“Cloud Atlas” Was the Best Movie of 2012

The evolution of Hugh Grant villains over three “Cloud Atlas” timelines is righteous. In the 1970s, he’s an energy company executive who orders a hit on a reporter, but probably wouldn’t kill her himself. He’s a suit. In the 22nd century, he’s taken the logical next step: manager in a fast food restaurant, free to brutally kill in public. The laws and his remote control allow for immediately terminating the life of a problem (clone) employee, so of course he does. And then in the future, after laws and remote controls have been wiped away by apocalypse, he has naturally evolved into a demonic, Skelator-looking cannibal. Behold your souls’ future, Koch brothers:


Face-tattoo Tom Hanks hesitates for a moment before overriding his good-guy nature and viciously ending Skelator with a knife. Guess evil that evil must be put down. When some big end-time event stops men like our bank CEOs and politicians from ripping off normal folk legally, they’ll hop on horses and torment us the only way they can. It is in our nature that there must always be powerful bad guys doing people wrong.

That’s merely my own interpretation, though.

“Cloud Atlas” weaves six distinct stories together over centuries. Whether the film is explicitly about reincarnation is not really knowable. What is knowable, and quite explicit, is its lesson. Sonmi-451’s words will inspire revolution and worship, and this is what she says: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. By each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

The whole idea of whether our souls pass on through generations is not something a smart person thinks can be definitively answered. But the Directors Wachowski (and Tom Tykwer) do think they know one thing absolutely: We should be good to each other. The thread that ties together the six “Cloud Atlas” stories is goodness, and the first kind act that launches the whole amazing story is a man simply overcoming ignorant prejudice. Do that, the filmmakers are saying, and you may have unknowingly saved the world.

We’ve said it here before, specifically about “The Master,” but it warrants repeating: There is power in ambiguity.

My favorite scene in “Cloud Atlas” launches the Timothy Cavendish storyline. Cavendish is a book publisher at a party for a mobster whose memoir “Knuckle Sandwich” got harshly dissed in print by a critic (Phoenix Fookin’ Finch) who happens to be in attendance. The mobster is Tom Hanks, hamming it up. He gets everyone’s attention and tries to embarrass the critic. When this backfires, he throws the critic off the balcony to explode with a splat several stories below. It’s hilarious. I love the idea of the Wachowskis, who almost certainly hate critics and rarely give interviews, delightfully scripting this scene.*

That murder sends Hanks’s Dermot Hoggins to prison, but his book sales skyrocket. This is the key event that leads us to Cavendish’s incarceration in a “Cuckoo’s Nest”-style old folks home, which he will escape in a rollicking, funny adventure culminating with a soccer-hooligan bar brawl. The story will inspire Sonmi-451 to lead the Union against Big Brother in the future.

(Indulgent political tangent: As a former member of the Independent Source PAC, I love that the “Cloud Atlas” rebels are called “Union.” ISPAC was working to expose government corruption, so every time we were mentioned in the paper our name had to be preceded by “union-funded,” to inform readers we got donations from union groups. “Cloud Atlas” shows, again, a natural evolution. Unions are merely feckless groups of workers who want fairness and money in exchange for their labor, but one day they’ll be mankind’s last hope against the Koch brothers’ laser army.)

If this movie is about doing good, how are we supposed to feel about the killing of the critic? That wasn’t good, right? And yet it was an important moment in the timeline. Perhaps there are good killings. Maybe killing a critic is OK, in this movie’s judgment. Maybe it’s also OK for Face-tattoo Tom Hanks to saw through sleeping Cannibal Hugh Grant’s neck because Cannibal Hugh Grant, like the critic, deserves untimely death because he’s evil.

Really, though, I think it’s probably just a question left hanging, like so many others concerning the soul.

Do we have soul mates? “Cloud Atlas” implies we do. The same actor pairings, as different characters, keep finding each other in the different time periods. There’s a lot of love in this movie, but the notion of soul mates is ambiguous. Is the comet birthmark the only continuous soul in the story, or does each actor portray the same soul throughout? Maybe the answer is both, somehow. Like Morpheus in their classic “The Matrix,” the Wachowskis can only show us the door; we’re the ones who have to walk through it. Thinking is fun.

Not ambiguous is the intention to jump genres like no film I have ever seen. Tonally, the six stories are utterly disparate. Swashbuckling high-seas thriller. Unrequited gay love affair expressed through letters and classical music. A reporter outrunning an assassin through 1970s film noir. Slapstick old-people comedy. Sci-fi freedom-fighters fantasy with laser bikes outrunning hover jets. Post-apocalyptic climbing movie with an evil leprechaun.

Through it all there are heroes being brave, choosing to do right. Whether they know it or not (some do), they are inspired by the souls that came before them, until Face-tattoo Tom Hanks is helping Halle Berry save what’s left of humanity.

“Cloud Atlas” is a masterpiece because while its metaphysical curiosities about time and the soul are difficult and pondered without resolution, its message is simple: Be good. The Wachowskis actually gave interviews after this one, and a consistent quote throughout was from Andy Wachowski: “The main character is humanity.”

I have to go. My wife is going into labor.

*M. Night Shyamalan killed a critic in his (first) horrible film “Lady in the Water.” The book “The Man Who Heard Voices” says producers pleaded with Shyamalan to cut that scene, but he insisted. He hates critics even more than the Directors Wachowski. “What kind of person would be so arrogant to presume to know the intention of another human being?” a character says, then we cut to movie critic Bob Balaban getting murdered by a werewolf. Ha!


“Breaking Bad” and the Internet

Santa Fean actress Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad” wrote a thoughtful piece in the New York Times this weekend about online hatred for her character Skyler White. She recounts reading online comments from the show’s fans, including “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” Toward the end of the article, she says “I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.”

The internet is not me. It’s not you. It’s not us. It’s stupid.

This is THE VERY FIRST image that comes up when you Google search "Skyler White"

This is THE VERY FIRST image that comes up when you Google “Skyler White”

Gunn’s article, “I Have a Character Issue,” ran in the Times this past weekend. On the show itself . . .

(Spoiler alert.)

. . . Jesse just realized it was Walt who poisoned Brock. Crying eyes on fire, Jesse comes very close to killing funny, loyal lawyer Saul. Then he speeds to Walt’s empty house with a gas can and breaks in. The episode ends as he’s furiously splashing gas around. The obvious intention is to burn down Walt’s home.

This is why we watch “Breaking Bad.” Narrative insanity; the big, powerful moments this show keeps producing, and then topping, in a sprint over just five more episodes toward the definitive conclusion. “Breaking Bad” is a hard-core gangster saga of tragic death and betrayal, unfolding in the streets and deserts of Albuquerque. No offense to Gunn, who is phenomenal, but no one tunes in to see what happens to Skyler. She’s a supporting character in the truest sense. This show is about Walt and Jesse powering through cartel kingpins and an obsessed and justified police force. (Hank so badly wants revenge.)

The internet doesn’t speak for fans. I’ve watched most of the show twice, even write about it online, and I don’t hate Skyler. Almost every friend I have watches “Breaking Bad” and loves it. None of them goes online after an episode to vent hatred for the characters. We watch it because it’s fun and great.

Gunn writes “most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives.” It isn’t most people, though. It makes sense that she, personally, would be troubled by the comments online, but that isn’t a representative sample.

Internet comment boards and made-up Facebook pages are the property of idiots acting like junky drug fiends.

Grown-up teeny bopper Miley Cyrus gave this zany performance during the Video Music Awards last night. She was tongue-out air humping in a skin-toned bikini with a foam finger at her crotch. A Huffington Post headline this morning said “Mika EXPLODES Over Miley Cyrus Performance.” Mika Brzezinski co-hosts the MSNBC morning show called “Morning Joe.” The Huffington Post article lists things she said about Miley: “She is a mess,” “They should be ashamed,” “Disgusting,” “Disturbing,” blah, blah, and blah.

Behold The Cycle. Miley Cyrus gives an intentionally offensive performance. Morning news show host talks about being offended. Internet excitedly reports thus. People read it and make their own opinions, influenced consciously or not by what they just read.


The Video Music Awards are famous for offensive performances. It was the same thing when Britney Spears French kissed Madonna, or Kanye crashed Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. They’re doing it on purpose. Rock stars enjoy pissing people off.

Mika Brzezinski, though, watched Miley and knew it was her job to render an opinion. She hosts a morning news show in Washington D.C., surrounded by corruption corrupting communities country-wide, and her primary objective was Miley Cyrus complaining.

Mika and Joe. This picture is sexist, disgusting, and pathetic.

Mika and Joe. This picture is sexist, disgusting, and pathetic.

She’s on TV, though, so it is her job to render opinions. The problem with the internet is any of us can suddenly feel like we’re on TV, with an audience. Brzezinski has a camera on her; she’s paid to play provocateur. She sees something she can hate and reacts on camera.

A job like that really plays to the ego. If everyone can get that same sensation, of being heard and considered by others, it gives off a whiff of power. You suddenly have a lot of amateurs spouting nonsense to an audience.

Mika Brzezinski giving her opinion is awful, but the wifi-enabled angry American loner is worse.

That’s who Anna Gunn is talking about when she bemoans Skyler-bashing. She’s talking about the Facebooking comment dispensers. Angry, demonic spiritual offspring of soulless TV opinion makers like Brzezinski. (It’s worse in sports. Check out NFL coverage on TV, radio, and the internet. Madness.)

So while I’m sorry Anna Gunn has endured online vitriol because her character keeps failing to corral Heisenberg’s gangster leanings, she should take solace in the fact that those morons spewing bullshit are not real fans of “Breaking Bad.” They can’t be, because they don’t appreciate her. They’re fans of themselves.

Also, a lot of people are great in person but really obnoxious on Facebook and Twitter. One of my best, favorite coworkers I ever had—a smart, funny, interesting family man—is insufferable online. I can’t be his Facebook friend, because the pictures and updates are too annoying. I might also posit that most online assholes aren’t all that bad as actual people. They just forget themselves.

Larry David

Larry David killed the black swan with a single mighty swing of his golf club. The bird was charging with rage in its eyes, and he reacted to the attack out of instinct. Problem is, that black swan was the beloved pet of course owner Mr. Takahashi. The black swan appears on Ocean View’s logo, a black-swanned shield, and on the napkins in the lavish dining house. The black swan roamed Ocean View with impunity, until Larry leveled the death blow.


“The Black Swan” is my favorite Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. It appeared like an interlude during the Seinfeld reunion season a few years ago. “Let me explain something to you, moron,” Larry says, over fruit. “Swan killers leave. People who aren’t swan killers stay. Have a little lunch. Enjoy themselves. Socialize. Get to know the members. There’s nothing wrong. Get it?” He grips a butter knife in his fist like a threat.

Earlier, on the course, Larry confronted another golfer whose slow play was ruining the game. That confrontation ended thusly:

“Where’s your wife?”

“Fuck you, Norm!”

Norm had a heart attack right after that and died.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart once suggested that Barack Obama spends some of his time as president “bucket listing.” Last week it was reported Obama went golfing with Larry David. I am going to guess Obama made reference to the black swan. POTUS probably kept doing some small, annoying thing to piss Larry off.

Larry David was also in the news for this reason: According to Wealth-X’s research, revenues from Curb Your Enthusiasm plus the bounty of a fifth Seinfeld syndication deal earlier this year have David sitting at $900 million in net worth. As such, he is the “wealthiest comedian” ahead of Seinfeld ($800 million), Letterman ($390M), Cosby ($360M) and Sandler ($290M).

Nine hundred million. Well done. A comedian writer does not make $900 million without being funny.

David co-created Seinfeld with Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld will be funny forever because it went for laughs nonstop and succeeded so much more often than it failed. If I ever own my own ski hill, all the runs will be named after Seinfeld jokes: Sponge-worthy, Festivus, Master of Your Domain, Death Blow, Assman, Serenity Now, The Moops, Soup Nazi, Big Salad, etc.

There’s a great new HBO movie called “Clear History.” Larry David is the star, playing a guy exactly like himself. He’s a marketing whiz who gets so upset about the name his corporation is giving its new car (Howard) that he quits in protest, costing himself a billion-dollar fortune. He changes his name, moves to Martha’s Vineyard, and makes a nice, quiet life for himself.

He is surrounded by hilarious characters, including my favorite actor from Curb Your Enthusiasm, JB Smoove. (“Step out that asshole, Larry. Don’t ever close that mother fucker.”)

“Clear History” feels like the biggest-ever episode of Curb. It has great performances—especially from Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber—but the best thing about it is watching Larry David’s character interact with a huge group of unfamous friends. He’s got a pretty ex he gets along with, poker buddies who like him, a best friend with a boat. He’s at peace.

Then, of course, hijinks ensue. People get offended and there’s a big explosion inspired by “The Fountainhead.”

We never know if there’ll be another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David doesn’t commit. I wonder if “Clear History” is him saying goodbye to this characterization of himself he’s cultivated on HBO over all these post-Seinfeld years. No one would be surprised, I bet, if he stops making TV, because he’s had such an amazing and successful run.

No one has been funnier. Nine hundred million dollars proves it.

Larry David is the funniest man alive, I think, because he has understood since Seinfeld that feelings get in the way. Those characters were not good people, and they were a riot. The best Curb Your Enthusiasms typically see him doing something terrible and covering it up without a hint of remorse. They buried the black swan under a thin layer of dead leaves. Of course it was gonna be discovered.

“Clear History” might be the most likable Larry David we’ve met, and he’s still a jerk. If this is his send-off, it’s perfect.

Remember “The Wire”

It will probably be “The Wire” forever, no matter what we think right now.

Rob Sheffield wrote in Rolling Stone “After three astounding seasons in a row, one thing is for sure: Mad Men is the greatest TV drama of all time, and it’s not even close.”

My favorite writer Chuck Klosterman wrote on Grantland.com that the best four shows of the modern TV-drama golden age are “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Mad Men.” “I’ve slowly coming to the conclusion that Breaking Bad is the best of the four,” Klosterman says, “or at least the one I like the most.”

My opinion on this is strongly held, but I think I can back it up.

The first question to answer is, How do these shows work? I see two types:

1) “Game of Thrones” kills a bunch of main characters and we’re shocked. Then comes the realization that the story rules, and there is no mercy in this dark, painful “Game of Thrones” universe. “Lost” is similar, even if it seemed at the end to be about Jack.

2) “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” and “The Sopranos” have this amazing central player we invest in. The main character is fascinating, and from that starting point we meet other characters in his life and become interested in them, too.

“The Wire” fit both these types.

If I had to describe “The Wire” very simply, I guess I would say it’s about every level of the Baltimore drug trade, with multiple interesting characters at each level: young hoppers, corner kids, soldiers, kingpins, beat cops, detectives, captains, lieutenants, deputies of special operations, police commissioners, district attorneys, state legislators, mayor.

I don’t know who the main character is. In fact, the notion of “main character” doesn’t apply. When Dookie walked into that drug alley at the end of the last season, my heart broke. They’d written that poor kid in a way that made me love him. He had friends and adults who cared about him, but his slow descent into a junkie made tragic sense as it was happening.

I felt so strongly about Dookie in that moment, and I don’t think he’s even in my Top 10 of favorite characters on that show. Let’s see: Marlo, Omar, McNulty, Stringer, Bunk, Avon, Michael, Snoop, Bodie. . . . Hmm. . . Maybe he’d make the last spot over Daniels, Herc and Carver (package deal), Bunny, Carcetti, Prop Joe., Sobatka, Sen. Clay “Sheeeit” Davis. But probably not.

Dookie made me want to cry, and he wasn’t even in the Top 15 of best characters.

These guys were awesome. Let’s consider Bunk for a second. These are the two best Bunk scenes:

1) McNulty has to come pick Bunk up from a woman’s house because Bunk’s so drunk he lit his clothes on fire in the woman’s bathtub, setting off a smoke alarm. McNulty finds him sitting on the toilet, snoring, with a cigar in his mouth. He’s wearing a small pink bathrobe and a tie. No shirt. tumblr_lhayw3QIc01qfeqsqo1_500(Bunk’s kinda fat.) “You smell pussy?” he grunts. “Teresa ain’t have, ain’t gonna have shit on The Bunk.” And then: “You gimme that pussy and then you gonna and take muh shoes? Ruh. That ain’t right. Damn.”

2) Bunk passionately tells Omar “I know you remember the neighborhood, how it was. We had some bad boys for real. . . . As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn’t matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory mother fuckers like you. And out where that girl fell I saw kids acting like Omar, calling you by name, glorifying your ass. It makes me sick, mother fucker, how far we done fell.”

Hilarious in one episode, deadly serious in the next. “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are hilarious and serious, too, but not to this extent. He calls himself “The Bunk.” Then he’s talking about the impact of drugs and guns on children and the community.

Moving on. . . .

It took an intricate plot to weave all these characters together, and everything on “The Wire” fit. In the second season, with the stevedores (dock workers), we watched Sobatka’s cocky son Ziggy getting teased by the other stevedores. Ziggy’s dipping his toe into crime, and that seems relevant as it’s happening. But the teasing (“Love child!”) doesn’t feel important like everything else that’s going on. Then there’s a late-season episode when he gets bullied as he’s selling some stuff he stole. Because of all Ziggy’s been through with the jerks at work, he snaps. He shoots up a warehouse, which becomes a crime scene, which destroys the entire Baltimore Police investigation we’ve been watching Daniels lead that whole time. Which means this, which means that. Every character fits within the chain of crazy events.

You know how we go nuts when main characters get killed? Ziggy shooting up that warehouse felt the same way, even though we barely knew the victims. Ziggy shooting up that warehouse was the story, itself, getting blown up in a totally unforeseen way.

Speaking of main characters getting killed, I think Walt will kill Jesse at the end of “Breaking Bad.” I think this because that is the single meanest, saddest, most dramatically loaded event I can imagine. It’s always been charming how these two guys remained loyal to each other as death and disaster rained down around them. If Walt betrays Jesse, then I’ll understand why they acted that way—so Walt could eventually prove he’s completely gone to the dark side by killing his partner. It would represent the ultimate break. (Maybe not the ultimate. Walt killing his family would be the ultimate. That would be gross, though.)

I’ll have to reevaluate if that happens, but for right now the greatest death scene I ever saw was Stringer Bell getting gunned down by Omar and weird-ass Brother Mouzone.

I think I can even quantify this. I was in college when I saw that episode, in my room on Sunday night (because my roommates didn’t watch “The Wire”). I was sitting in bed with my back propped on a pillow against the wall. When it became apparent Stringer might get killed in that scene, I left the wall and got to the edge of my bed and sat there, leaning forward. Mouth wide open. When the guns fired, I shot up off the bed and said “Oh!” This happened involuntarily. That’s how I know Stringer’s death was the best, even compared to Pussy’s on “The Sopranos,” or Lem’s on “The Shield,” or when Charlie drowned with the message on his hand in “Lost.” None of those was as dramatic and exciting as Stringer’s.

“The Wire” killed its crucial players all the time. This demonstrated the story was king, like in “Game of Thrones,” but it had a bigger emotional punch (“Where’s Wallace, String!?”) because characters were realistic, sympathetic, funny, sad, and (above all) interesting.

You were never going to see Mr. White or Don Draper or Tony Soprano get killed on their shows, but you couldn’t say that about a single character on “The Wire.” Even Omar bought it, eventually.

“The Wire” had an entire season where its top cop, McNulty, basically disappeared. Four middle-school students we hadn’t met before became the most important part of the show. I can’t imagine any other program even considering such a move, and it worked brilliantly.

There are no notes I would make on “The Wire.” Nothing I would change. I was actually working for a great newspaper, The Albuquerque Tribune, during that final season where so much takes place in the Baltimore Sun newsroom. The editors and reporters were all just like me and my coworkers, I thought. The Tribune was put up for sale and there was an entire year-plus when we knew we were gonna close and lose our jobs. And as that was happening, “The Wire” was telling stories about a cash-strapped newsroom getting gutted by buyouts. The newspaper guys on the show kept talking about “Doing more with less.” It was creepy how much I felt like my favorite show was mirroring my real-life work.

I guess I read meaning into the fact that the craziest, most ruthless gangster (Marlo) is alive and free at the end of “The Wire,” while the most proudly gangster gangster (Avon) is in prison and the most business-minded gangsters (Stringer and Prop Joe) are dead. If you really think about that, it’s brilliant and says something deep about life in “the game” that Omar’s always referencing.

But the smart messages and themes are ancillary. “The Wire” was a cops-and-crooks saga where neither side prevailed because “It’s all in the game.” Its Baltimore was a fictional TV-universe chess board where all the pieces had a part to play.

“Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” are glorious modern classics we will remember for as long as any work of popular fiction can be remembered. But “The Wire” is the best. It has everything.


“Elysium”: Cyborg Sci-Fi

There is an evil maniac cyborg named Kruger in “Elysium.” He has robot arms, spine, and torso like Matt Damon, but he also has soldier training, a sword, and guns that shoot bombs that change direction mid-air and stick to guys. Kruger even has a pair of loyal minions for Damon to fight before their ultimate good-versus-evil showdown.

Except Kruger isn’t the real evil in “Elysium.” He’s the spice, but not the meat. The real evil of “Elysium” is society. This gets to the essence of what science fiction is, and why “Elysium” is great.images

Science fiction has a function. Consider “1984.” In June, Americans learned of a top-secret government surveillance program called “PRISM,” which allows the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ electronic communications. This has been a scandal. Not so much of a scandal, but still relevant here, is what’s happening presently in the tiny country Yemen. The United States has bombed Yemen at least nine times in less than two weeks.

I swear I don’t bring this up because I’m a liberal know-it-all complainer. I bring this up because of “1984.” When the news about PRISM leaked, sales of George Orwell’s sci-fi classic increased 4,000 percent. Which makes sense. Orwell’s book is about a dystopian future in which people live under an oppressive surveillance state perpetually at war.

We don’t live under the thumb of Big Brother. Our old newspapers are not being revised to change history. But science fiction takes place in the future for a reason. Orwell wasn’t saying, “This is what you’re doing.” He was saying “This is what’s going to happen if you keep doing what you’re doing.” He’s presenting the follow-through.

“Elysium” takes place 150 years in the future. The rich have left Earth and live on a vast, beautiful space station called Elysium. They have machines that quickly cure any sickness, including cancer. Meanwhile, Earth is a slum of unpaved roads and junked skyscrapers. The parents of mortally sick children will sometimes pay a futuristic coyote-type dude to send them to Elysium on “undocumented ships,” so they can try to find a health-care machine. The trip is incredibly dangerous, though, because missile security on Elysium is tight and powerful.

I have never forgotten this quote by Walt Minnick in an episode of the podcast “This American Life” called “Take the Money and Run for Congress”: “We pay—old people, young people, people needing a new cancer drug—pay eight or 10 times as much in America as they do in any other country. And that is directly a function of the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry has poured into congressional campaigns of members of both parties.”

And then there’s this, from the New York Times: “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned about the ‘negative consequences’ of the country’s high levels of pay inequality. . . . The concentration of income in the hands of the rich might not just mean a more unequal society, economists believe. It might mean less stable economic expansions and sluggish growth.”

And what might that mean if nothing changes over the next 150 years?

(When I was on the corruption beat at Independent Source PAC last year, I wrote about an education study out of Arizona State University: “In the USA if you scale states from those that are more equal in income distribution (for example Utah, New Hampshire and Iowa) to those that are much more unequal in the distribution of income (for example Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi) a strong trend appears. Dropout rates are much higher in the more unequal states (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Poverty and a lack of hope for a good future take their toll on youth in the more unequal states and students drop out of school at high rates. This costs our society a great deal of money through increased need for public assistance by these youth, the loss of tax revenues from their work, and the higher likelihood of their incarceration. Inequality and the poverty that accompanies it take a terrible toll.”)

This is not a fun topic. If fact, I may be typing these words for no one, since I can totally imagine a reader saying “Dude, I thought this was about ‘Elysium,’ not liberal bullshit.” If you’re still reading, many thanks.

But this is where we get back to the cyborgs. “Elysium” has a message about health-care greed and income inequality, but it also has cyborgs fighting robots. It has amazing weapons and a truly memorable, crazy villain. The director Neill Blomkamp is a master of staging sci-fi action, and he obviously wants the experience of watching this movie to be an entertaining one-and-a-half hours for his audience.

In that sense, “Elysium” succeeds wonderfully. Matt Damon makes an awesome unlikely cyborg action hero.

But then amidst the rousing technical thrills is a message. “Elysium” artfully expresses where society might be headed if income inequality swells unchecked for the next century and a half. We can consider what it has to say, or we can just watch Matt Damon parry sword strikes and throw desperate hydraulic-driven punches into the crazed face of Kruger. Either way, “Elysium” is great. Taken as a whole, it’s an amazing work of science fiction.


“Fruitvale Station” and Real Fear

The Nine Inch Nails concert in Albuquerque had just ended and I was being suffocated by a security guard. It was a sleeper hold, arms around my neck from behind. Panic was kicking in. I didn’t know it was security, I just knew I’d been grabbed and couldn’t breathe. I tried and failed to say something like “Stop.” My legs flailed and my arms couldn’t get an angle on whoever was behind me. I felt like a helpless, dying animal.

This incident was not really an “incident.” It was a blip. Fifteen seconds in a privileged life. A friend and I were shoving each other and wrestling on our way out of the venue, because we’re morons who’d been putting down beers for two hours while rocking out to NIN. I suspect security grabbed us because that’s protocol. They’re probably supposed to stop a scrap as quickly as possible.

But in the moment I did not think it was fair he’d choked me so hard. I said so, loudly. He had his mustache and his bright yellow shirt tucked in and his commando boots and his utility belt and he did not give a f*ck how I felt. My face was puffed red. His face wore supreme confidence, eyes dead-certain. “Shut up,” he said, “and go.”

You cannot mess with police. You cannot talk back to security guards. They have authority, and authority gives them righteous power.

Too bad the dynamic’s gotten deadly.

. . .

“Fruitvale Station” is a new movie about a real incident that happened in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009. A 22-year-old man named Oscar Grant got into a skirmish on the BART train and was pulled off by security guards. The guards were being filmed as they argued with Grant and his friends. One of the security guys pushed Oscar to the ground, and then shot him. He would later say he meant to use his taser. He was released after 11 months in prison. Oscar died.

Security guards have authority, which gives them righteous power.

The film begins with the real-life cell phone footage, then follows Oscar on that New Year’s Day up until the shooting. He took his young daughter to school. He went to his old job to try and get rehired. He dumped a bag of weed into the ocean. He pets a pit bull at a gas station, and has to scoop the dog out of the street when it’s hit by a car that speeds away. There is a flashback where his mother visits him in jail.

That visit winds up being important. So does his mom’s request that Oscar and his friends ride the BART that night instead of driving, since they would be drinking. She was just being a good mother, and her mothering contributed to a timeline leading to the killing of her son by an armed security guard.

“I’ve got a daughter.” They’re the first words Oscar utters after the bullet is fired into his back. When he dies in the hospital, this is where the movie takes us:


. . .

My wife is very pregnant right now. It’s our first.

I don’t understand whether or not we’re supposed to teach kids to stick up for themselves. I don’t think people should fight, but sometimes they do. It just is. We humans are a species of animal on this planet, right? Animals fight, for whatever reason.

Guns change everything though.

I don’t want my kid to fight, ever. Not because fighting is wrong. Fighting is not necessarily wrong. I don’t want my kid to fight because the other party may be armed.

There are lessons I’ll pass on. How to tie a shoelace. Cowboys suck. The difference between “your” and “you’re.” I think I’ll also have to say, at some point, “Please always choose to walk away.” I would rather raise a child who fights, literally, for what’s right. But now that’s too scary. “Don’t fight anyone,” I’ll say. Because guns are everywhere.

But it gets worse. “Don’t talk back to authority,” I’ll also say (hypocritically). “If a cop or a security guard is hassling you, for whatever reason, stay calm and let it happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right. It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair. You’re not going to convince someone with a badge that he is in the wrong, even if that person is supposed to be protecting you.”

A running theme on this blog has been my own deep frustrations with corruption in New Mexico’s government. I think it matters, big-picture, when people like Gov. Susana Martinez misuse authority and power for their own selfish means. The system doesn’t work if parts of it are rotten. When government doesn’t manage itself properly, that negatively affects normal people. Anger spreads. Tensions are high out there.

Don’t talk back to a cop, ever, because a cop has authority, and that authority grants righteous power. That’s my advise. It’s too bad nothing, not even heartfelt advise from a parent, can keep someone safe anymore.

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