Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars 7. How I would've done it.

Title: Star Wars Episode VII.
Subtitle: The best of all possible worlds.

John Williams' theme perforates your eardrums in THX surround sound. And we --

Open with the usual crawling crawl. The reborn Republic is doing battle with the fallen Empire's last batch of die-hard bitter-enders on some forceforsaken moon or whatever. This is a last ditch stand. The refusniks got their hands on a doomsday weapon which could destroy the whole galaxy, blahblah.

Go to --

Battle sequence, nail-biting stuff. Looks bad, folks. Everything that could possibly go wrong does. The Dark Side's going to win this time. But, boy howdy, at the last possible second, the good guys win against all odds!

Said heroes cheer and congratulate themselves, just like they did at the end of Return of the Jedi. Abruptly, they pause in mid-cheer -- a high-def freeze-frame. Off-screen, a woman's voice says, "The Battle of Krylon-4 closed the dark chapter of the Empire's abominations. Throughout the galaxy, darkness turned to light."

The dark moonscape becomes a white shiny classroom -- the Second Republic equivalent of middle school. A wide-screen rectangle floats at the front, our cheering heroes frozen inside. We've just seen a propaganda video.

Now we also see the chirpy teacher who's been slinging that darkness/light jive. Pretty, smiling, a little too damn perfect.

"The battle was won," she says.

Cut to a bitter-looking kid at one of the high-tech desks. He sits there, just looking at his happy teacher. But he's not happy.

Back to the teacher --

"Thanks to the Force and the wisdom of the Jedi Knights, the Second Republic triumphed."

Back to the sulking kid. His wounded eyes are pools of hate and knowing.

Then a few frames of the teacher --

"Now, today ..."

Back to the brooding adolescent. 

Off-screen, the teacher says --

"We're living in the best of all possible worlds."

The bitter kid mouths her words as she says them.

Class ends, the kid hits the hallway. A hologram pops up in front of him. It informs the kid that his Jedi guidance counselor senses a disturbance in his mind and wants to discuss it tomorrow during home room period. He waves the hologram away.

The kid goes home. Not a palace. But his widowed father has a get-rich-quick scheme. Something involving a not entirely legal exploitation of a slightly more primitive intelligent species. An ethical grey area, OK? But it's a victimless crime. And the money could save what's left of the family.

Dad's scam unfolds over the next sequence. The kid helps.

Elaborate set-up, lots of hard work and risk. Just when it looks like the pay-off is coming, a Jedi pulls the rug out from under them. Dad gets community service -- designed to make him a better person, of course. But it still breaks up the family. The kid gets a foster home --

But he runs away.

A few parsecs yonder, the Jedi Council celebrates VE (as in Victory over the Empire) day. A merry band, these Jedi Knight. All smug and self-congratulatory, telling war stories, tales of the Empire's stupidity, Only one party-pooper in the bunch -- the battle-scarred, 70-something Luke Skywalker. Jedi Whoever asks him what's the problem.

Luke: You don't see the problem?

Jedi Whoever: No, I don't.

Luke: That's the problem.

Luke tries to explain that this is what happened the last time. The last time? What are you talking about? First Republic, that's what I'm talking about. And ... what happened? We dropped our guard, that's what happened. That's why we fell. Hmm. An interesting perspective. Insincere this statement is. Truth be told, the Jedi Knights don't need his stinking thinking. They humor Luke, deflect him, shut him up. The party goes on.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of some Empire installation, the kid meets up with various conspirators. Four or five of them. They huddle around a fire. Above their heads, a shattered slab block the eyes of satellites. They're going to hear the truth at last. If the mythical "Leader" ever shows up ...

He does. Appearing out of nowhere, then hunkering down with the rest.

The fire reveals the scar running down his face. The slash of a light saber, obviously. Nobody brings this up. They just wait for him to talk. Then he finally does.

The scar-faced Leader points out that the Light side is really the Dark side. According to him, the Jedi are friendly fascists. (Or whatever word they use for "fascist" in this stupid universe.) Nobody gets away with anything these days. That's what's wrong with the world. 

The kid nods. Yeah, I know. These Jedi bastards nailed my dad for a victimless ...

But the Leader isn't taking questions. He continues his rant, paints a picture. We get the picture.

We see that the Second Republic became a weird combination of Minority Report and With Folded Hands. A republic in theory, a police state in fact. The goody-good Jedi Knights weren't exactly in charge. But they were. Said knights were telepathic, telekinetic, clairvoyant, and precognitive, after all. Predicted crime was usually prevented. Jedi mind-control made utopian schemes work -- whether they really worked or not. In a nutshell, the Jedi forced rotten human beings (or rotten aliens) to play nice. Rotten sentient beings hate that.

And the Leader shouts ...

I'm sick of being nice! Ain't you sick of being nice?

He's pointing at the kid. For awhile. The kid finally realizes he's supposed to reply ...

Uh ... yeah, says the kid. But what choice do I have? 

Right now, none, says the Leader. But we can change that.


Yeah, says the Leader. Us ... and a few new friends. Thing like this, we're going to need help. 

Who could argue? But the punk kid doesn't drop it.

What friends are you talking about?

I was getting to that.

The Leader pulls out a piece of paper.

Look at it quick, he says.

The huddled conspirators study the paper. The kid gasps.

The paper turns to dust and blows away.

And we go on from there.

OK. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius this is not, I know. The classroom gag in the opening is a rip-off of Serenity. I know, I know -- though it only occurred to me after I wrote it. But at least it's a new direction ...

We've seen the plucky rebels on the run from the Evil Empire. We've seen the rebels win. Now what? Well, in Abrams' new timeline, a new Evil Empire takes over five years after the rebel victory. (Lousy track record, huh?) Abrams now shows us a new batch of plucky rebels fighting a new Evil Empire. F@#* that. I've seen that movie and it was bad the first time.

Abrams rehashes the same old crap. This is new crap. I show you why the Republic fell. Essentially, because the smug, self-righteous folks in charge let their guard down.

Much like certain formerly promising filmmakers, eh?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: In the Heart of the Sea

Big Blubber is watching you.
Arrrr, mateys. Ron Howard just harpooned a movie called In the Heart of the Sea. It be a whale of a ...

Christ, I can't keep this up. I don't have the heart.

Let's just get this over with, OK?


Howard based his beached whale of a movie on Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Longwinded title, decent book, so the reviewers say. Non-fiction. The  factual disaster behind Herman Melville's fiction. Seriously. Real whale. Sank a real ship in 1820. You'd figure that'd make a good, movie, right? Somebody did. Howard actually made the damn thing. But somebody figured wrong.

Wow. What a wasted opportunity. Or series of wasted opportunities.

122 minutes worth.

Let's list them, shall we?

Not a comprehensive list. Just a few big ones ...

Fact vs. fiction
Moby Dick was a mad, longwinded allegory. Allegory of what? Well, some damn thing or other, your guess is as good as mine. The good ship Pequod was destroyed by a giant, white Symbol, OK? That's the Cliff Notes takeaway.
Melville's novel was rambling, elegiac, pseudo-Biblical, faux Shakespearean, occasionally journalistic, never realistic, and dense with dark meaning. As Philbrick noted, all that artificiality had a real world source.
The great American novelist based his book on an actual whale attack on the whaling ship Essex. Yep. As previously noted, a real damn whale sank a real damn boat. X people died. Y people survived, after 90 days at sea and a cannibal diet. A harrowing story. A very different story from Moby Dick.
I assumed Howard would draw a contrast between raw, real history and clotted, symbolic fiction. You've read the fiction. Now here's the truth! I figured if the novel's characters spouted iambic pentameter, the people in the movie would talk like people. (Like the denizens of Deadwood, say.) If the novel was a mind game, the movie would feel like a you-are-there documentary -- the camera constantly fighting to keep up with the action. So I assumed. But that's not what Howard did. 
The dialog is ponderous beyond belief.
Along with the direction, editing and camerawork. 
You see what a big-ass whale this is, thanks to computer-generated fakery. Some images are spectacular. But they feel artificial. 
Every scene screams: "This means something. This is important."
Howard's real life story looks, sounds and smells like bad historical fiction. It's as phony and false as a Classic Comic.
It never feels like reality for a second.

Cut to the Chase
The existential stand-off between the whalers on the ship and the inhuman thing under the water trying to kill them is the heart of the movie. Howard takes his sweet time getting there. Like 40 minutes or so. You find out how the first mate got his job, what his wife thinks, and ... all kinds of other stuff that makes your eyes roll to white. Who cares?

Literally literary
Melville's research is the frame story. Tell me what happened on the Essex, old timer. Yeah. Just that on the nose. Just that bad. It's the oldest, lamest gag in the book -- the filmmaker's equivalent of training wheels. I kept thinking ... What would Terry Gilliam do? What would Quentin Tarantino do? Tell the movie out of sequence. Start with the trial, then go backwards. Make the novelist a pain in the ass. Make you doubt you'll ever know what really happened ...
But that's not Howard's style.
Each scene delivers its point like a FedEx messenger.

Burying the Lead ... at Sea!
The great white whale in Melville's novel was an inhuman Other killing humans for no reason. Assuming that real life whales were sentient ... or at least semi-sentient ... they had very good reasons to smash whaling ships. The movie's hero presumably realizes this at the end. The whale doesn't smash his lifeboat; he doesn't harpoon the whale. This undersea entity has a mind; it ain't no Moby Dick. Big moment, or it should've been. But Howard doesn't build up to the epiphany; he doesn't sell the epiphany; he buries the lead. The scene is beautifully filmed and looks great in the trailer. It falls flat when you actually see it.

I could go on. But let's wrap this up. I know you've got things to do.

Where did Howard go wrong?

The seduction of reality, maybe. "This really happened" isn't enough. The real story isn't always an interesting story. Even if it is ... so what? Truth or fiction, an interesting story is boring if you tell it badly. And that's what you'll do if reality sweet talks you. The true tale grips, interests, involves and mesmerizes you. You're so wrapped up, it never occurs to you that the folks in the seats might not share your enthusiasm. Great story! Yes, it is. But you still have to sell it. If you're pre-sold in your own skull, you won't. And that's where Howard went wrong. The man was seduced, plain and simple. 

That's my take. Sorry Opey. Your movie died at sea.

But I want to read Philbrick's book. Arrr.

Every dead, multi-million dollar flop has a silver lining.

Monday, December 14, 2015

TV Review: "The Leftovers" Season One

720 viewing hours ... and I still don't get it!
Stop me if you've heard this one: On a fine October's day, 2% of the world's population vanish -- poof. No, it's not the Rapture -- it's the premise of The Leftovers. This HBO series is the brainchild of Damon Lindelof (the co-creator of Lost and co-screenwriter of half of the decade's major sci-fi movies) and Tom Perotta, the author of the novel the series loosely adapts. What do I think?

I'm lost, people. Just plain lost.

On the one hand, the series honors my big rule for decent sci-fi: Take your premise seriously. Imagine a situation and ask yourself: What would actually happen? Then seriously try to answer that question. The series does that. The picture it paints ...

Most people try to get on with their lives, as most people usually do after bad stuff happens. They deal with the loss by ignoring it, or paying $40,000 smackers to outfits that create exact replicas of departed loved ones so survivors can bury 'em and get closure.

Other people just get crazy. A host of cults spring up, straight out of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The Guilty Remnant is the worst of the bunch -- or at least the most irritating. They dress in white, don't talk, and smoke like fiends -- because what's the damn point of good health in the apocalypse? Their mission in life: Don't let people get over what happened. They fulfill their mission with sick mind games that make the Westboro Baptist Church look like the Welcome Wagon.

The government responds by forcing grieving survivors to answer an irritating questionnaire before getting benefits and turning the ATF into the cult-exterminating ATFEC -- namely the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults. Plausible enough, I guess. 

Against this wacky backdrop, the action unfolds in parallel storylines involving assorted characters. (Exactly as it did on Lost -- and a thousand other shows.) There's the sheriff, his bratty daughter, his missing son, his estranged wife who left him for the chain-smoking cult, the leader of another cult who hugs the pain out of you when he isn't impregnating Asian teenage girls, a reverend who points out the sins of the vanished people to prove the event wasn't the Rapture, a guy who shoots dogs, you get the picture. Well-drawn characters, decent dialog, no sneer intended. It's a quality show. On the other hand ...

It's so damn depressing. The show gives you the bad news -- and it always turns out to be a segue to even worse news. Your dog died. Because your daughter ran him over. Right before she crashed into the kindergarten killing herself and setting all the little kids on fire. That's the basic dynamic, folks. I'd throw in Louis CK doing a few comedy routines. But that's just me.

Hey, a show has every right to be depressing, just so long as it's compelling. The Leftovers usually is. What's compelling is the post-apocalyptic freak show -- and the implied detective story. But that mystery turns out to be a cheat -- in the Lost tradition.

In case you've blocked that painful memory, here's what I'm talking about ...

Lost seemed so ground-breaking at first. Then it didn't. Following in the footsteps of Chris Carter's X-Files, Lindelhof wrote himself in a thousand corners and then distracted you with manic hand-waving. Lost isn't purgatory, I tell you. Actually it is purgatory. Critics and formerly fanatic viewers excoriated Lindelof for Lost's logic holes, rabid Maguffins and bogus answers. The Leftovers is Lindelof's response.

You viewers hate my bogus answers? Fine. How about no answers?

Lindelof is clear on that point: The show will never give you answers. You'll never find out why all those people disappeared. What counts is the reaction of the people left behind. Hey, how often in life do we ever know what the hell happened anyway?  

OK. It's a legitimate, if infuriating artistic, stance. After all, Stanislas Lem's Solaris never told you what the sentient planet was up to; Peter Weir's The Picnic at Hanging Rock never revealed what happened to the two vanished girls. Yeah, yeah. Fine. The promise of an answer is missing here too, though the tease remains in various Twin Peaks-style ghost whispers, visions and crazy coincidences. This feels less like arty cleverness and more like lazy writing. (Connecting the dots is hard, after all.) The show tells us we'll never know the truth -- then dangles the carrot of revelation. I don't want to bite ...

But I'll probably watch the damn second season anyway.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Film Review: The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's "The Zero Theorem" doesn't add up. It's an insanely great movie, yeah. I'm saying it literally doesn't add up. Resists attempts to balance the equation with a neat rational formula.

Qohen Leth is as bald as a sperm. A brilliant mathematician/programmer of some variety. He lives alone in a ruined Cathedral he bought for a song. His phobias basically run the gamut of existence. Non-existence is his greatest fear. (Which he visualizes in hallucinations of the final black hole sucking in a collapsing universe at the end of time. What're you afraid of Qohen? Nothing. Ha-ha.) The poor phobic slob drags himself to work in a cubicle for Management. He just wants to work out of his burned-out basilica.

Then, in a wacky twist of fate,m Management makes an exception and let's him work out of his home. His job: Proving the zero theorem of the title. That theorem being: 0 = 100%. Which is another way of saying ...
It all adds up to nothing.
Yep. Proving his greatest fear. That's his job.

The future has come and gone—where were you?

Superficially, it looks like he's repeating himself/. Brazil is cold, dark, bureaucratic, opressive.

At the end of Neuromancer, the digital ghosts of two formerly breathing human beings wind up on a virtual beach hanging out forever. 

Nothing, what a concept.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Film Review: Steve Jobs

It takes a genius to make a film about a genius, sometimes two. Based on the evidence of "Steve Jobs," screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle fit that description. Freaking geniuses, the pair of them.

How would you film The Book of Jobs? Whatever you imagine, that's not how they do it. Their approach is straight out of left field, but it works.

The closest parallel would be a film about the life of Muhammad Ali. A conventional biopic would focus on the boxing ring -- the Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manilla, etc. If Boyle and Sorkin did the movie, they'd spend most of their time following Ali around in various locker rooms.

Jobs' pugilistic arena is the annual Apple product launches. Big convocations in gaping modernist auditoriums. Which felt like some messianic cult.

As a software developer friend once informed me, "Steve Jobs? Oh, I've seen him in action. Various product launches, a yearly ritual, the gathering of the Mac faithful. These resemble tent revivals, although the worship is aimed exclusively in his direction. Steve Jobs could ask his devotees to set their hair on fire, they would comply. He has the mentality of a cult leader and he attracts the typical true believers. He calls himself an evangelist, but he's just being humble. Steve Jobs thinks he's God."

These annual meetings were Jobs' boxing ring and the temple of his faithful. But the film spends most of its time behind the stage -- in the conference rooms and hallways watching Jobs getting ready for some big show, relentlessly pacing like a caged animal. Thinking, arguing. Ginning up the hype. Obsessing over ludicrously arcane details, slights and idées fixes.

It's a portrait of s public man (as iconic as Colonel Sanders) before he puts on his public face. Oblique, fragmented, as many-faceted as a Cubist painting.

But it all adds up.

Jobs character emerges in snippets of dialog, flashes of insight, inferences seen in the cracks of his facade. So here's what I think the movie's saying about his character. An unconventional review for an unconventional film. The dialog is paraphrased. The tense is the useful but much despised historical present.

The film opens at the 1984 launch of the Apple Macintosh, right after the "Why 1984 Won't be like 1984" commercials that aired on the Super Bowl. (Ridley Scott directed 'em. The chick from the Olympics who threw a hammer in Big Brother's face, remember?) Having all seen that commercial, the Mac Mavens pack the auditorium, and they're frothing and foaming in a nerd feeding frenzy. Clap, clap, STOMP! The first personal computer with a graphical user interface ever! Clap, clap, We want Jobs! STOMP! Start the show! But the show ain't starting. Jobs wants his new toy to say "Hello," but there's some damn glitch. Jobs verbally flogs Andy Hertzfeld, his long-suffering chief engineer, demanding the he freaking fix it -- and threatens the man with public humiliation if he fails. Jobs then attacks the next whipping boy or girl -- usually Joanna Hoffman, who's officially his marketing executive, and unofficially his battered human shield. Jobs never hits anybody, but he beats people up. Mental pressure exudes from his eyes like a force field. People shudder and shake in his glance. It's like that scene in Scanners before the guy's head exploded.

But the "Hello" problem is only one track in Jobs' obsessive, multi-track mind. After abusing Hertzfeld, he deflects a desperate plea for money from Chrisann Brennana, a woman he impregnated and rejected, denies that her precocious daughter Lisa is also his daughter, teaches Lisa to draw on the first iteration of MacPaint, obsesses about his absence on the cover of Time, shoots random investigative probes to suss out the true identities of a long list of screw-ups and backstabbers who only think they've covered their tracks, then returns to busting Hertzfeld's balls. And the clock is tick, tick, ticking, man. Like it or not, Job is going to have to step out on stage and do the launch and he still can't make the freaking computer say "Hello." So the tension ratchets up in one, long continuous take. Until Hertzfeld finally breaks it. "Ah, what the hell," he says. "If we can't fix the bug, let's just fake it." "Fine by me," says Jobs. And, with a big smile, he finally hits the stage, all set to hoodwink the adoring audience. End scene.

Yeah. After all that build-up, the filmmakers don't even show the bloody computer say, "Hello." (Which it famously did.)

And so it goes. As it was in the beginning of the film, so it is until the end. Aside from a few teasing clips in auditoriums, the camera stays in the back rooms, tracking the relentlessly pacing Jobs in the moments before he goes on stage.

And so we track the man. Jobs' mind emerges in Sorkin's gob-smackingly well-written dialog. It's more than the flavor of real talk in movies like "Tin Men" or "Reservoir Dogs." It's the flavor of real geniuses talking -- geniuses with an insanely developed sense of strategy playing mental chess with each other several moves ahead. (I went to school with these people, and I can tell you the dialog rings true.)

The rift between Steve Wozniak and Jobs quickly emerges -- a simple fault line. They think different.

Wozniak's rooted in the self-reliant, subculture of all-American do-it-yourselfers. The fire that lit the PC revolution is open code, right? Let's keep Apple open, hardware, software, OS. Revolutions happen in the garage, man! Some kid in Kansas writing software we can't even imagine ...

Jobs is a control freak, plain and simple. His Holy Grail is end-to-end control -- a totally closed system, with proprietary OS code running top-down Apple applications in a box you couldn't open without special tools. (This messes him up at the 1984 product launch.) Two ports only, and fuck the kid in the garage.

But people still think the man was a saint in a turtleneck.

In the popular mind, Bill Gates was the big bad -- the real Big Brother who got a hammer in the face. A monopolist, true, but he let the little guys make stuff before buying them out or crushing them. Jobs was a monopolist to the core, with zero tolerance for the little guys. The cattle baron who strung the formerly open range with barbed wire and drove the sheepherders out. An insufferable dick, despite his cool John Lennon granny glasses. And speaking of ironies ...

This inhuman boss was a humanistic designer. Or some kind of designer, hard to say. Hacker? Not exactly. Engineer? Yes and no. What the hell is he? Damned if I know. Agggh. But I can tell you what he does. Fine! What? Well, Jobs starts from the best possible way a natural-born human would intuitively use something, then works backwards to the product. Or he starts from tech humans hate and builds the opposite. Users despise Dos! Well, humans think visually and spatially. The mind's not wired for code. We open, close and stack files, point at what we want. Hey, the GUI we stole from Xerox does that! Users fear computers? Build a box that looks like it's smiling. Why is the Newton despised? The stylus, dumbass. Humans have five fingers, haven't you noticed? Touch the screen, drag and drop, it's obvious ....

Cool products flow out of this thinking. Or the illusion of cool products. Big price tags either way. Sweet stuff, aimed at the high-end market.

Yeah. Jobs isn't interested in the mass market. He's not into grinding out cheap computers for the masses. He wants to sell designer computers, as they used to say back in the '80s. Pricey, exclusive, select, with exquisite designs. For rich folks with discriminating tastes.

But rich people aren't buying the scary new Macintosh. And normal slobs are still buying the affordable AppleII. Hey, define the problem, solve the problem. The obvious fix ...

Jobs wants the Apple board to dump the Apple II series, put all their eggs in the Macintosh basket, make it cheap as hell, flood the market, pump up demand for a product people don't want yet, then jack up the price when they finally do. How? Jesus. By making the damn thing hip of course. Style! Fashion! Design! Beauty! Art, OK? Can't you see it? Am I the only ...

 Jobs sees the future! He creates the future!

But Jobs gets fired and doesn't see it coming.

For his next trick, Job cooks up the NeXT -- essentially an overpriced, cool-looking cube* with no OS inside, though he's working on it. (Sell first, build after! It's the Wonderland paradigm!) Jobs is aiming for the tech-challenged university market (Apple's turf) fails, then cunningly uses his empty black box as a front for secretly developing a next-generation OS system. Thinking ten moves ahead, he realizes that Apple, after a long drought of innovation, is jonesing for a new OS -- and they'll buy him out and put him in charge to get it.

And the damn scheme actually works. To get his new OS system, Apple takes the carcass of NeXT off his hands and give him a bigass check. And make Jobs the new Apple CEO.

And Job finally gets the end-to-end control he's always wanted.

What gets him there is his mind. Which he treats like a meat computer.

Jobs mind is a problem-solving machine, running scenarios on products, design, marketing, corporate strategy. To maintain his obsessive focus, he pushes people away. His daughter Lisa, Wosniak, Scully, everybody. But they push back, with stubborn human problems. I'm trying to think, people! To Jobs, they're a constant distraction on the fringes of consciousness. Angry ducks, trying to bust his concentration, break his flow, nibble him to death. Humans are quite illogical.

Yeah, the Great God Logic. Jobs is a right bastard, but he thinks he's a Vulcan.

Here's one chain of reasoning ...

Brennan claims with ontological certitude that Lisa is Steve Jobs' daughter when analysis of DNA evidence indicates that there is only a 94% probability. Statistically, the set of possible fathers comprises 28% of America's male population.

Jobs' insight into human thought processes approaches telepathy. In terms of emotional intelligence he's a drooling moron. He doesn't grok loyalty. On a conceptual level. This brilliant strategist fails to grasp that demoralizing your team over a pigheaded position is a bad idea.

Rationally speaking ...

Wosniak wants Jobs to acknowledge the AppleII team when he launches the Macintosh. This is clearly illogical and would be a hypocritical violation of his change-embracing philosophy as the Macintosh is the future and AppleII is the past.

Jobs says no, but Wosniak keeps asking -- at every product launch. Jobs eventually explodes. Spits verbal bile at Wosniak and stomps on the spirit of everyone in the room. His entire team.

But he fills his walls and screens with photos of Gandhi, Einstein and Dylan.

Jobs thinks he's an artist, a visionary, a more highly evolved being. Maybe he is.

He's the greatest mind of his generation. And he's an asshole.

How'd he get that way? Sorkin tosses hints of Jobs' childhood rejection, abandonment, orphanage, adoption, more rejection. But never enough to get touchy-feely.

Hoffman is his buffer. The shock absorber between Jobs and merely human life. She runs interference, transfers Jobs' intentions to lesser beings, translates their irrational concerns to him. This woman holds his world together. And Jobs treats her like shit.

Lisa's the main emotional thread, Jobs' tenuous tether to merely human life. She's also his most irritating interruption. He repeatedly denies she's his daughter, but the brainy, loud-mouth, wildly curious kid clearly is. Jobs named his first computer after her, after all. LISA? Come on. You really believe that's an acronym for Local Integrated System Architecture? That's a bullshit cover story, a lie. Of course she's his daughter! But Jobs doesn't admit it or really connect to her.

The years go by. Lisa keeps after her father, then gives up. After one last insult, she just walks out of his office, and he lets her, shrugs it off. Boiling mad, Hoffman finally stands up to Jobs and threatens to quit if he won't deal with her. So he goes off looking for her ...

This happens on the launch day of the shiny new iMac G3. They're stomping and clapping and the place is shaking like a freaking earthquake. When Jobs gave the nerds in the backroom a sneak peak -- they applauded like it's the Second Coming. Lisa said it looks like Judy Jetson's hairdryer. Now it's time for the nerds in the auditorium to finally see it. Yet again, he's making them wait.

Jobs catches up with Lisa on the rooftop parking lot and they finally connect. Tender scene, but they don't milk it. Father and daughter head back down to the shuddering auditorium. Lisa hovers in the wings as he strides out on stage. Then he turns, and you see he's going to bring Lisa out on stage. You're expecting a sappy, weepy ending, Jobs saying, "This is my daughter, Lisa,"  thunderous applause, a tsunami of heart-tugging violin strings on the soundtrack.

But the movie ends before you get that payoff.

What you do get is a damn good character study. Not a hatchet job, not the life of a techno saint. Just days in the life of a believable human being, gifted, flawed, good, bad, the whole contradictory package. Sorkin and Aaron don't want you to love him or hate him. They're just saying "Here he is." It's a fiction, of course.

But an insanely great one.

*A literal black box. Engineers everywhere must've wet their pants.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Film Review: 'The Martian'

The Martian has landed at a theater near youan adaptation of Andy Weir's novel, originally serialized on a blog. Ridley Scott directs; Drew Goddard (of Cabin in the Woods fame) wrote the screenplay; both are relentlessly faithful to the source material.

The Martian in question is Mark Watney. (An Earthling played by Matt Damon, not Ray Walston.) The poor bastid's stuck on Mars. How it happened ...

Sometime in the near future, the USA is back in the spaceand we've just sent our fourth Ares mission to Mars. 18 “sols” (earth days) into the mission, a freak sandstorm sends the Ares team packing. They scramble for the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle)then Mark gets harpooned by a wind-whipped communications antenna and his life signs stop. Thinking he's dead, the rest of the crew takes off, hooks up with the orbiting return vehicle and head home. But Mark's still breathing. The antenna ripped through his biometric monitor and into his gut. But the coagulated blood and antenna fragment sealed his suit and he survived. After the storm passes, he wakes up with enough oxygen to get back to the base (aka the "Hab.") Mark's got enough food for 400 sols. The next manned mission to Mars is four years away. And Mark has no way to communicate with Earth.

Fortunately, Mark is a botanist. And he knows how to improvise.

Mark gets to work. (Hell, he's got nothing else to doand nothing to listen to but Disco.) So, he first makes water by burning hydrazine (aka rocket fuel). He then turns one section of the Hab into a greenhouse and grows a crop of potatoes in a combination of Martian soil and astronaut caca. After that, Mark figures out where the Pathfinder landed in 1997, retrieves it, and uses its communications array to talk to Earthlimited to a "yes" and "no" dialog at first, until Mark cleverly switches to Hexidecimal codeand NASA sends him a hack for full-text emails.

It goes on like that. Mark solves one problem, then the next. In the tradition of "Apollo 13," this is really a movie about creative problem-solving and how engineers and scientists actually think. So, how do you make problem-solving interesting? By making the hero's impending death the problem, natch.

This movie grips your heart without insulting your intelligence. The solutions Mark (or Andy Weir) cooks up would plausibly work; it's hard science fiction backed up by hard thinking. Problem-solving, yes. Chest-busters, face-huggers, Martian ghosts or lost civilizations, no. And there's no real enemy, aside from Mars, the laws of physics and Murphy's Law. Stuff breaks down, and that's enemy enough.

The Martian is upbeat, not optimistica happy ending is never guaranteed. Engineers are pessimists, as an engineer once said. "The universe will provide?" No engineer ever said that. The truth is, the universe (or Mars) is doing its best to kill you. But you have a decent chance of survival if you keep your head in the game and solve each problem as it comes up. It also helps to have NASA's best minds (and the Chinese equivalent) in your corner as well.

The filmmakers made me care if the guy gets home. (And when I got home, made me decide not to whine about my little problems.) It's a well-engineered movie, folks. I loved every nut, bolt, wire, widget and circuit board. Love the whole damn thing, really.

Except for the !@#$ Disco.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Achtung, baby.

American engineering: Build a shitty car and bribe the EPA officials to think it’s cool.
German engineering: Build a shitty car and cunningly engineer it to fool the EPA officials.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Imagination Incorporated (aka "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.")

OK, so I'm minding my own business, walking Baxter the Wonder Westie in the park. Suddenly --

A thudding noise, roaring engine. Gust of wind rocks me back on my heels. Baxter barks. I look up. And see ...

A helicopter. A freaking helicopter.

Labelled "MUTANT ENEMY."

It lands in front of me.

Joss Whedon leaps out. Looks at me.

"Marty Fugate? Are you Marty Fugate?"

"Last time I looked."

"Well, according to my sources you're the greatest undiscovered creative mind of our century. You want to come work for me?"

I look down at Baxter. He cocks his head to one side with seeming approval.

"I'm in," I say.

"Cool. Get in. We've got a lot to talk about."

And .. ah, to hell with it. That's not going to happen. So I might as well be honest.

Like it or not, if you like to take your imagination to the place where The Wild Things Are and let it play, Joss Whedon is going to influence you. And what a weird imagination he has.

Just look at his big successes. None of them make any damn sense. Without the benefit of hindsight, they all seem like really stupid ideas.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A cute cheerleader who kills vampires in SoCal. Seriously?

Firefly. Brilliant show. We know that now. But, on the face of it, it's the most puerile sci-fi cliche known to man ... a WESTERN IN SPACE! Yeah, a lousy premise for a Lost in Space episode. And the basis for Outland ... the "High Noon in Space" concept, famously excoriated and eviscerated by Harlan Ellison.The most IDIOTIC SCI-FI CONCEPT OF ALL TIME! And yet ...

Joss Whedon made a brilliant show out of it. As he did with the concept of a buxom, vampire-killing Valley Girl.

Now Joss has sold out, sorry ...

Now Joss is working for Marvel. Or Marvel is working for him. I'm not sure how it works.

But he's the dark eminence behind Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I've been binge-watching said televisory epic. I like it, folks. I really, really like it. (Y'all know the "but" is coming.) It's got all  his signature tropes. (And it's a really big "but.") It's, for want of a better term, Whedonesque. (Here it comes!) But ...

This is Marvel's universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically. Not Whedon's World. Not some crazyass idea that popped out of his fervid brain. It's insanely great, brilliant, a ton of fun. But it's a franchise, folks. Chef Whedon isn't serving up his own recipes -- he's supersizing McMarvel burgers. Yeah, I know, he's working hard to make it his own. These are the cats and kittens on the fringes, just like our friends on Firefly. I get it. It's good stuff. As good as it could possibly get ...

But this isn't the weird, insane originality of Firefly or Buffy. Great stuff, but it doesn't hit that level. What I want is pure imagination. I want the Wild Things to play. But this is Imagination Incorporated.

And, when all is said and done, it's a franchise.

And that franchise takes up space.

If some other Joss Whedon is out there somewhere and he wants to have fun on the playground? Create another Buffy? Another Firefly?

Sorry, kid.

The playground is full.

Get lost.

Friday, July 24, 2015

'Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' Redux

Genius! Yes! Tom Wolfe, that is. No, not the Look Homeward Angel scribbler, the Man in the White Suit who wrote The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The snap-crackle-pop firehose verbal virtuosity of said book clearly wins the title. Oh, yeah. The man's prose style is right up there with Harlan Ellison's machinegun patter, yes, or Pynchon's paranoid patois, oh yes, or Joyce's gibberish, for that, matter, yes, I say, yes ...

OK, OK, enough with the Wolfe pastiche.

My point being: Based on the evidence of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the Man in the White Suit really is a genius. (In case you missed it at Vacation Bible School, it's the true-life tale of novelist and acid guru Ken Kesey, his band of Merry Pranksters, and their noble but futile attempt to liberate tightass American culture with the power of art, music and lysergic acid diethylamide in the 1960s.) A tale told in the frenetic style aped above.

Wolfe's white-hot words grabbed me when I was 17. Re-reading it age, uh, the age I'm at now, I can truly see the brilliance behind it. His style is a distillation/rip-off of Jack Kerouac, with the distinction that -- beneath the flash and filigree -- there's a well-engineered structure holding it all up. To put it another way: Kerouac popped a few bennies and wailed at the typewriter. Wolfe can actually write.

The obvious observation: Like the rest of the "New Journalists," Wolfe used novelistic techniques on fact-based reporting. The difference being, he was exceedingly good at it. (Better than the rest, I'd say -- with the possible exception of Hunter S. Thompson.)

Acid Test starts with Wolfe as the odd man out catching a ride in a truck with a gaggle of hippies, Pranksters and freaks in San Francisco circa 1966. They head off to the ruins of a former pie factory to await Kesey's release from jail. Along the way, Wolfe fills us in on Kesey's backstory -- his flight to Mexico, ignominious return and capture, and Wolfe's ten-minute jailhouse interview with Kesey. (We learn that Kesey is planning an "Acid Graduation Ceremony" -- and the Haight-Ashbury heads ain't so happy about it.) Wolfe's three-day wait in the pie palace becomes an excuse for vignettes about various freaky characters. Then Kesey shows up.

From there, Wolfe doubles back to the Kesey's origins as a "diamond in the rough" Jack London-ish writer, his adoption by the Perry Lane boho scene, his breakthrough, courtesy a government experiment testing LSD-25, his sacramental distribution of said chemical and break with the old-school beats, the big splash of One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest, the birth of the Merry Pranksters and Kesey's California compound.

That sets up the heart of the book: the odyssey of the acid-stoked Pranksters across the repressed USA of 1964 in the psychedelically emblazoned FURTHUR bus -- a Whitmanesque barbaric yawp, if ever there was one. There are fine moments, bad scenes and collateral damage. The trip's end sets up Kesey's motive to end all trips. (Or start the graduate-level NEXT trip, after passing the final Acid Test.) That takes us to the bittersweet Acid Graduation Ceremony on Oct 31, 1966. (Halloween, yet.) And we're done.

Wolfe seems to meander, but he doesn't. Listen, bub. Like I said, the man's hiding some hardass, nailed-down, no-shit structure beneath his apparently random river of prose. Wolfe hides himself, too. Except for a few framing scenes, he's not there. The absent author tells his tale through the subjectivity of various characters -- Neal Cassady, Mountain Girl, Sandy Lehmann-Haupt, etc. The impressionistic verbal stream gives you a feeling of what it was like to be in the Prankster subculture -- of what it was like to be there. More than that: what it was like to be somebody there. No easy task.

How'd he do it? Evidently, Wolfe hung out with the Pranksters for extended periods of time. And the man knows shorthand. I figured he transcribed reams and reams of anecdotes and recollections, then distilled the jottings to a stream-of-consciousness narrative from various perspectives. But Wolfe conceals his own perspective. He's as conservative as they come, but his opinions on drugs aren't in these pages. No judgment. But it feels like life.

And that's genius.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

REVIEW: Mr. Nobody

Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody plays with a brilliant idea that's been done to death. The garden of forking paths ... the road not taken. What if I'd gone to that meeting, slept with that girl, mailed that letter, taken that trip, invested in Apple stock in 1983? Sliding Doors ... Run Lola Run, etc. It's been done.

But it's not like those movies. So, what it's like? Well, I could say it's Slaughterhouse V + Little Big Man + Donny Darko = Mr Nobody. But I won't.

 is elegant, in the sense that a good scientific theory is elegant. It seems like a complicated mishmosh at first, but the director doesn't cheat you. In the end it all really comes together.

HEre's a bloody flow chart... Mr. Nobody Flow Chart.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: "sense8"

Woah. I have nice boobs.
Polymorphous perversity + the perennial philosophy. Add them up, and what you get is sense8, the new sci-fi series on Netflix. J. Michael Straczynski (aka JMS) and the Wachowski siblings are the brains behind this chimera. No rough rude beast slouching to Bethlehem. It's slick, stylish, and has very good posture.

The premise? Daryl Hannah's frazzled "Angel" character (not Blade Runner's Pris, she but might as well be) flees bad guys, kills herself in a ruined church in Chicago. Pop! Eight twenty-somethings around the planet experience instant psychic connection ...

Capheus van Damme: A black bus driver in Nairobi. (Male)
Riley Blue: A pale, Icelandic DJ in London. (Female)
Nomi Marks: A transsexual hacker in San Francisco. (Female)
Will Gorski: A cop in Chicago. (Male)
Wolfgang Bogdanow: A safe-cracker in Berlin. (Male)
Lito Rodriguez: A closeted, gay, action-flick actor in Mexico City. (Male)
Kala Dandekar: An upper-class woman about to marry the wrong guy in Mumbai. (Female)
Sun Back: A Korean executive who happens to be a world-class kickboxer. (Female)

These eight cats and kittens are the "senseates." ("sense8"... get it?) Eight of them, in eight cities around the world. They see with each other's eyes, feel with each other's nerve endings. Thoughts remain private, unless they don't want privacy. If you're a senseate, you can talk with your senseate pal across an ocean. (It looks like you're talking to an invisible friend to anyone else.) You can also get possessed. Yep. Any senseate can pinch-hit for any other senseate at any time. So, a Nairobi gang is smacking you down? You tap out, and the Korean kickboxer crawls into your skin and kicks their collective ass. Sweet. But such local jerks are the least of their problems.

The Big Bad shows its teeth in the first episode, then hides until the last few episodes. We ultimately discover that, like the X-Men, the senseates are mutations, and a consortium called the Biological Preservation Organization (BPO) doesn't like mutations. Led by a creepy white-haired dude named Whispers, they're out to lobotomize the senseates -- and using finks, facial recognition and genetic tests to get the job done. (To complicate matters, the show hints that senseates might be original-recipe humans. People who don't feel are the mutations -- with the biological advantage of being able to kill.) Interesting sci-fi stuff, eh? Hey, it interested me. But if you want your sci-fi TV, be warned ...

This show's going to make you wait. And wait some more.

Believe it. After the big, splashy sci-fi intro, sense8 pulls back -- and gets down to earth. For the next six episodes or so, the creators are mainly concerned with getting you into the lives of these eight characters. Do you care? Well, do you? That is the question, folks. It's like an extended Voight-Kampff empathy test. Could you care about a black bus driver in Kenya, a transsexual in SoCal, a gay Mexican actor, etc.? We're talking eight sliced-and-diced story threads -- the mundane hassles of eight, random people from around the planet. Aside from the gimmick of the psychic link, this doesn't feel like sci-fi. For a long dull stretch, it feels like soap opera. But bear with it; the stories get better and better. Then it all comes together and pays off big. Or starts to, before the season ends. Setting up the promise of a big pay-off in the second season  ...

What? That's it? Really?

Yeah. Really.

So, as the Red Queen recommended: Sentence first—verdict afterwards..

Sentence:  Sucker for big promises that I am, I'll be back for the big, damn second season.

Verdict: Hell, the show's too damn complicated. I'll break it down to lots of little verdicts ...

Action: The action sequences kick ass, as you might expect from a Wachowski project. The story's not built on action beats, however. If you need constant reward pellets, you'll be one frustrated pigeon.

Dialog: For the first few episodes, the dialog sucks, as you might expect from a Wachowski project. Every character sounds like every other damn character. Then, all of a sudden, they start to talk like people. I figure someone said, "Ah, get Joe in here. We gotta punch this stuff up."

Editing and Cinematography: An overdose of eye candy.

Style and Subject Matter: Obviously, the series owes a big debt to Cloud Atlas, a film adaption of David Mitchell's novel which the Wachowskis wrote and directed along with Tom Twyker (who also helms a few sense8 episodes). The biggest and most obvious debt is to JMS, who pioneered multiple storylines over a five-season arc on Babylon 5. (Long-form TV storytelling that paved the way for Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and pretty much everything else.)

Originality: The sci-fi premise is fairly original. And, no, that's not faint praise. ("There's nothing new under the sun, so you might as well steal," as Solomon or Picasso once said.) The show owes some DNA to Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human," maybe Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End," to be sure. The bastards also ripped off my unpublished sci-fi sequel to Finnegans Wake. So what? For TV, it's still a radically original take. 

Message: Yeah, the show has a message. This almost sent me running for the remote at one point. Gahh, this is supposed to be sci-fi! You bastards! The sci-fi's a loss leader to get me watching a touchy-feely afterschool special about eight multicultural marvels in a rainbow swirl of races, religions, genders, origins and identities. You're trying to make me a better person, damnit! It's a trick! 

But, no, it's not. Sci-fi explores what's human, right? But humanity is a two-sided knife. And what makes us inhuman is the blade’s other side. Say nations, territories, creeds, gender labels … you get the idea. Why do bullies exist? Why are people such jerks? The Wachowski's have tackled this issue since Bound. It's at the heart of JMS' vision as well. If humanity's ever going to make it to the stars, we've got to stop being jerks. It's a legitimate sci-fi topic -- and I put the remote down.

Story: The stories get interesting. Where are they going to go with it? I have no idea.

But I'll be watching.    

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ad Man. Behind blue eyes.

“Mad Men” could easily have been forgettable, derivative, nostalgic, exploitive, superficial. Instead, it’s a great American novel that just happens to be a TV show. More specifically: it’s the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.

I used to wonder about that, back in the 1960s and ’70s. Why doesn’t anybody write a novel that really captures the 1960s? Well, gee. Great novels were written in the 1960s. Great novels about the 1960s, not so much.

With the advantage of hindsight and incipient decrepitude, I see the problem.

A 1960s novel doesn’t work from the perspective of a hippy, flower child, rock and roller or other mutant. It works from the perspective of the generation being replaced. It works from the perspective of Don Draper,  in other words. The adman, behind blue eyes.

And, yes, as we all know, ad men were excoriated back then.

Yeah, man. The Madison Avenue mentality, man. Like, first they alienate you, then they sell you stuff, you know? They brainwash you so, like, if you’re a man, you have to use Right Guard to be a man. Or wear a Maidenform bra to be a woman, or whatever. Like, the products you buy define your identity.

OK, let’s follow this logic …

As it is written in the unwritten hipster Bible, the consumer mentality is the root of all evil. Ad men created that mentality!

They’re the root of the root of all evil!

To a hipster, selling out is the unforgiveable sin.

But it’s one thing to sign the devil’s contract. It’s another thing to be the devil who wrote the fine print.

Which is exactly what the devils in the advertising profession do.

This idea crops up in untold satires. It’s the root of comedian Bill Hicks’ admonition that anyone ever involved with advertising or marketing should kill themselves. If you’re avant garde, a hatred of advertising comes with the territory.

Creator Matthew Weiner acted like none of that ever existed. He made his adman hero a freaking poet. And created a complex meditation on authenticity that I’ve written about at length before.
Which just so happens to be the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.
Which is not to say he was unaware of the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the hipster community. Just that he was able to put it out of his mind …

Until the end. The final episode.

When Weiner jumped feet first into the final contradiction.

The bohemian/hipster ethos defines self outside society as an atomized, non-conformist free spirit living in absolute existential authenticity as evidenced by fearless self-expression and no cop-outs, bullshit, false fronts or repression whatsoever. This free spirit doesn’t need to buy stuff to prove it exists. It doesn’t need to join the Army or the men in the grey flannel suits or any other mindless herd.

Sure, Mr. or Ms. Freespirit doesn’t need to. Right on.

Ah, but they can be part of a Woodstock-type tribe—free people can get together, not out of fear or conformity, but a freely chosen participatory koinonia—a genuine community without fascist repression, man.

Sure they can, said Don Draper.

And, along the way, they can buy the rock albums and blue jeans and soft drinks that show they belong to the community of the cool.

Which is why, in an insanely brilliant epiphanic synechdoche …

Weiner would have us believe …

That Don Draper dreamed up the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad.

In which a multicultural family of joy stands on a hilltop singing a song of fellowship and lifting Coca Colas to the sky.

The point is so brilliant I shouldn't have to spell it out. But I will anyway ...

Don Draper invented the 1970s.

It’s so !@# brilliant I want to punch myself in the face.

Or drink a Coca Cola.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Well, kids. Director George Miller is at it again. No, not another dancing penguin movie. The fourth Mad Max flick. Without Mel Gibson, yet. Why not? Max is bigger than Mel.

Oh, don't act so bloody surprised. The Mad Max series is the Australian, punk rock, balls-out, sci-fi equivalent of Blade Runner. Of course it's bigger than Mel.

Now, let's talk about the movie. Spoilers will ensue.

OK. A plot summary would waste your time, but who said your time's that important? At any rate, your chronological loss would be minimal, so here goes. (I'll skip the post-apocalyptic set up -- you know that bit, right? Right.) So ...

Fast-forward to a rotten, near-future in the Australian desert. After eating a two-headed lizard, Max (Tom Hardy) is taken captive by a psychotic cult of motorheads led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an unpleasant individual in a mesa citadel hogging a fresh water source and controlling a posse of radiation-poisoned "war boys" with aerosol drugs and visions of Valhalla. Tests prove Max is a universal blood donor, hence a "blood bag." So, they mask him up and chain him to the front of a customized, killer car like an S&M hood ornament. Off he goes on a raiding party. Then someone leaves the party, namely Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She peels off with her tanker against the boss' orders. (With six of the leader's breeder wives down below.) The "war boy" with Max on his hood pursues. A chase and a crash later, Max and Furiosa form a reluctant team. They haul ass to her childhood home -- "the green place." Or formerly green. It's a stinking, toxic bog now -- so they head back to Joe's citadel, revolution in mind. There and back again, Immortan Joe and his badasses dog their heels in souped-up death machines straight out of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth nightmares.

200 words, give or take. Not too bad, eh? But let's boil it down further ...

First half: an extended chase from Point A to Point B.
Second half: an extended chase from Point B back to Point A.

That's the plot. As stripped-down as a Roadrunner cartoon -- and I mean that as a compliment.

Chuck Jones was no idiot. Neither is Miller.

This is smart sci-fi filmmaking, kids. Stupid critics have missed the point since the series started.

Mad Max's motor mayhem makes film snobs assume it's stupidity on wheels -- an ultraviolent cinematic monster truck rally. OK, that's exactly what it is, aside from the stupidity. A fierce intelligence animates Miller's dangerous vision. A fearless courage drives his cut-it-to-the-bone style

"Less is more." Yeah, that sounds nice. But minimalism is hard. A higher level of difficulty.

And that's Miller's style.

Spare dialog. Next to no expository blah-blah-blah. No idiotic voiceovers or crawls. Miller throws out nuggets of info; you either catch them or you don't. (Us English majors call 'em "synecdoches," yep.)

It's a damn hard way to tell a story, unless you do it exactly right.

Miller does.

With glimpses, hints and fragments, Miller does what sci-fi authors and filmmakers should do. The work of world-building. He shows us a self-consistent reality. A world that hangs together ...

What a rotten world it is.

A bleak vision. Which is kinda like saying the crucifixion was an ouchy boo-boo.

Forget the Cirque de Soleil ballet of killer cars and really look at it.

You'll see an ongoing illustration of Martin Buber's "I-it" relationship. A heartless world where the weak exist to be used. Breasts for milking; wombs for birthing; strong bodies for fighting; veins for fresh blood. If you're not on top, that's all you are. This is what happens when the resources are gone, and humanity's left fighting for scraps.

That's the Mad Max world -- and the nightmare. (One born of Miller's meditations on the limits to growth, I suspect.) But nightmare is the salient point. Or the nature of the nightmare. This bad dream explains the obsessive attention to detail, why Miller keeps making the same movie over and over, and why his crazyass film is, ultimately, so honest.

Miller didn't manufacture this lurid horrorshow to make the audience scream.

It's Miller's nightmare.

He's just getting it out of his system.