I’ve been really busy with work the past two days and have barely read any news. Probably better not to opine until I’m caught up. I’m sure it hasn’t been two days of nonsense two-minute rages! That couldn’t be!

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There definitely are people out there who get mad at you when you criticize Democrats nowadays, as though the Republican Party is a shining example of what happens when you only criticize out-group. (Yeah, certain attacks are permitted, but only ones from a specific point of view and only from very specific people.  An analog of Reagan’s 11th Commandment is still not a great idea when one considers how its practitioners turned out.) Ultimately, if you want a better Democratic Party (which I think most every Democrat does), then you have to criticize the people who make that harder. Dianne Feinstein is the ultimate limousine liberal who believes in some socially liberal things but other than that doesn’t care, Chuck Schumer holds I don’t know what beliefs deep down, but both are fundamentally defined by some sort of political anti-courage which makes them regularly sell out their own side for pretty much nothing. Feinstein voted for the Iraq War, and Schumer was cool with torture for a time. Feinstein also one time let Dubya confirm a Circuit Court judge for no reason, and Schumer opposed the JCPOA/Iranian nuclear deal. Also there was that fence thing. It’s not like the right stances would have hurt their careers, they just chose to do the wrong things for no reason.

I suppose the Schumer/Iran thing can be explained by local politics, not that that excuses his swallowing a giant load of derp and lies. But all the others? No clue. Best I can do is they’re obsessed with being seen as reasonable to Republicans and/or still cling to the failed fad of Third Way “broad center” politics. Also possible is that they like bucking the line because Washington journos love that sort of thing, which would be even worse. But they’re bad. Not as bad as contemporary Republicans! But bad. And, honestly, worse than the average Democrat. Most are useless sentimentalists who are just waiting for Republicans to overcome this momentary lapse of reason and get back to centrist bipartisan governance. That’s bad enough, but it can get worse, I guess.

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And Seven of Nine’s outfits now become the franchise’s second-most embarrassing pander to straight men.

As you can tell from the address of the post, this marks the third time I’ve written about this movie for the site, and probably my third distinct take on it. I’m always evolving, what can I say? My initial take was sort of guardedly positive, my second was fairly critical. This is going to be even more critical. I think this is just a movie that wears poorly with time! It’s okay in the theater and for maybe a couple of days after–the Abrams treatment is typically an invigorating one, to be sure. Then you get to thinking about it, and it drops in your estimation. Then you watch it again a few years later and it drops more. Then you read a review or listen to someone talk about it and think, damn, he’s right, and it drops some more. And so on. As with the prior film, virtually all of the pleasures of the movie are visceral. Unfortunately, there just aren’t as many of them here. Abrams reduced the franchise to shallow fun, which wasn’t great, but at least it was an improvement on the grim, unearned miserabilism of Nemesis. For reasons surpassing comprehension, Abrams turned his hollow ship in the direction of miserabilism for his follow-up. I have no idea why. I wish he hadn’t.

Into Darkness is the franchise at low ebb, to be sure, but what does it get right? I’m honestly not sure how to answer that. I quite like the action sequence where Kirk and Khan fly through space, which is one of the few times where I’m not dizzy catching up with the movie’s references to other films. I’d even give it a few minutes on either direction of that sequence, which is weirdly looser and funnier than the rest of the movie. And honestly, I don’t mind most of the setup of the film. The pieces it puts in place during the first act are all perfectly fine pieces to put in place. I don’t necessarily have a problem with magic blood, or Khan killing off Starfleet brass and escaping to Kronos. It’s not like the first act couldn’t have led to a perfectly decent adventure. Alas, it does not.

It was stupid for the studio to lie to the fans that the villain of the film wouldn’t be Khan. But it was criminal to make a movie with Khan that ultimately just turned on fisticuffs. This is the most literal yet remake of The Wrath Of Khan, but it’s also the one that least reverberates with the cat-and-mouse pleasures of the original. Without that, what is a movie with Khan even about? Tonally, there are some real problems here, with too many scenes that feel lifted straight out of Three’s Company or some similarly shit sitcom. The Uhura-Spock relationship truly is one of the worst things the franchise ever did, is all I’m saying! Having to see yet another variation on the woman being mad that the man is putting himself into harm’s way is just wearisome. I’d have been open to it being the other way around–it makes as much sense to have Uhura be the one in danger while acting as an interpreter on an away mission while Spock chills up on the ship, scanning things. Alas, we can’t have anything nearly that creative in this movie. But that said, there is one really hilarious Spock moment in the movie:

The movie does not do justice to its characters. Chris Pine’s Kirk is much more difficult to take here than in the first film. The movie wants us to believe that he grows by accepting responsibility in the film but the character is too infuriatingly cartoonish to make that resonant. The movie easily sells us on the fact that he was promoted too quickly, but the transitions it settled upon don’t really wash. Kirk is characterized less like William Shatner’s portrayal of the character and more like William Petersen’s ultimate adrenaline-junkie character Richard Chance from To Live And Die In L.A. Chance is a law enforcement officer but, ultimately, to him the job is not about protecting the public but rather is little more than a series of opportunities for fighting, chasing, and shooting (and, not for nothing, vulnerable women to blackmail into sexual relationships). Kirk doesn’t go in for that last bit, at least. But then again, Chance is someone who the audience is not really supposed to love. He’s the protagonist and the “bad guy” is certainly worse–Willem Dafoe’s character is a murderer several times over–but Chance takes risks that put many people in danger and even get a few killed. His objective is the right one, but his methods are reprehensible. That James Kirk–a classic, straight-laced hero–resembles in this movie an essentially amoral antihero from a nihilistic 1980s neo-noir is, well, not great. But he does!

And then there’s Spock. I was willing to accept an overly emotional Spock in the first Abrams movie, but it’s just too much here. I guess the idea here is to have Spock snap a little in dealing with all the loss, but there’s less an arc here than a bunch of ideas that don’t really make much sense. I guess he goes from being the self-sacrificing scientist type at the beginning to an enraged avenger at the end, I don’t know. As I’ve constantly said, it’s not like you can’t do something like this, but it matters how you do it. The entire last act of the film seems like a total misfire to me, action overload that is messy and ugly. This is why “giving audiences what they want” is such a misguided concept: the studio wanted this movie to break big internationally but it only really did as well as the first Abrams movie, and the bad taste left in peoples’ mouths from it hurt the series’ next installment.

The movie, I will say, does give the other characters some things to do–even Chekov!–but it’s not as though they ever really matter much. This is all Spock/Kirk stuff and that stuff is not good. Neither Khan nor Admiral Marcus make particularly compelling villains, honestly, in part because they’re essentially the same villain. They’re both violent, megalomaniacal dicks who sabotage themselves, though I suppose Khan has some redeeming value in that he actually cares about his people. I don’t really think that anybody involved with the film cared much about either character. Or about much of anything! It’s such a waste. At the end of it, you’re forced to ask yourself what the point of all of it was and I truly don’t know. Even the other bad Star Trek movies I can at least ferret out something, some decent intention to it, however poorly served in the execution. Well, except for maybe Star Trek Generations, with which this movie has to share the absolute bottom of the franchise with. They’re pretty similar movies in a lot of ways: so in love with the effects they can create by freely (i.e. recklessly) using the characters that they don’t even realize the damage they’re doing to them, in the service of making a pointless and unpleasant film. They share the absolute bottom of the franchise, which is the worst possible thing I can say about this movie. Even Nemesis isn’t this bad.

Well, it can only get better from here, right? (It does.) Let’s wrap this baby up next week!

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I was just thinking the other day about how weird it was that 10-15 years ago, there was this meme of openly pedophilic sentiment toward the Olsen Twins, which was oddly just sort of tolerated somehow. Admittedly, feminism was at a low ebb around 2005, but it’s difficult for me to come up with another occasion where it was fine to just openly ponder the desirability of tweens in that way. And then it just kind of stopped. I never really understood it. I definitely get that some early teenagers prefer a “porny” look, not that I approve of adult males getting gross over it, but I don’t think that was the source of this particular phenomenon. It was this weird sort of jokey thing almost. And then Elizabeth Olsen comes on the scene later and she’s treated like a normal actress. Not even given the weird treatment of a Zooey Deschanel so far as I can tell. Just inexplicable.

Straight guys are weird.

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Be interesting to see if Greitens goes down, my guess is that he probably will. You can always tell which politicians have a lot of friends and which ones don’t from the response to a scandal. Doesn’t seem like Greitens has many friends, not that they’d probably want to be associated with this grisly story, but the only reason why some politicians survive scandals and others’ don’t is all about how many friends they have. What they do, up to a point, is immaterial.

I don’t think it’s fair to necessarily conclude that Greitens alone allows any sort of deeper conclusions to be drawn about conservatives, certainly you can bothsides gross men to some extent. (One can only imagine that FOX News is running segments on Mel Reynolds right now to reassure their viewers that there are gross sex pervert Democratic men also.) But there are levels of grossness, and it probably isn’t a coincidence that truly depraved, sadistic and perverted men keep getting much closer to power in the Republican Party than is the case in the Democratic Party, particularly if you include partisan media in the equation (as I do). Greitens may have crossed the line and will have to go away, as Roy Moore did, but many people who went a little less far are still around and doing just fine. Indeed, given that the governorship will stay in Republican hands, I fully expect Republicans to cut Greitens loose as it’s a pretty horrifying story. But that wouldn’t make him any sort of aberration in the Donald Trump Republican Party.

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I think the worst thing about Hillary’s much-maligned slogan is that I do truly think she believed it. It’s not a good sign when your genuine expressions of patriotic fervor sound indistinguishable from garden variety pandering that make liberals (and voters at large) groan. But while it is true that the Clintons basically employ a bunch of hacks and it sounds like something confected from them via focus-grouping, it seems to be just so off from what anyone even remotely inclined to vote for a Democrat would respond to that I have to assume that Clinton herself actually believes it and pushed for it to be included in the campaign. She did put a bunch of other issues–military intervention, capitalism, etc.–in the same terms. America is a force for good! Capitalism helped make the country great! It’s not like she’s the first to do this stuff, they all sort of do, but what was the point of it? Who was supposed to respond to it?

The thing is that when you compare that to Obama’s pitch, it’s not like it’s the total opposite approach, but the differences in the presentation are big and telling. Obama really did understand how liberal patriotism worked. They want to think that things are getting better, moral arc bending toward justice and all that. And he knew how he fit into that story. They want to believe the stated values of American society are the actual ones and not mere window dressing. They are idealists who believe we can overcome the demons of the past. Obama strongly argued for both propositions, both rhetorically and simply by running and winning his campaign. It’s been quickly forgotten since everything is these days (in ten years when I write my screenplay about the beer summit and make a million dollars, I will be able to remind everybody!), but Obama winning made liberals feel like something major had shifted and anything was possible. I’ve linked to the articles before. People really went nuts. And I was dumb enough to believe it all too! In retrospect, Obama won by sidestepping pretty much all the truly hot button issues–which is not a knock against him, he wanted to win!–and to be fair, some people were saying this at the time. Also his vision of how to ameliorate all this just devolved into a somewhat more leftist version of Clintonian centrist incrementalism, which didn’t really work, though we’ve been over this before. But the guy just had a keen understanding about how to tap into liberal patriotism and how to frame himself as part of the narrative that most liberals want to tell about themselves. Hillary just offered rah-rah imitations of right-wing patriotic tropes that nobody got excited about. Not that this was the only reason she lost. Comey, the Russians, sexism, etc. But you kind of have to reach peoples’ emotions to motivate them into getting out and voting for you. And she, um, sort of did the opposite at every turn. That slogan was one such example. Doesn’t inspire people. Doesn’t fit into the narrative. It’s just an assertion that is debatable. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to hang your campaign on that.

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I’m always amused when Americans say they’re going to move to another country if X should happen, or if candidate Y should be elected. Obviously there are obstacles. Getting a visa, which means going through a legal process, finding a job. Resettling your family if you have one. Finding schools for the kids, finding a new social circle. This is all really stressful, difficult stuff! Really, it’s like all the stressful things at once. But that aside, the real issue is I think a cultural one. Americans are among the most provincial people out there. The major contenders would probably have to be the more closed societies out there today, your Saudi Arabias and North Koreas and whatnot. They at least have an excuse for provincialism, which is that they have no real say in the matter. Here, it’s a choice. The bulk of Americans (last figure I read was 75%) don’t even own a passport and wouldn’t watch a subtitled film or listen to a non-English pop song if you paid them to. They are happy for “news” that is entirely fluff and ignores international news (much as I’d like to blame the media entirely for dumbing down the American versions of their publications, there’s no reason for me to believe there is any demand for that stuff not being fulfilled–NPR and The Economist do more for their niche audiences). Granted, there are exceptions! Certainly a subset of Americans like these things. Some certainly do travel, even to places that aren’t just curated spaces for unadventurous tourists. But the mainstream is heavily resistant to anything “foreign” in a way that is not common in the rest of the world. You can hear American pop hits pretty much anywhere in the world, but it’s only every few years that anything non-English becomes a hit in the United States (i.e. Gangnam Style, Macarena, etc.). Even Russia–a pretty closed off, provincial nation in its own right–is way more receptive to foreign films and music than Americans are. I know because I’ve been there. It’s just provincialism.

What these Americans really want is to be able to move someplace else with little fuss and make essentially no adjustments to living in a different country, which is why Canada is the country that most often comes up in these sorts of situations. But what that really shows is a lack of respect for the country they’d presumably want to make their home, as though there aren’t any different customs or ideas between the two countries. Just compare how the two countries have dealt with their native peoples to confirm that. Canada is similar to America in a lot of ways, but the idea that Canadians would be receptive to an onslaught of chauvinistic Americans with no respect for them strikes me as unlikely. Honestly, I’m not really sure who would want that. All the American rich preppers buying up New Zealand to wait out the proverbial pitchforks strikes me as much the same. Even worse, maybe. Not really sure driving up prices will endear them to the locals. Honestly, it seems completely backwards to me: foreigners tend to do even worse in populist uprisings. But that’s just me.

Of course, if you have a college degree, you can probably get a job teaching English somewhere in Asia. I know people who have done it! That’s a realistic emigration fantasy, and a lot of them enjoy it. But that’s very different than the fantasy of just finding a quasi-America with better politics, which strikes me as not just misguided, but painfully un-self aware. Outside of a genuinely cosmopolitan subset, America is the center of the galaxy for most Americans, and everything that goes on outside it is of little interest. Not to pick on the most-picked-upon target out there, but Lena Dunham still remains a resident of this country in spite of Donald Trump’s victory, and she could literally buy herself into any number of other countries if she wanted to. FWIW, Rush Limbaugh didn’t bolt after Obama won in 2012 and the ACA came into effect either. If they’d actually wanted to go, they’d go. Prove it. That’s all I’ve got to say.

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With the reboot upon us, it’s time to reboot the format of this featureWith no further ado, let’s get to this.

Somehow the title galls. Just plain Star Trek as a title is not an addition to the franchise, but a challenge, a replacement. The “not your father’s Star Trek” tagline is, similarly, a message of replacement. Forget all that silliness, here’s a Kirk and Spock for the dubstep generation! For all the flailing about “the regular timeline is still in place,” the film’s timeline is the one that the series followed from then on out. There was no fixing of the timeline. This is the timeline that matters, the one that obliterates everything except Enterprise, of all things. Enterprise! Who could have imagined that? Who even wanted that?

And yet, in spite of all of this…I really don’t have a problem with the movie. At least not enough of one to completely outweigh the enjoyment of it. It’s not my favorite–badly limited by Director Abrams’s need to keep things moving quickly and a too literal mythology focusing on the destiny of the main characters. Contrivances pile upon one another in a movie that doesn’t really have a premise, a story, or a theme, other than “destiny” I suppose. Honestly, I’m not so sure Abrams knows the difference between contrivance and destiny since they’re essentially the same force working to get all the characters onto the ship in their familiar roles. If you really look at it, it’s just so dumb, a combination of fan service and little touches that would aggravate real fans. I feel like I really should hate this movie for so many reasons, including dumb time travel and the stupidity of the red matter. And yet, somehow, the movie is almost teflon-coated. It’s hard to really hate on it somehow. It’s just the damnedest thing. Much of that has to do with the things that they get right. For one thing, the movie really is fun. Nemesis was the franchise in full-on miserable mode, and it was a disaster. But this movie really is a fun action-adventure film. The characters are well-drawn and enjoyable to spend time with. The movie ultimately boils down to a series of vignettes, which means every 20 minutes or so you’re in a different mini-movie with different characters and a different tone and look and feel, which honestly is the most Star Wars-y thing about it. And there is plenty of competition there.

The real question is, why do I generally like this movie? There’s really no substance to it, it’s not very Star Trek-y. I’ve heard people argue that the movie is anti-torture because of the failure of Shinzon Nero to get the information he needs out of Captain Pike, which is something, I guess. But to me, the major thing I get out of this movie is the romance and intoxication of youth. There’s such a high-energy exuberance, even giddiness, to virtually all of the characters in the movie. The Plinkett review isn’t wrong to talk about how all the characters are “hypercharged” and all are turned into supergeniuses even though on the original crew, not all were, of course. But what I will say is that this is a repivoting of the concept of the Original Series toward an almost Sorkinesque ideal, where everybody is a witty supergenius who’s brilliant at their jobs but not so great at relationships or keeping their work lives separate from their personal lives (or, honestly, even remotely professional). It’s actually easy to imagine the movie filled with Sorkin’s banter since all his other elements are pretty much there. This is not how the Original Series was conceived, but it’s not so bad an idea I suppose. I will say that I do not rewatch this one as much as other movies in part because it’s so heavily in the realm of this upbeat, high-energy spirit, with only a couple of brief departures (like when a few billion people die, say). For me, I just prefer a bit more variety in a film and this one stays at eleven the whole time. Then again, this movie seemingly was engineered for eighteen year olds, an age I was past even when I first saw the film in theater. (Though given that, it is odd that the film’s big pop music moment is a Beastie Boys song from two decades earlier, and decidedly not on point, though I guess it fits the moment and it winds up being a setup for something great down the road.)

One of my favorite reviews of the film summarizes it as exactly as smart as it needs to be, and this is extremely accurate. But intelligence wasn’t the point. Abrams’s vision for the film was clearly one of youth, rediscovery, and energy, all elements missing from Nemesis and the other TNG films. Honestly, this movie isn’t hugely dissimilar in many ways from Nemesis. But damn if it doesn’t work out okay in the end. The weirdest thing really about this is that Abrams didn’t just follow the same formula for the next movie. I guess there’s only so far that the intoxication of youth can take you, but it’s at the very least some sort of take on how to present the characters. Obviously this will be gotten at next week, but perhaps the reason why the follow-up failed to match the original on every level is because basing the first movie on something so shallow didn’t create a firm foundation for something darker and (putatively) more searching. Star Trek is loopy, carefree fun, but there would be a hangover afterward.

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