Nice worm

So, there’s a new movie version of Dune coming out, and the preview just dropped.

One catch: the book is unfilmable. I will be stunned if this turns out decently, but I’ll probably watch it anyway, if movies exist then.

Hey! What’s Paul doing with Spiderman’s girlfriend? Let’s see how effective his killing word is against a web-slinging wall crawler — I’m there for that, for sure.

You can’t go back again in Star Wars

I have really good memories of the first Star Wars, back in 1977, and the latest installment made me rethink them. What genuinely thrilled me in the first movie was that it was like nothing else out there — it was strange, it was original, it was an odd mashup of a fantasy novel and a space opera, it was…creative. It was also epic and heroic and all those good things.

But here’s the problem with that: you can’t get that enthralling sense of newness and surprise if you keep going back to the same material again and again. At the same time, the corporations running the game don’t want to gamble, they want to milk the same cow ten thousand times. You can walk into this new Star Wars movie and enjoy yourself because it is comfortable and familiar and rehashes the old tropes yet again, and that’s fine — it’s just like that new Scorsese movie, The Irishman, because it is like every other gangster movie that’s been released in the last 40 years. Great, if that’s what you want.

If what drew you to Star Wars in the first place was the novelty and creativity, though, it’s not here. This movie has the Hero-Discovers-They-Had-Royal-Blood-All-Along. It has the Villain-Who-Is-Redeemed. It has the Overwhelming-Evil-Force-With-One-Itty-Bitty-Weak-Spot. It has the Battle-In-The-Throne-Room, while Space-Battle-Seems-To-Be-Doomed going on at the same time. It has Porgs…and Ewoks! It is McDonalds and KFC and Burger King, the old reliables that produce the same thing everywhere and everytime, but will never ever astonish you. It’s been commoditized.

I was actually getting pissed off and disappointed during this movie, because it totally lacks any creativity or unexpected shocks. It’s as if JJ Abrams went through all the old entries in the Star Wars universe, picked out all the memorable themes, dumped them into a blender, and poured the resultant slurry out on a tray and served it up to the audience confident that they’d recognize the scraps of the old flavor and love it. And he’s right. People will eat it up and make the corporation lots of money. I shouldn’t be disappointed, because this movie wasn’t made for me. Sometimes people want formulaic nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Except…there is reason to be worried. The dominant forces in science fiction entertainment are Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel Superhero movies, pure comfort food that provide little intellectual stimulation. We have to hope the flood of money pouring in for the predictable and familiar encourages them to take an occasional gamble on some weird one-off like Annihilation or Arrival or Watchmen.

We also have to hope the good ones don’t get coopted into long-running mega-franchises, because all that can happen with that is that they’ll be run into the ground and turn into deep furrows that limit originality. In art, death is good, opening the doors of change and inspiring new ideas, so let these series die. I fear, though, that now that the Evil Empire of Disney has seized control, Zombie Star Wars is going to be revived and walk the earth forevermore.

An atheist watches The Witch

thewitch

Mary and I saw The Witch at the Morris Theatre this weekend. I liked it very much.

“But,” you say, “it’s a supernatural horror story. How can an atheist see something like that and not sneer at it?”

Easy. It’s a movie. I believe that movies actually exist. I also enjoy some superhero movies in spite of the fact that they postulate huge violations of the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. I like movies that tell me something about the human condition, and big budget spectacle is a distraction from the story at the core.

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Gender Workshop: Age of Ultra Sexism? Edition

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke

So I have now seen Avengers, Age of Ultron, and oh, androgyne! will this post contain spoilers!

Though I’ve only just seen the movie days ago, it’s been weeks since I became aware that there were quite a number of significant debates focussed on sexism and Age of Ultron. Any number of articles could be referenced, but I’m going to draw exclusively from io9’s Meredith Woerner and Katharine Trendacosta and Salon’s Marcotte, because they take on a particularly interesting and revealing moment in Age of Ultron, but seem to miss enough that there’s room for me to add.

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I do enjoy a good haunted house

It’s really a shame I just now found out about the Haunted Basement in Minneapolis. And I had to find out about it in the New Yorker!

Housed directly beneath the Soap Factory galleries, in the building’s grimy, raw underground space, the Haunted Basement consists of a series of rooms, or scenes, each created by an emerging artist. Despite (or perhaps because of) its highbrow origins, it’s generally agreed to be the freakiest haunted house in town—only adults are allowed in, dressed in closed-toe shoes and a protective face mask, and armed with a safe word (“uncle”), just in case. Visitors enter in groups but often get separated as they move through the twelve-thousand-square-foot space; they can expect to crawl, climb, and run, to get covered in gore, and, in 2013, to be stuffed into a coffin by a toothless man in an orange jumpsuit. The entire experience lasts a brief but intense twenty minutes, though nearly a hundred people bailed out early this year by crying uncle.

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AtheistTV gets a thumbs up

I was home for a late lunch, so I flipped on the Roku and installed the AtheistTV channel. It was easy, but then you Roku owners know that part already.

The channel is well organized into various categories, but right now content is a little thin — the comedy category, for instance, contains one video, and the movie category…well, there are a few entries there, but it’s a stretch to call them ‘movies’. I guess atheists are a bit light on providing entertainment.

But I consider the sparse content on the day of the launch to be a good thing. My dread was that they’d take a shortcut to filling up the channel by importing youtube videos wholesale, and then it would be an exercise in wading through garbage to find the gems. That’s not the case at all — they’ve exercised restraint and quality control.

So what you’ll find there is a lot of material relevant to American Atheists: recordings of talks at the last few national conferences and the Reason Rally, and AA’s official talk show, the Atheist Viewpoint. There’s a lot of stuff transferred from the RDF. The Atheist Community of Austin is featured with a collection of videos from the Atheist Experience. When I say it’s thin, I’m talking relatively, compared to a movie channel — you could still veg out for many weeks nonstop trying to watch everything on it. It’s still important that they are being selective about putting up videos with thoughtful commentary about atheism.

It also looks ready for expansion, and I’m sure even more will be added. It’s a good strategy for introducing the content of the conferences to a wider audience, and that’s a natural procedure for generating new material.

Some suggestions I’d make: it really is American Atheist-centered, understandably, but it would be nice to see partnering with CFI or American Humanists or British Humanists, for instance, to fold in some of their content. It would also be cool to adopt more science content — HHMI, for example, has lots of free science videos that aren’t at all explicitly atheistic but would fit in well with a theme of scientific naturalism (whether they’d be willing to have them shown on an atheist channel is an open question). Not just science, but also history and philosophy categories would be a nice addition.

Check it out. I think it’s going to be useful. If you have a Roku, it’s definitely worth getting the channel (it’s free, so I’m not saying much there), but it’s also yet another reason to get a Roku if you don’t have one.

Who else plays Minecraft?

I like to putter around on Minecraft now and then, and I’ve been using a free (well, they do ask for small donations once a year) public server called Sitosis. Did you see me write free right there? That’s what makes it shocking that it is woefully underpopulated right now, so they’re open to new applications. There’s a gigantic world there waiting to be played with, and we’ve only developed a tiny bit. Here’s the island a couple of us have been tinkering with lately.

craggyisland

One other reason that it might be less than packed with people is that it really is a totally vanilla server in survival mode — no hacks or mods. They also expect players to be mature and respectful of one another, so no griefing or screwing around with others’ enjoyment of the game. They also occasionally reboot everything and start fresh, but that’s only done by vote of the users.

There might be a few other Minecraft tinkerers here, so signing up a few more might get the place hopping again.

Jim’s dead

I’m sorry to see that James Garner has died. Just last week, when I was laid up, I watched a few episodes of the Rockford Files on Netflix — sometimes one just has to reminisce about the 70s, whether we liked them or not.

One thing: Garner was a terrible actor. He always played the same character, himself, in every show he did, but that was OK, because he had such an amiable personality. You knew exactly what you were going to get.

Another, completely irrelevant thing: watching 70s TV was really weird. Nowadays, in a drama, if somebody is going somewhere, there might be a brief shot of them going out the door, cut, they are at their destination. Travel is implied. On the Rockford Files, they go out the door, there is a long lingering scene of the car tooling down city streets or out through the California country side, finding a perfectly open parking space, guy gets out, walks up to destination. Watch it now and geez, you feel like they must really have loved their cars 40 years ago. Half the show feels like an advertisement for Pontiac, or a leisurely travelogue.

But Garner at least made it a pleasant hour.