Category Archives: Film

A Story of Friendship: Star Trek

As young children, my older brother and I watched the original Star Trek series on Saturday mornings.  We weren’t big TV watchers as a family, but Star Trek was special.  To make it even better, it was the local PBS that aired Star Trek, presenting it free of all commercials.  

Every Saturday, Todd and I awoke very early and watched the rerun for that week.  This would have been around 1975, almost a decade after the show first aired.  After each episode, Todd and I would talk, always mesmerized by the possibilities of space, life, and a billion other things.  How much of the galaxy had this crew explored?  Were they the modern Lewis & Clark?  What happened when someone transported from one place to another?  How smart were the computers?  Were the Klingons the Soviets and the Romulans the Chinese?  Or, maybe the other way around?  Why did we only see the military aspects of Starfleet?  What about the colonists, the pioneers?  How did time travel work?  If the Enterprise found itself sent back to Earth, why did it happen to arrive the same year the show was being filmed.

Pretty serious stuff for an eight year old sitting with his much admired thirteen year old brother.  

I had no idea at the time, but the show’s founder and creator, Gene Roddenberry had actually described Star Trek as a “wagon train to the stars” when he first shopped it to studios.  It would be set, though, on the space equivalent of an aircraft carrier, a mobile community as diverse as Gunsmoke’s Dodge City, he continued in his show treatment.  The crew, roughly 203 of them, would be as diverse as possible, asserting that racial prejudice and ethnic strife would be things of the past in the non-specified time of Star Trek.  Only later did the show writers decide it took place in the 2260s.  From its beginning, however, Roddenberry’s Star Trek represented a brash Kennedy-esque liberalism, a confidence that America could teach the world the principles of civilization, tolerance, and dignity.  [Sources: Whitfield and Roddenberry, THE MAKING OF STAR TREK (1968); and Paul Cantor, Gilligan Unbound (2003) and The Invisible Hand of Popular Culture (2012)]

[Please continue reading on page 2]

Rocketman Reaches the Stars

Rocketman

The Elton John biopic, Rocketman, opened this weekend, and it is an amazing film. From 1970 through 1976, his music was inescapable on radio: AM top 40 radio was saturated with Elton songs, and FM progressive rock stations played his deeper album cuts. For several years, Elton John was the biggest musical star on the planet.

So it makes sense, given the success of the recent Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to give Sir John the same treatment. However, Rocketman is a far more successful film. It begins with Elton stomping down the hallway of a rehab center in an outrageous devil costume with horns and wings. He bursts into a group therapy session, confesses his many sins, and begins talking about his life. As he opens up more and more about his childhood and early career, he gradually removes various parts of his costume, until he eventually looks like everyone else in the group.

What makes Rocketman such a memorable experience is director Dexter Fletcher’s decision to make this a musical, and not a documentary. His willingness to play loose with the chronological sequence of John’s hits, and let them serve the overall narrative of his life may annoy some fans, but it works. Throughout the movie, there are surrealistic sequences of singing and dancing that are wonderfully entertaining.

For example, a very young Reg Dwight (Elton’s real name) is asked to play a song in the local pub. He begins playing piano tentatively, but at the urging of his family quickly rips into “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. The walls of the pub recede, and an young Elton – several years older – is running through a carnival belting out the lyrics while followed by a troupe of choreographed dancers. It’s a thrilling moment that drives home his promise and talent.

Another highlight is the moment when he and lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin first meet and agree to work together. As Elton tries out the first few chords of “Your Song” while peering at Bernie’s handwritten lyrics, the audience is swept up into the excitement of their discovery that they are going to be huge.

No rock biopic would be complete without the star’s obligatory descent into drugs and paranoia, and Rocketman pulls no punches. As he gets bigger and bigger, and more and more people depend on his touring to fuel their greed, he gradually succumbs to every temptation given him. And this is where Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton deserves praise: his vocals are extraordinary, and his portrayal of Elton’s slow descent into drug and alcohol-fueled madness is harrowing. He truly deserves an Oscar for his work.

Of course, Elton’s sexual preferences are no secret, and they are an integral part of the story from the beginning. There are some love scenes that, quite frankly, would never have made it to the screen a few years ago. That said, everything in the movie is there for a reason, and nothing is gratuitous. His brief marriage to Renate is covered sympathetically, and his brotherly bond with Bernie is a constant source of strength and stability throughout the turmoil of his career.

The final scenes where Elton confronts his demons, both chemical and familial, are uplifting and satisfying. If you grew up in the 1970s as I did, or you are simply a fan of Elton, Rocketman is a fitting tribute to one of the most talented composers and performers of our lifetime.

Forthcoming: Angelico Book on Christian Humanism

I’m very excited to announce that I have a forthcoming book (sometime this fall) from Angelico Press.


BEYOND TENEBRAE: Christian Humanism IN THE TWILIGHT OF THE WEST.


(initial) table of contents if you’re interested:
PrefaceIntroduction: Beyond Tenebrae

Section I: Conserving Christian Humanism• Humanism: A Primer• Humanism: The Corruption of a Word• The Conservative Mind• Burke and Tocqueville• What to Conserve?• Conserving Humanism
Section II: Personalities and Groups• T.E. Hulme: First Conservative of the Twentieth Century• Irving Babbitt’s Longings• Irving Babbitt and the Buddha• The Christian Humanism of Paul Elmer More• The Order Men• Willa Cather• Canon B.I. Bell• The Conversion of Christopher Dawson• Christopher Dawson and the Liberal Arts• The Gray Eminence of Christopher Dawson• Nicholas Berdyaev’s Unorthodoxy• Theodor Haecker: Man of the West• The Inklings• Two Tolkiens, Not One• Sister Madeleva Wolff• Peacenik Prophet: Russell Kirk• St Russell of Mecosta• Eric Voegelin• Eric Voegelin’s Gnosticism• Eric Voegelin’s Order• Flannery O’Connor• Clyde Kilby• Friedrich Hayek’s Intellectual Lineage• Ray Bradbury at His End• Shirley Jackson’s Haunting• Wendelin E Basgall• Julitta Kuhn Basgall• Ronald Reagan’s Ten Words• The Optimism of Ronald Reagan• Walter Miller’s Augustinian Wasteland• Alexander Solzhenitsyn as Prophet• The Ferocity of Marvin O’Connell• The Good Humor of Ralph McInerny• The Beautiful Mess that is Margaret Atwood; Conclusion: Confusions and Hope

Libertarian Transformers

For some reason people gasp when I mention the dominant Libertarian themes in Transformers 4 : Age of Extinction. Buried beneath inane comedy and not so sleek Budweiser advertisements are some stunning Hayekian/Misesian ideas. Contrasting to the first three Transformers movies, Age of Extrinction refuses to glamorize military. Instead of Marines fighting evil aliens in Middle-East, we have CIA black ops oppressing a Texan inventor. From Cade Yeager (played by Mark Wahlberg) emphasizing to the black cloaked agents to get off his property, to ignorant bureaucrat Harold Attinger (played by Kelsey Grammer) destabilizing planet with his foreign policy, Michael Bay’s U-Turn on politics is evident.

Govt propping up bad guys in an alien war, or private firms profiting from war, or having an elected US President become subservient to career bureaucrats – this movie cuts close to reality. How a private weapons manufacturer, Joshua Joyce (played by Stanley Tucci), changes his mind when confronted with reality. But, a bureaucrat constantly refusing to confront his own folly is worth noting. Hollywood illustrating how private sector can get corrupted by govt incentives is not so common. Not to mention, Kelsey Grammer comforting the US President by claiming the all-powerful alien bounty hunter as his “asset”, a genuine black comedy moment!

An individualistic inventor honestly trying to stabilize the world, while govt busy-bodies propping up chaos, sounds like the movie appeals to all our civilized human instincts. Café intellectuals might disagree, but Hollywood is among the best Western institutions, they spread liberal ideas across the globe. Niall Fergurson’s interesting work ‘The West and the Rest’ quite aptly quotes the French philosopher Régis Debray — “more power in blue jeans and rock and roll than the entire Red Army”.

 

Bjoern Kommerell [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Brilliant and Profoundly Catholic Daredevil | The American Conservative

True to superhero convention, Murdock did not merely lose his sight. He unwittingly traded his normal eyesight for finely honed perceptions in his four remaining senses as well as superior resistance to pain and heightened acrobatic agility. When asked if he “sees,” he replies, and I’m paraphrasing, “somewhat but as though the world is on fire.” When the viewer gets a brief glimpse of what Murdock “sees,” we immediately recognize a medieval vision of the angelic, the sainted, and the holy. Halos appear everywhere.
— Read on www.theamericanconservative.com/birzer/the-brilliant-and-profoundly-catholic-daredevil/

Dedra and I just watched all three seasons plus the eight-episodes of The Defenders. As I’ve mentioned before, Daredevil is the single best thing on screen, big or small, and I just can’t–for the life of me–understand why Netflix cancelled it. It seems–and I don’t mean to be conspiratorial–that it must have been too Catholic for the moneymakers at Netflix. Maybe? Regardless, watch it. So stunning. Jeph Loeb has been a favorite writer of mine for a long, long time, and Charlie Cox is just stunning.

Save Daredevil!

Netflix Will Keep ‘Friends’ Through Next Year in a $100 Million Agreement – The New York Times

Netflix cancels Daredevil, the most thoughtful and heroic show of the last decade, but spends $100 million to stream reruns of a brain dead, amoral, insipid sitcom. What a commentary on the state of modern culture.

The streaming service and AT&T struck an agreement that raises the yearly licensing fee for the show by more than three times.
— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/12/04/business/media/netflix-friends.html