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Tron: Legacy

On a whim, I borrowed Tron: Legacy from our local library — did you know that public libraries are awesome streaming services in their own right? — and found myself so much more underwhelmed than I wanted to be (again). Tron: Legacy takes itself too seriously to be fun and there are parts that are too goofy (like the protagonist’s parkour and BASE jumping) for it to be taken seriously.

Which is a shame, because there’s a lot that I love about the movie (e.g., its stylish visuals and world-building, Daft Punk’s soundtrack, the highbrow concepts that are bandied about, Olivia Wilde’s haircut), but it never gels together as much as I desperately want it to.

Five Element Ninjas Screencap

‪I know there are concerns over how streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, et al. are affecting society (e.g., encouraging binge culture and an increasingly consumerist approach to entertainment and media). But I can now watch countless Shaw Brothers classics like Five Element Ninjas — aka Chinese Super Ninjas — at a moment’s notice, so maybe it’s worth it?

Film School Rejects recently interviewed special effects maestro Douglas Trumbull about creating the visuals for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the changing nature of the cinematic experience, and how epic visuals can tell a story in unique ways.

[T]his was something that I learned when I was working with Stanley Kubrick. During the production of 2001, Kubrick was realizing that he had this responsibility to create an epic experiential movie that would be about space, completely unusual, and take the B-movie sci-fi thing to a completely new and higher level of production quality. He realized that he wanted to change the cinematic language of having dialogue and reverse angles and over the shoulder shots and all the conventions of cinema. He said, ​“I’m going to take those out.” He started doing them and then realized how that would interfere with the ability of the audience to see it themselves and he didn’t really have to talk about it. If he did a good job visually, the Enterprise would speak for itself, and in 2001, the Star Gate would speak for itself.

No one in the film ever says, ​“Oh my God, it’s the Star Gate!” or ​“Look out!” or ​“Watch out!” or ​“Duck!” or whatever. There were none of the normal melodramatic cliches. Kubrick was trying to avoid them in 2001 and that carried with me and has carried with me ever since. So, when a movie comes along like Star Trek, I look for an opportunity for a sequence like that, where people stop talking and you can just enjoy the beauty and the music. That’s my very intentional way of going about making movies. Making them more immersive and less traditional or melodramatic.

He also tells some really cool behind-the-scenes stories from the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, from the legal issues surrounding the film to why he chose to rebuild the Enterprise when he came on-board the film.

Related: I recently rewatched Star Trek: The Motion Picture and posted some thoughts on its strengths and flaws.

Many years ago, I lamented the absence of Labradford, one of the great post-rock/drone bands who essentially disappeared after 2001’s Fixed​:​:​Context. But founding member Mark Nelson has continued making dense, evocative ambient music in the spirit of his former outfit as part of Anjou (a duo with former Labradford bassist Robert Donne) but more notably, with his long-standing solo project Pan•American.

A Son is the first Pan•American album in six years, and first single ​“Memphis Helena” is a sign of good things to come. As the song begins, Nelson’s languid guitar and lonesome lyrics (“I’m away from home and time/​We left it all behind”) conjure up driving through melancholy desert landscapes at sunset. But it takes on a Labradford-esque vibe as it progresses: Nelson adds ghostly drones that grow increasingly more urgent and ominous, leading to a dénouement that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on 1995’s A Stable Reference.

A Son will be released by Kranky Records on November 8 — click here to preorder.

I’ve been meaning to write something about the second season of Netflix’s twisty time-travel series Dark, but just haven’t found the time. (Ha!) So instead, I’ll just point you to Emily Todd VanDerWerff’s excellent piece on the show’s intricacies:

It is not a show that wants to prompt intense emotional responses in you or even a show that really wants you to understand it. It only works if you become obsessed with it and start charting out its many timelines, characters, and iterations. And don’t we all need something like that?

Filming for Darks third and final season began earlier this summer, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for some resolution of the show’s fascinatingly labyrinthine plot.

Jenny Hietbrink, Karen Choi, Nick Dahlquist

Most of the music I listen to — e.g., ambient, shoegaze, synthwave — is perfectly suited for being introverted, for drawing inward and living inside my head(phones). As such, it was refreshing to step outside last night and attend a house show, crammed into a living room with friends and strangers to watch a trio of excellent singer/​songwriters — Jenny Hietbrink, Karen Choi, and Nick Dahlquist — sing songs and tell stories.

It was a good reminder that a) some of my favorite musical experiences — midnight shows at the Cornerstone festival, my roommates and I hosting punk shows in our basement, playing concerts with my own band — were communal in nature, and b) that while I deeply enjoy the headphone experience of reducing the world to just me and an enjoyable album, music comes alive in a way unlike any other when it’s shared with others.

If you want a good introduction to the future funk that the kids are grooving to these days, then a good place to start is Neoncity Cruise, a newly released (and free) compilation by Hong Kong’s Neoncity Records. The future funk primer kicks off with a track by Macross 82 – 99 (arguably my favorite future funk producer), and also includes tracks by Android52, Future Girlfriend, and Tanuki (who gets bonus points for reworking Mariya Takeuchi’s ​“Plastic Love”).

As someone who really wants to visit the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park and is also very nostalgia-prone, I really appreciate Matt Poppe’s recent Christ and Pop Culture piece on his visit to Disney’s latest attraction:

It feels bigger than just avoiding boredom or seeking dopamine hits. It feels more consequential than escapism and fantasy. It’s an ache of longing that haunts me on my most faithless days, my most frenetic and insatiable days, when the ecstasies of nostalgia and unfettered immersion feel like they’re slipping away with each pulse of the cantina band beat, limited to just two drinks and forty-five minutes.

Pop culture, as delightful, immersive, and varied as it can be, can never truly satisfy our deepest desires. At best, it can make us aware that we have such longings — and remind us that ultimately, we must look beyond anything crafted by human hands for their fulfillment.

I was completely uninterested in the upcoming Mortal Kombat movie until I discovered that Tadanobu Asano is playing Raiden and Hiroyuki Sanada is playing Scorpion. You may recognize Sanada as the yakuza killed by Hawkeye/​Ronin Avengers: Endgame, but he’s also starred in The Wolverine, Lost, and played the lead in one of my favorite samurai movies, The Twilight Samurai. As for Asano, he’s one of Japan’s most well-known and respected actors, with roles in high profile movies (e.g., Thor: Ragnarok) as well as smaller indie/​cult films (e.g., Vital, Café Lumière, Last Life in the Universe). Via

There’s much that I want to quote from Matthew Lee Anderson’s survey of pornography’s pernicious and destructive influence on our culture, but I’ll just settle for this:

But it is the orgasms of the audience — not the performers — that make pornographers money. The man who watches pornography is himself the product: it is his pleasure that the industry aims at, his satisfaction that matters most of all. The women and men who perform before an audience become objects of their audience’s gratification; but the bitter, brutal irony of the pornography industry is that by aiming at such pleasure the audience objectifies itself by becoming a product in a commercial transaction. Porn degrades everyone involved in it, but its customers most of all — for they are the unwitting dupes who do not realize the game that is being played against them.

And then there’s this follow-up by Alan Noble: ​“In so many ways pornography epitomizes the sickness of our age. It combines radical individualism, consumption, technique, industrialization, commodification, choice, disembodiment, hyperreality, disposability, violence, exponential growth of data, unrestrained technology.”

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