Ghost in the Shell – New Trailer

The new live action Ghost in the Shell is out March 31.  We will try to get a preview for you ahead of time, but regardless of whether it is a spiritual successor or just eye candy, we are dying to see it.

Why do we always have to wait for the Super Bowl to end before decent content is released?

Arrival

Should you watch Arrival?  Yes.  You should watch Arrival.  This is the film Contact (“Whatever it is, it ain’t local.”–sorry Jodie) wanted to be twenty years ago.

Arrival begins with a trope best known from Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, not to be confused with the television adaptation that, tragically, fell victim to the pitfalls of that format but is definitely still worth a watch.  Twelve large coffee beans, obviously representing the Apostles, appear hovering at various positions on Earth and offer contact in the form of doors that open periodically to allow ingress.

We prefer a coarse grind.

This film caught us completely off guard.  We remained deeply skeptical even after enjoying the first half of the film, but as the pieces clicked together, we were swept away by Arrival’s elegant undertow.  If you are caught in a riptide, you should swim sideways.  We let this one carry us out to sea.

We cannot say too much about the film, except that it depends on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Our rudimentary understanding is that the language you speak defines the way in which you think.  We are not linguists, but this does remind us of Marshall McLuhan’s theory that a medium that enables communication also structures, or limits, communication.  (The DMS recommends this reader if you are unfamiliar with McLuhan.)  Noam Chomsky’s work is heavily critical of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and it looks as though modern linguistic theorists (yes we know that Chomsky is still alive) are also skeptical.

We realize that we are mixing linguistic theory and media theory, but when you have a scumbag in office whose preferred method of communication is limited to 140 characters, it is worth thinking deeply both about language and the media we use to communicate.  Arrival begs us to think deeply about these things insofar as it literally centers on our relationship with aliens.  The message there is relatively overt.

To use an example from McLuhan, think about an automobile as a medium for communication.  We built our country’s infrastructure around the automobile, and now we are finding it difficult and costly to change that infrastructure.  Here at the DMS, we care about how people consume media and communicate.  Arrival explores how we may be limiting ourselves.

Walter Kovacs again?

All Our Wrong Todays

One of the benefits of being kind to librarians is the occasional advanced proof of a book that feels written just for you.  Sometimes, as is the case with Elan Mastai’s wonderful All Our Wrong Todays, these advanced copies even include a short note beginning with “Dear Librarian,” which makes even the Dystopian Movie Society feel intellectual and savvy.

Don’t you love this guy already?

Mastai’s stunning first novel is a break from his day job, writing movies.  No wonder we here at the DMS fell in love.  The main character, whose name I shall not print here for reasons that will become apparent if and when you purchase and read this book, is kind of a dick.  Naturally, we can all relate to him.

The narrative begins in a utopian society, fueled quite literally by the invention of a device that harnesses the rotation of the Earth to generate unlimited clean energy.  Because the inventor dies shortly after his proof of concept, he makes this technology free and open to everyone.  Maybe we have watched too many films of a certain genre, or maybe we know too many human beings, but the DMS is deeply skeptical of the idea that unlimited clean energy would lead to the utopia described at the beginning of Mastai’s brilliant story.

The utopia readers see at the start of the book, however, is a prelude to the time travel narrative in which our protagonist becomes the first time-traveler, accidentally creates our reality as a dystopian alternate timeline, discovers the concept of temporal drag, and maybe loses his mind.  It is phenomenal.  Of the many differences noted between the teased utopia and our own world, my favorite was Kurt Vonnegut.

As the main character tells it, “Vonnegut’s writing is different where I come from.  Here, despite his wit and insight, you get the impression he felt a novelist could have no real effect on the world.  He was compelled to write, but with little faith that writing might change anything. . . . [I]n my world Vonnegut was considered among the most significant philosophers of the late twentieth century.  This was probably great for Vonnegut personally but less so for his novels, which became increasingly homiletic.”

So it goes.

*

If you enjoyed Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, you will love All Our Wrong Todays.  Both deftly navigate the narrative pitfalls of branching alternate realities while somehow making the personal relationships explored in each book more important than their time travel plots.

Pre-order All Our Wrong Todays before we run out of tomorrows.  Excerpts of the book, ready for public consumption on February 7, 2017, may be read here and here.  Support great literature by buying this wonderful read here.

The Girl With All the Gifts

It is a fair bet that any film described by critic Jay Weissberg as “[a] tired attempt to board the zombie bandwagon . . . ” can happily hitch a ride with us.  Sure, the film is a bit heavy handed at times, but maybe every fucking person in the United States should be slapped around a little bit.  We loved the film, based on the book by M. R. Carey, and look forward to its release in North America.

Our favorite character is Melanie, a young black girl growing up in prison.  If it is not thought provoking to see a group of heavily armed, mostly white people so terrified of a petite black girl that they keep her in Hannibal Lecter style restraints for most of the movie, then you probably live in South Dakota and think racism is something the Texas School Board of Education includes in children’s history books as a footnote somewhere near the hills of Georgia.

 

How the fuck can bullets be soft?

The narrative, and sometimes feel, of this movie draw favorable comparisons to The Last of Us, which finally convinced a lot of parents to throw in the towel and decide that video games might possibly be capable of artistic achievement.  Both build on the not implausible idea that a fungus could give humankind a run for its money.  We have not put up much of a showing lately, and, as it turns out, fungi have been carrying a lot more weight than we thought.  The Girl With All the Gifts also shares some commonalities with one of Warren Ellis’s better recent comics, Trees, which is worth picking up at your local comic book shop.

The pacing is sometimes slow, following Melanie’s still-sharp mind as she attempts to make her way in the only world she has ever known.  Rather than detract from the film, it evokes the same feelings this viewer had watching children dancing under sunlight in David Gordon Green’s George Washington.   What Melanie realizes is that the “end of the world” just means “the end of humanity as we know it.”  Frankly, that might be a welcome development.

As we recall, we have been promised that the world will never again be destroyed by flood.  We do not remember any such promise with respect to fungi.

By the way, those zombies are what you look like visiting Times Square.  Except the zombies move a lot faster and seem to have a goal in mind.

 

Morgan

Although an artistic director discussed adding a “human element” during his interview in the making-of portion following the trailer for Morgan, we here at the DMS still give IBM’s Watson credit for creating the chilling companion piece to SunSpring.  A truly terrifying artificial intelligence (“AI”) would probably never let on that it existed.  IBM’s Watson has failed in that regard (much like Olympic Games), but if we are to believe the marketing campaign accompanying Morgan, Watson created the trailer below by analyzing the film.  Aside from the visual allusions to Silence of the Lambs and musical accompaniment from the Twin Peaks Children’s Choir, the most unsettling part of this trailer is that a computer created something so manipulative.

Morgan

 

 

 

 

Borderline autonomous cars are gradually seeming more like an inevitability and less like a machine that might end up making kill decisions.  At the least, the US, UK, China, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Hamas, and Hezbollah all have armed drones that fly through the air at their disposal.  It takes little imagination to read Stanislaw Lem’s Fiasco and its featured planet, Quinta, with rogue autonomous defense systems as a forgone conclusion.

Stranger Things

While there must be close to 1,000 micrograms of nostalgia in each episode of Stranger Things, do not watch it because it triggers all those fuzzies from your childhood.  Watch it because it is a fantastic show that ups the bar for content in a world where Two and a Half Men was consistently one of the most watched shows in the United States for more than a decade.  Watch it because, much like Olympic Games, it plants ideas.  Stranger Things happens to plant positive ideas about gender identity, people with different colored skin, and generally how humans should treat other humans.  Unlike Olympic Games, Stranger Things mostly delivers its payload without detection.

With that disclaimer, we will indulge in a bit of nostalgia.  If the only thing we know about something is that it is a bit twisted, we sometimes like to consume it in a non-linear fashion.  The first episode we watched was the fifth, which we were told was the penultimate episode.  Still thinking we had watched the second to last hour, we watched the first episode before watching the surprisingly long (to us) conclusion.  Then we went back to the beginning and watched the initial installments sequentially.  Consuming media is not something we do for fun, we do it to probe our physical, emotional, and intellectual limitations.  In this case, it was like eating dessert first when your parents were not paying attention.

Set in 1983, the real evil confronted in the series is a human with an all-too-real backstory.  The period-correct brands and references up the score on the realness scale even as Akira-level madness starts to mix with a narrative that will remind you of Flight of the Navigator, ET, The Dark Crystal, and several other experiences from your childhood.  Our non-linear viewing method led us to believe the narrative would end up in an extremely dark place.  The parallels with Grant Morrison’s recent 6-issue comic book series, Nameless, and the story scattered across Reddit one chapter at a time by a user named 9MOTHER9HORSES9EYES9 are a bit on the nose.  It does not get that dark.

The end, in fact, is in many ways extremely uplifting.  One of us found ourselves sobbing because of one character’s flashbacks and his own memories of a younger sibling who was not expected to live.  There are a lot of positive messages packed into this narrative.  One of the reasons we focus on dystopian films is that by learning more about the way our world works, we hope to avoid the versions of the future (or past) that we see reflected in such films.  Is it naive to think that the more we learn about how terrible humans are to each other, the better the world becomes?

Zero Days

In case you did not know, everything you have stored digitally is public.  While this has probably been true for at least a decade, it is an ironclad fact today.  Zero Days is an excellent documentary examining one of the most sophisticated cyberattacks ever launched as far as the public knows. It also features a nice gentleman from Cyber Command, NSA’s offensive upstairs neighbor, stating that even Cyber Command realizes that its data is not safe.

I would like to believe that, since we are all living in the same glass house, we will learn to stop throwing rocks and feel a little less ashamed or frustrated about things that truly do not matter.  I want to believe in us, the way Rocky believed he could single-handedly end the cold war (and did!), but optimism feels misplaced when the United States, Russia, and China are busy amassing small nuclear arms.  I am sure they are safe.  Not like those clunky cold war nukes that only the United States has used.

In the ever crystallizing glass house, I think it is much more likely we will live to see a president’s genitals than any kind of cease fire.  While much of this documentary has been reported in the past, like the massive s.f. cyber attack the United States had in place and may have turned on had negotiations with Iran failed, the documentary is thorough, well paced, and brings together a lot of information with an elegance rarely seen in fiction let alone non-fiction.

The film starts with a detailed look at the discovery and dissection of what us civilians called stuxnet and NSA types who built the bugger referred to as Olympic Games.  Despite being an OG, the subtle attack on Iran’s centrifuges was only a tiny piece of a much larger, terrifying whole.  The s.f. cyberware of the future is here, and it is just a matter of time before a major attack has devastating consequences for countless civilians.  Of course, we are all complicit.  What floor do you live on?  Those elevators probably will not work if you upset the wrong people.  At this point, it is probably out of your hands.  You might be delightful, but wars have casualties.  Cost of doing business.

We insist that you watch this movie for your own good.  If you stubbornly refuse, at least buy a motorcycle and have an exit strategy.  I will be waiting for you in north-central Florida.  You will know when to meet me.

It’s Hard to be Good

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.47.47 PMJared from “Silicon Valley” is a pretty nice guy. He is the most compassionate voice on the show. Sometimes to get a laugh the show will also have him say something incredibly dark and tragic about his past. His childhood, thru several grim anecdotes, was a bleak affair referencing intense loneliness and poverty.

One example painted so dark we can only laugh follows:
Jared: I had a stuffed animal named Winnie.
Winnie: Oh, wow.
Jared: I mean, it wasn’t technically an animal, I took a Ziploc bag and I stuffed it with old newspaper and then I drew a smile on it.

Its super sad, but it also reveals how even then Jared was an eternal optimist. I have had several favorite characters on this show. The entire cast is very funny and each person is a well thought out and acted character, but Jared really won me over this season as favorite.

SPOILER AHEAD

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.23.26 PMIt was completely crushing to see Jared’s final action of the season, but it also felt so real.  Jared knows poverty better than anyone else on the team and his action shows us he is willing to go further than anyone else on the team to never be poor again.  For the rest of the team success is movable swimming pools and celebrity, for Jared it is finally killing the ever present specter of poverty he has known all his life.

If you haven’t seen the show I’ll briefly explain.  The main cast of characters in “Silicon Valley” have been trying to release what they hope will be a successful new technology and make them the next Apple, Google or Facebook.  They finally launch the app and after a brief initial success the app fails to attract and grow it’s userbase.  This is very bad for a want to be technology giant.  Jared secretly hires an offshore clickfarm service to make it appear that the app is successful.  A clickfarm is essentially an internet sweatshop where hundreds or thousands of humans sit in front of computers repeating menial tasks over and over for third world wages.

Jared knows exactly what it means when he hires this company. Poor people, even well meaning poor people, will continue to screw over poorer people as they claw their way up for the chance to be slightly less poor. And technology remains a revolutionary product for a very few already very well off westerners.