We revisited the Earth Day festival today, the largest in the Midwest. Crystal blue skies and a wee bit more warmth successfully brought the throngs out. We bicycled today, which was a good thing, because parking would have been impossible. There was such a long line of bikes waiting to cross Skinker and enter the park that we had to go with the flow and run the red, just to make that light cycle. I’m sure that played well with the endless line of cars that were backed up all along Skinker, but they weren’t going anywhere anyway, at least anytime soon. I’m seen here sporting the latest fashion in bike lids, a waxing crescent moon helmet. If I turn my head and give you the other profile then you can see the waning crescent. Creator Lynn Herzberger fitted it and snapped the photo. It was tough to balance it on top of my head. He was supporting ISDC 2017, the International Space Development Conference, which occurs next month, here in Saint Louis. As part of their promotional effort they were touting Saint Louis engineering firsts: The Eads Bridge – First bridge across the Mississippi; The Spirit of Saint Louis – First nonstop transatlantic flight; Fabrication of the Mercury space capsules – First US manned spaceship. I’m not sure how much all of this has to do with Earth Day, but it was a lot of fun posing as a moon man and it has to be more relevant than rain gutters and replacement windows.
On New Year’s Eve, Anne, Joanie and I storm-trooped up to the Esquire to see the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One. I liked it and recommend that you go see it. If you haven’t though, beware! Because matey, there be spoilers down below.
Anne wasn’t quite as enamored of this latest offering as I and felt that it wasn’t as good as the original Star Wars, later retitled A New Hope or Episode IV in the vernacular. I cannot disagree with her in that. None of the subsequent movies have been as good as the original and many of them have been awful. Yeah, yeah, I know The Empire Strikes Back is generally considered to be the pinnacle of the Star Wars universe, but is also just a sequel. Nothing can match the jaw dropping surprise that I experienced watching that first movie in 1977. Once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it and it changed cinema forever.
Rogue One is kind of a one-off from the usual Star Wars fare. Since, none of its principles will likely reappear in subsequent shows. To place this movie in the Star Wars universe, you might call it Episode 3.5. It is a prequel to the original movie and sets up that drama by giving us the back story on that show’s McGuffin, the battle plans to the Death Star. It also departs from the usual formula in that it emphasizes the war aspect of Star Wars more than any other film in the series. The director chose as inspiration for this movie the battle scene on Hoth in Empire. That scene lasted only a few minutes, while in this movie the fighting goes on and on. After a while this film’s frenetic pacing becomes a little tiring. All of its violence also earned Rogue a PG-13 rating, which make it another outlier.
What I really liked about this movie was all of its Easter eggs. They really tied the movie into the rest of the franchise. In this category I also include the more than a few actors that appear in this movie, but didn’t really perform for it. Peter Cushing, who has been dead for twenty years is the most obvious, but Carrie Fisher reappearing in her New Hope guise was certainly the most touching. The recycling of these actors’ images has raised new questions of copyright law.
Around the corner from our house there appears to be our own little local Star Wars going on. In the front yard of this building are two inflatable Xmas ornaments, Yoda and Darth Vader. Both have a seasonal motif going. Yoda is wearing a Santa’s suit and Darth has wrapped presents. Both are also wielding light sabers. Also in the front yard are two yard signs. One sign says, “We Support Our Officers”, while the other sign says, “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season”. The only way that I have been able to reconcile the dichotomy of all of these displays is the fact that the property is a duplex. Happy New Year!
Early this morning, Dan laced up his combat boots (Really, he just slipped on his loafers.) and then put on his best Snake Plissken game face (Kurt Russell played Snake in the 1981 John Carpenter Sci-Fi flick, Escape from New York, which was filmed here in Saint Louis.) and then headed out into the gathering storm that was called Decima. Decima, the Roman fate charged with measuring a man’s lifespan. Decima with her rod would measure with thread the years a man stood on this earth, while she and her two sister fates wove that man’s fate into the tapestry that was life. Decima made a worthy adversary for Snake, I mean Dan, because Dan would spend much of this day measuring his time on this earth. Counting the seconds, minutes and even hours that he would expend from his precious life, while waiting on her.
He would wait for his scheduled departure time, then he would wait for the airplane to be repaired and then de-iced again (Cruel, Decima!). Finally, airborne not unlike a sprite, he streaks south towards Charlotte, where he barely makes his rescheduled connection. Then quickly launching himself again into the either, he lands late, in the cold and dark at the doorstep of his home town, the Loo. Decima has erected one more obstacle for our hero. Some errant ramp crewman had allowed Decima to sneak-in and freeze the sky way shut. More time passes, our hero seethes and his iPhone battery dies from all of the strain, but finally Dan is allowed into the bosom of his family. The old man navigates the icy overpasses and delivers Snake/Dan safely home.
Decima may be done with him now, but our hero is not done with her. In fact, he is only just beginning. Once he has accumulated enough energy to power up his still plugged-in iPhone, he activates that little NSA app that he bought after much dithering about whether or not to spring for its $0.99 cost. He punches in Decima’s name and is quickly rewarded with the knowledge that she is now laying-low, with her sisters, on some little Greek island, under the alias, Lachesis. The NSA app found it child’s play to find her by tracing her JoAnn Fabrics account. Such is our hero’s fury with the day’s events that he there and then decides to fork out an additional $0.99 for the special CIA upgrade.
This upgrade entitles him the one-time use of the super-duper secret government satellite called the Death Star. While, the Death Star is a technological marvel of a killing machine, the government’s lack of creativity in naming it, really grates on Dan’s artistic sensibilities. Dan decides to internalize his rage at this and focus it into ‘his’ little project here. It is another sunny day on that nameless Greek island and the fates have moved their meddling tapestry work outdoors into their atrium. With a superhuman deftness, honed by countless hours of video gaming, Dan lays the Death Star’s crosshairs over three particularly long threads. ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! The three fates evaporate and with them their capricious reign over humanity. Dan feels that he should have more to show for his effort, than just his own satisfaction. A little thankfulness from all mankind would be nice or at least $1.98.
Last night, we got to hear the actor and activist George Takei speak at the Touhill. Mr. Takei first came to prominence in the sixties through his role on the TV series Star Trek. He played the character Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu. As Takei explained, Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek creator, had a social agenda when he created Star Trek. Through the allegory of science fiction, Roddenberry wanted to discuss the real-world social issues that then were considered too controversial for television. Roddenberry envisioned the starship Enterprise as a surrogate for the planet Earth and its crew, all mankind. Among the crew were representatives from around world. Scotty was Europe, Chekov the communists, Uhura Africa and Sulu Asia. He chuckled at his pairing, since he had grown up in LA and only looked Asian.
Takei was five-years-old, living in LA, when in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor he, his family and 100,000 other Japanese-Americans were rounded up at gunpoint and sent east to be interned in concentration camps. He spent the remainder of the war, growing up behind barbwire in southern Arkansas. After the war, penniless, his family returned to LA, but then could only afford to live on Skid Row. With some bitterness, he recalled the smell of urine there, but then you could see chest swell with pride when he related that within just a few years the family was able to move to a house on Wilshire Blvd.
As an activist, George Takei is most famous for his involvement in the Gay Rights movement. To protect his acting career, he remained closeted for a long time. He dated girls in high school, but on double dates he was more interested in the other guy than either of the girls. He credited his ability to act for getting elected class president and making it through high school. When he did come out, he became very active in the LGTBQ community and his acting fame gave him an effective soapbox to champion the cause. In the Q&A afterwards, he introduced his life partner, his hubby, who was in the audience.
His talk was nice, but his performance during the Q&A was amazing. This week’s elections were an undercurrent throughout the evening that bubbled to the surface then. One questioner asked Takei for his thoughts about certain cavalier campaign comments on the use of nuclear weapons. He responded with some personal history. Before Pearl Harbor, but sensing the inevitability of war, his grandparents, his mother’s parents and her younger sister, his aunt, moved back to Japan. They were in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. His grandparents were spared by an intervening hill, but his aunt and her young child, a cousin that he never met, perished in the flames. To everybody’s underlying concerns, he offered some perspective. FDR is now considered to be one of our great leaders, but his internment order was awful. Our people’s democracy is a messy thing. It often leads to two-steps backwards for every step forward. Work for what you believe in and then, live long and prosper.
I can’t bring myself to discuss the elephant in the room tonight, so I’ll just change the subject. On Monday night, Election Day eve, sort of speak, Joanie and I went to see the new science fiction movie “Arrival”. Anne was too caught up in her Election Judge responsibilities to accompany us. This was another one of those sneak peek opportunities from Science on Tap, like “The Space Between Us”, which we had seen the week before. Unlike that movie, “Arrival” was really good and I highly recommend it. It is currently batting 98% on the old Tomato-meter. The movie stars Amy Adams, who is terrific, as Dr. Louise Banks, a world-renowned linguist and costars Jeremy Renner as her partner, physicist Ian Donnelly and Forest Whitaker as head honcho Colonel Weber. Adams look like a likely Oscar nominee for best actress for her subtle, understated performance.
Twelve UFOs appear around the world and Louise and Ian are tasked to make contact with the one hovering over Montana. Stylishly attired in orange hazmat suits the pair enter the UFO via a scissors-lift, where they meet the octopus like aliens. Deciding that talking to them would be too difficult, whiteboard in hand, Louise resorts to the written word. The aliens respond with their own inkjet squirted script, which resembles a cross between beer glass water rings and a Rorschach test. The dynamic duo is then off to the races. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is going crazy. Around the world, we are left with a horserace. Will Louise and Ian figure out why the aliens came to Earth, before Earth declares war on them? The movie is way more cerebral than my little tongue-in-cheek synopsis does it justice. “Arrival” is the kind of meaty science fiction that really makes you think and still think well of your race.
Last night, we went to see a sneak peek of a new science fiction movie, “The Space Between Us”. It is scheduled to open next month. Anne, Joanie and I had scored tickets to this advanced screening last week through Science on Tap. “The Space Between Us” is an endearing if somewhat silly teen romantic comedy, think “The Martian” lite. The story begins as a mission to colonize Mars launches. Enroute it is discovered that the female mission commander is pregnant. Arriving on Mars, she successfully delivers a perfectly healthy baby boy and then promptly dies from mysterious childbirth complications, which a team of doctors are helpless to prevent. How convenient. In a cover-up, the child’s existence is kept secret. Flash forward sixteen years and Gardner is now a gangly teenager. He has only met fourteen people in his life, all NASA scientists working on Mars, but he has managed to make chatroom contact with one person on Earth, a girl his age named Tulsa. Any guess on where this story is going? In an uncharacteristic show of empathy, the powers that be, played by Gary Oldman, decide to bring Gardner back to Earth, but still secretly. Gardner soon escapes, meets Tulsa and together they set off in search of Gardner’s father or boy from Mars meets Earth girl and then breaks his heart.
Because these sneak previews are shown weeks before release the movie producers are really anxious about piracy. The audience is always admonished never to use any personal electronic devices during the screening, for fear that someone might record the film. In the past at these events, we’ve been threaten with surveillance from night vision goggles. At last night’s showing, they must have forgotten to bring their goggles, because they left the house lights on for the first part of the movie. Sometimes dimming them and then sometimes turning them back up. It was highly annoying. They finally gave that up only after the audience started to boo them.
Gardner is his surreptitious earthbound peregrinations would routinely ask strangers that he met, “What do you like most about Earth?” Before he meets Tulsa, he decides on rain for himself. Somewhere during the third reel the predicted line of thunderstorms came crashing through town. The heavy rain on the roof was quite audible. The movie ended after the initial storms had passed, but a steady rain followed us all the way home. We needed the rain, but it was a dark and stormy night… Oh, and the Cubs finally (108 years), finally (rain delay), finally (extra innings) won the World Series again!