Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

The new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, is fine as light summer entertainment. The series’ leading characters, three white males named Spock, Bones and Kirk, are both true to their original incarnations in the 1966 television drama created by Gene Roddenberry and boldly against Hollywood’s new purge of white males. This is the boldest thing about the new picture, which is written by six different writers, directed by Justin Lin (Annapolis and some Fast & Furious movies) and produced by the man who directed the first film in this batch of movies, the overrated J.J. Abrams, who brought forth the bland 2009 reboot.

StarTrekBeyondPosterI think this is a better movie than that first installment, which was campy and full of itself. The second movie was a snoozefest, so I didn’t bother to write a review but I remember thinking that Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain was the best thing about it. Here, the production design is marvelous, and it is especially well done in rendering the villain’s (Idis Elba) world, which includes a kind of slave encampment.

But success as fun, lighter summer fare means that the boldness of the whole series is gone. The NBC show, which I found in reruns, was serious and dramatic. Something important, occasionally an ideal, was often at stake. Some were better than others, but subsequent series and movies recycled mostly the multiculturalism, comedy and nostalgia. Now, in 2016, Paramount’s Star Trek Beyond delivers more of the same, though it’s more linear. An outstanding actress is wasted in a cameo role (that’s Shohreh Aghdashloo) and the lines are flat, cringe-inducing or worse while the chemistry among the three leads, which was always a sideline at best to the dramatic arc, is the highlight. A self-reliant new character, Jaylah, is a welcome addition in a decent subplot.

Star Trek Beyond mixes plot fragments involving torture, surveillance and loyalty. Yet there’s nothing bold about how they’re treated. With another all-powerful villain named Krall drawing strength from suffering, the madman bit is getting old, and his contest with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Into the Woods) feels tacked on because it is. The basic conflict is underdeveloped.

Plot and action move briskly, however, in three different directions, as the U.S.S. Enterprise and crew spin off into separate orbits as Krall amasses the power to destroy an entire idyllic civilization and threaten the Federation.

So much could have been done with Krall’s inferiority complex leading to a barbaric siege against civilization. But no. Amid breakaways, imprisoned or eviscerated crew and tests of character, loyalty and teamwork, the Federation, utopia and the Enterprise are diminished by the end. The crew are smaller as the franchise ages. No longer the intrepid seekers of knowledge in space, these characters—and I’m sorry to say that the late Anton Yelchin in his final appearance as Chekov deserved a better send-off—convey none of the enthusiasm for enlistment that the original cast did. Zoe Saldana plays Lieutenant Uhura as tougher yet she’s less thoughtful and more stereotypical than was Nichelle Nichols in the role. Familiar characters return. There’s a nod to the late Leonard Nimoy. Sulu (John Cho) is, it turns out, a gay dad which plays neatly if predictably into the plot.

In short, Star Trek Beyond is mildly enjoyable at the expense of deeper engagement. Like its muted lighting, which looks the same in every atmosphere, Star Trek‘s whole universe feels artificial. The series, in playing to today’s demand for momentary thrills, jabs and jokes, is selling out its core value premise: excitement about discovering, exploring and mastering the unknown with a united band of enterprising men and women. A movie based on Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek vision should be bold. This one is not.

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Trump Con

The long Republican presidential campaign ended last night in Cleveland, Ohio, as the Grand Old Party (GOP) essentially ended itself as a political party for individual rights by nominating non-Republican nationalist Donald Trump for president of the United States.

The wreckage Trump leaves in his wake is real. The Republican Party is gone. I am inclined to agree with scholar Thomas Sowell, who writes that the best outcome is an unresolved election between Hillary Clinton and Trump that goes to the House of Representatives.

Trump is the result of decades of Big Government status quo; his reckless, anti-intellectual plan for whim-based authoritarianism is a solution to every major unsolved problem America faces, from our multi-trillion dollar debt and lousy economy to the West’s war with radical Islam. While Americans were scoffing at solving these urgent problems, insisting that they didn’t want to think about them, talk politics or do anything but snivel and sneer at satire by Simpsons, South Park and Jon Stewart, Trump was scheming on how to fill the void.

Variations on the prototypical angry white male—Colbert, Matthews, Gutfeld, Stewart, Miller, O’Reilly, Olbermann—all superficial and deeply anti-intellectual, converged into a single TV personality: the bumbling, foaming, splaying, monstrous Donald Trump. Trump mixes most of the popular cultural points since the turn of the century—the attention deficit, instant gratification and roaming, raging thuggishness of a vicariously violent video game, the boorish, slobbering sloth of The Sopranos and blood-lust of Game of Thrones, the petty, vulgar and vacant humor of Seinfeld and everything it bred—Trump is the triumph of the anti-romantic; he provides the gushing, momentary thrill of going by the gut. He is an embodiment of the anti-ideal.

DonaldTrumpThe presidential nominee says he “admires” states with socialized medicine, “loves” violating property rights via eminent domain and opposes free trade, free press and freedom of speech. Trump vows to build a wall along the American border. All of this comes under his banner to “make America great again”, a theme of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Those were not the only words lifted without credit from someone else during the past four days. The speech Trump and his wife claimed she wrote, an assertion which was later revoked without serious media scrutiny, plagiarized an Obama convention speech. But Trump’s candidacy, which began on June 16, 2015, thrives on controversy. From his spat with Megyn Kelly, which put them both in the center of attention, to his accusations, smears and insinuations, everything he does is designed to make you look.

But not too closely, not for too long, and certainly not at his ideas. During the convention, Trump swore, for instance, that he will “make America work again”. Never mind what this phrase, which if taken literally could mean mandatory labor, actually means.

Vague on specific plans, though unmistakably clear in his anti-capitalist, authoritarian intent and purpose, Donald Trump’s convention was marked by screaming, ranting and a single voice of dissent in a speech by Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse the New York crony real estate developer. Trump was nominated after a motion over rules by Never Trump delegates was denied a roll call vote. Trump’s party platform adopted government controls such as a law targeting gays for prohibition from marriage and a restoration of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s defunct Glass-Steagall Act controlling banks.

Trump Con is a swing to the left—toward a centralized government controlling economics, marital law and communication—erasing a party created by those seeking to abolish slavery. The leftist push came, too, from the candidate’s wife, Melania, who by her admission admiringly copied Michelle Obama, and his daughter, Ivanka, a non-Republican who introduced her father by emphasizing non-essential facts, such as the Trump corporation’s—Trumps call the entity an “organization”—hiring of “more women”, not men, as executives. Ivanka Trump, appearing as callous as Mrs. Obama and as blank as a mannequin or a model in a Robert Palmer music video, became momentarily expressive once during an otherwise Stepford-like address—when she praised laws granting favors to women based upon marriage and motherhood. Sounding like both a radical socialist such as Bernie Sanders and a staunch conservative such as Phyllis Schlafly, Trump’s child spoke of “wage discrepancy”, “wage equality” and “equal pay”, pledging to hold her father accountable as president to reclaiming “our heritage”, though, like her father, Ivanka Trump refused to explain the pronoun or the heritage.

Trump’s daughter, who is married to New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, dared Americans to “judge [Donald Trump’s] competency by the companies he’s built” and added that he “will call upon the best and brightest”. She did not say for what purpose the best and brightest would be called upon nor exactly what being “called upon” means, whether a voluntary draft or some form of servitude. Ivanka Trump, proponent of mandates for rewarding marriage and motherhood, told the audience that her father will seek and carry out “brave new solutions.”

Donald Trump’s speech was a spewing, shouting rant which CNN reports is the longest convention speech in 44 years. Trump railed against immigrants and the state of the union, citing statistics and promising “no lies…[only] the truth and nothing else”, a pledge he’s already broken and often. Trump ended his acceptance speech by blurting three indiscriminate words: “I love you!”

At the end of a convention dedicated to destroying the Republican Party and constructing a powerful family government bureaucracy, the audience was left mindlessly demanding imprisonment of Trump’s presumptive opponent, Hillary Clinton, and chanting a variation of Barack Obama’s 2008 theme, which Trump’s dishonest campaign extends. “YES YOU WILL!”  is 2016’s corollary of 2008’s “YES WE CAN!” I contemplated the latter phrase in my post on Obama’s legacy and Trump’s motto, given his nationalist philosophy and threats to bring U.S. businesses such as Apple under the jackboot of the U.S. government, can only end in “…do as Trump commands!” Or worse.

“You can’t always get what you want,” the Rolling Stones sing on the record used without permission by Donald Trump. Short-sighted media pundits who powered his ominous rise mistake his featuring the song for a humbled check on Trump’s power-lusting intentions. But, as a voice of dissent to the supposed charisma of Melania, Ivanka and Donald Trump and this alarming mixture of familialism with fascism, I think media pundits got it wrong. Trump plays the tune as a taunt to Americans. Here comes my new autocratic administration, he’s transmitting to the nation and the world, and no one—especially not you, the individual—should expect to get what you deserve, because Trump’s time is coming and Trump will be in control. The anti-republican Trump Convention, the biggest con on the American people since Barack Obama, all but guarantees that, whether Clinton the statist or Trump the statist wins this election, unhappy days are coming soon.

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The Blog at Eight

What began as an informal forum for my thoughts on movies, culture and ideas remains so eight years later.

These have been turbulent years. Weeks after the first post on July 20, 2008, the U.S. economy faltered in a historic plunge from which it hasn’t really recovered. The nation has been unceasingly attacked by Islamic terrorists. I lost a friend to suicide—another national trend indicating a downward spiral—following Obama’s re-election in 2012. Posts about coarseness and cynicism, military suicides, top generals being fired, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia’s connection to 9/11 highlighted or reported new information and analysis about the West’s decline, examining the ominous rise of Islamic barbarism and American statism.

Taliesin (C) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

Taliesin (C) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

I have also written about the good, whether visiting Starbucks on a Monday, seeing sculptures in central Florida, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona or his Hollyhock house in Los Angeles and Wright houses in Illinois, posting the first review of Olivia Newton-John’s headlining show in Las Vegas, OCON in Chicago, Christmastime in the Southwest or interviewing top artists about new works. I’ve praised TV shows, apps, movies, products and books and a kiss during a North American riot.

Subjects include everything from discourse on race and religion to Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand and Aristotle. I’ve looked back at Brokeback Mountain, critiqued The Sound of Music, examined ebola virus and I was among the first to herald Edward Snowden as a hero. I’ve denounced Duck Dynasty‘s patriarch, Hillary Clinton and, pointing out his causal relations to today’s sensationalistic media, Donald Trump. I have warned against censorship and dictatorship. I’ve remembered Robin Williams, Lizabeth Scott, David Bowie, Katharine Hepburn and Neil Armstrong.

Mostly, I aim to stimulate the reader to think, whether about the deaths of unarmed Americans, playing football, Johnny Carson, the homeless, creating a new album, making movies or writing a book.

I aspire to objective communication, though I know I make mistakes. I am grateful for the reader’s backup. My blog is my forum; it’s both advertising for my work and activism for realizing the ideal in a troubled world. Exceeding my expectations, posts and archived articles are now cited, referenced or reprinted in forums, books and articles and linked by grade schools, colleges and universities, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Salon, Turner Classic Movies and the New York Times. I hear about what I write from businessmen, students, activists, scholars, artists and readers across the world.

As I enter a new phase, I plan to post less frequently, remove older posts and publish an index on site of interviews, articles and citations. Certain posts may be archived and appear in a future format or edition. Even as I clear the way for new posts, I plan to keep adding previously published articles to my writings archive. Readers that typically browse the blog should visit those pages for other articles of interest.

WritingBootcampThe blog is a springboard. Besides my variety of communication roles, including social media management, marketing and branding, I write and edit on assignment and work for hire. Essentially, I write stories. As a freelance writer, on a limited basis, I help in these and other endeavors (read about my method). I investigate or engage enterprises, partnerships and opportunities as well. Some fail, some flourish. Others I am not at liberty to disclose. Besides the blog, I write everything from business plans, social media and startup websites to speeches, screenplays and manuscripts. Projects may stall, restart or slowly make progress. I also teach communication courses and workshops in metropolitan Los Angeles (subscribe to my newsletter for updates). My passion continues to be enlightening the world through stories about man, large and small, real and imagined.

If you read my blog, let me know what you think. I appreciate criticism and correction. I am also happy to help but only if I think I’m qualified and think I can add value (contact me).

Finally, a note about specific requests and readership: I welcome support, whether a note on what you’ve read and appreciate, disagreement or a suggestion. Occasionally, I receive unsolicited invitations, review copies and gifts, whether as an e-book, book, Amazon or iTunes gift card or PayPal donation, which I neither solicit nor expect but, like other commercial-free blogs and independent content sources, appreciate and accept. I’m also grateful for liked, shared and linked posts, especially if rendered with a comment. Each of these are a means of supporting this blog and this writer.

Scott Holleran WriterIf you have something you want me to know about or review—i.e., a book, movie or recording—it is best to inquire and, if I’m able to accept it, please send the item with acceptance of the fact that whether I write about it is at my discretion. Or ask a publicist to contact me to send a review copy. Please know that I give preference to material created and solicited by the individual. Please also know that I am often inundated with material so I am not always able to respond, let alone consider everything. Include a telephone number for faster response. I want readers to know that, while I discriminate, I welcome new material. I take each opportunity to explore work seriously and I strive to find the good in a movie, song or book. With rare exception, I review that which I think I have a reason to like and enjoy.

These have been eight exciting years and I gain value from writing the ‘web log’. So, may you gain value from reading it. Cheers.

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Nationalism, Statism and Propaganda

This month’s major political conventions will be historic. Nationalist Donald Trump, presumptive nominee of the philosophically bankrupt Republican Party, and welfare-statist Hillary Clinton, presumptive nominee of the New Left-dominated Democratic Party, are the most untrusted and, incidentally, unpopular presidential candidates in modern history. Clinton, exonerated this week by the Obama administration under a cloud of suspicion after the attorney general met with her spouse, the ex-president Bill Clinton, will be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. Trump, generating controversy as always and this time by re-posting a Star of David superimposed on a pile of money via social media, will be the first non-Republican and explicit anti-capitalist nominated by the party which once advocated some degree of capitalism and individual rights. Both will be nominated in American states which were once great industrial centers; Clinton in America’s first capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Trump in Cleveland, Ohio.

Look for what today’s digital public relations, marketing and social media types call optics at the GOP (July 18-21) and Democratic (July 25-28) conventions. Halting, hair-splitting, cackling Clinton may try to come off as softer, less harsh and hostile and more easygoing as a leader; the safer choice. Spewing, ear-splitting, rambling Trump may try to pass himself off as essentially charismatic and strong, less harsh and hostile and more decisive as a leader; the stronger choice. He will try to be a man of the people, an unapologetic village crier and throwback to pre-Obama days, undoing Obama’s legacy by throwing up tougher, state-sponsored fixes at the strongman’s sole discretion. She will try to appear as a woman of the people, a servant carrying on the Obama presidency’s New Left agenda while silently signalling that the age of statism and egalitarianism—policy dictates defining one’s identity by race, sex or culture—has just begun. The next few weeks will be heavy on optics for two power-lusting frauds in American politics.

Look closer for signs of propaganda, however. Whether at the statist’s or the nationalist’s convention, despite whatever riots, anarchy and attack may be carried out, the coming conventions and 2016 will be filled with symbolism and signs of what’s to come. Trump is a master of this—Clinton is not—as he demonstrates by tagging media personalities, streams and channels to generate greater exposure and attract new followers (read my post on The Circus Cycle). Though Trump polls as a loser, polls have been wrong for years, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s upset loss to this summer’s Brexit victory. I suspect the Trump voter conceals his planned vote from others. Watch for propaganda to foreshadow (unless Libertarian Gary Johnson is elected president) the new presidency.

TCOHG

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Propaganda, as shown at a recent exhibit at the Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles, has the power to push a civilized nation to dictatorship. Through visual manipulation, such as digital memes, cartoons and posters, especially in today’s increasingly anti-conceptual, perceptual-level culture, the public can more easily be persuaded of certain assertions. National Socialist propaganda, including promotions for Hitler’s Mein Kampf (which translates as My Struggle), was thoroughly premeditated. Read Leonard Peikoff’s The Cause of Hitler’s Germany for a fundamental explanation of Nazi Germany.

As displayed in “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda”, which runs at the Downtown LA library through August 21 (read about the traveling exhibition here), the Fuhrer (“leader”) and his top Nazis clearly grasped the importance of graphic arts in disseminating their philosophy of duty to the state and submission of the individual to serving others, i.e., altruism, in the name of the god-state-people-race. In certain cases, graphics and images glorify the upshot of National Socialism in practice: mass death and total government control of the individual’s life.

The exhibitionproduced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows how “the Nazis used propaganda to win broad voter support in Germany, implement radical programs, and justify war and mass murder”. The exhibit continues in Texas and Louisiana (see the schedule here).

Nazi Propaganda Poster LAPLNazi propaganda posters, movies, art and designs also illustrate attacks on Jews, capitalism and profit. There are other lessons, too. Note the cult of personality employed to foster worship of the charismatic leader. Observe similarities to recent U.S. campaign themes, such as Obama’s “hope and change” paraphernalia, the controversial “Ready for Hillary” capital H with its arrow, and, of course, Trump’s chronic emphasis on himself as the charismatic leader for nationalism, bellowing against others—illegal immigrants, Moslems, Apple, businesses that trade with China—as causing America’s downfall. Clinton, and especially Sanders, target others, too—businesses, Apple, traders on Wall Street, the wealthy—and both sides explicitly target the individual for persecution.

What is so alarming about the 2016 presidential election, and what makes National Socialist propaganda particularly relevant, is the erosion of freedom of speech in America. Obama’s administration attacks free speech, from censoring news to censoring movies and intimidating Americans who would exercise free speech (read Obama Vs. Free Speech). Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children, has been a part of Obama’s assault on the First Amendment and she sought to evade public and press scrutiny during her entire four years as secretary of state while denouncing an American film as the cause of an Islamic terrorist act of war on the United States. Trump, who cuts off microphones at press conferences, proposes eliminating free speech by weakening libel law and jokes, then says he means it seriously, about having journalists targeted for state-sponsored death.

NaziFlowChartThese are explicit policy ideas, plans and actions. Insidious state sponsorship of media and the arts, like something emanating from the Nazi flow chart pictured here, includes quasi government control of the Oscars (Michelle Obama Ruins the Oscars) and arts and technology conferences (SXSW).

As the free press, too, diminishes with the spread of quasi-government control of industry, subsidizing state-favored cable TV monopolies like Time Warner and Comcast which own and operate major media (CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. Pictures, MSNBC, NBC, Universal Studios), coupled with the dumbing down of American education and culture, it becomes both easier and less apparent for the state to impose controls, cronyism and influence, i.e., blacklists. Only this summer did Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, change its name to the term “tronc” (without the quotation marks but with the bad punctuation), an amalgamation of “Tribune online content” in what appears to be a bid to seem modern, generic and anti-conceptual.

Convergence of today’s aggregated, dumbed down media with secretive, oppressive censorship cannot be far behind.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whom the world lost last week, lived his entire life warning of the danger of staying silent while ominous government insidiously gains the power to destroy life. As the summer of ’16—with Clinton, tronc and Trump—goes down shoveling propaganda in conventions and toward a darker history, this is the moment to stay tuned, call statist and nationalist propaganda what it is and speak out.

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Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legend-tarzan-2016-posterThough I’ve never read the Tarzan stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, upon which the new Warner Bros. movie is loosely based, I know from the character’s vast cultural history that they explore civilized and primitive man and nature through great, exotic adventures.

So does The Legend of Tarzan, if not always successfully and with a few cringe-worthy lines and a leap of faith into the third act. This is an underdeveloped epic set in 1890 and much of it is good. It’s not a great picture, but it has moments of wonder, historical basis and loads of exciting entertainment. Powered in the lead by the silent, icy stare of the title character, well played by Stockholm native Alexander Skarsgård (The Giver), whose Tarzan insists on going by his proper name John Clayton, the newest version takes the British aristocrat as a man of honor, integrity and the best of Western civilization.

His heroism is rooted in his incredible past as an extraordinary lord of the jungle.

Through a backstory, told in misty flashbacks courtesy of his brave wife Jane (Margot Robbie), the whole remarkable story of this man of extremes comes together, leading the audience into a new African adventure involving the Congo, Belgium’s King Leopold, imperialism, diamonds, native tribes, slavery, leopards, elephants, lions, hippos and, of course, the family of apes that raised the ape man. All of this is somehow relatively convincing and exciting for most of the movie, despite unfortunate and generic effects such as slow-motion fight scenes and incoherent action shots. The natives and the man of the jungle look too ripped, frankly, but with logical storytelling and good performances from the leads, and by Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet) as a villain as rotten as Tim Roth in Rob Roy, wrapping his fist in a rosary, The Legend of Tarzan entices and thrills.

With Samuel L. Jackson as a black Union Army veteran from the Civil War (George Washington Williams, based upon the man who knew Frederick Douglass in real life and wrote The History of the Negro Race in America 1619–1880) accompanying Clayton on his return to Africa, and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Baggage Claim), a railroad siege, a deep jungle showdown and a romantic kiss on a tree branch, this Tarzan builds tension as it layers the plot with interesting ideas. Among them are obtaining wealth through enslavement, life as an ongoing lesson and, as its heartbeat, serenity through harmony with nature and man. This last might have delivered an inspired meaning for the movie, which beautifully depicts an African tribe’s blissful reunion with the blue-eyed husband and wife in the village fed by strength, kindness and love.

The Legend of Tarzan, even when images are obviously manipulated, is stunning to behold thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham (Flyboys), costume, production and art design and director David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter pictures, does a fine job in the first two acts. For his part, Skarsgård as John Clayton/Tarzan brings to the role an arrogance, depth and solitude other Tarzan movies lack and his ease at being in Africa with wild animals and tribes is more pronounced having been properly introduced to the man he has become since returning to London.

“Tarzan learned to conquer,” the audience is told of his relationship with the dangerous and regal beauty and beasts of the Dark Continent, and, for a long, welcome stretch, one is lost and held by this unique tale of an individualistic aristocrat with scars and muscles and the mind to match who walks among natives with a sense of decency—which goes for his Jane, too—as a plot to trap him thickens. By the climax, with too much to resolve, Yates ties threads together too quickly and doesn’t achieve the secular humanist grandeur this Tarzan movie might have earned. Yet The Legend of Tarzan engages the moviegoer once again in the imaginative world of a boy raised by a wild animal capable of affection, the heroic lord he becomes, the woman just as bold and brave whom he finds, and his ferocious fight for peace and freedom, not for power-lust and conquest as an end in itself. In other words, Tarzan of the West and, happily, of the world.

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