Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DVD Review - Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’ll start with a spoiler: Star Trek: Into Darkness is a remake of 1982’s The Wrath of Khan.

Comparing the two films is a case study in how computer graphics have ruined movies: they encourage the filmmaker to let cool space battles carry a film, as if that could compensate for weak plots, childish characters, and insipid dialog.

Star Trek:Into Darkness
Photo source: IMDB
The plots of both movies revolve around the conflict between starship captain James T. Kirk and the genetically-enhanced, power-mad Khan Noonien Singh. In The Wrath of Khan, before the proliferation of computer-generated special effects, this conflict had depth to it. Khan had met Kirk before – in the Original Series episode “Space Seed” – and had been defeated. This pre-existing condition ensured that, to employ a tagline from another movie of that era, this time it’s personal.

By contrast, in the remake, they had never met until well into the film. For Khan, Kirk is just someone he can conveniently use and discard. As for Kirk’s feelings towards Khan, they consist of childishly lashing out, as he lashes out at everyone who disagrees with him.

We see that in the opening scenes, in which Kirk rescues Spock from a volcano on an alien world. Unfortunately, he exposes the Enterprise to the natives in the process and thereby contaminates their culture.

This violates Starfleet’s Prime Directive against interfering with the natural evolution of primitive peoples. Now when I was in the defense industry they told me there’s a difference between a crime and a mistake, but the surest way to turn a mistake into a crime is to try to cover it up. Apparently they don’t teach that at Starfleet Academy. Kirk compounds his error by lying about what happened. Alas the cover-up collapses when Spock puts the truth in a report, explaining to Kirk afterward “I incorrectly assumed that you would be truthful in your captain's log.” Kirk gets all pissy about that. He accuses Spock of “throwing him under the bus,” (Do 23rd Century people with transporter technology know what a bus is?). For good measure, he subjects Spock to an anti-Vulcan slur, “pointy”. So basically Kirk is a dick. When an admiral warns him, “You think the rules don't apply to you…you're going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed,” you can bet that by the end of the movie a valuable lesson will be learned. And sure enough, a valuable lesson is learned – by Spock. Kirk just goes on being a dick.

As in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Starfleet is mind-numbingly stupid. After a records facility is attacked, the entire senior staff meets to batten down the hatches and plan their response. They hold this meeting in a conference room reminiscent of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, except that it’s on an upper floor of a skyscraper and has a row of picture windows. Not very secret, but convenient for anyone who has an armed shuttlecraft and the inclination to carry out a decapitating strike against Starfleet.

The dialog features an occasional good one-liner from Dr. McCoy (“Don't agree with me, Spock, it makes me very uncomfortable”), but is otherwise forgettable. 2013 Khan’s stiffly-uttered threats (“I will have no choice but to kill you and your entire crew”) pale in comparison to 1982 Khan’s impassioned space-age update of Moby Dick: “He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round perdition's flames before I give him up!”

But don’t worry; there are plenty of special effects to distract you from these flaws. With a $190 million budget, they’re pretty amazing. At least I think they’re amazing. Most of the action sequences were dimly lit and I couldn’t see them very well. Apparently the subtitle Into Darkness refers to the ambient lighting.

The set for the Enterprise’s warp core was particularly impressive: warp core scenes were filmed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF). Since the $4 billion of government funds spent on the nuclear fusion facility haven’t actually led to any ignition, it’s nice that the taxpayers at least got a movie out of it.

There are two saving graces. First, Alice Eve, who plays Dr. Carol Marcus has a stunningly beautiful body which we get a look at during a completely gratuitous underwear scene (the best kind). Second, in an obvious allusion to Obama’s drone-strike policy, Spock questions an order to assassinate Khan by remote control, without benefit of trial. In light of Hollywood’s usual slavish obsequiousness towards the Obama administration, the writers deserve some credit for their independence. Assuming they didn’t think it was Bush they were attacking.

In any case, if you’re going to spend a couple hours watching a Star Trek movie, I recommend you stick with the original Wrath of Khan. It’s on Netflix Streaming and there’s a reason it’s a classic.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about espionage and hospital gowns. Available at Amazon.com

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's too early for the holidays!

Christmas Display
Photo Source: bu.edu

Still a week before Thanksgiving, but thanks to Hanukkah earliness, I have to start my holiday shopping while there are still leaves on the trees. I confess I find it hard to get into the spirit, in spite of the relentlessly cheerful Christmas songs being piped into the mall via the public address system.

The giant tree ornaments are hung from the ceiling, but probably without much care. I’m certain they were incompetently installed and will fall on some unfortunate shopper, crushing him to death. Not me, of course, because I’m careful not to walk under them. It might look a little weird, edging along the sides of the corridors, but I’m determined to survive the mall. Which I’m sure won’t be the case for some of those other shoppers, recklessly walking down the middle of the aisles, completely oblivious to imminent gold-painted death from above. And it might not be an easy death by squashing either. Some of those ornaments are snowflake-shaped - or maybe they're supposed to be stars; impaley death is a real possibility.

On the plus side, this early in the season there’s no line to wait for Santa. I told him what I wanted for Christmas, but he said he doesn’t do assassinations. Excuse me, Mr. Kringle, but I’ve been good all year. I know you’re aware of that, what with the seeing when I’m sleeping, and the knowing when I’m awake. You’re like the frigging NSA. Don’t try to deny it, it’s all in the song which they’re playing on the PA system for the tenth time today. So it seems to me that I’ve earned one little assassination. It’s not like I want something unreasonable, like keeping my health insurance policy. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, either. Just wait for the target to come to the mall and drop a giant ornament on his head.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com

Friday, April 5, 2013

Enviroreductio ad Absurdam

Book Review: Envirotopia

Walking. Boredom. Hunger. That’s the life of Eugene Ward, protagonist of Envirotopia.

Envirotopia by Kyle Becker In a hugely entertaining novel, American Thinker contributor Kyle Nathaniel Alfred Becker portrays a grim future which projects the ideology of the environmental movement to its logical conclusion. “Eugene Ward was a member of a group,” the book begins. “Group 3124, as a matter of fact, which was unbeknownst to him. What he did know was that he had been wandering in the wilderness for as long as he could remember.”
Eugene knew nothing of how he came to be in the group, of the technologies that had once existed on earth, or where the new socks that occasionally seemed to appear in his knapsack came from. He only knew that a false step on a mountain trail meant death and any infraction of the group’s rules meant harsh punishment at the hand’s of the shaman Logan and his guardians.

But there’s something different about Eugene. When he’s caught giving some blueberries to a starving mother and her child instead of turning the berries over to the group, he refuses to accept his punishment. Instead he challenges Logan’s authority. This rebellion leads him on a path to discover that neither the world – nor his place in it – are what they seem.

Becker’s writing is beautiful. His descriptions of nature are lush and vivid, and the ECO-NOW Council, which monitors Eugene's every move, is staffed by unique and colorful characters.

But this is also a novel of ideas. Becker offers keen insight into the philosophy underlying environmentalism and is adept at weaving it into his story without being preachy. In particular, he understands that environmentalism is not merely an attack on technology. It’s also an attack on individualism and rationality – and environmentalists must wipe those things out in order to achieve their goals.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Save the Massachusetts GOP

This afternoon I joined Republican politicians, activists, and journalists for a forum on “How to Save the Massachusetts GOP,” with host, The Natural Truth’s Michael Graham.

The webpage for the event explains that, “If Massachusetts is going to have a viable two-party system, then the Republican Party needs a statewide strategy for attracting more voters and expanding the party’s overall appeal. Hunting for a ‘magic bullet’ candidate who can win despite being a Republican simply isn’t enough.

“The goal of this symposium is to get candidates, activists, campaign professionals and regular Republican voters together to talk about strategies for the party as a whole and help all GOP candidates become more competitive in 2014.”

Some of the key points:

  • Several speakers pointed out that the Massachusetts GOP is winning in the suburbs and losing in the cities. Need to go after the latter. Chase 100% of the vote.
  • Christine Morabito of Greater Boston Tea Party urged Republicans to end the circular firing squad.
  • Former state auditor candidate Mary Connaughton advised picking winning issues where Republicans can show people how their lives can be better, such as education.
  • Several speakers urged that Republicans stop allowing the Democrats to define the Republican brand. It’s all very well and good to say we’ll focus on economic issues and stay away from social ones, but the Democrats will bring up the social ones anyway and the media will report it. The Young Republicans’ Katie Regan put it best: "We're losing the war because the Republican candidates are not able to reframe the argument in the media." Holly Robichaud of the Boston Herald advised that when the Democrats bring up issues that we don’t want to talk about, hit them back hard enough that they’ll never want to do it again. Turn it back on them by pointing out their own extreme views.
  • The young people who are the future of the party are more libertarian than conservative and were inspired to join the GOP by Ron Paul.
  • Best line of the afternoon: Michael Graham welcomes trackers from the Democrat Party, but warns them, "No pot. This is not a medical marijuana facility."

    Here are a few pix:

    The event was held at the F1 Boston Formula One Track and Conference Center.

    MA GOP Forum

    Does anyone else think this looks like the set from You Only Live Twice?

    MA GOP Forum

    Obligatory audience applause shot.

    MA GOP Forum

    MA GOP Forum

    MA GOP Forum

    MA GOP Forum

    MA GOP Forum

    MA GOP Forum

    US Senate candidate Michael Sullivan works for my vote (I stole this photo from John LaRosa’s Twitter feed. Thanks, John.)

    MA GOP Forum

    I told Mr. Sullivan I was interested in one thing from my next senator: smaller government. He replied that he would do three things to make that happen: 1) Across the board cuts on discretionary spending. 2) Targets for future spending growth less than the inflation rate. 3) Additional cuts by attrition.

    Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com

  • Friday, March 29, 2013

    James Bond meets Ludwig von Mises

    Silver Circle: An action movie about monetary policy

    The first rule for writing good political fiction is that the message is secondary. The writer’s first priority should be to tell a good story. Silver Circle, the new animated thriller about out-of-control government, delivers.

    The story begins with an entire neighborhood being forced out of their homes and herded onto buses. The scene reminded me of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. As in that dark chapter in American history, the government is the villain. In this case the evictions are orchestrated by the Federal Reserve Bank, in an ill-conceived (and perhaps disingenuous) effort to stabilize housing prices. But when eleven of the houses are subsequently blown up, the Fed sends agent Jay Nelson to investigate. Nelson is challenged by ambushes, car chases, hostile police, and some hot sex, before his inquiries lead to a group of rebels fighting against the growing power of the Fed. Jay had never been political, but as he learns that “when they control the money, they control everything,” he must confront his preconceptions about his employer and make up his mind which side he’s on.

    After the screening (which was sold out, BTW. I got the third to last ticket) I joined some of the cast and crew at Tommy Doyle’s in Cambridge. I had an opportunity to tell producer/director Pasha Roberts how well-done the story was - especially one sad scene where a sympathetic character was headed to his death. Although the entire audience could see it coming, they couldn't look away - the film managed to keep it dramatic and suspenseful.

    Roberts and I also talked about the film’s message; he told me that he realizes the Fed doesn’t have the sort of power today that is depicted in Silver Circle’s dystopian future, but he wanted to warn about the power that it does have – in particular the power to print money, a power which robs the savings of ordinary Americans through inflation. This message is threaded throughout the film (as you can see in the trailer, gas prices are up to $152/gallon), and indeed Silver Circle takes its name from the silver coins that the rebels mint as alternative money that holds its value.

    More generally, the film is about what kind of country we want to live in: a free America, where we’re responsible for our own lives, or one where we trade our freedom for government promises of security. Silver Circle reminds us that those promises hold their value no better than a Federal Reserve note.

    The only criticism I have of the movie is that the animation is just ok. One person I talked to at the party thought it looked a little like a video game. The flip side is that I’m sure the availability of low-cost computer animation tools is what made it possible for an indie filmmaker to end run the liberals in Hollywood and make a liberty action film on a shoestring budget. In any case, I don’t think the audience cared: they were too caught up in the story. The applause that accompanied the closing credits was more than just polite.

    Silver Circle is playing in limited engagement. You can find venues and show times at www.silvercirclemovie.com.

    Also, check out my gallery from the after party:

    Silver Circle After Party

    Silver Circle After Party

    Kristen Alpert sets some folks straight.

    Silver Circle After Party

    Silver Circle After Party

    Silver Circle After Party

    Silver Circle After Party

    Carla Mora gets another commitment for the Free State Project.

    Silver Circle After Party

    Pasha Roberts talks to a fan.

    Silver Circle After Party

    Silver Circle After Party

    Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    Third Annual Lights ON for Earth Hour

    Earth Hour is a global movement uniting people to protect the planet. Towards the end of March every year, Earth Hour brings together communities from across the world celebrating a commitment to the planet by switching off lights for one designated hour…Earth Hour 2013 will be held on Saturday 23 March between 8.30PM and 9.30PM in your local time zone.
          - www.earthhour.org

    You are cordially invited to a different celebration. At 8:30 PM on Saturday, turn on every lamp in your house to celebrate the beauty and utility of electric lighting.


    Casa Isenberg lit up for Earth Hour 2010

    The harnessing of electricity is a magnificent achievement and should be celebrated. The nighttime American cityscape inspired artists like Robert Hoppe, filmmakers like Woody Allen, and refugees like Ayn Rand, who wrote of her arrival in New York after years of starvation, poverty, and repression in Soviet Russia, “seeing the first lighted skyscrapers – it was snowing, very faintly, and I think I began to cry.” To plunge iconic buildings and landmarks, buildings that have had that kind of effect on people, to plunge them into darkness is shameful indeed.

    But also, turn on your lights to express skepticism about the global warming theory. The Earth Hour website describes the event as “born out of a hope that we could mobilize people to take action on climate change”. But as I’ve written elsewhere, although the rise in global temperatures is well-established, there is evidence it is a natural phenomenon, unrelated to the electric light bulb. There’s good reason to question the sort of action the organizers of Earth Hour are calling for.

    Finally, turn on your lights to protest the Big Government agenda. Republican gains in the 2010 elections may have killed the prospects for Cap and Trade legislation for now. But the Obama administration is persisting in its efforts to tax and regulate nearly every productive activity by executive order. In a 2011 interview with Audobon magazine, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “There’s clearly a need for the EPA to continue doing what it said it would do, which is to use the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution and to recognize that progress is possible. We can make strides along with other agencies or departments on the executive side, even in the absence of legislation.” Show your opposition to this end run around the people’s representatives in Congress.

    BTW, I’d like to create an album of homes lit up for Earth Hour. If you get a pic and are willing to share, please send it to me at Michael_Isenberg@MonteferroPress.com

    Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about hospital gowns, freedom, and the silliness of the environmental movement. Check it out on Amazon.com

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Obama is not Satan

    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Photo source: VH-1

    The hashtag #ObamaIsNotSatan exploded on Twitter this week, thanks to the accidental(?) resemblance between Barack Obama and the actor who played Satan on the History Channel series The Bible. Folks on the right side of the political divide, including me, had a great deal of fun with it. Here's what I came up with (and stole shamelessly):

    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Radical Times by Henry Brown
    Radical Times by Henry Brown

    Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com