Morning Movie Review: Brazil (1985)

In continuing with last week’s review of The Empire Strikes Back—and this week’s unofficial theme of keeping posts light—I decided to jot off this quick review of a very good, very deep film, the dystopian dark comedy Brazil.

This film has been on my watch list for some time, and a timely RedBox 50% off on-demand streaming coupon made it a compelling rental for a Monday night.  It was well worth the $2.15; indeed, I may even watch it again tonight, just to catch details I likely missed the first time.

The basic premise of Brazil is to envision an excessively bureaucratic society, in which filing the proper paperwork and avoiding blame—the hallmarks of any bureaucracy—matter more than doing what’s right or decent.  Indeed, the highest good in the nameless society of Brazil is to keep the bureaucracy chugging along, and to wrap everything up in red tape.

Read More »

Monday Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back

The brouhaha over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court will provide ample blog fodder in the days ahead, but there is plenty of time to get into senatorial wrangling.  Mondays should be eased into a bit, so I’m taking today to write a short review of one of the best (and probably most over-reviewed) films of all time, The Empire Strikes Back.

Growing up as a chubby kid in the 1990s, I was a huge Star Wars fan.  That was long before the new trilogy retconned/soft-rebooted everything and destroyed the legacy of classic Star Wars, and even before the prequels made the flicks even more cartoonishly ridiculous.  I’m not even a huge critic of the prequels—they were never going to live up to the perfection of the original trilogy—and I enjoyed some of the fun world-building and thorny trade blockades of Phantom Menace (although that’s all a bit too technocratic for a space opera).  But the magic of the original trilogy is more than the sum of its parts, and it’s based on rich storytelling and exceptionally strong character development, with nearly every major character growing and evolving over the course of the three films.

That was readily apparent in Empire, which my girlfriend and I saw (for five bucks!) on the big screen Saturday evening.  It has been many years since I’ve watched the original trilogy, and I’m regretting that now.  Empire catches the main trio of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo at transitional points in their development:  Luke at the beginning of his Jedi training with Master Yoda; Leia assuming great command responsibilities in the Rebellion while also wrestling with her feelings for Solo; and Han feeling the tug of his old life (and debts) while maturing as a man capable of great self-sacrifice for his friends.

Read More »

Dystopia

In my darker moods, I can’t help but notice in what a bleak future we live.  Sure, there are many elements of America that still exist, and some of which are strong, at least in some parts of the country.  But things like constitutionalism, rule of law, respect for wisdom, faith, and a great deal many other wonderful items are daily disrespected, ignored, and/or abused.

I’ve been on a kick lately of watching dystopian films, that genre—next to zombie movies—that Americans love best.  Last week I watched the 1974 cult classic Zardoz (starring an out-of-work Sean Connery), a film that shouldn’t exist given the nature of studio politics (it’s a rare example of a studio saying, “Make whatever you want,” and the director took it seriously).  I also watched the less classic Equilibrium (2002), starring Christian Bale.

Zardoz explores a distant future in which frosty, immortal, aloof, and bored elites, the Eternals, live in perpetual paradise while employing vicious, gun-toting Brutals to exterminate the excess population of Earth.  Equilibrium tells the story of a society, Libria—a mash-up of America and Britain, it seems—that, in order to prevent a fourth global war, outlaws all emotions, on the premise that art and literature inflame men’s passions to destructive degrees.

While it might not qualify as a “dystopian” film, I also viewed the Coen Brothers’ classic Barton Fink (1991), about the titular writer—a successful Broadway playwright who writes theatrical productions about, of, and for “the common man“—who cashes in on his success with a move to Los Angeles to write for Capitol Pictures, where he immediately develops writers’ block.  Fink is a 1940s Jewish intellectual who pontificates frequently about his desire to tell the grubby, realistic stories of everyday people, yet he keeps ignoring his shabby hotel neighbor, Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman who tells Fink repeatedly, “I could tell you some stories.”

Read More »

Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap

Spring Break is (essentially) over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep reading fun stuff!  Today’s Lazy Sunday, perhaps predictably, is going to look back at my Spring Break Short Story Recommendations mini-series.  I’ll also include which of these stories was my favorite of the week.

These are strange times to be a politics blogger.  The Virus holds sway over every discussion, almost absorbing as much mental mind-share as President Trump.  It’s interesting that the same people who are obsessed with Trump are also the very same people that fetishize The Virus.  It’s the same kind of magical thinking:  just as Trump is the cause of all of their problems, so The Virus is the means by which they can exert more social and governmental control over the rest of us.

As such, writing about politics and The Virus has grown dull—and wearying.  Thus, this past week’s diversion into more harmless horror stories.

But I digress.  Let’s get on with the recap!

  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part I: ‘The Judge’s House’” – The chilling tale of Malcolm Malcolmson, the diligent mathematics student in search of total isolation, the better to pore over his textbooks.  Malcolmson takes quarters in the titular house in a distant town, but runs afoul of a demonic rat with a “baleful” eye.  Very spooky mood setting from a true master of horror, Bram Stoker.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part II: ‘Thus I Refute Beelzy’” – A short, skin-crawlingly creepy little story from John Collier.  In just five brief pages, this story depicts a troubled youngster—likely in league with Satan—and his overbearing, hyper-rationalist, abusive father.  The ending is satisfying, but the implication is even more horrifying.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part III: ‘Seven American Nights’” – A non-horror entry in the week, this story is a bit of sci-fi travel fiction.  A young Iranian visits a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., that is grasping to hold onto a nation irreparably in decline.  It’s an eerie bit of role reversal, as the Third World is on top, and America sinks into mutated decadence.
  • TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” & “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” (Original Post) – This post is more of an “honorable mention,” as I wrote about it last summer.  But when you blog everyday, as I do, you’re not going to pass up the chance to reblog every Thursday (seriously, it saves a ton of time).  Regardless, this tale definitely fits the theme:  an insidious wax-moth begins filling the heads of vulnerable young bees with sweet, silky lies, much like a public school English teacher.  Soon, the once-proud high is on the verge of collapse, with mutated and invalid “Oddities” born in greater numbers.  It’s a shocking allegory—or Aesopian fable—that ends in flames, with a cautiously optimistic coda.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part IV: ‘The Shed’” – I described this small-town tale as proto-Stephen King:  young boys work together to investigate the disappearance of a local dog—and to overcome a mysterious, malevolent evil, The Shadow.

Naturally, I recommend all of these stories—that’s why their recommendations, after all—but which one do I deem the best of the bunch?

Read More »

Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part III: “Seven American Nights”

For today’s edition of Spring Break Short Story Recommendations (read Part I and Part II), I’m moving away, at least temporarily, from the collection 11 Great Horror Stories to look at piece from another collection, this time in the science-fiction vein.  The collection, Not the Only Planet: Science Fiction Travel Stories, compiled by Damien Broderick, was published in 1998 by Lonely Planet Publications.

When I was a kid in the 1990s, Lonely Planet dominated, at least in my young mind, travel guides.  They were the “cool” travel guides, that told you how to bike through Shanghai or where to get good food in Nepal.  I managed to pick up a few of them at second-hand stores or book sales, and would just pour over them and their descriptions of odd places around the globe.

As such, I always thought it was cool that Lonely Planet put out a collection of science-fiction stories—naturally, about travel.  My memory told me that I picked up this collection in middle school, which is plausible, but the I was out of middle school by 1999, and I picked up this book at a used bookstore.  Having the means of a thirteen- or fourteen-year old, I would not have paid full-freight for it.

Indeed, I remember vividly the bookstore where I purchased it, if not the name.  I was on a trip with my best friend from the time, David, to his family in Virginia (in Blacksburg, if I recall correctly; David’s father was an alumnus of Virginia Tech, and I think his mother grew up in the area).  I can’t remember if it I was drawn to the book because of its strange cover art, the science-fiction travel focus, or the Lonely Planet imprimatur, or some combination of those three, but I picked it up and have enjoyed it thoroughly.

Of course, the publication date of 1998 leads me to believe that I was slightly older than my memory suggests, maybe fifteen.  What I do remember is that these stories really left an impression on me, particularly one odd tale, the feature of today’s post:  Gene Wolfe‘s “Seven American Nights.”

Read More »

Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

The Age of The Virus is unprecedented.  Well, not entirely—major plagues and pandemics have swept the world before.  What’s unprecedented this time is the wholesale closure of the most commerce, along with rigid governmental and social admonitions to “social distance” and “shelter-in-place.”  Tin-pot municipal tyrants and State governors are engaged in a virtue-signalling race to see who can curtail liberties more rapidly and completely.

Pointing out this reality opens one to social scorn.  It’s amusing—and a bit frightening—to see the earnestness with which some Americans cling to their new mantras, the articles of faith handed down from the CDC and various government apparatchiks.  Even as our knowledge of The Virus seems to change daily, these public health acolytes cling to the every pronouncement from so-called “experts.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Yes, we should be vigilant about washing our hands and avoiding the accidental infection of one another, especially the elderly.

What concerns me is how quickly so many of us have been willing to accept greater degrees of control over our lives in the name of combating an invisible threat.  But now it feels like we’re living in the episode of Sliders called “Fever,” in which a totalitarian CDC cracks down on Los Angeles because, in that universe, penicillin was never discovered.

We’re not at Sliders levels—yet—but with that acquiescence has come an expansion of government power at nearly every level. I am not a libertarian, and I fully expect a robust federal response to a difficult international situation (remember, The Virus came from CHI-NA).  But that doesn’t mean local, State, or even federal authorities can simply hand-wave away the Constitution.

The Framers surely knew disease and death in their time.  When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, there was no capability for directing society with relative efficiency; even if there were, though, they would not have wanted to use it to suspend liberties.  The Framers surely knew there would be plagues and sickness in the United States, yet they included no clause such as “in the event of widespread sickness, these Articles contained heretofore in are, and of right to be, suspended until such time as the Congress shall deem suitable for public safety and the common welfare.”

Yet we see officials at the lowest levels of government telling people not just to stay home, but threatening to shut down churches and other assemblies.  Doesn’t that violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly?  Again, the prudent approach is for churches to accommodate the health of their congregants with remote services or other workarounds, but shouldn’t they be allowed to hold traditional services if they so choose?

The critics and medical scolds by now are howling with rage.  “What do these gossamer rights mean when we’re dead?”  Is that all anyone cares about?  What happened to Patrick Henry’s fiery cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death?”  What’s worse:  death from worshiping the Lord, or life in a soulless, gutless, freedom-less world?

I’m not alone in my assessment here.  Bill Whittle ripped into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week, arguing that His Dishonor’s promise to shut down churches that continue to congregate would represent a high-handed assault on the First Amendment.  Even Whittle’s colleague Scott Ott thought Whittle’s defense of the Constitution was a bit rich, basically arguing that the Constitution can take a break during this outbreak.

I’m perceiving similarly expedient arguments among others on the Right.  It’s disgusting how many folks on our side are running like slavering dogs to lap up the crumbs of authoritarianism.  Whittle in the video above makes the compelling point that the Constitution functionally means nothing if any government official at any level can simply ignore its protections.  He also correctly points out that these rights are God-given, part of our very human nature.  No government can legitimately deprive us of them.

Another one of the saner voices is RazörFist, who also sees a great deal of big government chicanery in this pandemic (warning, Razör’s videos often contain strong language):

Z Man has also expressed skepticism about The Virus—or, at least, our draconian responses to it—and has received his share of scorn and dismissal.  But in his post Wednesday, “Fermi’s Paradox,” he made an interesting allusion to E.M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops,” originally published in 1909.  That short story (which I highly recommend you read—it has the same chilling effect as Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”) details a world in which humanity exists in a state of mindless, perpetual comfort, its every need attended to by The Machine.

In the story, humans have become so accustomed to cloistering in their little cells that they abhor face-to-face interaction, instead communicating via blue discs across great distances.  They are so dependent upon The Machine, they come to worship it (an interesting development, as their society has “advanced” beyond the “superstition” of religious belief—another subtle point from Forster).  They only travel on rare occasions, and avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Eventually, The Machine deteriorates, with disastrous results; I will likely write about the story in more detail next week.  For our purposes, it sounds eerily like our current society:  shelter-in-place, “Stay at Home” (as digital signs on the Interstate tell me, implicitly scolding me for being on the highway), watch Netflix, #AloneTogether, etc., etc.—we’re told to be comfortable and to crave safety and comfort above all else.  They are the highest goods.

We’re through the looking glass here.  I’ve been pessimistic that we’re even living under the Constitution anymore, especially after the intelligence agencies attempted to overthrow a sitting President.  Vestiges and scraps of it still reign, but they seem to be the exception.  And most Americans don’t seem to care, so long as they can watch TV, the WiFi is working, and there is pizza.

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

I hope I’m wrong.  Regardless, wash your hands.

World Space Week Starts Today

It’s been a long but productive week for yours portly.  Readers will notice that, other than my recent #TBT features (yesterday and last Thursday’s posts), I’ve been mostly silent on the impeachment circus.  My general policy in this age of media perfidy is to withhold comment until the real facts have been reported.

The way everything is shaping up, my gut instincts—that there is nothing to claims that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses, defined constitutionally as “high crimes and misdemeanors”—seem validated.  Of course, that won’t stop the Democrats from expending months of energy, treasure, and rhetoric on banging the drum of impeachment.

In general, I’ve been trying to expand the focus of the blog, moving away from strictly writing about politics and politics-adjacent issues to more general interest topics.  My little piece on Saturn from a few weeks ago was enjoyable to write, and seemed to garner some positive feedback.

As such, I was excited to see that today marks the beginning of World Space Week.

Read More »

Why (Online) Scientists are Annoying

Today’s post won’t exactly reach the commanding heights of culture, but, hey, I wrote nearly a thousand words about a dweeb’s belt yesterday, so let’s keep the low expectations a-rollin’.

Readers know that I’ve been on a bit of a Quora kick lately (see here and here). Quora allows users to submit questions, and for pretty much anyone to provide answers. I can’t remember how I got signed up for it, but I get a daily digest pertaining to areas in which I have expressed an interest.

Usually I get strange questions related to evolution. The first response is always a snarky atheist attacking the questioner’s underlying premise or motives. “Uh, well, actually, there is no evidence against evolution, because we can just shoe-horn every inconsistency into this amorphous, nineteenth-century theory based on the localized observations of one zoologist on a self-contained island ecosystem.”

Those don’t bother me too much, because I just assume anyone who believes in evolution loudly online is an Internet atheist that hates God because his parents got divorced. What bugs me the most are the armchair astronomers.

Read More »

Lazy Sunday XXVII: Bric-a-Brac

It’s been a pretty crazy week, and the weekend has only eased up slightly.  Last week’s Lazy Sunday was all about small town living, and about how valuable social peace is to maintaining a healthy society.

I’ve been harping on this idea a great deal lately.  Politics is an abyss, and staring into it for too long and too often starts to distort and twist one’s perspective.  In some ways, avoiding the topic twists the perspective of those who are not staring into the abyss, as I wrote about yesterday.  Nevertheless, it gets tiring—indeed, soul-sucking—to focus on politics constantly.

Additionally, I am increasingly in a state of despair about the ultimate direction of our nation and culture.  President Trump has been a welcome, God-given reprieve, but even his efforts have been repeatedly stymied, even by those within the party he remolded into his own image.  Even normal ideas are increasingly considered “radical,” and we can’t even discuss problems openly anymore in a polite setting.  I am a declinist by nature, but this is just ridiculous.

So, in the midst of this deepening despair—and this sense that, in abandoning God, He’s abandoned us to our fate—I’ve been trying to write more about lighter topics.  Perhaps it’s a bit of buoyant distraction as the ship slowly descends into the murky depths of irreversible darkness, or maybe it’s the recognition that there’s more to life than petty political squabbles (although most of those squabbles are increasingly theological battles for the soul of the West), but I’ve found that writing about Saturn is more enjoyable.

With that in mind, here’s a grab-bag of portly bric-a-brac:

  • The Bull on the Roof” – I wrote this post on my phone—never an enjoyable endeavor—while watching my little niece and nephew one evening (they lived, so I guess I wasn’t too negligent).  It’s about a delightful little piece of classical music from 1920, before modern classical music turned into atonal trash and killed the genre.  I wish music composition schools were still churning out composers who could write stuff like this piece.
  • Funcling” – I love being an uncle.  My little niece and two nephews are fun (and exhausting) to watch and to play with, and their imaginations are amazing.  This piece was about their obsession with pretending to be various Nintendo characters, mostly Kirby and sundry Pokemon.
  • Summer Reading: The Story of Yankee Whaling” – I read this little book over the summer, and loved it.  Written for children in the late 1950s, the book is an historical overview of the defunct whaling industry, an industry that built and fueled New England and America.  They don’t write history like this anymore; now, the book would be full of hand-wringing about whales being endangered species due to overhunting.  None of that in this book:  whales are powerful creatures, and men need to make a living.  Adventure ensues.
  • Saturn: The Creepiest Planet?” – Other than Earth, Saturn is the best planet (and, next to Earth, the creepiest, it seems).  I dream of being able to visit other planets.  In fact, I get perturbed when talking to scientists because they’re such buzzkills about space exploration.  “You would be crushed instantly, TPP, if you tried to fly into Saturn’s gaseous core” (even that sentence mocking them is probably riddled with errors to which they would object)—yeah, I know!  Let me suspend disbelief for a minute.  Better yet, come up with some solutions.  I’m sick of nerds telling me that putting plants and potting soil on the moon won’t terraform it.  Figure it out!  Aren’t we paying you to make science-fiction a reality?

That’s it for this week.  Don’t let politics suck your soul away.  Maybe God will hear our cries for help and do something; maybe not.  Regardless, spend time with family, read good books, and listen to good music—and try to enjoy yourself as the ship goes down.

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments: