended for children doesn’t mean it lacks depth or meaning and vice versa.

You'll always be my Batman.

You’ll always be my Batman. 

Look, it is very much possible that this movie will end up utter crap. Let’s be honest, Star Wars fans have been burned before. (Damn you, Jar Jar! Damn you straight to the worst of hells!!) However, there is also a sense of longing and hope (A New Hope, perhaps? Sorry.) with this new trailer/teaser, and that is more than enough for now. For the most part, there was anxiety and worry over what horrors these new installments would bring, but now there seems to be mostly excitement and anxiety over having to wait so long for the next movie to be released. At times the joy of the moment far outweighs the thoughts and possibilities of the future. So every once in a while, we should revel in the moment and not worry about the coming storm or calm.

Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway from the trailer. Enjoy it now for what it is and maybe for what it can be and don’t worry about what eventually will come.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…John Wick

I am currently playing catch up on Camp NaNoWriMo, so this post is late and will probably be a bit shorter than usual. A few weeks ago, I decided to have an easy night and just watch big, moving, action movies while having a drink at home. John Wick had been on my to watch list for awhile, and it seemed like the perfect film for my mood. I was not wrong or disappointed. Seriously, go watch this movie at your earliest possible opportunity. As always, SPOILERS ahead.

I am almost afraid of what will happen if I don't use this image.

I am almost afraid of what will happen if I don’t use this image.

The entire plot of John Wick revolves around a retired assassin (Keanu Reeves) coming out of retirement for one last mission of revenge. I know it sounds like an overplayed plot, but it completely works for. Trust me. This film is basically a series of incredible action sequences that deserve your eyeballs. However, within the over the top fighting scenes lie a few key lessons worth examining.

Early on in the film a punk ass, wanna be tough guy Russian mobster’s son decides that he has a big set of cajones and breaks into John Wick’s house with a few of his lackeys/bodyguards. Once there, he beats Wick, steals his car, and (worst of all) kills John Wick’s dog. (Never mess with a man’s dog!) Normally, this would be enough to piss anyone off, but this particular dog had special meaning for John. This was the last gift his deceased wife had left for him, so that he could have something to love and care for once she passed. She was leaving him an anchor to keep himself grounded in his new life and away from his past. Once that was gone, John Wick was back with a vengeance. This is the first lesson: We all have something that keeps us grounded and sane. Remove that tether and people will go off their rails into the unknown.

Seriously, you would not want this guy after you.

Seriously, you would not want this guy after you.

One of the moments when I realized that this would be a great movie came early on in the film. After his car is stolen, the idiot, wannabe Russian gangster tries to sell the car to a chop shop. The owner of said establishment (played by the always entertaining John Leguizamo) recognizes the car and immediately goes ape shit. He smacks the punk around and throws him, and his crew, out of his shop. The wannabe’s father, a true Russian mobster, calls the chop shop and demands an explanation. The chop shop owner simply replies that the car his son brought in belonged to John Wick. The Russian mobster just says “Oh” and hangs up. John Wick’s name alone was enough to quiet the rage of Russian mobster and father. Because of his name, and reputation, the Russian boss brought down the full force of his empire upon John Wick knowing that it was necessary. This is the next lesson: We are only as good as our names. John Wick had been out of the game for years and his name still commanded this level of respect, fear, and awe.

Were he my son, I would have let Wick have him.

Were he my son, I would have let Wick have him.

There are many more lessons that can definitely be mined and examined, but there was one thing that really shone through the rest of the film. It was the sense of honor among the criminals and assassins. Really. The Russian father understood why John Wick was doing what he was doing and Wick knew why the Russian mobster had to protect his failure of a son, even though he was a huge disappointment. As well, there were certain codes of conduct and etiquette among the assassin community with dire consequences for breaking those rules. They may be killers and criminals, but even they have a sense of honor and duty. Which brings us to the last lesson for today: Regardless of anything else, one must have a code to follow and guide them that is above reproach. Everyone’s particular code and parameters may be different, but they must still be present or suffer grave repercussions for either not having or following them.

She learned that the hard way.

She learned that the hard way.

Thus endeth today’s lessons. Now, go watch this movie and enjoy. Trust me, you will.

Lessons From…Chappie

Saw Chappie over the weekend with a few friends. Based off the trailer, I was not sure what to expect, and the movie has been receiving, at best, very mixed reviews with most erring on the negative side.

I can understand the sentiment if you are expecting to see the same type of film as District 9. Is Chappie along the same levels as Blomkamp’s first major work? Not quite, but it is definitely far better than Elysium. I would recommend checking out this robot movie if you enjoy a bit of camp, explosions, and well shot action sequences along with your existential, philosophical questions about intelligence, agency, and what qualifies as life. In case that was not enough to convince you, here are a few lessons that can be derived from the film. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Another PAX has ended. On to the next PAX!

Another PAX has ended. On to the next PAX!

The narrative of Chappie revolves around Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), a computer engineer, creating the first legitimate artificial intelligence. Through a series of unfortunate incidents, Wilson puts his artificial intelligence program into a broken robot whose battery power will be depleted at the end of five days. In essence, the “life” that Wilson creates is subject to a very early death because of his rash planning with no foresight. In reality, Wilson creates an artificial intelligence with no real clear idea of what he is going to do with it. He is more concerned with whether or not he can create life than what the consequences of such an action could be. This is the first lesson: When dealing with other people, you can’t just fuck around with them. I know, it seems like a pretty obvious notion, but it bears repeating. You can do whatever harm you want to your own body and mind because it’s yours; however, you don’t get to make that choice for others. Wilson had no sense of responsibility or empathy when he was creating his artificial intelligence. He simply wanted to see if he could do it. What came after would be up to chance and fate. In the real world, we cannot be this callous. Well, we can, but we would be horrible human beings for it.

Once he is “born”, Chappie is pretty much a child and latches on to anything resembling a parental figure. Most of the humans around him suck at life. The only one that really tries to aid him with no agenda is Yolandi, a gangster wanna be woman who has made obviously bad life choices. Deon tries to help Chappie but more so out of need to see the progress of his creation; not because he is genuinely interested in who or what Chappie is becoming. This brings us to the next lesson: We are responsible for what we create and the dominoes that fall from said creations. We cannot simply put something out into the world and then wash our hands of what may come. We are not “watchmaker gods” fretting away in the universe. Whatever happens from our labors and works, we bear some responsibility for those consequences. They may be frivolous or foolish or immensely serious, but they are the burden of creation.

The full final arc of the film was the most intellectually interesting to me. Amid the battle sequence between robots, Chappie is answering the age old question of “What is consciousness?”. No, seriously, He finally accesses the Internet and learns everything. With this knowledge and a few PS4 systems for processing power, Chappie maps consciousness. He can map a human brain and not only acquire memories and experiences as data but can also find personality and individualism.

This will help us discover humanity.

This will help us discover humanity.

The amazing thing is that with all of humanity’s knowledge Chappie created a technology to help himself and his loved ones. Unfortunately, it also brings up many questions about mortality, life, choice, and death. Even worse, the movie intentionally leaves these questions utterly unanswered. Honestly, the questions that rushed into my head during this “consciousness” sequence were worth the ticket price alone. I am still a bit miffed that Blomkamp or the writers did not try to answer or state an opinion on these questions, but I understand why. This is the last lesson of the film: The big questions will probably never have answers outside of what you manage to figure out for yourself in your little corner of the world.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

Lessons From…Selma

To my fellow Americans, Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I don’t believe that I have to explain the legacy of Dr. King for the United States, but I would encourage everyone to go and research more into the man’s life and work because the public education system has not done an adequate job of, well, educating. I have been wanting to see the movie Selma since viewing the first teaser/trailer and was a little concerned that it would not reach theaters all the way down here in South Texas. Thankfully my worries were ill advised and I was able to see the movie, multiple times. I wholeheartedly endorse others to do the same. In fact, finish reading this and then go see the movie.

Of course, while watching the film I was moved and brought to tears a few times (I tend to close off emotionally due to upbringing and use sarcasm and intelligent observation as methods of guarding and holding people/things at arm’s length so anything that gets an emotional response from me is surprising), but beyond the sentiment I was amazed by the level of detail, expertise, and willingness to show/teach the audience more than what they were probably familiar and comfortable with. Obviously, I immediately knew I was going to write on this film, so here goes. As always, SPOILERS ahead.

This is the first time I felt a bit uncomfortable using this picture.

This is the first time I felt a bit uncomfortable using this picture.

Like most films based on true stories, there is some aspect of artistic license to ensure a good story, but nothing in Selma seemed extraordinary or out of place. In fact, I had a hard time disbelieving anything that happened on screen could not have occurred. Most Americans are at least tangentially familiar with the story of Selma and the famous march that happened in Alabama, however, the film opens up the narrative and shows what was going on behind closed doors. Much like Lincoln did for its namesake, Selma shows not the major event, but how it came to be. Which brings us to the first lesson: there are great complexities, machinations, and choices that created major historical moments and icons.

This is most evident early in the film upon the first meeting between Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization and a local civil rights group, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (pronounced snick). SNCC is accusing King and his group of coming in and trying to take over after SNCC has laid ground work and done much for the community. They also accuse King of running from legitimate problems and struggles, like Albany, once the media attention goes away. In short, they are accusing King and his peers of being glory hounds only interested in attention and not the movement.

King then calmly explains that while the work groups like SNCC is important for the black community, his organization is interested in drawing white consciousness and attention. They are there to force the media and its millions of viewers to see what the black community is enduring to force the hands of politicians to enact change and enforce those changes. King is playing a specific and intelligent game. He knows what is needed to bring about legitimate change quickly and chooses his stands and battles carefully to further his agenda.

The man had the ear of the president. Pretty sure he knew a thing or two about the political game.

The man had the ear of the president. Pretty sure he knew a thing or two about the political game.

We constantly hear about the happy accidents in history that led to immense events. It makes sense the absurd is memorable and make for great stories. However, it is a disservices to forget the strategy and mental calculations involved in creating history and many of the so called “happy accidents” we love to tell.

Selma does not mythologize its Martin Luther King Jr. There is a desire to create near gods out of those who have done something great. We want them to be pristine totems of greatness for us to aspire to and use as an excuse for when we fail. The truth is that no person is perfect and King was no different. The film addresses this in a few key scenes. There is the confrontation between King and his wife, Coretta, about his lack of a home life and his emotional attachment to the other women in his life. She is fully aware of his shortcomings, yet remains by his side in his times of need. Whether this is because of her understanding of the importance of his work or her love for him, the film does not make clear, but it does not condone or excuse King’s actions. (Though the validity of infidelity and extramarital affairs are constantly in question, the film chooses to use them as part of the narrative)

She never did remarry after his death.

She never did remarry after his death.

Beyond that, there are several instances in the film where Martin Luther King Jr. experiences doubt over the movement and questions whether or not he is actually doing anything for the people. He is unsure of the path he has chosen and what, if anything, will come of it. Can you imagine Martin Luther King Jr. questioning his efforts? This brings us to the next lesson: if King had doubts who are we to think everything is certain? I know the question form is a little weird, but it is true. Individuals who were actively changing and forming history as we know it had doubts about their efforts and themselves. What arrogance drives us to think we will not have or should not have any? I fear the man who is absolute in their certainty far more than the one who questions their actions.

The final lesson is pretty obvious, but also most likely an unpopular one. Nonetheless, it was the most apparent to me as I saw the film and in particular when I heard the ending song during the credits. We have come so far, but have much further to go. Seeing the news recently, it becomes a bit difficult to believe that we have supposedly overcome the trials of the past. It seems like there might be some regression which is why as an audience we need media like Selma to remember and visualize history, even the parts we are uncomfortable with. I am not saying the movie will fix or cure the ills that conflict us, but it will also not let us ignore that illness in the vain hope it will go away.

In honor of that idea, and the memory of those who gave so much in attempts to fix such major social problems and issues, I’ll leave you with this:

Thus endeth today’s lesson.