Friday, June 26, 2009

Autobots and the N word

So I traversed the intolerable Georgia heat to go see Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and trudging the miles of parking lots at Stonecrest.... nah... I couldn't wait to go see the latest Transformers movie. They're the greatest thing since the invention of Jesus!!! .... nah, that doesn't work either...

Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about this movie, because I couldn't seem to get the plot in my head straight. The glimpses I had of it from and from the kid's books at Borders just didn't seem to add up. Turn's out, that was a correct assumption. So overall, I'd give it a 3.5 stars out of 5. But I don't have to give a review, because, as one of my friends shared on his Facebook profile, someone did an amazing job already. Try this review on for size. The only thing about it was that I didn't like it as well as the reviewer did. Read it with the appropriate cynicism, and that should work. Read it from

The interesting thing about the movie was that in the past few days, around the corners of Yahoo's news about MJ's passing, was a story about two Autobots that were "racially stereotypes." Mudflap and Skids are twins, and the voices and appearances make them ghetto goofballs. Reports have gone on about them being stereotypes of African-Americans, and the media has gone all Jar-Jar on everyone, saying how people should be offended at the two characters. The reality, however, couldn't be farther from the truth. I say this because I was at Stonecrest Mall watching the movie... in a packed theater, with the majority being African-Americans. And so as the "offensive" characters came onto the stage, all I heard were the people laughing. There was nothing offensive about them. They could either identify with the twins, or, more likely, saw that it was a parody of ghetto behavior and found it comedic.

In fact, I found it more offensive the way that paltry humor, that which would be found in American Pie would be attributed to Autobots. Now, maybe my fanboy status is showing, but the Autobots that I knew were above the base behaviors shown by Wheelie, Jetfire, and the Twins. Jetfire especially, as he was the noblest of warriors on the TV show (well it was Skyfire on there.) I couldn't wait to get Skyfire for Christmas that year, as the elegance and power of that sleek, white adonis of a Transformer (don't laugh) was amazing! And now they've turned him into an ancient SR-71 Blackbird that farts parachutes. And the joke about Devastator having gonads was just stupid. There was so much bathroom humor in the movie, that I would much rather have been offended by that rather than the Twins ethnic caricatures.

I think that the real issue here is that the media is creating something to be offended about. A good movie creates a little press, a bad one, even less. But a controversial one...a ton of press. And in the 24 hour news world, that's gold. So create a stir where there doesn't have to be, and if there's no offense made, get offended anyway. It's a good act, but one that has been done too many times. It's a tiring facade, one that I can do without.

Nor would I be particularly offended by George Lucas' use of Japanese aliens for representatives of the Trade Federation or of Jar-Jar Bink's obvious African look. In fact, I wonder whether Lucas actually thought of the racial stereotypes before he did them. I would much rather think they just happened, without thought to what the public might think. However, I think Michael Bay created Mudflap and Skins with the exact purpose of making them Afrian-American "ghetto goofball" robots. It's what he wanted. Because Bay knew that it wouldn't offend the groups that he wanted to attract to the movie, and he didn't care what the critics thought. He enjoyed pushing the envelope.

The problem is that, in my opinion, he pushed it too far, too often, and it made Transformers 2 look more like Austin Powers 2 in scope and feel. Take all the great stuff from the first movies, double, and stuff as much of it as possible into the sequel. Sometimes that works, but usually, it doesn't. Michael Bay better be careful that the third movie doesn't become an unneeded sequel, like the third Batman movie was.

My recommendation is to go buy the 20th anniversary DVD set of Season 1 of the Transformers G1 show from Borders (only $24.99 as of the day I wrote this.) and remember the good times.

One last note, upon seeing the trailer for the G.I. Joe movie, I shutter to think how bad that movie is going to be. Leave the pro-military, 80's cartoon action figure movies to the guys with the metal skin.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek ('09)

To Boldly Go...

It seems that Abrams was able to do what Rick Berman was inept at, namely, in reinvigorating the Star Trek franchise. It was done through superior special effects, brilliant acting, witty dialogue, and a return to the fundamental philosophy behind Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry had created so many years ago.

The remarkable part was that Abrams did this without undermining the universe as it stood prior to the movie's release. After all, what would be better in a Star Trek movie than time travel, in a spectacular reenactment of the parallel universe theory from Back to the Future II, it allows Abrams to alter the reality of the universe without altering the original line of reality (the one in which Nemesis was created and box office receipts died). But, since this is only a temporary line of reality (at the point where Spock fails to fix the supernova sun that destroys Romulus, a fleet of people from the alternate time line can fix the problem, sending the time loop back in on itself, dissolving that reality with the real one), Abrams can create more movies, a TV series, or anything that he wants without making Star Trek purists mad.

And what we wanted to see, from the beginning of Kirk's life (actually his father's death) to the end of the movie was the emergence of an individual who challenged the societal role that was placed upon him, used his brilliance to basically save Earth, and become the hero that we expect him to be. Not the wishy-washy characters from Enterprise or the noble statesman Picard was.

This is what Star Trek should be. A continuation of the philosophies that Gene Roddenberry created at the start of the series. The show that was rejected by studios, financed by Lucy, and ultimately gained fans world-wide. It did this because of the individualism that each Captain showed in maneuvering his/her ship through the vast unknown. They became Ulysses, from Tennyson's poem, "to strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield," as he stands resolutely on the deck of his ship, or tied to the mast as the sirens beckon him forth. The philosophies that they held, from the first time they stepped onto the Enterprise (Voyager...etc.) through fights with the Borg, Dominion, Klingons...etc... was what kept the ships alive and fighting. It is also what made the fans of Star Trek love the show so much. In a world where right and wrong seem blurred, where corruption seems to ooze from our leaders as readily as words, the idea of individualism that comes from Starfleet Earth is as enticing as the Siren's call.

To be on Earth in the 23rd century, where technology and human inventions have done away with many problems, where individuals can become anything or anyone they want to be, that is the ideal world. I've already said that Starfleet Earth is the most livable place in all of the literary universe, and this is why. Because on that Earth, so far into the future, you can boldly go wherever you want.

It's the phrase, "to boldly go" that stuck in my mind for the past little bit, as I have read Ayn Rand's novels, and as I have seen the events unfold around us, in the news, in the world. I wonder, is there anyone that can "boldly go" today? Can anyone stand atop the mountain as the Traveler does in Caspar David Friedrich's painting does? Or Ulysses? Abrams so wonderfully symbolizes this in Jimmy Bennett's portrayal of the Young James Kirk at the beginning of the movie. His leap out of the car as it careens off the cliff is absolutely amazing, and is an act of clarity, of skill, of brilliance. Kirk, at that moment, and in subsequent moments throughout the story, becomes the Hero that Ulysses, that Howard Roarke, that the Traveler was. He becomes the Hero we all want to be. And in our daily lives, we must take the steps to "boldly go" as Kirk did. I fear, however, that the world in which we live is far more apt to find individual skill and success a negative trait, and one that is beaten down at every step.

In education, children are drug down by their fellow pupils, by teachers that have to teach the same thing to everyone, for "equality" purposes. In sports, like the NFL, the word "parity" comes up as the key word for keeping things even. And while this is okay to keep dynasties from happening, it also creates the Lions and the Bengals. Man cannot reach his full potential when being pulled back by society that feels that "Equality" is preferable over "Success." And while we cheer for Kirk as he beats the Kobayashi Maru test, and find Spock irritable for playing the "status quo" part of that area, we are quick to criticize people who have become too successful in their fields. Why is it that, in Survivor and other Reality TV shows, often the most successful of any of the contestants are often voted off first, while those who are supremely mediocre win the major cash prizes? It should be the weak and corrupt that are voted off the island first.

J.J. Abrams has produced two movies (this and Cloverfield) which have shown the heroic efforts of individuals despite the drowning masses of society around them. No one on the transport (except Pike, of course) thought that Kirk would have succeeded in becoming an officer in 4 years, much less become Captain of the Enterprise. Of course, these are the stories that good movies tell. Everyone is going to support Rudy in his quest to play for Norte Dame, just as everyone hopes Harry Potter will find the Sorcerer's Stone and defeat Voldemort. It's what movies are. And maybe, just maybe, we can take a little from those heroes, and become a little more of those individuals ourselves.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I honestly don't know where to begin with this one. I've been putting it off for some time. I would go so far as to say I've been experiencing writer's block, all because I've wanted to write about this book, but felt so not up to doing so. It is simply one of the finest works of literature I have ever read. From the preface of the novel, Rand blasts the current condition of "throw-away" novels, books that are disposable and honestly forgettable. I've read many books such as this, and they are stacked on my bookshelves, as if they were some treasure to which I would gleam some future knowledge. She goes further to say that most books now lack the permanence of the 19th century Romantic novel. And this is exactly what I would compare The Fountainhead with. It brings the images of Frankenstein standing resolutely at the North Pole, or Friedrich's Traveler painting and thrusts them into the 20th century. In an earlier post, I talked about the conversation I had with Dr. Pepetone on whether Romanticism was inherently a Conservative movement or not. Of course, this was the beginnings of the thought processes that would turn Romanticism, with those bold characters that would shun society for individual values, to the Political idea of Libertarianism. And this is what Ayn Rand's books have been known for today, namely, being the cornerstone of Libertarian thought. I have wondered, since reading this amazing book, why it was never included in the courses I took on Romanticism and the Byronic hero, since Rourke is one of the best examples of that model in the 20th century. Further, Rourke brings the ideas of Capitalism and Anti-societal thought (marching to the beat of your own drum) together to show why Social Progressiveness is bringing about the downfall of human drive and magnificence. Only once, in the recent past, has society come together to achieve a goal that would truly be considered magnificent. The Moonshot that happened 40 years ago, landing man on the Moon. But I digress.

I want to talk about the book itself, not the philosophies behind it. Roarke, and Francone, and the other Protagonists are as finely constructed as the architecture that Roarke builds. In fact, for the most part, every character is molded and shaped as if by an artist skilled in her work like no other. I've never actually read descriptions of characters, as they are usually done poorly. But Rand paints visages that are unique and instantly form on the mind's eye. The descriptions of the settings are likewise, painted with words as eloquent and austere as a slash of a artist's brush would instantly create a world to explore. Each word is essential, every syllable needed to create the world that Roarke lives in. The buildings and even the natural settings become intricate characters in the story.

And the love story....ahhh.... it is the best romance (small r) novel I have read, with strength and passion, deception, banter, everything that a master romance novelist would need, except, in this case, you don't just donate it to Goodwill afterward, you keep it on your shelf and read it over and over. It is Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights written a century later, with the repressed passions and the flashes of desire and lust springing forth. It is truly a work that exalts the human spirit, and makes Pope's declaration of studying man all the more true, as the potential of what man can do on this Earth should shine as brightly now as ever before, and not sink into the mire of Reality Television and the uncaring world of people I see everyday. It's just not fair. People should be better than that. The Fountainhead is a love story about what it means to be human, to shine in all our glory, to the unlimitless potential that we have going forward.

I say this because after reading Rand's book, I saw Star Trek, and read Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe. Both deserve blogs in their own time, but suffice it to say that these examples of the unconquerable human spirit only compounds upon Rand's ideas of the individual soul as something that can do anything, from discovering the secrets of time and space itself, to solving the problems of this world without the help of corrupt politicians and unneeded regulations. The only disappointing thing is that there are too few individuals who truly act on those beliefs, and shine like a diamond in mounds of coal. And those that do are, as Rand has shown, are likely to be squashed by a society that only wants to pull those that achieve down into the mire, through the mechanisms that they have created to do so. It is when Othello's green monster becomes Godzilla, and lets no one escape the wrath of the multitudes.

But again, I have gotten off track. Read The Fountainhead for the shear exhilaration of the story line, and cheer on the architect Roarke and stand by him as he stands by his principles. Feel the strength of Roarke's physique, the firmness of Francone's stature, and read in sheer rapture as a wonderful love story is built, like a monument, out of the text. Even better, invest in the Audio Book of the story, as the narrator does a fabulous job in making each character come alive. And in this way, you won't miss a word by skimming, and believe me, you won't want to.