Wil Wheaton disliked it, too


I saw Star Trek Beyond. So did Wil Wheaton. I detested it and was considering walking out halfway through it…and I should have, because it got worse and worse as it progressed, rather than improving. Wheaton also disliked it, and has a long list of reasons why. I agree with every one, but I have to add another one, and it’s also one of the reasons Star Trek Into Darkness was so bad.

This is a story about a far future civilization that spans a large chunk of galaxy, that has ships that travel faster than light, with immensely powerful weapons like phasers and photon torpedos. They are deciding the fate of entire worlds.

And they always end up resolving everything with…fist fights. Men and aliens punching each other. Often these fist fights take place in absurdly improbable architecture, or at ridiculous altitudes or on machines moving at deadly velocities. Galactic conflicts and the survival of interplanetary civilizations are all settled with two guys in a slap fight on the equivalent of a 3-D platform video game. It totally deflates the scope of the story.

Superhero movies have become little more than exercises in urban demolition. Star Trek movies seem to have settled into the rut of having star ship captains hammering out their disagreements with a couple of bare-knuckle brawls.

It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Caine brings up a good point: the musical Hamilton is deeply flawed, failing to address native Americans or slavery adequately. This is an important concern because one of the things Hamilton does exactly right is break the myth of the Founding Fathers as demigods spreading enlightenment and justice and freedom across the land. It is appropriate to take it to task for not shattering all the myths.

But here’s the thing: I can simultaneously appreciate the wonderful music and the strong story, and recognize the validity of criticism. It does not detract from art to say it does this one thing really well, but it does this other thing poorly; it does not mean that Lin-Manuel Miranda needs to go back and rewrite everything, nor does it mean the critics have to shut up and accept it as is.

It means the story isn’t finished. It’s never finished. There’s always room for more great art that tells another part of the story, and we’ll always have new art that portrays another part of the beauty and tragedy of the human experience.

The 2016 Hugos


Man, they’re just torturing puppies. The Sad/Rabid/Pathetic Puppy slate got repudiated again by giving awards to people who earned them.

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

The best novella (and for me, it literally was — this was my favorite SF story of the past year) went to Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us. And at the same time, it doesn’t erase 90% of the human species by turning starfarers into an American monoculture of endless variations on Captain Kirk.

Both of those are written by black women. That has got to sting the Puppies, who hate “SJWs”, which is actually a code phrase for “doesn’t think white men necessarily deserve all the things”. There’s also no way to call these token awards — these were stunningly good books.

Most of the rest of the nominees I hadn’t read — especially that very popular “No Award” that seemed to beat out offerings from Castalia House. Of the ones I did read or saw, I did not much care for The Martian by Andy Weir, which won best long form dramatic presentation, although I will admit that the book was a fast-paced page turner, and the movie was slick. I just objected to an engineering wish-fulfillment fantasy presented as science. That one is going to be long forgotten while people will still be watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I noticed that one episode of Jessica Jones also won best short form dramatic presentation.

The best thing, though, is that when awards are given on merit, rather than racial and gender bias, you start to seen great new voices being appreciated.

NK Jemisin’s acceptance speech is worth reading. For completely different reasons, Vox Day’s weird rationalizations are also worth reading, to see the depth to which the puppies will sink. He calls Jemisin a half-savage, claims her win was primarily a vote against the Puppies, claims credit as kingmaker for The Martian’s win (it was a very popular movie and book, you know, without Theodore Beale’s “help”), and declared that coming in second place was a great victory. He also comes right out and says that the goal was to burn the Hugos.

I blame @DrSkySkull

@DrSkySkull went to see Suicide Squad, and claimed that it was better than the reviews said.

I took that as a challenge, so I held my nose and went to the theater last night. He was right, and he was wrong. It’s not as bad as the worst reviews say, but it also fails to reach the minimal level of what I expect from a good movie. It’s incoherent, over-stuffed, and ultimately nonsensical. Most of the characters are unpleasant and there are so many of them, that none of them are developed in any interesting way.

But a lot of the problems aren’t problems with this specific movie, but with the whole genre. Superhero movies are being made with a cookie cutter, and the only difference is the color of the sprinkles on top.

I call it the “flat weightless apocalypse” problem.

Flat: There’s a kind of pseudo-diversity to the characters, and you must have noticed this. The Avengers are a team to fight invading aliens. They’ve got a literal god fighting for them…and a guy with a bow and arrow. The Suicide Squad has a man who is a walking flamethrower, incinerating his enemies with a wave of his hands, and it’s got crazy woman with a baseball bat. This makes no sense. You’re building a team to take on threats of the level of Superman, and you pick up some random psychotic violent lady at the local asylum? Why? Because she looks sexy in her booty shorts? (Don’t answer that, I know the answer. It’s “yes”.)

There isn’t a good solution to this problem, either. The X-Men franchise stocks their movies with milling hordes of people with over-the-top superpowers, and you end up not caring.

Weightless: People die all over the place in these movies. In Suicide Squad and evil witch turns the innocent citizens of a metropolitan area into hideous blob-headed monsters who attack the ‘heroes’ and are gunned down en masse. The city is a wrecked ruin. Helicopters crash in the streets every few minutes, it seems. This is all shrugged off or ignored, because we have to care about the action hero who wants to be reunited with his little girl. What about all the little girls crushed under debris or set on fire by flaming helicopter fuel or turned into slimy vicious monsters by an evil witch, huh?

Apocalypse: Every time. There is an existential threat to the entire world which can be neatly blamed on a single villain, and that can be solved with punching. And the villain is always completely inscrutable: why do they want to destroy the world? Because they’re evil, that’s why. How about a little moral ambiguity sometime? How about if we see someone dealing with a more complex and subtle problem?

So I might agree with @DrSkySkull that it’s not that much worse than other super-movies, but I’d also have to say that the genre is imploding over its own limitations, and Suicide Squad is simply another example of a universal problem.

Privilege! In action!


In case you were wondering what has the spoiled man-babies up in arms lately, let me tell you. It’s not that the police have been murdering people, or that we aren’t doing anything about global warming, or that the Zika virus is becoming worrisome. Nope. It’s all about their entertainment.

Blizzard is cracking down on cheaters in their multiplayer game, Overwatch (which I haven’t played, although it looks fun). So people were loading up on mods that made the game easier for them, like adding code that auto-aimed their weapons for them. So Blizzard banned them for life from playing multiplayer.

The howls of outrage are amusing. They want to sue! They want to sic Anonymous on them! They paid good money for this game! They are being persecuted for their beliefs!

It reminds me so much of when I’ve caught cheaters on exams, especially the argument that they paid money for this class, so they deserve to pass it. No, you don’t. Bye.

One of their most anticipated movies, Suicide Squad, is getting bad reviews (I also have not seen this movie, but it’s opening in Morris this weekend). So they want a movie review site removed from the internet.

Here’s some news for you: everyone doesn’t have to like the same things you do to the same degree. I thought the new Ghostbusters was OK, the plot was nothing to rave about but the characters were good, and I got hate mail from people howling that we SJWs were unfairly propping up the movie and we should have been honest and hated it, like Milo did (curiously, the people who liked it better than I did are not damning me to eternal darkness).

I was disinclined to want to see Suicide Squad myself by the trailers — it looked like yet another excuse to showcase people in strange costumes demolishing a city with lots of explosions, and I’ve had enough of those already. Instead of complaining about bad reviews and trying to shut down reviewers, how about complaining about bad movies instead, and demanding some complex characters and relatable interactions in addition to the comic book destructive heroics?

You know, there’s nothing wrong with lobbying for entertainment you like. It’s just that these guys consistently lobby for the wrong things, things that would actually make their games and movies worse. I guess they just need their little hugbox where they can get cookies for being cheaters and for reveling in mindless violence.

Ghostbusters ain’t afraid of no Ghostbusters


I saw the new Ghostbusters last night…and it wasn’t bad.

It’s not going to make my list of top ten films of the year or anything, but it was good light entertainment. The story line was familiar, but it’s not as if you can do a lot with the core premise — even the original Ghostbusters sort of exhausted all the potential of the genre. It’s a genre that’s actually sui generis.

The real focus of this movie, and of the original, is the characters. Murray, Akroyd, Ramis, and Hudson were independently and as an ensemble entertaining, and the movie was just an excuse to bring a group of unique comic characters together in a strange situation. This version is exactly the same, and Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones pulled it off. The whole point of the movie is to bring four distinct, unique weirdos together and to have them riff off of each other.

What I also liked is that, while the story is familiar, and the whole point of the movie is the title characters, they did it without resorting to simply mimicking the original. You can’t line up Gilbert, Holtzmann, Tolan, and Yates against Stantz, Spengler, Venkman and Zeddmore and make any correspondences. As each of the original four were distinct from each other, the new four are also uniquely unique from each other and the originals.

And that was charming. Derivative as the story was, this one only added to the original by creating a new cast of distinctive individuals…who happened to all be women. Women with personalities? No wonder this movie has received all kinds of weird hatred from the alt right.