Doctor Superman

With recent reports that Justice League is an unwatchable mess, on par with DC’s last unwatchable mess: Batman v Superman: This is a Long Title, we here at The NYRD thought it might be high time to address one of the biggest blue and red elephants in the room. DC’s new Superman is garbage, but that’s not entirely the new DCEU’s fault. Hollywood has never known how to deal with Superman on the big screen. Yet, the answer to fixing the man who stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way may lie with a Doctor in a blue box living right across the pond from us.

What do You do with a Problem like Clark Kent

The core trouble with Superman is that Hollywood producers want to see him punch things, and in movies like Man of Steel he punched nearly $2 trillion worth of things, and cost the lives of more than 129,000 fictional people. Hollywood essentially tries to shoehorn Superman into an action movie, but at his core, the story of the Last Son of Krypton is not one of violence and explosions. There is a reason that finding a villain who is a physical threat to Superman is hard. He can punch a hole in the fabric of space-time. Writers have long been perplexed how to write a Superman movie, he is too powerful, too perfect, too good, too “everything,” for a compelling story. So instead we have gotten Lex Luthor buffoonery, Earth-rotational reversions, dark gritty uber-violence, and a Martha-plot-device.

So what can Superman learn from the Doctor? Well, they are both god-like beings that came to Earth to save humanity. They are both orphans of now extinct-ish races, they are both effectively immortal, and they have both been essentially adopted by two powerful countries, America and Britain respectively. Granted there are differences, (the Doctor tends to pick up with whoever happens to be wandering the streets that day, and Superman is a one woman guy,) but at the core of their mythologies their similarities are undeniable.

The Lonely Gods
The Doctor hides it well, but there are flashes of moments when we see the true demons of the great Time Lord. His/Her race is dead, his/her planet is banished in time, and he/she is the only one of his kind left to wander the galaxy. Normally the Doctor hides the pain among a whimsical exterior, but in those briefest moments you see a person in deep personal pain and anguish. Those cracks in the armor not only make the alien more relatable, but they also deliver the appropriate amount of emotional impact. It makes the Doctor more endearing and yet more complex at the same time.

We are not saying that Superman should emulate this kind of behavior -exactly. Superman at his core could never be that dark, but whenever writers do give us a peak beneath the boyscout exterior we tend to get a person who comes off as whiny and who wanders the Earth with a homeless man beard for thirty minutes of a movie. Clark Kent will always be somewhat defined by his status as an orphan and an outsider, but unlike the Doctor he never knew his planet or his people.

Instead, Clark Kent had a loving family who raised him and cared for him as their own. Despite his secrets and his pain he still has very real and very powerful love in his life. Playing up the “lonely orphan,” angle  only serves to make him more two-dimensional. Talk to any adopted child, and there are certainly moments of pain, transition, and what ifs, but the greater moments for Clark and those like him are spent with the people who raised him, loved him, and protected him. This is not to say that there is still not an element of pain and longing, but it is a longing for a world he never knew and a life that never was. Superman is a great man whose heart’s desire is to be average, and to make his pain the focus of his story is a disservice to the character and to the fans. So let’s take a note from Doctor Who and leave that pain buried, except for those small special moments of vulnerability when we get to see the man behind the steel. For a really good example of how this should be done, I highly recommend Alan Moore’s: For the Man Who Has Everything.

A Need for Humanity
One of the things that makes the Doctor so appealing is an obvious need for humans, not just in the form of companions, but on the much grander scale as well. With Gallifrey destroyed you get the sense that Earth is now the closest thing the Doctor has to a homeworld. He/She cares about its inhabitants and the trajectory of its history and future. On the more personal scale, its the human companions that keep the Time Lord stable and grounded.

For example take the end run of the tenth doctor, without a companion at his side he lost it. The 10th Doctor tried to play god and paid for it. The writers on Doctor Who seem acutely aware how important these human relationships are for our alien friend. Its a mutual dependency that balances the show and the Doctor. Superman, like his Time Lord counterpart has human companions too, a fact his writers sometimes try to ignore.

Granted it is going to be unrealistic if Jimmy Olsen -no one likes you Jimmy- were to pull Superman’s blue behind out of the fire in the same way that we so often watched Rose Tyler save the day. Yet, we sometimes forget that Superman is Superman because of the people around him. His parents raised him to be a good and caring person. His love of Lois adds a further driving factor to the story, and even more so than the Doctor, Earth is his homeworld while Krypton is just a memory. He fights to defend the rights and freedoms of the people on this planet because he not only has a deep caring for humans, but because they have a deep caring for him. Writers try to isolate Superman, but that is wrong. He’s not Batman, he doesn’t need tragedy and brooding loneliness to do what he does. He fights for humanity out of love, like the love he experiences from his family and friends, -Batman included. You can’t have a Superman story without his supporting cast. They made him and they keep him grounded, same as the Doctor. For some really good examples of the power of Superman’s supporting cast check out John Bryne’s limited series: Man of Steel.

Nobody is Perfect
Whatever you want to say about everyone’s favorite two-hearted Time Lord, he/she is still just human. Though it doesn’t happen often, he makes mistakes, but his mistakes aren’t like yours and mine. When the Doctor screws up timelines get changed, worlds get altered, and people die. Whether it is something as simple as leaving the TARDIS door open or shutting down a satellite that halts the progress of Earth, the Doctor has been known to make a mess of things, in big ways. Partly this is due to the fact that he is last of the Time Lords, and all the responsibility is left on his shoulders. He is often forced into situations where he must make snap decisions to save lives. Most of the time he makes the right call, but every once in a while he does something that comes back to haunt him in bad and horrible ways. From a writer’s perspective there is a power to the fallibility of the Doctor. He is the last of a race of beings who used to pride themselves on managing timelines and keeping order in the universe. Now there is only one man left to do that and he’s not perfect.

This, above all else, is desperately needed by the Superman franchise. Superman is always perfect. He always does the right thing. He always makes the right call, but why? He acutely feels the responsibility on his shoulders, even more than the Doctor. He often gets forced into situations where he must make quick decisions, but he never screws up. Now, TV watchers, and movie goers have an expectation of Superman saving the day, but how impacting would it be to see Superman make a decision that saves a hundred lives in the short term, but has unforeseen consequences in the long term? How driven would he be to correct that mistake? How far would he go to absolve his guilt? Would he have to win back the trust of the people of Earth?

Having the morals, powers, and responsibilities of Superman are easy when everything is going great, but its in times of tragedy and self-doubt that those things are really tested and conflict is created. If Superman is a god and his mistakes will be bigger and much more far-reaching than our own. The innate justice that guides Clark in all things needs to be tested by conflicts that are more important than punching Darkseid in the face. Maybe this is what Snyder was attempting to do with Man of Steel, but it came off as flat and Superman simply appeared uncaring. For the closest example I would suggest turning to the DCAU episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Legacy Part I & II.

Noble Sacrifice
When we talk about a noble sacrifice, we are not talking about the Doctor and Superman giving their literal lives for others -though they both have on a few occasions. For aliens who can regenerate or are near-immortal comic book heroes, sacrificing their lives is the least they do. The greater sacrifice is giving up something personal, which cannot be found again. We see this a lot with the Doctor, when he stands on a beach proclaiming his love for Rose Tyler and knowing that he sacrificed it for the greater good of two worlds; or we see him tearfully wipe the memory of his friend Donna Noble so that she will forget him and be safe. Time and time again we watch the Doctor rip out his/her own heart just to safeguard his friends and the people of Earth.

Superman, on the other hand, feels very little consequences for his role as savior. We hardly ever see Supes give up something or someone that is part of his long standing history. The closest thing we get, is the sacrifice he makes by hiding the “real” Clark Kent beneath a bumbling exterior. We need to see Superman make the kinds of decision that require deep personal loss.

For instance, what if he was faced with the decision to save an alien world or Jimmy Olsen? What does he decide? Each will have consequences, both personal and far reaching. What if he had to watch helplessly as Batman went willingly to his death to protect the world? What if Superman had to give up Lois’ love to keep her safe? These are the type of emotional scars that would not only make Superman more compelling, but bring a new layer of storytelling to the same old mythos of the Man of Steel. It might be a little harder for these kind of sacrifices to happen among a cast of characters that has been so fixed in time, but for a good example look at what Nolan did with the Batman/Rachel Dawes relationship. That was new and interesting.

Everything is Going to be Alright
There is an essential feeling that comes from the arrival of both the Doctor and Superman. Its that feeling you get inside -way down in your chest- when the world is turning to hell, everything is out of control, and you realize that there is nothing you can do about it. Then you turn your head and out of some blue box steps the Doctor, or down from the sky comes Superman, his cape flowing out behind him. It’s that moment you want to cheer and leap up, because suddenly you know everything is going to be alright. Its almost a religious experience, as if God himself were to step down from the heavens to battle space monsters and Cybermen. It’s the feeling that we’re not alone, that the universe makes sense, and that for all the bad and horrible crap that’s out there, there is at least one shining beacon of hope.

Maybe more than anything else that is what is lacking in the DCEU’s portrayal of Superman. He does not inspire hope in us. In Batman v Superman: Seriously Who Thought of This Title? He seems to save people with an almost grim and gritted determination, like a factory working just trying to get through another day. The movies try to tell us that his arrival inspires hope in people, but the audience never feels it. Its not believable in the context of what we know about him. Yet, that is exactly how we should feel when he walks onto the screen.

Both the Doctor and Superman are near-omniscient alien characters, but Doctor Who does a better job at humanizing their lead. The DCEU needs to take a note from their playbook. Superman, after all, is also a man. He can make well meaning mistakes, be haunted by a dark past, have moments of weakness and sacrifice, but in the end he must always be Superman. That is why the Doctor is so powerful, he goes on. Superman should be more like that, flawed but still determined to do the right thing. In Doctor Who, good always wins but it’s not always a clean victory. It’s okay for Superman to not always win, so long as he keeps going on, and keeps inspiring us. A Superman movie should not be about how strong he is or how far he can punch the bad guys. No, it should be about how he refuses to bend, even in the face of his own weaknesses.

mystery box

“What’s in the box?”

If you’re Brad Pitt the answer to that question is rather disturbing, but if you’re JJ Abrams… well, it may not be disturbing, but it’s probably equally disappointing. Thanks in no-small-part to JJ Abrams, the trope of the “mystery box” has become something of a trend into today’s media. From Lost to The Force Awakens, we have seen this lazy man’s plot device inserted and abused in almost every way. So, we are here to ask… from the deepest recesses of our hearts… PLEASE STOP.

Misled Talks
The idea of the mystery box comes from James Jonah Abram’s TED Talk, in which he discusses all the various ways movies influenced his thinking and the way he approaches them. He also talks about magic, and misdirection, and how he -thinks- incorporating those things into his movies makes them better. He breaks a lot of this down to the idea of the mystery box. In narrative terms it is an object or a person that just kind of exists in the script, but which has a big and unanswered question surrounding it, the bigger the better. Now, we’re not just talking about the normal sort of mystery or ambiguity that sometimes surrounds characters or objects. No, a mystery box’s main personality trait and quality, is that it is a “mystery.” It is characterized as being more about the questions, than the answers.

Lost is a good example. There were multiple mystery boxes, each more fascinating that the rest. These objects were unknown and they allowed the audience to speculate widely about their nature, their origins, and how they would play a part in the plot. That’s all well and fine from a marketing standpoint, but as Jessica Jones Abrams has proven time and again, it’s not really satisfying from a plot standpoint. Lost continues to be a good example, because the answers that audiences got were generally unsatisfying. The questions were what drew people in and made them keep watching, but the answers were sub-par, at best, and that is one of the major flaws of the mystery box device.

The truth of what is in the mystery box, will never live up to the expectations of what is in the audience’s mind. With Lost people endlessly debated the mysteries of the island. Everyone had their own wild theories or expectations. So, when the answers finally did come, there was almost no way they were ever going to be as satisfying or exciting as audiences had built them up to be. It was basically Phantom Menace Syndrome on a much smaller scale. The hype was great, but because of that the reality was dull by comparison. -Also, it didn’t help that the writers were creating questions they themselves did not have answers to

Speaking of Star Wars -which we will be a lot- one of the examples Jar Jar Abrams gives in his TED Talk is Luke Skywalker. He makes the claim that Luke’s father was the ultimate mystery box, because nobody knew anything about him, and then in Empire Strikes Back it was revealed that Darth Vader was his father. Here is the thing… He’s wrong. Luke’s father was not a mystery box. It was not something that was plopped in front of the audience with a big question mark on it, and a bunch of arrows pointing to it. Nobody left the movie theater in 1977 wondering about Luke’s father. People weren’t doing whatever-it-was-that-70’s-people-do-instead-of-blogging about “Who is Luke’s Father?” George Lucas didn’t even know who Luke’s father was at the time. The great mystery box that Abrams holds out as his example, is not even a mystery box. Yes, the reveal in Empire was one of the greatest moments in cinema history, but not because Lucas and his team consistently hit us over the head with the question of: “Who is Luke’s father?” It was great because the mystery and the moment happened organically, which is a word that is completely foreign to a Jacob Javits Abrams’ script.

The Force Stumbles Out of Bed
The identity of Anakin Skywalker was not a mystery box, because it was tucked away in the peripheral of the original Star Wars. A true mystery box, as James Joyce Abrams has so aptly demonstrated over and over again is something featured prominently. It is something that keeps the audience asking questions, and endless theorizing. In The Force Awakens: Rey is a mystery box, Finn is a mystery box; that old man at the beginning of the movie is a mystery box, Luke Skywalker is a mystery box… everything is a mystery box. In fact, the movie only seems to be filled with two things: blatant nostalgia and more questions than a four year old can ask in an afternoon… and just like a four year old, it gets a little frustrating. There are many other movies and examples we can use for this trope, but The Force Awakens is perhaps Abrams’ master opus of mystery boxes. It is the culmination of all the crappy plot contrivances and marketing techniques that he has perfected over a long and baffling career.

We know this, because The Force Awakens raises more questions than it does answers, and it feels more like it is meant as the first episode of a TV series, than it does as a stand alone movie. Do you know what was great about A New Hope? It was its own movie. It was not trying to set up a major universe or a trilogy of movies with a multitude of unanswered questions. It was just a good movie, by itself. Also, say what you will about the prequels, but at least they felt like complete movies. At least they tried to tell a complete story. At least they presented the audience with conclusions to most of the questions that were asked in the 2.5 hour time frame. That is the problem with the mystery box format. The Force Awakes feels like one-half of a movie. Luke doesn’t even get to say a line at the end. Abrams just cuts the scene like it’s a damn commercial break on The Bachelor, and that is kind of the point.

The main point of the mystery box trope is to sell interest, not story. Cloverfield, Jack Jack Abram’s epitomical monster movie was a fairly uninteresting take on giant kaiju monsters, but the marketing campaign was brilliant. It was full of mystery boxes that sold the movie, and sold it hard. If Cloverfield had been marketed normally -as just some shaky-cam monster movie- it wouldn’t have made half the money it did. It was the clever clues, the big questions, the shady reveals, and the months of speculation that drove sales, because that is what a mystery box really does. Abrams is not some movie genius, he is a marketing genius. The problem with applying that idea to Star Wars… is that it is Star Wars. You don’t need to market it. It markets itself.

An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Abrams,

Please stop. Seriously, just stop with the mystery box thing. We know it is kind of your ‘bag,’ err… ‘box,’ but it is becoming irritating. For once, we would like to sit down to watch one of your movies, and not have to try and guess at the complicated -and ultimately disappointing- backstory of every other person and every object that appears on screen. We don’t want to watch movies that tease later movies, and while we’re on the subject we don’t want to watch movies that keep reminding us of better movies. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” just made us want to watch “Wrath of Khan,” and “The Force Awakens,” just made us want to watch “A New Hope,” and both those two were filled to the brim with mystery boxes… and lens flare. Yes, we’re never going to let that go.

‘Oooo Luke’s original lightsaber? Where did it come from? How did it get in the possession of an alien that looks like a mix between Yoda and a Golden Girl?’ We’re tired of the mysteries and the boxes they come in. We are tired of walking away from movies feeling unsatisfied, with both your answers and your questions. For once, we want to sit down and have you explain something to us in a clear narrative form, plainly, instead of forcing us to guess it. That is fine if done, subtly and -here’s the big one- in moderation! Also, on a side note, please know the answers to the questions before you ask them. We know that sounds like a simple and obvious request, but we also know that it’s not… because ‘Lost.’ You’re the damn writer. You need to know what is actually in the mystery box before you create it. You can’t wait to be surprised, along with the audience.

We’re getting off track here… In conclusion, you have made us so mad that we are actually ending our letter with the words ‘in conclusion.’ Also, just stop. Please, stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.

The mystery box is a great marketing tool, but a crappy storytelling one. We promise people are going to go see the next Star Wars movie without your hype machine pushing it. They will always go and see Star Wars movies, even as our own sun burns out and the planet is consumed by super-heated gases. When alien archeologists discover the charred remains of our planets, they will discover that at lest 30% of us died watching something related to Star Wars. There is no need to sell us on Star Wars, so just make a regular movie. Just make a movie that poses questions at the beginning and answers them by the end.

Sincerely,
The NYRD

PS: Hyperdrives don’t work that way. There is no way the Millennium Falcon could ever come out of hyperspace inside the atmosphere of a planet. The gravity well of planets and other large bodies creates bubbles that interrupts hyperspace, which is why “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” It is also why the Rebels on Hoth had to go through all that trouble to escape the Imperial blockade in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ instead of just being able to disappear randomly from its atmosphere… Well that and dramatic tension, which is also something you seem to not understand. In summation, hyperspace is a system that has rules, not just a convenient plot device for lazy writing.

Turbo Kid

Netflix has a lot of hidden gems if you have the time and the boredom levels to go looking for them, and among these gems is Turbo Kid, an odd mash of 80’s nostalgia, coming-of-age tropes, post-apocalyptic humor… and also Michael Ironside. With an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 60% on Metacritic, Turbo Kid is far from a perfect movie, but it is fun and memorable, and free -assuming you are stealing your Netflix account from a friend, which we know about 45% of you are doing. We don’t want to put too fine of a point on this, so let’s just say that this movie is weird… but weird in a good way. It also has points where it makes surprisingly relevant and meta-commentary on our culture and our entertainment industry.

The Distant Distant Future
Set in the way far-off future of 1997, the story revolves around “The Kid.” An orphan whose parents were killed and now lives alone in a very post-apocalyptic Canada. It’s like Mad Max with trees instead of desert, and bicycles instead of flame-spewing-hot-rod-monster-trucks. The Kid is fascinated with a comic book called Turbo Rider, who may or may not have been an actual person that actually fought robots before the world ended. The wasteland is ruled by two different factions, the free city ruled by Fredrick the Arm-Wrestling New Zealand Cowboy and Zeus, your typical apocalyptic warlord who controls the water and an army of over-the-top henchmen with ridiculously impractical weapons. Everything changes for the The Kid when he meets Apple, a strange girl who he initially distrusts but comes to etc, etc, etc… We won’t spoil any of the movie, but you can already see where all of this is going.

The plot progression is not surprising, but it’s not necessarily the story that is the most interesting part of Turbo Kid. It’s the movie’s imaginative setting, quirky characters, and absurd humor that really helps propel this Sundance Indie film into something altogether different. There are more than a few clever nods and winks to 80’s culture and video games. More than anything, it is a movie that delivers action and heart, and yet does not to take itself too seriously. The cliches are plentiful and to many that would seem like a bad thing, but Turbo Kid does its best to steer into them while acknowledging their purpose in the greater theme of the movie.

Rated PG for Over the Top Violence
Turbo Kid is not so much a modern movie about a devastated world, as it is a 1980’s movie about a devastated world. Even the cause of the devastation is stated as: acid rain, which isn’t something you hear a lot about anymore. This movie may have been released in 2015, but it goes to painstaking lengths to feel like something you would find on an old VHS at the back of a Blockbuster in 1986. It’s plot does not try to be clever or do anything new, and instead follows the very typical formula you would expect from an adolescent-action-fantasy movie from that era. However, Turbo Kid is different in the fact that it uses more buckets of practical-effects-blood and guts than the first Friday the 13th film. It can be a bit startling, since it contrasts harshly with the movie’s light 80’s nostalgia feel, but that might be the point.

It is at least a shallow commentary on the acceptability of violence in movies marketed toward kids. Everything else about this movie seems to imply that it would have been rated PG, had it been released in theaters during the Regen era, except for the gore. It is unnecessary, extreme, and treated completely casually by the characters in the movie. Sawed off torsos and geysers of blood are seen as normal in the world of Turbo Kid, and that is equal parts disturbing and morbidly hilarious. We could also bring up that life in any post-apocalypse would probably desensitize the denizens of that world, but we won’t. We could also mention that the colorful outlook of Apple and The Kid are a depressing dichotomy to the bleakness of the world they inhabit, but we won’t. We could also say that Turbo Kid is a comment on nostalgia-media in general, and is therefore an overly sentimentalized metaphor for how we -as adults- look back on our childhood, which was surrounded by dangers, disasters, and external threats we were only barely able to comprehend… but we won’t do that either.

Conclusion
Unfortunately, as much as we admire what the movie does and the commentary it attempts to make we hesitate to draw any real deeper meaning from it, without stretching the bounds of credulity. Still, it is fun, sweet, and worth a watch. Are you going to walk away from Turbo Kid with some new or great understanding about yourself and the life around you? No, but you will walk away smiling.

Some may see this film as just another attempt to cash in on the nostalgia-media that has grown so rampant over the past decade, but we actually see it as a entertaining niche movie with a genuine love for a time when life was simpler and maybe when action-adventure-fantasy movies were a little more desensitized to what they promoted to children. Turbo Kid has won multiple awards, including a 2016 Saturn Award for Best International Film, and it is well-deserving of the accolades.

So, if you have a couple hours to kill, switch on Netflix, or just go to their website, and stream it now. You won’t be sorry.


image courtesy: http://dailygrindhouse.com/thewire/post-apocalyptic-week-sequel-turbo-kid-2015/
television

Have you been watching Legion on FX? It’s a TV show based off of an obscure X-Men character of the same name, but if you are tuning into Legion to get the typical mutant on mutant violence, straight-forward plots, and the fast-paced entertainment of the movies, than you will be disappointed. The show may live in the same universe as the X-Men movies, but it certainly does not occupy the same type of space as them. It is TV show -like so many of our time- that is completely different than the summer-popcorn-fest cinema that we have come to know. Legion is admittedly “trippy,” but it is also striving to tell a long form and memorable story, rather than just the typical 120-minute saga of Blue Jennifer Lawrence and Old Hugh Jackman. That got us thinking: you see, in Legion there is a character with the ability to swap-bodies, and we have to wonder if maybe that is also what happened to movies and television. Maybe when we weren’t looking they switched bodies…

Previously On…
There was a time when television was regarded as frivolous entertainment. 30-minute irrelevant stories about Wally and the “Beave” interlaced by commercials for the latest car or soap product. By the time the credits rolled everyone watching knew that life for the characters on their small screens would go back to the status-quo. There was never any danger of worrying that someone on Star Trek might die -unless of course, they were a disposable red-shirted background actor- There was also no danger of complex multi-episode plots -unless of course, it was a “special” TV event- For the most part, a person could sit down in front of their TV, watch a show, and never care about the episode that came before or after it.

Movies on the other hand were where the real drama took place. People went to the movies to watch epics of massive proportion where “real” actors poured their heart out as Atlanta burned behind them and they just didn’t give a “damn.” No character in the movies were safe, and there was no telling who would live, who would die, and who would be irrevocably changed for the experience. Movies were ambitious with casts of thousands, filmed in far off locations, as opposed to fix television studio sets. Movies told stories of sorrow and triumph, with budgets to match their scale.

Yet, things have changed. Don’t get us wrong, ,ovie budgets are even more massive than ever, but only so far as the studio can guarantee a return on their investment. After all, that is all that matters. Nowadays, it is the cinema that has become predictable and irrelevant entertainment. We watch an X-Men movie and we are pretty sure most of the characters we like are going to make it out alive. After all, Fox needs to make six more movies and they want people to keep coming back. Really, that is what the movie industry is about now, episodic blockbusters aimed at guaranteeing a lucrative cash flow. It’s the reason most Michael Bay movies have more product placement in them than an infomercial at 3 am. It’s also the reason why studios have started heavily investing in recognizable and predictable names from comics, video games, and even old TV shows. It guarantees them a nostalgic audience and a steady revenue of profit. For audience members it guarantees a few hours of forgettable entertainment.

Television on the other hand, has started taking risks. Long form storytelling means that you are no longer tuning into single stand-alone episodes, but one part of a longer story. Characters are no longer safe, not on Walking Dead, not on Breaking Bad, and especially not on Game of Thrones. TV has now become more analogous to books, where each episode is a chapter in a longer story. So characters come and go as appropriate to the plot, not the profit margin. There is a reason that movie directors and producers -like Bryan Singer and James Cameron- are flocking to the small screen. It has become a medium where people are taking risks, making small but noteworthy stories, and creating memorable moments and performances from actors of all talents, popularity, and ranges of British-ness.

After These Messages…
So how did we get like this? Well two trends really had a lot of impact on the way we view television, and like any good story it was a slow build up. To examine the rise of TV, first and foremost, we need to examine the idea of the story-arc or the TV serial. It is what we now sometimes refer to as long form television. The idea of the “serial” has been around since radio. Back then people would tune in every week to hear the ongoing adventures of The Shadow, or to “Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman.” Yet, during the age of television the idea of multi-episode story-arc fell out of favor, except in the form of daytime soap operas, but that was not considered a serious medium. TV shows like V and Dallas attempted the idea to varying degrees of success, but they were hard to stay with. If you missed an episode there was no way to catch up until reruns.

The idea of story-arcs made a comeback in the 90’s thanks -in no small part- to The X-Files. Their mix of “monster of the week” and “mythology” shows meant that audiences could still miss some episodes and not feel lost in the overall plot of the series. It was a formula that The X-Files -more or less- stumbled into, but it was replicated by other shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Thus, in the 90’s television started becoming a little bit more than just momentary diversions. Shows started becoming longer and more involved stories. This really picked up in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy TV, like with Battlestar Galactica, but it soon went mainstream with shows like Lost. The introduction of Netflix and on-demand TV really skyrocketed the market. People could watch shows at their own pace or watch episodes they missed. Streaming TV was the final missing piece in the long form formula. Fast forward to today’s world and we now have TV shows made entirely to be binge-watched. There is no longer a need for “Monster of the Week” fillers, just chapters and layers of the same ongoing story that audiences can consume at their own pace.

Contrast that with movies. In days of yore, movies were an event. Going to the movies was something that people talked about before and after the experience had passed. It was a treat that pulled you away from your humdrum life doing the sock-hop, or whatever it was people did before wifi. The movie industry was a growth industry for the few monopoly studios who could afford to produce content. Of course people were going to go see Ben Hur, or the newest World War II epic or John Wayne western. What else did people have to do? Studios, writers, and producers could afford to make unique stories. They could afford to take risks and produce original ideas. Star Wars, for example, probably sounded like a crazy-man’s dream -It was in fact a crazy man’s sellout dream- but someone still took a risk. Maybe because in those days there was not a lot of competition.

Don’t get us wrong. Studios still competed, but nowadays movie making is not exactly an exclusive art. Cameras are -comparatively- inexpensive. Any NYU student with a bag blowing in the wind can attempt to make a movie. Small studios rise and fall in a matter of years. Yet, it was the invention of the Internet that was the final nail in cinema’s Golden Age. Suddenly, people didn’t need to go to the movies to find their entertainment. Movies could come to them, via streaming, via piracy, or not at all. The Internet also provides a plethora of distractions: music, angry Facebook rants, and even some YouTube movies, which are better made and better quality than anything you might find coming out of Sony. Thus, in 2008 when Iron Man hit the theaters it created a new sort of buzz. It was a recognizable superhero, and both the devout and the curious came to see what it could offer. The movie was good, but the real bell of this new modern age was rung after the credits, spoken by Samuel L. Jackson while wearing an eye path. Suddenly, all the movie studios began to have visions of “expanded universes” or “connected content.” Suddenly, the way to attract audiences from their iPads and Playstations was through recognizable and over-hyped movies. Suddenly, anything with even a tiny bit of brand recognition: toys, video games, comics, etc… all became something to churn out for the blockbuster season. Sure, studios still take some risks and make some new independent movies, but only at much lower budgets and with more than a few caveats.

Next Time On…
Take for example Inception. Most people agree that it was a decent movie and it even did well at the box office. Yet, the only way that movie got made was because Christopher Nolan paid his dues and made a movie about an orphaned rich person who dresses like a bat. Meanwhile, there is another Pirate of the Caribbean movie, and another Transformers movie coming out… even though most people stopped paying attention a decade ago? -Did you know Mark Wahlberg is in them now? Yeah, neither did we- Admittedly, studios always did everything they could to follow money-making trends, but these days movies are no longer the guaranteed cash cows they were back in the fifties and sixties. That means studios are taking less risks. Sure, you’ll always have your Oscar movies, but most of those are now based on books with at least some name recognition. Studios only want big stars playing characters we at least have an awareness of, because that means there is a higher probability that audiences will actually come sit in the seats and watch them. So, that is what movies have become: momentary, irrelevant, and attractive entertainment, and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon.

Television, however, has become the medium of the storyteller. Character driven plots and long form conflicts are propelling the once episodic medium to new heights. TV is becoming less about safety and more about quality. Sure, we still get your standard sit-coms, and even the same sort of name-recognition pandering to things like comics, franchises, and even books. For example, like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will be debuting soon, but there is an assurance of quality behind it. Long form streaming TV offers the time that is needed to tell stories right, and at the viewers own pace. Just look at Marvel’s Netflix versus Marvel’s movies. They are both entertaining, but which of them stays with you longer? Which of them tells a more complete and satisfying story? Much like the trends of movies, this trend of television also shows no sign of stopping.

Thus, we once again come back to Legion vs X-Men. Both have high points and low points. Both are not perfect, but there is something to be said about the meaningful and mindful approach of television compared to the flash-in-the-pan-summer-blockbuster-hey-look-here-and-give-us-your-money approach of modern movies. Admittedly, we tend to take a more critical approach to movies, but neither medium is inherently bad. It is worth pointing out that movies are entertaining and we love them, but we need to recognize that TV and movies have basically switched places. One is still serious and meaningful, while the other is now fun and forgettable. Either way, it is good to know that our pop culture remains in equilibrium.

Russia

Do you expect me to talk?

No, Mr. Trump. I expect you to win.

Bond… James Bond, was a legend of Cold War fiction. He was a handsome, fearless, well spoken man of action during a time when the politics of America and Russia dominated the global stage. Now, we once again find ourselves in a new type of Cold War, and we again look toward a singular figure to step up and take charge. Unfortunately, we are not talking about the suave and martini swirling 007. We are talking about Trump… Donald Trump, and he is a bit less “International Man of Mystery” and more “Mystery Man of International Politics.” Despite everything, we still do not have a clear picture on what his International policies will be, but we now know one think for certain, thanks to Russia’s help our elections have been shaken, not stirred.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of Things to Come
You may have heard recently that the CIA has built a case that Russian hackers used their skills to sway the election for Donald Trump. For his part, Donald Trump rejected the claims outright and accused the CIA of being wrong about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, so obviously they must be wrong about everything-ever-in-the-history-of-all-time. Here’s the thing, the US Intelligence apparatus is not always right. Also, they have not found a conclusive smoking gun to say that Vladimir Putin put his thumb on the scales of our election process… but the CIA, has a lot of evidence to back up their claim.

Here is the timeline of events: On June 14, it was reported that the Democratic National Convention was hacked. We know that for a fact, because the hackers released the DNC’s emails to WikiLeaks who then distributed them to the public. It resulted in several scandals, including the news that the DNC was against Bernie Sanders winning, at least in part. That hack was investigated by the private cyber security firm: CrowdStrike. They identified two hackers by the name of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, -because what else would you call villains in a James Bond film. The two bears have been known to work as political and economic hackers for the Russian Government. This finding was verified by Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant, two additional private cyber security firms hired to audit the findings. Then in August it was disclosed that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had also been hacked. This hack was investigated by 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA. They also independently confirmed that the hack was directed by the Russian government. Now it has been alleged that the Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Convention, but did not leak the contents of what they found. The GOP denies this, but if it is true it would mean the Russian hackers only released documents that could hurt Hillary Clinton, but kept secret the ones that could hurt Trump or the GOP.

This may not sound as exciting as James Bond kicking down doors, shooting Russian spies, and sleeping with sexy femme fatales, but these days intelligence works tends to be less about dry martinis and more about dry math and computer code. Results are also usually less definitive than having your top agent knock the bad guy off the suspended platform housed in a secret volcano base. As any real 007 could tell you, spies often need to work with incomplete information, but it is also their job to draw conclusions from what they have available. Right now, the CIA and the entire American intelligence community are all drawing the same conclusion, Russia did everything it could to help Donald Trump win the election.

Octopussy Grabber
Realistically, it makes sense. Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton have historically not had a good relationship. Putin blamed Clinton -who was Secretary of State at the time- and President Obama for legitimizing the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Both revolutions ousted pro-Russian governments. Putin saw that as a deep affront to the Russian sphere of influence. Trump, on the other hand, has praised Putin for his leadership style, and they both share a similiar flair for right-wing nationalism. Trump also has a certain affinity for hiring people associated with Putin, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman that had to step down for having business ties with the Russian government and organized crime; and -of course- Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin, and has many business ties with the government-owned Russian oil companies.

For the record, we are not saying that Trump is some kind of plant by Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is a reality star and a buffoon but he not a secret Russian spy, nor is he some automaton begin controlled by the Kremlin. Trump is a narcissist and he will always do what is best for himself, and Putin knows this. It seems incredibly likely that Putin saw what was happening with our election and took advantage of the situation to put in power someone he believed that he could control. With right-wing candidates and initiatives gaining power in parts of Europe, and with a more pro-Russian American President, it leaves the door open for Putin to gain greater global influence and dominance in Eastern Europe.

We are pretty much living the plot of one of the weaker Bond movies. -Basically anything staring Roger Moore- We have a foreign, shirtless bond villain using diabolical means to influence the most powerful man in the free world. Except instead of using mind control, or kidnapping, or even the raw sexual musk of 1960’s Sean Connery, Russia is using the kind of tactics that hackers use on old people to get their social security number. Russia sent Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, a phishing email that asked him to change his password on his email account… and he did. So the Russian hackers got access to his email and then the DNC servers. So in this scenario, 007 could have been played by any IT guy who could have told him, “No! Never give your password out to random emails,” but in all fairness to Podesta, he was not the only one targeted by Russia cyber villainy. We all were.

You Only Die a Little Each Day
You see, Russia had several means at their disposal to influence our elections, and there most sinister method was trolling. Hey. it may not be an orbital death laser, but it proved to be just as effective. According to the New York Times, the Russian government hired people to pose as pro-Trump supporters on American social media to spread disinformation and stir up the American populace to vote against Hillary Clinton. So, let’s stop here for a moment. We are completely aware of how paranoid and crazy that sounds, but it actually happened. If you don’t believe the New York Times, believe The Guardian, or CNN, or even Samantha Bee. Believe someone, because it happened. For months there has been a concentrated Russian-backed effort to troll, hack, and alter the events of our election and that is something worth remembering and talking about.

Now with all that said, let’s put some things in perspective. Foreign governments, including Russia, have been trying to tamper with our elections for decades. In fact, Putin is following in a long line of Soviet leaders who have tried to alter the results before. What makes this time all the more shocking is the fact that they may have finally succeeded. The other thing to keep in mind is that, this was not a secret before the election. The CIA and other intelligence agencies had already concluded that the DNC hack had come from Russian-backed sources, but the public outcry was more about the contents of the released emails rather than the illegal activities of a foreign power.

Also, we are well aware of the irony to be found in the fact that CIA is complaining about a government altering the sovereign election of another government. That has kind of been their bread and butter for a while now, but we still need to address the elephant in the room, because right now it is wearing a Ushanka, drinking vodka, and doing a Cossack dance. Whether Donald Trump wants to admit it or not, Russia did influence this election. Would he have won if they hadn’t used trolls and hackers? We don’t know. We can’t say with anymore certainty, than we can predict how many STD’s James Bond is currently being treated for. All we know is that we were the target of successful Russian cyber-sabotage, and we knew it was happening. Heck, Trump even called on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails during the campaign, but instead of taking it seriously, we ignored it. We laughed it off. “Those types of things only happen in movies,” we said.

So, yes. We need to place blame on Russia for what they did. –More importantly, Donald Trump needs to place blame on Russia, and not the CIA– However, we also need to be aware of our complicity in this plot. We were the ones that allowed it to happen. We were the ones that fell for the trolling and the hacking and ignored the source of both, even though we were warned multiple times. This past election has left us with a lot to think about, and this is just another one of those things. Because, the real truth is that in this scenario Russia was James Bond. They basically walked right up to us, introduced themselves by first name, winked at the pretty girl, and then still proceeded to get exactly what they wanted.

harry potter

We want to get something off our chests: The Wizard World of Harry Potter doesn’t work… Don’t get us wrong, Harry Potter and the books of JK Rowling are timeless masterpieces, and we love them as do you, but logically they don’t make sense. The world of Harry Potter works pretty well as a concept for one school in a remote area of one small country, but when you expand it to a larger world it grows a little thin. So, with the recent release of Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, as well as a slew of other possible Harry Potter spin off material, it looks as if Rowling is doing her best to “George Lucas” herself and grow the scope of her original novels, but maybe that is not in everyone’s best interest.

Fantastical Beasts and Where to Avoid Them
Let’s start with the obvious: the population of wizards in the world. By the estimates of one very thorough Reddit user, the total wizard/magic user population in the world of Harry Potter is around 1 million worldwide. That means only about 1 in 7,000 people are wizards or witches. Understandably, that is not a very large population of people. If you were to give the wizards and witches of Harry Potter their own country, than it would fall somewhere between Cyprus and Djibouti in terms of population numbers. But then again who wouldn’t want to fall somewhere between Djour-booty… That’s right, folks, Expecto Pun-tronum.

Now, we are not trying to indicate that a small population of wizards is unrealistic, but just that it would be unrealistic to assume that this small group could manage and hide all the magical elements of the world and keep them concealed from the other 6.9 billion of us on the planet, not to mention from the 1071 active satellites currently in orbit around our planet. Think about that in terms of just the magical animal population alone. There are so many dragons in the Harry Potter world that they are classified into at least a dozen+ subspecies. In fact, dragons are so amazing that their blood, claws, scales, and other body parts are used as goods and services. According to the Harry Potter wiki, dragons are kept on preserves run by wizards, despite their inability to be trained or tamed. Even if we assume all the dragons in the world are somehow kept contained by a population only slightly larger than that of Fiji, what about all the other fantastical beasts? Griffins, hippogriffs, giant spiders, whatever Hagrid’s beard is… these are all wild animals. They are literal forces of nature who want to hunt and kill and mate and presumably do other things, and yet a small fraction of the planet’s population tries to keep them secret… and also… why?

Officially, magic creatures are kept secret from the world because we’re humans and we basically hunted the African Rhino into extinction because we thought its horn gave magic powers. So, yeah, maybe we kind of get why you would keep the unicorn a secret, but this also comes back to the point we were making before. Out of 7 billion muggles, some of them have to at least suspect that these creatures exist? Heck, our world has people who have reality shows about fake hunting these creatures. Can you imagine if they were actually real? How long would it take an iPhone video of a giant or mermaid to go viral and start trending? It is also worth mentioning: not all muggles are bad. Out of the 7 billion of us there has to be some with the capabilities and desires to preserve these creatures, maybe even more than you think. After all, what makes wizards better than humans? In Harry Potter you have a literal cult of Nazi Death Wizards trying to conquer the world. So, don’t tell me that no one in the wizarding world is not out there poaching magic animals into extinction… and they have weapons that are far more lethal than a hunting rifle. Thus, muggle intervention might actually help save some of these creatures. We have the numbers, the lands, and the technology to set up preserves aimed at responsibly helping these animals to breed and thrive. Yet, that brings us to our next point…

The New Bluetooth Equipped iWand
Harry Potter has a wand that can summon objects from far away. We have a cell phone that be used to order a pizza, through an app… with free delivery. Harry Potter has to stick his face in a fireplace to communicate across long distances. We have cell phones, and Face Time, and the Internet. Harry Potter travels by floo powder. We have Uber. Basically, most of the magic displayed in the wizarding world is a convenience, which explains why their technological levels have not advanced beyond the steam locomotive. They may not need the modern world, but that just means the wizarding world isn’t much better off than the Amish. Voldemort can kill one person at a time with the killing curse. We have guns, and bombs, and planes, and cruise missiles that can kill a heck of a lot of people at once. Sure, they can fly and teleport themselves and do some other cool things, but smart phones are pretty damn amazing, and we find it odd that no one in Harry Potter is out there playing Pokemon Go. -Also, before you leave the angry comments, we know the franchise is set in the mid-90’s but the point still stands… Was no one watching Jonathan Taylor Thomas and while playing with their Ferby in Hogwarts?

What we are getting at is that all of this poses other problems for the wizarding world. The Ministry of Magic prides itself on creating spells that mask magical gatherings from muggles and non-wizards. Nearly, 100,000 witches and wizards attended the 1994 Quidditch World Cup, making it one of the largest magical gatherings of the year. The stadium was protected by spells that made muggles turn away or forget where they were going so as to not accidentally stumble across the stadium. That seems like a really good idea until you start talking about satellite imagery, spy planes, or even a kid playing with his drone. It seems doubtful our technology would be affected by those kinds of spells, and before you try to argue think about it. Mr. Weasley is fascinated by muggle things -which is a trait that is treated as unusual in the wizarding world. He is the head of the department that deals with muggle artifacts and he barely knows what a rubber ducky is when he finds one. How can witches and wizards ever be expected to craft magical barriers and protections against advanced technology when the person meant to be in charge of those things barely understands the purpose of a child’s bath toy? In fact, most people in the wizarding world, like the Malfoys, hold a general disdain for muggle technology and even history, and that shows in the curriculum of Hogwarts. No math classes, science classes, engineering classes, or even literature classes. Who build their bridges? Who maintains that damn train? It’s all just herbology, potions, and how to read tea leaves.

Maybe that is why it can seem a little unrealistic. Granted, children born to wizarding families, like the Weasleys or Malfoys, have an understandable lack of muggle technology. They have grown up isolated from computers and TV and video games, but what about muggle-born witches and wizards, like Hermione or even Harry. They would know about smart phones and microwaves. So, how come a muggle-born has never shown up with their iPhone and started the trend of playing Words with Friends -or Spells with Friends– at Hogwarts. What about Instagram or SnapChat? Can you imagine how many followers actual magical children would have on social media? Our point is: that is unrealistic to assume that just because students didn’t grow up with the technology they would not use it if given the chance. We can just see it now: wizarding parents suddenly needing to give their students “the talk” about using cell phones in class or in front of that living portrait of Uncle Fred Gingerbottom, because he thinks its “Slytherin mischief.” So really, the fact that they don’t use our technology is a lot more suspicious than anything else, which might mean that that technology is suppressed on purpose…

Accio Cure for Cancer
Think about it. Maybe the Ministry of Magic purposely suppresses even the idea of muggle technology in order to keep wizards from journeying into the outside world? Like the Amish. Have you ever noticed how in the movies and books muggles are just treated as harmless bumbling children? Maybe that is what the Ministry needs the wizarding world of the Harry Potter to believe, because if the real truth ever got out, it could be chaos. What if a million people who had magic suddenly discovered the truth about child poverty, or incurable diseases, or climate change? Maybe they might want to help? If dragon tears cure AIDS, than maybe it might be worth telling someone about that, or at the very least leaving an anonymous potion on the door step of one of our top research laboratories. Heck, why not go one further and set up a wizarding pharmaceutical company? You can still keep the wizarding world a secret and have the added benefit of raking in a tidy sum of money on the side… And also saving lives!

We have recently talked a lot about bubbles here at The NYRD and when you think about it, Harry Potter and his ilk live in perhaps the biggest bubble of them all… outside of Brooklyn. Except in this bubble you have a million people, at least one-third of them are minors, all who wield the power of a small South American army in a wooden stick that they can easily lose. Worst of all, they feel very little responsibility to warn or shield the rest of the world from the dangers that magic can produce. Remember, it’s not like they are in an actual separate world. In the books and movies, muggles die because of Voldermort and his Dark Jedi, and yet the good wizards and witches of Harry Potter do very little to protect or even warn the us about the dangers of dark wizards. Yes, they might be called a crazy person, but only right up until one of them turns into a cat or summons a silver ghost stag. Yet, Harry Potter and friends are all: “I bet those Muggles won’t mind dying to Death Eaters, or dementors, or accidentally stumbling across a dragon’s nest. They’ll be fine.”

This also brings us back to our previous point. The CIA, NSA, MI6, NKVD, or any of the other hundred government intelligence agencies out there would eventually discover the wizarding world. It would definitely happen. Then they would eventually capture some absentminded wizard or obnoxious house elf or who knows what else and suddenly every government agency in the world would have a magical arms race going. Heck they might even start their own combination of Hogwarts/West Point to train special American wizard military commandos. The kids would be raised from childhood to carry out the government’s secret magic war against other countries and spying on the wizarding world and… You know what? This sounds like an awesome idea for a Netflix series.

JK Rowling, we apologize for everything we have just said. Your world is fine. Harry Potter is great, and we love it. Just, please please please make a story about secret government wizards, and their dangerous missions into enemy territory, and their angst-ridden love affairs that sustain them in a world that can never understand them. Also, feel free to add in a bald guy in a wheelchair.

john-dee

Today marks the arrival of Marvel’s premier magic user, Doctor Strange, but you don’t need to look into the pages of a comic book to find examples of wizardry and magic. No, in fact one of the most famous sorcerers is a man you may have never heard of, and unlike the newest Marvel hero to be played by Benedict Eggs Cumberland Batch, this strange doctor actually existed. So join us as we delve into the wild, weird -and historical- world of John Dee, the royal magician of England.

An Ancient One
Dr. John Dee was born on July 13, 1527, and lived for 81 years. During that time he was a mathematician, a cartographer, a physician, an astronomer, and a philosopher, but he was also a man who dabbled heavily in astrology, alchemy, divination, and all matters of the occult. It has been speculated that Dee was the inspiration for Faust, the magician that made a deal with the devil, and even Shakespeare’s Prospero from The Tempest. Both tell of a man who sought occult knowledge and power at all personal costs, and though that is not a totally accurate assessment of John Dee, it is also not a completely unfair one either.

Firstly, the 16th century was generally not a great time to be a scientist to begin with and Dee was above all a scientist. It was a time of transition when the Catholic church still viewed things like math and science as possible heresy. So for Dee, dabbling in alchemy was just as dangerous as dabbling in algebra. In 1555, Dee was tapped to cast horoscopes for Queen Mary and her -then imprisoned- half-sister Elizabeth… because there was no psychic hotline back then. Dee predicted that Elizabeth would take the throne and have a long reign and Mary… not so much. As you might imagine the sitting queen at the time was not too pleased with that prognostication and had Dee immediately thrown in jail. He did eventually exonerate himself to the royal court and to the Catholic church, even earning a close friendship with the priest who administered his “religious examination,” which sounds worse that the SAT’s. In 1556, he even presented Queen Mary with a plan for a national library in order to preserve books. That plan was rejected, because… We don’t know why. Either way, he instead focused his attention on massing a personal library, which became the largest in England at the time.

In 1558, Queen Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne as Dee predicted. One of the new queen’s first acts was to name Dee the Royal Astrologer and basically gave him a royal pardon to conduct and work any sort of magic/science he might want to. Basically, anything he did was labeled as “white” magic and was considered sanctioned by the crown. In return, Dee became one of her most trusted advisors. His knowledge of cartography and navigation laid the groundwork for English voyages of expansion, and it is said he even coined the term, the “British Empire.” Dee became a celebrity scientist, -the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his day- a man whom everyone believed had all the knowledge of how the world and the cosmos worked. Only one person disagree, Dee himself, and it drove him further into the practices of witchcraft.

The Orb of Agamotto
It is speculated Dee became frustrated with his failure to grasp all the “secrets of nature,” and the definitive mechanisms of how the world and the universe worked. So he turned to a tome called the Steganographia, which is an infamous 15th century “black” magic manuscript that promised to help him finally accomplish his goals. Dee spent several years unsuccessfully trying to contact angels through a practice know as “scyring.” -Where he got to look at the top cards of his library, and then put any number of them on the bottom of his library and the rest on top in any order… Oh wait, that’s the wrong type of Magic– Eventually, he claimed that the angel Uriel appeared to him and gave him a crystal ball, which he could use to directly contact angelic beings, but doing so left him drained and unable to remember the conversations he had with the heavenly creatures. So he brought in another scryer who had greatly impressed him, Edward Kelley.

By all accounts Kelley was practiced at the art of conducting seances and other spiritual contacts. He was also a known counterfeiter, and very possibly a conman, but in a very short time he became Dee’s closest advisor and companion. Thus, Kelley would commune with the angels, while Dee recorded the sessions and the words that were spoken. Many of which were written in the “Enochian” language, which Dee claimed was an angelic language. Dee described hundreds of conversations with biblical angels, monstrous creatures, and divine women of grace and beauty. The scrying sessions became an obsession for Dee. He believed that with Kelley’s help he was unlocking the secrets of the universe for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, Jane, Dee’s wife believed that Kelley’s intentions were not as pure.

During this time Dee and Kelley fell into favor with a Polish nobleman, Albert Laski, who was invited to sit in on some of these scrying sessions. This, unfortunately, also meant that the Elizabethan court began to suspect Dee of conspiring against the crown and dabbling in things that were unnatural. He was almost certainly being spied on by agents of Elizabeth. Laski, however, persuaded the pair of magicians to come to Poland. Dee was dubious of the trip, but through some “prompting” from the angels and Kelley, eventually convinced him to go. Unfortunately, what Laski had failed to mention was that he was broke and out of favor with the Polish court. There was no warm welcome for them in Poland and in 1583, Dee, Kelley, and their families began a nomadic life of traveling around Europe giving audiences and seances to various nobility, including the Holy Roman Emperor. However, Dee was never fully trusted by the aristocracy of Europe, especially the Pope who labeled him as a heretic. Others just believed -as some still do today- that Dee was a spy for Queen Elizabeth and thus the families were never truly welcome in any one place.

Return to the Sanctum Sanctorum
John Dee should have listened to the warnings of his young wife. In 1587, while in Bohemia, Kelley had a sudden “revelation” from one of the angels that proclaimed that Dee and Kelley needed to share all possessions, most importantly their wives. At this point Kelley, was the more trusted of the by the courts of Europe, especially by the Holy Roman Emperor. He had gained renown as a alchemist of some talent and worth and claimed to have the secret to the Philosopher’s Stone -or Sorcerers Stone as Rowling calls it for American audiences. Dee, on the other hand, was blinded by his belief in the scrying sessions and his overwhelming desire to gain the knowledge of the angels. He agreed almost without question to an act that -at the time- was an extreme form of sin and black occultism. Almost, intermediately after the wife-sharing incident Dee broke off his association with Kelley and returned to England, but nine months later a son was born. It was very likely the progeny of Edward Kelley and Jane Dee.

Things only got worse upon returning to England. There, Dee found his home of Mortlake in disarray. The estate was vandalized, his famous library was ruined, and most of his valuable scientific instruments were destroyed or stolen. Kelley continued on in Europe as an alchemist gaining further favor and fame in the Holy Roman Empire -and he was eventually made a Baron… before being imprisoned and executed some years later. Dee, however, found little fame, fortune, or even a quick death in England. Due to his occultism London and the royal court were no longer a hospitable place. Perhaps in recognition of all he did to help her secure her throne and establish the British Empire, Elizabeth did appoint Dee Warden of Christ’s College in Manchester, but he had little control or real renown in that position. After Elizabeth died, James I took over the throne and treated Dee with even more contempt and less support. Dee spent his last few years penniless and broke. He died in Mortlake in 1608.

Dr. Strange Tales
Dr. Stephen Strange, is the most powerful sorcerer in the Marvel Universe. He often consults occult books, spiritual powers, and casts all manner of spells that would have gotten him imprisoned or worse in 16th century England. In some ways he is the foil of Dr. John Dee. Strange’s hubris and lust for knowledge took him from a egotistical surgeon to the protector of the world. Dee’s journey for knowledge did nothing but pave his path to hell with golden intentions.

In our world the life of a historical magic user is often less glamorous and less magical than a comic book character, but Dr. John Dee was a scientist without limits. His study of the occult was not so much occultism as it was about furthering his scientific interests and inquires. He did not see himself as practicing magic, but conducting research into the science of angels, astrology, and alchemy. Over the centuries, since his death, John Dee has become somewhat of a legendary figure in the occult circles of modern life and writers from Marlowe to Shakespeare have taken his example to use as cautionary tales of great men who seek unsafe knowledge. Yet, the life of John Dee was more than an allegory of power. He was a brilliant man, a scientist, and one of the chief architects of the Elizabethan era. But then again, who knows?

By the Mystic Moons of Munnopor, maybe out there in the multiverse John Dee still exists and laughs from his hallowed sanctuary as some sort of real-world Sorcerer Supreme.

superhero-movies

This week will see the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, the second film in the movie/comic juggernaut’s Phase 3. The beginning of Marvel’s rise to stardom and America’s obsession with superhero movies began back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man starring Tony Downey Stark Jr. and it has been going strong ever since, breaking blockbuster records and blowing the minds of everyone between the ages of 8 and 46, but especially in China. However, this is not the first time a movie genre has surged forth to capture our imaginations. Remember westerns? Well, even if you don’t you should, because the rise and fall of the western movie genre is a good precursor to what may one day happen to superhero movies…

Yippee Ki Up Up and Away
The American western genre was the premiere movie genre for much of the 20th century, starting way back in 1903 with the silent film, The Great Train Robbery. In a way it makes sense too. At the time the western defined what it meant to be American, rugged, good, and independent. It is also no coincidence that the genre changed over the decades, along with the American identity. During the World Wars cowboys were heroes taking the good fight to the frontiers. During the Cold War the cowboy became more complicated, often blurring the lines between hero and criminal, and by the time of Vietnam most cowboys had gone full anti-hero. The west changed from a pastoral landscape to a brutal and complicated place that could not be tamed. Still, by the late 1960’s the genre of the western had mostly fallen out of fashion. America had had its fill of white hats and black hats and gunfights, and the kids of those later eras moved on to admire different types of heroes.

Similarly, comic books have been around since before World War II, and have always had a steady if not stereotyped following, but starting in the early 21st century their popularity and the popularity of superhero movies exploded into major blockbuster bucks. Now every studio trying to make a name for itself is jumping on the cape and tights band wagon. Yet, before we get to that we need to look at the factors of the early and mid-2000’s and why superheroes came into mainstream popularity at all. It certainly has something to do with the rise of CGI and special effects, as well as the Millennial generation that came into adulthood about the time Sam Rami slapped a spider-man outfit on Toby McGuire, but there are other factors that contribute as well.

We cannot forget the events of 2001. 9/11 had an incredible impact on our culture and our American identity, with full ramifications that we are only starting to become fully aware of now. After those horrific events and the decade after it we were left feeling vulnerable. So we retreated to stories about heroes with extraordinary powers and noble intentions that saved us from the unthinkable things in the world. Watching heroes soar through the sky reminded us that there was good in the world, and that one person could make a difference and be the hero. In that way, superhero movies are not dissimilar to the esterns of the 1920’s and 1930’s. They are both about a lone hero bringing the good fight to the chaotic and uncivilized world of the frontier, often working outside the confines of the law. During World War I, America watched the major European powers descend into savage madness, creating no man’s lands of mines and trenches and blood. At the time westerns reminded Americans that the lone hero could go into that wilderness and come out victorious and that governments were not always better at keeping the peace than a solitary hero.

Shootout at the OK… Whatever
During their run Westerns changed as audiences changed. Tales of good vs bad or stories of the “civilized” white man vs. the “uncivilized” native gave way to stories about gritty heroes or even outright outlaws. The western genre fractured into dozens of sub-genres, including Noir Westerns, Martial Arts Westerns, Space Westerns, Spaghetti Westerns, and many more. These differences arose due to a combination of natural cultural pressures, an influx of new directors and talents from all over the world, and the ever changing face of the American audience. Cowboys became a symbol for the American dream and like that dream they grew with each new generation. Superhero movies are now moving in that direction.

Think of the superhero movies that have come out over the past six years. Ant-Man, was a Heist movie. Captain America: Winter Soldier was a Spy movie. Guardians of the Galaxy was a Space Opera. Doctor Strange will be a Magic/Fantasy movie, and Batman v. Superman was a Crap movie. Maybe it is the nature of the beast, but these tent pole genres cannot sustain the same old stories over and over again. If they want to continue being relevant to our lives and our tastes they must continue to change to suite our whims. After all, we may have started the genre of the super-powered hero because of our desire to see the good and just hero, but 15 years down the line we have changed and our need for heroes has changed. Thus, superhero movies -like the western genre before it- will change to fit those needs. Unfortunately, there is only so much the genre can bend and stretch before it eventually runs out of steam.

Phase Too Many
Marvel Phase 3 will come to an end with the maybe two-parter Infinity War in 2019, but after that, the slate is open to any possibilities that Marvel may have in store for its multiple franchises. Quite frankly, we find ourselves being a little skeptical about the future of the genre beyond that. From the outsider’s perspective it seems as if Marvel planned this far and then had a good laugh about it, as if never expecting to reach a seemingly unbelievable goal. Now that the finish line is very much within reach we have to wonder what the comic giant will do as the contracts for its biggest budget heroes expire. They are not going to quit. There is still money left on the table to grab, but as DC has shown us: the simple act of just putting people in capes on a screen only to pull in box office money is a surefire way to kill the enthusiasm of moviegoers, and maybe the genre as a whole. We want to have faith in Marvel and its ability to sustain the ever growing Jenga tower that it has created, but we are also students of history and have seen how this has turned out in the past.

We still get westerns every now and then, though they never tend to do well at the box office, even when they have Johnny Depp being culturally insensitive. The best westerns today are the ones we barely even think of as westerns, such as Firefly or Westworld. Yet, for the most part the western died because it became bloated and ultimately irrelevant to modern audiences at the time. As more Americans moved to the suburbs and cities, the frontier no longer represented the American landscape. The idea of the lone man with the gun died a slow death with the rise of hippies and free love. The audiences of the 60’s and 70’s grew apart from the western because it stopped being able to give them what they were looking for. Those ideas of the American persistence and the underdog are now expressed in sports stories; stories about the little man versus the system are better suited to political thrillers; and the idea of the American hero is now accomplished by a man holding a red-white-and-blue shield, instead of a six-shooter.

In the end, we have to remember that the superhero genre was born from the western genre. The may not wear white hats, but the heroes of superhero movies are closer to the lone ranger than we sometimes admit. This also means that the superhero genre has many of the same frailties and shortcomings as its predecessor. The field of caped heroes is becoming bloated and we are heading for a bubble bursting. It may not be today or tomorrow or even in ten years, but it will happen. We are not hoping for the end of this golden age of comic book heroes, but we must also be prepared for it as well. The attention span of audiences are fickle, and even more so now that we have social media and the Internet over-saturating everything we touch. We do not know what the next big genre will be, but our children or our grandchildren will eventually find it to be a better representation of their heroes and dreams, and then like the lone ranger, superheroes will ride off into that wild blue yonder of obscurity.

barrier-reef

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the Great Barrier Reef, between Outside Magazines viral article and at least two Pixar movies. The barrier reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been declared the greatest aquatic wonder in the world. The GBR is firmly ingrained in our collective human consciousness, and in Australia’s annual tourism brochures. Unfortunately, 22% of the reef is already dead, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Climate change is an undeniable fact, and we now have a 1,400 miles long mound of evidence that we can no longer ignore.

Mr. Ray’s Science Class
The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. It is larger than the United Kingdom, has more biodiversity than all of Europe, and can be seen from space. It is home to 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins. It is also the largest breeding ground for green turtles and has the largest population of dugong -or sea cows- in the world. The  is roughly 25 million years old, and is one of the most vibrant and beautiful places on the planet. We speak that last part from experience.

In 1975, Australia designated large parts of the GBR  as the Great Barrier Reef Maritime Park. This move limited fishing and other activities in the area that could be considered harmful. In 1981, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization declared the area a World Heritage Site. This designation further came with a lot privileges and protections. Unfortunately, also in 1981 the first mass bleaching occured, meaning that the coral lost its color due to soaring ocean temperatures. It would only the be the first in a long line of such incidents, enough over the 35 years to make UNESCO question if they should put the barrier reef on their World Heritage in Danger list as well. We cannot deny the facts any longer, because like a character at the beginning of a Pixar movie, the GBR is dying.

A Crush-ing Reality
During the past 27 years the barrier reef has lost half of its coral covering. Sitting about 1,250 miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia it has been affected by severe storms, invasive species, pollution run-off, coastal port development, dredging, and increased coal shipping. However, even those factors are minimum compared to the coral bleaching that has been caused by massive shifts in ocean temperature, thanks to climate change. The color of coral -as well as their nourishment- comes from the algae that live on their surfaces. The algae photosynthesize the sunlight and make sugars that the coral feeds on. But when temperatures are too high the algae produce too much oxygen. That can be toxic in high concentrations, and the coral are then forced to discard the algae to survive. Unfortunately, that leaves them without their main source of nutrients until new algae can grow back. These coral bleaching events have become incredibly common in the past 35 years, and if they happen in rapid succession the coral starves and dies. Currently, it has been happening every two to three years since the turn of the millennium.

This is compounded by other related factors, such as the explosive growth of seaweed, which thrives in warmer waters. As ocean temperatures increase so does seaweed, and much how trees compete for sunlight in a forest so do the algae and the seaweed. When the seaweed begin to thrive the algae does not and the coral beneath it begin to die and break apart because they are not getting the nutrients they need. The acidity level of the ocean has also been increasing over the past two decades, thanks to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean and they then eat away at the coral itself, weakening the reef structure.

It’s hard to really fathom the ecological impacts of what the world will look like if -or when- the Great Barrier Reef finally does die. We have already seen what happens on smaller scales. Sections of the barrier reef are already dead. When the coral of an area dies the algae actually starts to consume it. After that, the whole structure is doomed to collapse, along with the entire ecosystem. Small fish -like Nemo and Marlin- that eat the coral no longer have a food source or a place to live/hide from larger predators. Larger fish who eat those smaller fish eventually wipe out their prey, and then they too start to die off without a food source. The same happens to the larger fish and birds that eat them. Without coral acting as homes and breeding grounds for fish and other aquatic creatures the entire landscape of an area undergoes a radical change within only a few years. If that happens to the entire GBR, you are talking an ecological disaster that will affect hundreds of thousands of species up the food chain… including humans.

Finding Common Sense
Maybe that is fitting, considering that it is humans that started this slowly rolling environmental disaster. There is no more way for us to deny that the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are increasing, and have been increasing exponentially over the past decade. We are the factor. We’re sorry if that upsets you, but it is the overwhelming scientific consensus. Our factories, cars, and even farming has dramatically increased CO2 levels. This means that more sunlight is being trapped in our atmosphere and warming the planet, and a lot of that heat is absorbed by the oceans. Yet, that is not our only problem. As we mentioned earlier, the oceans -which are three-quarters of our planet’s surface- are very good at absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. This increases not only the acidity of our high seas, but also speeds up the process of ocean warming and the growth of nutrient choking life forms, like seaweed.

Thankfully, those aren’t the only things we’re doing. There are also many people on this planet working hard to try and save natural landmarks like the Great Barrier Reef. Leading the charge in this area is Australia itself, which makes sense. The Land Down Under receives almost $6 billion in tourism revenue from the barrier reef each year and that means they have an economically invested interest in saving it as well as ecological. The Reef 2050 Plan is a report of a 151 actions that need to be taken to save the GBR. It also constitutes a $2 billion dollar investment of resources aimed at improving the barrier reef’s health. So far they have accomplished 29 of the stated 151 actions, but it has been acknowledged that the process needs to be accelerated if we truly do hope to save the GBR from destruction.

You see, if the the CO2 levels in our atmosphere reach 450 parts per million -which is estimated to happen in 2025- than there will be no saving the Great Barrier Reef. It will be gone forever and our children will not only live in a world with less biodiversity, warmer oceans, and less seafood buffets, but in a world where they will never get to experience the beauty and wonder of the barrier reef. To them it will just remain as some fantastical and unreal setting in old Pixars movie.

blaxploitation

“Sweet Christmas.” If you haven’t yet streamed Luke Cage on Netflix than you are missing out. Marvel’s newest show is a hit, and a refreshing take on a character that was once more two-dimensional than the pulp pages he was printed on. Luke Cage first appeared in 1972’s Heroes for Hire. Originally the character of Cage was a man of unlimited violence and limited vocabulary that punched his way through Harlem encountering every situation and trope that the blaxploitation movement had to offer. Though Cage was a breakthrough for black comic characters, much like blaxploitation itself, the original Power Man comic was fought with missteps and offensive stereotypes.

Sweet Sweetback Badass History
Blaxploitation was a movement in the movie industry that began in the 1970’s. It was a direct reaction to several forces, but to understand the movement’s origins you need to go back to a much earlier time. At the start of the era of motion pictures the only roles available to African Americans were that of the slaves or buffoons. Even positive roles, such as the butler or the “mammy,” still emphasized the inherent idea that blacks were inferior to whites. Movies like Gone with the Wind put forth a world view that the proper place of a black man or woman was at a social position lower than a white man or woman. This idea continued well into the 1950’s and 1960’s, but then things started to change.

The Civil Rights movement ushered in a new racial landscape. All black casts began to put on productions of their own, financed on their own dime. This was how in 1971 Martin Van Peebles was able to put together a movie called Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song. It was the story of a black protagonist fighting against white power and the violent forces of ghetto life. It was all set to a soundtrack by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Van Peebles made the movie on a shoestring budget in two weeks, but it went on to gross 10 million dollars. It was an incredible success and black audiences found a hero who looked more like them and struggled with some of the same things they did. Much like Luke Cage it was a milestone for black protagonists, and it started a movement.

By the late 1960’s the movie industry was struggling. The Golden Era of cinema was over, and the rise of TV as well as several Justice Department lawsuits had broken up the monopolies of the the old major studios. Many places -like MGM- were struggling just break even with each movie they made. Yet, the success of Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song exposed Hollywood to a potentially new revenue stream, black people. So in 1971, MGM released Shaft. If Sweet Sweetback forged the genre of blaxploitation than Shaft sharpened and refined it down to a formula. It grossed 12 million dollars, won Isaac Hayes an Oscar for the soundtrack, and inspired every studio in Hollywood to make its own Shaft. Blaxploitation was born.

The Angry Black Power Man
Marvel -never one to be left behind- launched their own title in the genre of blaxploitation. Heroes for Hire -later re-titled to Power Man- was about Luke Cage, a tough talking, ass-beating, ex-con, with super powers. Like the cinema movement Luke Cage embodied all the elements of blaxploitation: violence, themes of anti-establishment, and negative stereotypes of inner cities and those that lived there. Many criticized the comic’s protagonist as nothing more than a jive-talking angry black man, and that original characterization is pretty spot on. He was nothing more than a caricature. After all, it is hard to forget that he was created by three white men, Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr. and George Tuska. However, if we are going to talk about the negatives of Cage’s original depiction and its roots we also need to examine the positives as well.

Luke Cage was the first African American to star in his own comic book. -At the time Black Panther was not American and the Falcon only played second-fiddle to Captain America- Cage, despite his initial flaws, was the first black American superhero to have his own book, and that is incredibly important. It is also worth noting that Cage’s struggles were real. He fought gangs, thugs, corrupt police, and a power structure designed to keep black men in “place.” Those were all themes explored in blaxploitation movies, and there is a reason they resonated with some African American audiences at the time. Cage and his writers often showed that the law is not equally applied to everyone, and though the comic and its depictions were often simplified and relied on stereotypes, they did -at least in part- reflect the struggle of many black Americans. Having someone like Luke Cage -who had the power to fight back and be a hero- was empowering, even if it wasn’t always the most flattering of depictions.

As the blaxplotiation movement faded in the mid to late 1970’s so did the popularity of Luke Cage, but he never went away. Later writers went on to fix a lot of the more questionable elements of his character. His vocabulary was expanded, the jive-talk was dropped, and he found a best friend in Danny Rand, Iron Fist, -who himself was initially an exploitation of the popularity of kung fu movies. Luke Cage eventually married Jessica Jones and they had a child together. He became a member of the Defenders and the Avengers and evolved into a much more nuanced and three-dimensional figure. All of this has culminated in the depiction we receive in the Netflix show, an intelligent and complicated character. Similarly, Harlem and its people are also depicted in various ways, not just criminals or victims, but as neighbors and friends. The world and Luke Cage have come a long way, but it is worth looking back and remembering those beginnings.

Getting the Shaft
Blaxploitation had its fair share of critics and supporters. The NAACP and the aptly named Coalition Against Blaxploitaiton lodged protests against the films, claiming they were centered around negative stereotypes, black men as violent and angry criminals. They also criticized the movies’ use of language and it depiction of life in inner cities populated only by drug dealers, hit men, and pimps. Thus, even while blaxploitation movies were breaking down barriers they were also reinforcing others, casting black men as thugs. It also didn’t help that movies like Shaft were written by white writers, most of which who had no real experience in inner city areas. In fact, Ernest Tidyman a white writer from Cleveland is the man who created Shaft. He also wrote the screenplay with the help of a man who most famously wrote for Star Trek. That’s hardly the “ghetto experience.” Blaxploitation was not exactly a shining moment in cinema history, but like Luke Cage, it wasn’t entirely without merit.

More than anything blaxploitation movies started a conversation in America about race and depictions of African Americans in stories. It also helped give black directors -such as Gordon Parks– a break they may not have ever received, and for the first time it gave audiences a chance to see non-white heroes in starring roles. We would also be remiss not to mention the memorable soundtracks and songs of these films, many of which came to define the 1970’s as a decade. Maybe, these are all things worth remembering, even amidst all the elements of exploitation and the overwhelming number of negative stereotypes. By the mid to late 1970’s Hollywood studios stopped producing blaxploitation movies under pressure from groups like the NAACP and CAB. They claimed that ultimately the movies did more harm than good through eroding positive black role models in favor of vengeful and violent depictions.

The movement ended as quickly as it began, but its legacy continued. It is possible that without these movies and heroes like Luke Cage, the mainstream black actors of the 1980’s would not have been possible, people like Eddie Murphy or Denzel Washington. Thanks to the movies of the 1970’s leading black men no longer seemed so impractical or unmarketable. Luke Cage’s roots will always lie in the era of blaxploitation, but as this most recent Netflix show proves they do not end there. Cage has evolved into a thoughtful and positive role model, much like how the modern movie business evolved from the 1970’s. Nobody is saying that either are perfect, but it is worth reflecting on how far we have come, even as we acknowledge how much is still left to accomplish.

Blazing Saddles

With the recent loss of Gene Wilder, we have been doing a lot of reminiscing about the comedies of yesteryear, and the one that always rises to the top is Blazing Saddles. The interesting thing about this Mel Brooks classic is that -by far- it is not politically correct and yet it is still a classic. Mel Brooks has gone on record saying that he believes such a movie would never be able to get made today in Hollywood. In fact, even when it was produced in the 1970’s the studio was giving notes to Brooks saying things like, “Can you reshoot Black Bart with a white actor?” and we can understand why. The N-word is used enough to qualify the movie as a gangsta rap album, and it leans heavily on almost every stereotype and joke one might be able to think of when it comes to racism, sexism, and even homophobia. So why is it still such a classic? Is it wrong they we enjoy it so much? Is this a question that is too big for us to accomplish?

Oh Lord! Do we have the strength to pull off this mighty task in one night…or are we just jerking off?

On the Nature of PC
We here at The NYRD pride ourselves on being inclusive and progressively minded, almost to a fault. We believe that everyone should be treated equally and that the artificial boundaries of race, religion, and sexuality should not limit people’s potential or affect how they are treated by one another, but by-god if it isn’t funny when the mayor says “to extend a laurel and hardy handshake to our new… N*****” See, we can’t even write the word because it a foul and terrible expression of centuries of oppression and bigotry. Yet, we laugh. So what is going on? Are we terrible people for laughing at the very un-political correctness of this movie, or are we just having fun? Should we be taking comedy so seriously, or are we just bad people?

Blazing Saddles is the type of movie that a lot of people point to as the very reason political correctness is wrong. “People care too much about offending each other today. Back in my day we laughed at one another. Look at Blazing Saddles,” these imaginary men might say. It is true that if Mel Brooks had limited himself to being “PC” this classic movie would have never been made. A racist Western written by two Jewish men and Richard Pryor does not exactly sound like it would be a marquee moment in civil rights. And yet, does the inclusion of Pyror make the script acceptable? Does the fact that the movie won three Academy Awards and is listed as Number 6 on American Film’s Institute of 100 Years… 100 Laughs make it okay to laugh?  After all, we want to be inclusive and fair to all people, but sometimes funny is funny. This is all so confusing…

Maybe the term Political Correctness, itself, has become part of the problem. Over the years it has transformed into an almost derogatory phrase. It has become a sort of clarion call by those on the more conservative side. It has become the bigot’s excuse for why people take certain actions. If Obama apologizes to a foreign country it is political correctness, as opposed to just fair-minded diplomacy. If a black person gets a job over a white person it must have been because of political correctness, as opposed to just one candidate who got a job over another candidate. If a Christian baker is forced to make a cake for a gay wedding it is seen as political correctness, as opposed to just a merchant fulfilling a job they were paid legal tender to accomplish. Ultimately, being “PC” has become a word that allows people to avoid dealing with deeper issues of society and race. It is a cop-out phrase that some people use to label certain actions they see as offensive to their good-old-boy sensibilities, but then again…

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

Beside a Brooks near a Stone in a Parker
Regardless, it is hard to argue that Blazing Saddles is politically correct, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. For our best contemporary comparison we need to turn to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the minds behind South Park. The cartoon about four foul-mouthed children from a small town in Colorado is usually both political and correct, but it is not politically correct. The genius behind Stone and Parker’s work is that -like Brooks- they lean on stereotypes, but they often subvert them or turn them on their head. They do not shy away from making fun of people, even making fun of those who make fun of the very people they just lampooned themselves. South Park is a landmark show because it goes after everybody: black, white, gay, Christian, Jew, celebrity, Hollywood, small town folk, big city folk, Canadian… etc. It is an equal opportunity offender painted in the form of outlandish comedy, and that is something they have in common with the master, Mel Brooks.

Being politically correct means making all interactions equal and colorblind, which is a noble goal, but also fails to acknowledge and even joke at our differences. Comedy is a contract that allows us all to enter into a safe space where we can acknowledge and laugh about the idiocy of the cultural norms we have constructed around ourselves. Blazing Saddles and South Park are ways for us to look around at the absurdity of the social cage we have built and laugh as equals. In Blazing Saddles, the black men are called the N-word, the Chinese are called the Ch-word, but the white people are morons. The politicians are cross-eyed idiots, the townsfolk are inbred Johnsons, the male-dancers are all gay stereotypes, and even the Native Americans speak Yiddish. We’re all idiots, and that is the real reason why we should enjoy this movie. Mel Brooks doesn’t want us to laugh at one type of race or one type of religion or sexual identity. No, he is asking us to laugh at humans and our absurd ideas. In essence, we aren’t laughing at black characters but at the concept of racism.

This is different than movies that put white actors in black face and ask the audience to laugh at the wild hijinks of the “negro,” or use the only gay character as the “weird and funny” one. Those are offensive and -quite frankly- lazy jokes. Those moves are deserving of our derision. However, that does not mean we should wash away all our differences, or stop joking about them. In fact, comedy is an amazing arena that often allows everyone to come together to laugh at our flaws as human beings. Mel Brooks accomplishes just that with Blazing Saddles. It creates a world where not one type of person is ridiculed or made to feel inferior, but where everyone is made to see their own flaws and find the humor in them. Thus, despite what critics think maybe Blazing Saddles is more PC than anyone realizes. It is about finding the funny in the absurdity of humanity as a whole, and not just one single human.

Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west.

The Big Finale
Just look at Bart, the main character of Blazing Saddles. He is the smartest man in the picture, a Bugs Bunny type transported to the absurdly backwards racist West. Much like Mark Twain, Mel Brooks is not showing us a black character worth of ridicule, but instead a moronic world that cannot see the sense and rejects him simply because of something as arbitrary as the color of his skin. The movie even addresses the overly simplistic labels of black and white

Sir, he specifically requested two “n*****s”. Well, to tell the family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.

So maybe, Mel Brooks is right. A film like Blazing Saddle with its outstanding and offensive story will probably never get made again in today’s Hollywood. Maybe we have become too PC, but that’s also not as bad thing. Equality, justice, and love are not concepts to be avoided, but they also should not negate the humor of our stories and differences. Being PC is fine, but we also can’t be afraid to laugh about ourselves, so long as we do so fairly and equally. After all, the real humor of race, religion, and division is not so much in the differences between people, but that those differences exist at all.

July 4th is coming up and that means, barbecues, fireworks, and an annual re-watching of the Jeff Goldblum/Bill Pullman classic, Independence Day. Yet, even though July 4, 1996 is a historic date in humanity’s contact with extraterrestrial life, it is not the only entry in the history of alien invasions on this planet. People have been seeing little green menaces for years and, unfortunately, not all of them have been welcomed to Earth with a Will Smith-sized fist.

Mars Attacks
In order to understand humanity’s fascination with aliens we should really turn the clock back to Percival Lowell, who in his 1895 book, Mars, proclaimed that the Martian surface was covered in canals created by an advanced Martian civilization. Lowell, was not the first person to talk about these “canals,” that honor goes to Giovanni Schiaparelli, who first discovered the “canali” or channels, by observing the planet through his telescope. However, Schiaparelli stopped short of attributing them to any sort of civilization or sentient construction effort. Lowell, on the other hand, wrote three books on that very subject and captured the imagination of the public with the possibility of alien life. It wasn’t long after that when H.G. Wells -the British Roland Emmerich- published War of the Worlds, taking the idea of a Martian civilization to new and London destroying heights.

Suddenly, beings from the sky no longer seemed as friendly or as inviting. The populace was given images of alien walkers parading through Europe, blowing up landmarks, and generally being rude house guests. In response, the people of Earth were suddenly seeing Martians everywhere. In 1897, Alexander Hamilton, a farmer from Kansas -and not the founding father/rapper- reported the first incident of a UFO cow abduction and mutilation. Hamilton told of witnessing an actual alien craft that took his cows and left them butchered. The story was first run in the local newspaper, but was eventually picked up nationwide. It wasn’t debunked until 80 years later when an elderly Kansas woman admitted that she had heard Hamilton bragging about how he had made the whole thing. Yet, the damage had been done. In the popular subconscious, Martians and little green men were on Earth and they had a taste for beef.

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles -no relation to HG- and his Mercury Theater troop performed an updated version of War of the Worlds as a fake newscast on the radio. The broadcast began at 8:00 pm, but being the golden age of radio, most Americans were listening to the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy “Charlie McCarthy” on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 pm after the act was over. That means they missed the announcement at the beginning of the show that marked the production as a “fake broadcast.” So, what American listeners found when they switched the channel was what sounded like an extremely convincing emergency newscast. As many as a million Americans believed what they were hearing -obviously forgetting that it was the night before Halloween. Panic broke out, especially in New Jersey, where the first “alien walker” had been said to land. One woman in Indianapolis was even reported as running into a local church where services were being held and yelled out, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

Battle: Los Angeles
The biggest twist in the story of War of the Worlds is that each version -the Wells and the Welles version- were in some way prophetic of events to come. HG Wells talked about a massive war that would engulf Europe and destroy its cities. More than a decade later the planet found itself fighting just such a war, The Great War. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds talked about a foreign enemy invading and reeking havoc on a peaceful and isolated America. Less than a five years later, the United States would be embroiled in World War II after just such an attack at Pearl Harbor. Even Steven Spielberg’s version seemed to predict Tom Cruise’s religious views, but in the end that has always been kind of the point of good science fiction. It often works as a reflection of ourselves and the tensions in our society. Maybe that same concept is also why we are most vulnerable to stories and hoaxes during times of turmoil.

BattleLosAngelesAt 3:16 am, on the morning of February 25, 1942, the skies over Los Angeles lit up with anti-aircraft fire. When all was said and done, the military had fired more than 1,400 rounds, and eight people were dead, five from falling shrapnel and three from heart-attacks. Yet, no aircraft wreckage was ever found and there was no indication that anything had been attacked -other than by falling shrapnel. A picture published by the LA Times showed search beams focused on a patterns of light, possibly emanating from the bottom of some massive craft. This is what became known as the Battle of Los Angeles, and to this day people still claim it was an alien spaceship that triggered the air raid response.

World War II saw an increase in UFO or “Foo Fighter” activity. That was partially because of the stresses of war, partially because air superiority was so important, -and everyone was looking up for possible threats- partially because of possible Nazi super-weapons, but mostly because of a time traveling Dave Grohl. However, most Foo Fighters have been explained away over the years and the Battle of Los Angeles is no different. Experts seem to agree that the air raid was triggered by a weather balloon that was sighted by a nervous sky watcher. The massive response was actually understandable. It had only been 79 days sine the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and 24 hours since a Japanese submarine has surfaced near Santa Barbara and shelled the oil fields in that location. The city was on high alert, America was expecting another attack, and it only took one sighting of a balloon to set a match to the tinder. Most experts believe that the balloon probably popped and sank into the Pacific. The famous photo of the alien craft, on the other hand, can be explained by lens flares that had been “touched” up by a photo artist at the Los Angeles Times, a common practice before the invention of Photoshop.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
The sad truth is that Earth has never been invaded by aliens and we will probably never get a chance to use snappy one-liners as we casually defeat them with a computer virus that infects their oddly MS-DOS based computer systems. However, that does not mean we have stopped looking. The SETI program was established by NASA in 1959 to begin searching for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. In its time it went through several funding problems and eventually became a private endeavor, but it is still alive and kicking today, and mostly likely manned by a Hawaiian shirt-wearing geek playing office golf while listen to REM. On Aug. 15, 1977, the Big Ear radio observatory at Ohio State University received a 72-second transmission coming from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. The signal was 30 times more powerful than the average radiation from deep space, and Jerry Ehman, who was watching the stat printout at the time, circled the anomaly and wrote “Wow,” next to it. This became known as the Wow Signal, but it was never duplicated or found again, and there were no links ever established to an alien civilization.

SETI is not the only tool humans are using to look for aliens that can be seduced by Jeff Goldblum’s chest hair. The Keplar spacecraft is a telescope that NASA is using to identify extra-solar planets, and its been pretty damn good at it’s job so far. It has currently identified and confirmed 1,284 extra-solar planets. It also may have inadvertently identified an alien megastructure. In October of 2015, Keplar discoverd an odd intermittant signal around the star, KIC 8462852. Keplar identifies planets by plotting the dimming and brightening of stars as planets pace in front of them. However, the dimming discovered at KIC 8462952 is irregular and random. The problem is unsatisfactorily explainable by most known natural celestial bodies. There are still some possibilities, such a swarm of comets, but the discovery still has most experts asking questions rather than finding answers. Listen, we’re not saying it was aliens, but… Also, don’t strap on your flight suit and 1990’s aviator glasses just yet. The star in question is 1,500 light away from the Earth, which means the 8462852ians have a long way to go before they mind control our President and throw Mr. Data across a room.

Still, according to recent findings it is becoming incredibly more and more likely that aliens existed, at least at some point in the history of the universe. This comes from Astronomer Woodruff Sullivan, who not only won the Best Name in Astrophysics award, but published a paper recently, basically proclaiming that aliens existed… at some point. Don’t get too excited because he didn’t get visited during the night by little grey men with big eyes. No, he proves this all through math and with the help of the famous Drake Equation. This equation was first created by Dr. Frank Drake as a hypothetical way to determine the odds of extraterrestrial life in the universe. It takes into account things like the average rate of star formation, the number of planetary bodies around stars, the amount of planets that might be able to host life, etc. What Woodruff Sullivan basically claims, -Do his friends call him ‘Woody’ or ‘Sully’- is that a lot of these factors are actually becoming known to us through science. With the rate of extra-solar planetary discovery and our ever increasing knowledge and catalogs of stars and the rate at which they form, we are filling in a lot of the factors that Drake himself could only estimate, and the numbers are looking very much in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Life among the stars is an exciting and scary prospect, and that is kind of the point of all this. Humans have been wondering what might be out there since Giovanni Schiaparelli aimed his telescope at the red planet. The rest has been pure human imagination. You see, the existence of alien life, hostile or friendly, is as much about our own feelings and ideas as it is about any actual science involved. Much like Wells and Welles we project our own ambitions, fears, and motives on what we think alien invaders should be. In 1942 they were the Japanese, and in 1897 they were cattle rustlers, because those were things that we feared during those eras of our history. So aliens may exist in the constellation Sagittarius or it may be radioactive comets. Aliens may exist around KIC 8462852, or it may be a swarm of comets -come to think of it comets kind of explain a lot of things- but even if there is life out there we will probably never meet them. Our aliens are the ones we see in films that like to blow up national monuments, not because they are strategic targets or because of their military value, but simply because Roland Emmerich knows that stories about alien invasions are more about us than about them.


Image courtesy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-apuzzo/the-time-a-ufo-invaded-lo_b_6749734.html

As of the publishing of this article, 854,312 people have “disliked” the first trailer for the new Ghostbusters reboot. In comparison the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot trailer only received 20,223 dislikes, and that was a movie shot in grey tones solely for the enjoyment of the executives at Fox who were only interested in keeping the rights out of Marvel’s hands. We’re not saying that everyone hates the new Ghostbusters solely because the entire cast has “Ghost Traps,” compared to “Proton Guns,” -if you get our meaning- but we cannot deny that there is an element of our Internet culture that seems aggressively obsessed with hating anything that doesn’t discharge positively charged ions while standing up. However, the real question is where does that leave this movie, and what should the rest of us believe? Is it good? Is it bad? is it just another chance for a studio to cash in on 80’s nostalgia? We can’t tell you, because we haven’t seen it yet, but we can at least try to break down some of the arguments in this incredibly disheartening debate.

Slimer? I Don’t Even Know Her…
Let’s start off by saying we are all Ghostbusters fans. We have all seen the movies 2.3 million times. We quote lines daily. We all owned at least one action figure, and one of us may own the box set of the old Saturday Morning Cartoon show. So let’s start with people’s legitimate complaints. The remake of any classic “near-holy” movie franchise is going to raise some ire. In fact, the first trailer even goes out of its way to make allusions to the old movies, as if they were afraid that the Internet forgot they existed. It very much is a big sort of, “Hey remember this thing you love? Here it is again. Give us money.”  The real problem with defending the reboot -which we promise we will eventually try to do- is that from everything we have seen this new movie is designed to be pretty look like a retelling of the original. There are four Ghostbusters, three of which are scientists, and one is a poor black working stiff. In the first trailer we see them in a library, we see Slimer, we see someone get slimed, and we see a trailer goes out of its way to hit every familiar beat we know from the originals. Granted this is only information gathered from the trailer, but it does leave us legitimately wondering if we are going to see anything new this time around. We mean aside from the cast and director, and that has people concerned as well.

You see, some fans are worried because the movie was handed over to Paul Feig and notably Melissa McCarthy. They have both made some good movies and some bad, but if all we are getting is a retold Ghostbusters with the comedy styling of Bridesmaids, there might be a legitimacy to some of the fears out there. Those two things are a questionable mix. After all, the original movie and its sequel were the products of a very specific time in the 80’s and very specific comedic minds. There has always been something off putting about remaking the franchise, mostly because Murray, Ramis, Hudson, and Akryod, were epitomized for a generation with those movies. Their faces are as much the Ghostbusters as Harrison Ford is Han Solo, or Indiana Jones, or the President that one time. Objectively, it is going to be hard to see a movie without them in it. However, -and Michael Bay aside- we are also not saying 80’s nostalgia remakes are all bad. There has been plenty of remakes, reboots, and sequels that sit proudly on our DVD shelves along with their originals, -Well, we don’t really own DVD’s anymore but you get our meaning- but it is a hard formula to replicate.

There is No Dana,… Only Internet Trolls
Let’s be honest, though, the reason this movie has become so divisive is not really because it is a remake of some “holy cow” of our childhoods. It is very definitely because it is a remake of a “free-floating full-body holy cow,” being remade with women. The entire cast is made up of “Gatekeepers,” instead of “Keymasters,” -if you get out meaning, again- and the anti-feminists of the world are hoping mad about it. “Women are just incapable of being funny. What a terrible idea,” “Did this just become a chick flick?” “Feminists ruin the world,” “Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen?” “All-female, I think, would be a bad idea. I don’t think the fans want to see that.” The last quote is from Ernie Hudson, by the way, but put all of this together and you start to see a clearer picture of what is really going on here. This movie is facing a 30-story unstoppable thought-form specter made of anti-feminism and spewing sexism, like some sort of Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman-Hater. This is also not a new problem, but it is one that seems to have become crystallized by this movie.

Over the past decade there has been a movement that has formed -largely because of the Internet- which has been labeled as a Men’s Rights movement. This group of individuals -some of which are not actually men- see the rising equality of women not for what it is, but instead take it as an affront to their own manhood. They see it as the feminizing of our culture, as if raising up women somehow negates their worth. It is the kind of backlash movement that you see with anything. After all, white supremacists don’t go around shouting that they hate black men -well sometimes they do- instead they go around talking about “white pride,” or “preserving the white race,” or “White Lives Matter.” No hate group actually frames their message in hate. They couch it in a subversive pride, as if somehow making another group equal means demeaning their own group. These Men’s Rights activists don’t look at the new Ghostbusters and think, “Hmm… I suppose we can give women this, considering the majority of all other movies -especially in the action/comedy genre- so often cast women as vapid sex objects or MacGuffin-like prizes to be pursued and won by male leads.” No, they look at this very narrow and rare type of gender reversal and somehow feel it is a threat to them and their way of life. They have to focus on this one example so vehemently, because if they expanded their worldview even a little their argument falls apart.

Compare this to the classic movies, where even Dana Barrett a strong and capable woman still ends up being nothing more than Venkman’s love interest and the person the Ghosbusters need to rescue… twice. Janine Melnitz is the secretary who basically throws herself at Egon, only to be comically rebuffed by the otherwise distracted scientist. That is the majority of the women roles in the old Ghostbusters, and many similar 80’s and 90’s movies. Even Marvel -the wildly successful comic company- has never had a female lead, after nearly a decade of movies. The other problem is that the women selected for these roles are not “Hollywood Hot.” They are comedians, -all of which, by the way, are funnier than the majority of the current male cast members of SNL- but even in 2016 women in movies are meant to be eye candy. At least in comparison to men who can look like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogan and still pull in the crowds. There is an undeniable double-standard in Hollywood, and the new Ghostbusters, has knowingly and willingly stepped into it. At the very least, no matter how bad the movie may actually be, that is something worth applauding.

Don’t Cross the Memes
Here is the thing, if anti-feminists want a movie to watch there are literally thousands of them to choose from. We recommend 50 Shades of Grey, mostly because that movie spouts the same sort of abusive, untouchable, masculine power crap that most Men’s Rights activists would find appealing. In comparison, the new Ghostbusters is doing something to help break boundaries, and it is causing us to have this conversation. Those are both good things, and as fans of the Ghostbusters franchise we feel that is actually a pretty worthwhile addition to the history of these movies. Yet, the real problem with this whole containment breach of a conversation is that we may never actually know how bad or good this movie will be. There will be people who will hate it for no reason and others who will love it for the very same “no reasons.” This movie will never be judged based solely on its merits as a movie, and that is a shame.

As we said previously, we have not seen it yet, but we will. Hopefully, we will be able to be fair and objective in our like or dislike of this newest installment in the world of busting ghosts, but we are not always hopeful. After all, to hate it will mean that we are anti-feminists, but to love it may be disingenuous. This peripheral ectoplasam that we are all stepping in does nothing to enhance the conversation of whether or not this will be a good and a bad movie, and really isn’t that what it should really be about in the end? In a world that is truly equal it shouldn’t matter if the lead is a woman or a man or a green blob of free-floating goo. The fans are the ones that have kept this franchise alive for over three decades and that is something special. All the rest is just a bunch of bull… slime, but that’s only one opinion.

Box Office

What does Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and the Avengers have in common… besides Samuel L. Jackson? Each franchise has had one movie score over $200,000 in box office sales during their opening weekends. In Hollywood circles that is a big deal and a big indicator of a movie’s success, but is it? Is it really? You see box office numbers can be deceiving and it should go without saying that some of Hollywood’s biggest “successes” are also some of audiences’ worst movie-going experiences.

Spider-Man that’s a Lot of Money
Captain America: Civil War, debuted this past weekend with 181.8 million in opening weekend sales. That’s a pretty big deal, but those figures are not exactly a surprise to anyone. Superhero moves are hot these days, sequels usually tend to do better than their predecessors, and of course Marvel and Disney have perfected the art of the “hype.” Spider-Man, the original Sam Rami franchise -pre-emo Peter Parker- was the first movie to break the $100 million ceiling in opening box office weekend sales. This was back in 2002. Ten years later, another Marvel product, The Avengers, broke the vaunted $200 million ceiling setting the bar even higher, and studios have no intention to slow down. Everything from trailers to posters to viral internet videos are meant solely to put butts in seats. In fact, you non-nerds out there -we call you normies- may not even know it but this past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. Guess, what comics Marvel gave out as part of their promotions? If you guessed Captain America and Civil War comics, you would be correct, and they’re not alone. DC was not far behind with a Suicide Squad comic featuring Harley Quinn, because that’s how you get big box office sales, but why do we care so much about box office sales?

The answer is actually two-fold. First, as Americans we always tend to have a winner mentality. Hollywood knows this better than most -they exploit it with every sports’ movie they have ever made. So, by declaring a movie as having the “biggest” opening weekend, or being the “first” in sales for the weekend, they are driving more people to the theaters for the second and third weekends. We all want to be part of “winning” and we don’t want to be left out of something other people are enjoying. Hollywood is very proactive in promoting their numbers, because they understand that we subconsciously take box office sales as an indicator of quality, or at least acceptability.

Secondly, the world is changing, and it has been changing since Toby McGuire swung after Willem Dafoe through the streets of New York. Think about how the entertainment industry has mutated in the past decade and a half -like a teenage boy bitten by a radioactive executive producer- and how this has affected the movie industry. In the bygone days of DVD and VHS, homes sales used to make up half of a movie’s revenue stream. Between 2012 and 2014 DVD sales saw an almost 10% drop and that number has been steadily declining ever since, while streaming service revenues increased by 32% during the same time frame. Now studios are left to rely solely on box office sales as their home release profits rapidly decline. Unfortunately, what that also means is that movies no longer has to withstand the test of time. All the major money is increasingly being made on the front end. Movies are becoming more and more about spectacle and hype than about quality and sustainability, and that means Hollywood is starting to care less and less about plot and more about using every trick in the book to get your butt in that seat on a Friday or Saturday night, especially if you happen to live in China.

Transformers: Age of External Market Growth
What does Battleship, Transformers, and Johnny Depp have in common… besides Samuel L. Jackson? In the United States each of those things has become box office poison, but scored big overseas. The shift in the entertainment industry has lead to a greater emphasis on foreign markets, especially in Asia and China where more and more Chinese people are finding themselves with disposable income and a taste for Michael Bay explosions. Johnny “Screw you Australia” Depp is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Have you wondered why in the name of the Carousal of Progress Disney is making another Pirates of the Caribbean movie? It’s because A-List celebrities still mean a lot with foreign markets. 2014’s Transcendence, the Depp helmed sci-fi flop only made $24 million in the States, but garnered over $80 million at global box offices. That still didn’t make it a hit, but it proved that Jack Sparrow could turn a profit. Disney is well aware of the power of the foreign markets, considering 54% of Star Wars: The Force Awakens$2 billion total box office came from foreign markets.

Take a look at Transformers: Age of Extinction, the movie no one was asking for. If you watched the latest Transformers abomination you would have noticed that the last half of the movie takes place in China… for no real reason whatsoever. This was done to appeal to Chinese audience. You may also have noticed a trend where movies seem to go out of their way to not offend and even pay tribute to the efficiency and honor of the Chinese government, because any movie that does criticize the Chinese Communist party stands no chance of making it past their censors. In fact, if you saw Iron Man 3 in a theater in Hong Kong, you would have been treated to an additional subplot starring two loyal Chinese scientists that never made it to American screens. The terrible remake of the movie Red Dawn, originally had Chinese villains, but when word reached the studio that the movie would not be shown in China the studio digitally altered the film in post production to make the enemies North Korean.

Why does Hollywood do this? Simply put, money. According to a recent study by the Motion Picture Association of America, almost 70% of a movie’s revenue now comes form overseas ticket sales. America may be still setting the trend for movies, be we are no longer the target audience. What’s even worse is that things like storytelling and nuanced humor go out the window with foreign targeted films. American humor doesn’t translate well into other languages, because concepts of humor are different across cultures, the same with many elements of emotional and subtle storytelling. However, what does translate well is explosions, and if you wonder why we are seeing more movies with CGI and big things blowing-up its because a fiery ball of death is truly our world’s universal language. This new emphasis is also one of the reasons why Marvel has begun releasing their movies one week earlier in overseas theaters. America is slowly becoming the second market to a lot of these big budget movies, because thanks to box office sales, Hollywood is now more eager to get into theaters in Beijing than New York.

Avatar Exemplar
This is all leading to a lopsided system. You see, the problem is that box office earnings -and especially opening weekend earnings- is that they are a bad indicator of a movie’s quality. Batman v Superman made $166.1 million in its opening weekend, despite sitting at a lousy 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s true that the movie had a significant drop-off in sales after the first weekend, but not before the studio raked in the cash both domestically and globally, enough to keep the DC train of pain going for a few more movies. Look at Avatar. When it opened it made over $77 million in its first weekend and ultimately grossed more than $2.8 billion. Unfortunately, that means we are now getting three more Avatar squeals coming up in the next few years, despite that fact that no one seems willing to tell James Cameron that people saw the movie for the 3D effects, and not the hackneyed soft-core blue alien Pocahontas story. In Hollywood, box office determines everything from what movies get made to the skin color of the actors that are cast, but is it even a reliable indicator of success?

Actually, there may not be a worse indicator of success, because the numbers can be deceptive. In fact, most opening weekend box office sales tend to be estimates, as the numbers are usually calculated on Saturday night with Sunday ticket sales extrapolated from past data. Also, these raw figures do not take into account things like budget or marketing expenses. So Avatar may have broken records with a $2.8 billion gross income in ticket sales, but if you take into account a $300 million budget, the movie only made a 933% return on investment. That’s really good, but if you look at a move like 1980’s Mad Max, which made $99.7 million on a $200,000 budget, it got a return of 24,837%. Yet, how many “Top Ten Box Office” lists is Mad Max on? In fact, you can break it down further and determine how much money was spent by studios per ticket sold. In 2011, the top three biggest movies were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, ($381 million), Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($352.4 million), and the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 ($280.5 million)… Geez, that was a banner year for movies… Yet, if you break down sales by how much each studio spent per ticket sold you find out that Hangover 2 -yes, it truly was a banner year for movies- only cost the studios $2.50 per ticket sold to produce, whereas Transformers cost the studio $4.40 per ticket. Harry Potter and Twilight were able to keep the costs down at $2.61 and $3.12, respectively, because they shot two movies back to back and spread the cost out, but they were still not as profitable as a story about four drunk idiots making the same jokes they did two years earlier in a better movie.

Ultimately, this kind of ranking system says more about us than it does about the movies themselves. We put too much emphasis on which movie made more money, or who had a better opening weekend. Hollywood knows we are influenced by this sort of thing. They know that we all want to jump on the “bandwagon” and see what all the “hype” is about, and maybe the saddest part is that we no longer matter. Sp, even when America “votes with its wallets” against movies like Battleship and Transformers: Age of Extinction, all we do is prove how irrelevant we really are when compared with Asia and other places. These trends show no signs of slowing, so you had best get ready for more Avatars, more Pirates of the Caribbean, more Transformers, and more and more contests between studios to see who has the biggest box office in the boys’ locker room…

But if we can make one suggestion: Someone should really pull James Cameron aside and just tell him the truth already.

Captain America

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Registration Lists
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government, even if they are not openly working as a hero or villain. That means if you are just some individual with a job, a house, and a car payment -but you happen to glow in the dark- you still need to register your name with the United States government. People want to make the argument that forcing super powered individuals to surrender their identity is equivilant to registering handguns and firearms, but there is a difference. Owning a weapon a is choice, being born a weapon or accidentally being turned into one by the bite of a radioactive iguana is not. Creating a database of super humans is not a database of weapons but a database of individuals who will find themselves on a government watch-list, many of whom who have committed no crime or done anything other than exist.

Similarly, the argument could be made that there are many instances where individual citizens relinquish their rights for the betterment of the society as a whole, but those usually refer to criminals and terrorists. Monitoring and jailing super humans just for being super human or for refusing to have their name on a watch list should not be considered a criminal act. Terrorists and criminals made choices that led them to relinquish their rights, but -for the most part- anyone with super powers did not. You could make an allusion to mental patients being forced into hospitals for their own good, but even with that metaphor patients go into hospitals with the hope of getting better. Super humans have no such cure for being what they are, thus a registration act is a permanent jail sentence or a permanent life on a government list, always being forced to carry a special ID that marks them as different.

Superhero Arms Race
It would be too easy to make allusions to Nazis and other governments that have singled out a small minority for government-sanctioned exclusion or monitoring, so instead it might be better to address the issue as it affect heroes. These are the people who choose to put on a mask or cape and try to make the world a better place, and are suddenly told that they cannot continue in that line of work unless they reveal their identities to the government. Putting aside that in the Marvel Universe the government is regularly infiltrated by Hydra, Norman Osborn, and other villains, trusting them with the secret identities of heroes means creating a list of names and leverage that could be easily exploited by even your averagely corrupt politician.

Even more worrying, cosigning superheroes to government-backed worked -even domestically- leads to several other problems. How far is that from giving the government a cache of super weapons. After all, The United States Government spent years and billions of dollars trying to recreate the super soldier program that created Captain America. So what happens when they have a ready list of super humans on their payroll? Why would they not feel tempted to use those heroes and the leverage they have over them to turn them into soldiers on foreign soil instead of just peacekeepers on America soil? Someone once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” but it is one thing to have an individual hero carry the responsibility of his own powers. What happens when a President or a Congress get a hold of hundreds of super powered agents to use as they see fit?

Just as important, being a superhero means doing what is right. It means making tough decisions that may not always be politically savvy. Yet, under government control heroes will find themselves making decisions based upon the instructions and desires of those in power. If you start tying the hands of heroes with politics and bureaucracy, than it will be harder for them to make the tough calls they may have to make. After all, the government is not perfect. In fact, a lot of heroes get into the game because of the negligence or corruption found in local police forces. In the comics, people like Daredevil or the Falcon started their careers in order to protect their low income and minority neighborhoods, the kind of places that governments generally ignored or exploited. Yet, as government-sanctioned agents would they be allowed to continue protecting people from the corruption and ineptitude of the system they are now a part of?

What is Superhuman?
Another problem with creating definitions about people is that they are sometimes incomplete. After all, what do we consider superhuman? Are heroes like Hawkeye or Black Widow super powered or just skilled? What about Tony Stark, who has no innate powers. Maybe his power is that he is a brilliant engineer, capable of creating a mechanized suit that can do incredible things. Does that mean he is super human or not? Does he register based solely upon his Iron Man suits or upon his intellect, because if the latter is the case than we need to start giving IQ tests to everyone in America. If your IQ is above a certain amount than congratulations, you might have a super power, and you will need to register with the government and carry a special ID card. What about if you are an Olympic level runner or jumper? Suddenly, achieving mastery of a certain skill or quality might qualify you to land on a government watch list.

This has always been a classic problem whenever we try separating “us” from “them.” Where do we draw the line? And often times it is those gray areas where true problems begin. For example, in South Africa, during Apartheid, police officers would put pencils in children’s hair to check if they were “black” or “white.” If the pencil stuck then they were “black,” but if it fell out they were “white.” That meant an entire population of people was oppressed because they failed some arbitrary and ridiculous test. We do not want to make light of that terrible time in South Africa’s history by comparing it to the fictional discrimination against superheroes, but this argument is still worthy as a thought experiment. In fact, this entire scenerio was always meant to have real world equivalents.

The Patriot Act
Tragedy has a way of affecting us all. After 9/11 Congress implemented the Patriot Act, which began limiting the freedoms on all Americans. It led directly to increased airport security, internet surveillance, and even warrant-less wiretaps. These are the kind of things that would have been unfathomable even twenty years ago, but are now so commonplace we do not even recognize them anymore. It is no different with something like a Superhuman Registration Act, especially since super powered individuals are the minority. One of the reasons why the Patriot Act passed into law was because the majority of people collectively went, “It’s not going to affect me. It’s going to affect terrorists.” A superhuman registration would similarly cause the vast majority of Americans to say, “It’s not going to affect me. I’s going to affect super humans.” Yet, if we start oppressing people -any people- simply because of fear, regardless of whether it is because of their skin color or their laser eyes, where does it stop? Where can it stop? Restricting the rights of a “super human” is still restricting the rights of a “human.”

Any violation of the rights of a small and undeserving population is a violation of rights for everyone. Civil liberties are not selective. They cannot apply to one group and not another, or they are not “rights” at all. The real point of this argument is not so much about Captain America or the Marvel Civil War, but as a way to get us to talk about larger issues going on in our country and our world. Superhero Registraion may not actually affect us, but there are plenty of things that do, which we have ignored for far too long. Just remember that if the idea of a fictional government restricting the rights of people like Spider-man or Captain America is not unbelievable, than maybe it is also not unbelieveable that our real government could do it to others, immigrants, minorities, or anyone.

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Unregistered Weapons
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government. Regardless of whether or not they operate as a costumed vigilante or otherwise they must register their names and their powers with the United States. Many may see that as a breach of privacy or liberty, but you cannot ignore the fact that there are super humans with enough firepower to blow up small cities or level mountains. That kind of power needs to be kept in check. After all, in the United States, anyone who owns a handgun or other firearm is expected to register that weapon with the Federal government. That is a law created for everyone’s safety and this should be no different. It is about creating a database of people who have the potential to hurt American citizens and threaten the American way of life.

Admittedly, the outcry over privacy and liberty is valid. However, in today’s world, and with today’s technology people are giving up more and more privacy each day. Every time you log onto a website or check your social media you sacrifice some of your secrets for convenience and safety. The Superhuman Registration Act is about asking a minority of people to give up a little privacy for the safety of everyone, themselves included. After all, untrained and under-prepared heroes can get themselves killed as easily as anyone else. It is also worth noting that the secret identities of heroes would be kept secret from the general public. This law is not about revealing anyone’s vaunted secret identities, but about making sure the government has a database of powered individuals in case of emergencies. That is not unreasonable.

Training and Guidance
Secondly, Under the Superhuman Registration Act, registered super humans would receive training for their powers. That means people with newly acquired super powers would not be alone in trying to get a handle on how to use them. This is no different than being made to complete a handgun safety course, except in this case a person would be learning how to switch on the safety for a weapon that could decimate half of Cleveland. This could save a lot of lives, especially when faced with under-aged or under-trained heroes who might accidentally find themselves in a situation that they cannot handle, such as the incident in Stamford, Connecticut.

In the comics, the Registration Act is triggered by a group of young heroes known as the New Warriors. While taping the second season of their reality show, they stumble across a group of super-villains hiding out in a small house in Stamford, Connecticut. Though the New Warriors even acknowledged that they were not up to the challenge of taking down the group of villains they tried to subdue them anyway, because they deemed it would be better for the show’s ratings. Unfortunately, among the villains was Nitro, a particularly dangerous foe with the power to explode his body with the force of a megaton bomb, and that is exactly what he did. The explosion killed six hundred people, including sixty children in the small Connecticut town. Most of the New Warriors themselves were also killed. If the New Warriors had received the proper training and the proper supervision they would have been more aware of the limits of their own powers and the dangers of  trying to engage Nitro and his fellow villains in a populated area.

Government Agents
It is also worth noting that once super humans receive training they will not be forced to become law enforcement agents of the Federal government, but they will have the option to join the Fifty States Initiative as government-backed superheroes. This has the added benefit of giving heroes legal backing when apprehending criminals. As deputized agents of the government they could make arrests and will be held accountable for any unlawful actions, such as unlawful seizures or searches. All of this means that superheroes will now be held to the same standard as any law enforcement official, the same as the police or any federal law enforcement agency.

However, this it is not just about holding powered individuals responsible. After all, as agents of the government, the United States has the resources and ability to help heroes guard their identities and even relocate if something goes wrong. It is no different than an FBI or CIA agent who has had their lives and their families threatened by a criminal organization or other threat. Witness protection for superheroes is a far more effective strategy than just putting on a mask and hoping that no one can match your cheek-bone-structure with that of the guy who is bagging groceries at the supermarket. Secret identities have always been flimsy and if heroes or super humans are truly worried about the well-being of their families they would rely on help from the government to keep them and their loved ones safe.

Second Amendment
The NYRD has argued before that the Second Amendment is not infallible, and the same goes for personal freedoms. We give up personal freedoms all the time in the name of security. If you don’t believe us just go to an airport or a sporting arena. Iron Man and his side in the Civil War are not advocating enslavement or dominance, just measured restrictions on those who are powerful enough to blow a hole in the moon. If you favor gun laws than there is no reason you should not favor Superhuman Registration. Both are designed to keep people safe, train them in the use of dangerous weapons, and even offer a government paycheck for a job most heroes were doing anyway. Why would a hero ever refuse the backing, resources, or a government sanction? After all, isn’t that exactly what Captain America did in World War II?

Utlimately, when looking at the Marvel Universe, even well-intentioned and experience heroes can be involved in incidents that result in city-wide destruction and loss of life. How often are cities like New York faced with super-villains or giant robots or other events of tragic property and life loss? Instead of having a Civil War, wouldn’t it make more sense for heroes to come together to want to mitigate those types of tragedies as much as they can be mitigated? We don’t live in the Wild West, where gunman solve problems on their own. No, in modern America we need to work together as a society, not to make an argument against personal liberty, but to make an argument for personal safety of heroes, villains, and citizens alike


Now check out the Anti-Registration Argument

As much as we at The NYRD love movies, even we have to admit they get a little old every now and then. When we were growing up movies used to astound us and bring us to new places. Now it seems like all we get are the same old things wrapped in a new packaging, and sometimes even that has been recycled from the Hollywood landfill of the past decade. We are not experts in the movies, but we are avid fans. We do not have any insider information, but if we had to take a guess, we would say that you should expect to see these following movies -or ones very much like them-  coming soon to a theater near you…

Connect4Connect Four

Tagline: Four in a Row… and Live!

Synopsis: Four Teenagers set out on the road trip of their lives, making a cross country journey filled with partying and scenes of a sexually suggestive nature, but all is not as it seems. When three really white kids and their one token black friend discover an abandoned toy factory they soon come face to face with a man known only as a the Toy Maker, and he wants to play a game… of life and death. Now each of the four young and ridiculously good-looking teenagers must struggle to stay alive while connecting the pieces to the mystery behind their terrifying tormentor. Not everyone will survive the night, but those that do will have to figure out how to… connect four.

Starring: Paul Wesley, Grey Damon, Trey Songz, Chelsea Kane, and Haley Joel Osment as the Toy Maker

 


2012II2012 II

Tagline: No One Saw This Coming

Synopsis: How many times can the world end? Well producers Roland Emmerich and John Cusak intend to answer that in this dramatic sequel to the “commercially successful” movie, 2012. We thought the worst was over. We thought humanity had suffered enough, but we were wrong. The Mayan Prophecy had only just begun to wreak its havoc on the last remaining humans of planet Earth. Now four years later, the survivors find themselves in a desperate struggle to outlast the next onslaught in this terrifying vision of the future… Alien invasion, demonic hordes, zombie uprisings, and every single type of disaster that our team of 12-year old writers could come up with is about to come crashing down on the last vestiges of humanity… If only the Mayans had been more specific.

Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, and Andre 3000 as Jesus Christ


TrollsTrolls

Tagline: Friendship Comes in All Shapes and Sizes.

Synopsis: Troy was just an ordinary teenager with ordinary problems, homework, bullies, and that special kind of unrequited love that you can only get in fictitious movies. Now with the impending divorce of his parents, Troy will need some help navigating the weighty and world-crushing concerns of high school, and that is exactly what he is about to get. Trinalin was a troll of Trollworld, with wild pink hair and an even wilder desire for adventure, but when his world becomes threatened by the evil of the wizard Magolith, he must go looking for help. Now this young troll will embark on an adventure to our world where he will find more than he is looking for. Prepare yourselves for an unlikely friendship, a heart-warming story, and more CGI than a George Lucas wet dream. Will this be a heart warming movie for the ages, or just a quick nostalgia cash grab? We can’t say, but you had best get ready to be trolled!

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Shailene Woodley, and Seth McFarlene as Trinalin Pink


ElongatedManElongated Man

Tagline: How Long Can a Man Stretch Before he Breaks?

Synopsis: As a child, Randolph “Ralph” Dibney was fascinated with contortionists and body-benders. As an adult he became a leading chemist and created a serum he dubbed, “Gringold.” Now whenever Dibney takes his chemical concoction he transforms into Elongated Man, the elastic hero. Unfortunately, his dreams are soon shattered and Ralph’s beloved wife, Susan, is left dead on the floor. Now mustering all his courage and power the Elongated Man must track down those responsible and rehash every edgy/dark cliche that the superhero genre can throw at the audience. There will be violence, there will be blood, and there will be absolutely no jokes. Criminals are going to learn that no one can outrun the elongated arm of justice.

Starring: Jeremy Piven; Katy Perry, Jonah Hill, and Michael Emerson as Dr. Arthur Light

 


TetrisTetris

Tagline: Sometimes All the Pieces Just Fall into Place

Synopsis: Edward Mayard is a construction worker who has lost touch with his son, Johnny, following the death of his beloved wife. Adam Sandler stars as Adam Sandler pretending to be a down on his luck character struggling to pay the bills. A single parent, Edward is on the verge of losing hope until a strange old man offers him a job on his farm constructing an impossible wall made of irregular pieces. There are mysteries to be discovered, half-hearted wonders to be found, cliched tropes to be rediscovered, and some fart jokes. Sandler’s character will soon find out that he is building more than a wall, as he and his son heal the past and begin constructing a brighter future together. So this summer, come see another attempt by the veteran actor to get the studio to pay for his another vacation… Also did we mention it’s about Tetris. Remember when Tetris was a thing?… Tetris…

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jake Goldberg, and Ian McKellen as Old Man Sterns


MovforDumMovies for Dummies

Tagline: A Movie for the Rest of Us!

Synopsis: Philip Yodelman was kind of a screw up. He could just never seem to get anything right, his career, his relationships, but particularly Windows 97, until he met Margaret. An IT expert who came into his life to try and explain to him what it means to right-click… together, but how will he ever win her heart? It will take the help of his cool and hip African American friend, Albert, and an array of unrealistic side characters who will do their best to make Philip conform to their standards. Then again, sometimes there is only one person who can truly help a man become the person others want him to be, his mother, Katherine. Now Philip will learn one of the most powerful lessons of all, sometimes when there is no instructional manual for life, you just have to let others make it up for you.

Starring: Jason Segel, Jennifer Aniston, Will Smith, and Doris Roberts as Mother Yodelman.

 


JeopardyJeopardy

Tagline: Your Answer Must be in the Form of a Fist

Synopsis: When quiz bowl genius Harry Chang comes to the United States to compete on a famous trivia show he gets more than he bargains for. Now caught between the mafia and the FBI Chang must use his knowledge and his accidental martial arts skills to stay one step ahead of the competition. Come see Jackie Chan as you haven’t seen him in years. Thanks to some shady offshore banking technicalities you can once again watch this serious Chinese actor portray yet another two-dimensional stereotype who is really good at kicking people. So, come join us for a game of mediocre intrigue and shallow plot points punctuated by thrilling displays of martial arts. Mr. Chang, must make the biggest wager of his life, because if he fails he will truly find himself in… final jeopardy.

Starring: Jackie Chan, John Leguizamo, Samantha Matis, and Alex Treback as himself.

 


Fantastic Four: Never Stop Trying

Tagline: You Know You’ll See it Anyway…

Synopsis: A reboot of the edgy 2015 movie that was already a reboot of the lighter 2005 film franchise about a four friends who have been granted cosmic powers. Come witness the action and suspense of the same damn origin story and scenes you have seen at least two times before, with characters that haven’t been interesting since the 70’s. When Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben Grimm get their powers a whole new world is opened up for them, and that world is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because, let’s face it, we give up… You win Marvel… We too want a little of that sweet sweet superhero money. So, we have finally figured out that if you can’t beat ’em you might as well join them, which is exactly what the Fantastic Four think when they are forced to team up with the Avengers in order to make all the money there is at the box office for one weekend out of the year…

Starring: Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Channing Tatum, Jennifer Lawrence, and Liam Neeson as Stan Lee.


SavedbytheBellSaved by the Bell

Tagline: Time to Get to Class

Synopsis: Join Zach, AC, Screech, Lisa, Kelly, Jesse, and Mr. Belding in this updated version of the classic early 90’s sitcom. When Bayside High School is threatened to be shut down by the school board instead of their rival high school, Valley, can six completely separate students come together as friends to stop this terrible event and win the big game. It all rests on the shoulders of Zach and the gang to save the school and form a friendship that will last forever… or at least until the end of high school. So come relive your Saturday mornings in the 90’s, because good times never end when you’re saved by the bell.

Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Taylor Lautner, Michael Cera, Selena Gomez, Anna Kendrick, Emma Stone, and Dennis Haskins as Mr. Belding.

 


ExplosionsExplosions

Tagline: Because That’s All You Want to See

Synopsis: Director Michael Bay brings to life his newest vision for the screen in this heart warming, non-stop action packed, laugh out loud, thrill a minute, overdone, movie. Kurt Dumfrey is an ex-navy seal explosives expert who retired to run a dynamite factory. Unfortunately his quiet ordinary life is about to be interrupted by an uprising of robotic creatures with only one agenda, fiery death. The perfect killing machines, their sole purpose is to explode, sometimes for no particular reason. Only retired Colonel Dumfrey can stop this technological menace, by blowing them up first. If you think you have seen things blow up before then you haven’t seen Explosions.

Starring: Jason Statham, Shia LaBeouf, Rhianna, and John Travolata as Major General Walter “Short Fuse” Stackhouse

 

Today marks the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Just Another Attempt at Cashing in on a Comic Franchise. In preparation for the upcoming movie we have been bracing for the worst, while also trying to stay quietly and irrationally optimistic. Unfortunately, this movie has a tall building to leap in a single bound, and much like Man of Steel and its jaded and sepia toned hero, everything we have been seeing so far does not actually give us any hope.

The New Shifty Too
We here at The NYRD want to have high expectations for this movie. For many of us DC Comics was our first Springtime love. It was our first nerdy kiss, and like a first kiss it probably seems better in retrospect. Yet, it has gotten harder for DC defenders over the years, and that is saying something. Advents like the New 52 and the DC Cinematic Universe are not quite matching up to their Marvel counterparts. Criticism against the parent company of the Justice League is nothing new, but these days it is getting harder and harder to disagree. People have always liked to say that Superman is too powerful, too perfect, and too boring, and we can take that. Yet, the current problem is that one of those people is apparently named Zack Synder.

DC Comics has done everything they could to “improve” the character of Clark Kent, both under the direction of Snyder and in the New 52 comic universe. They have made him angrier, more tragic, and with a super scowl that could melt steel. The bright colors are gone, and is it just us or does Superman look naked without those red briefs? By altering the classic and iconic appearance of the Last Son of Krypton in order to fit into darker sensibilities, DC and Snyder have altered the character, more than they realize. Yet, that is simply a symptom of the larger problem, because what we get in Man of Steel is a bastardized version of Superman who is striving to be nothing more than a Bizarro reflection that wants to hang its foreign frame on the skeleton of Nolan’s Batman. For Hollywood the philosophy of “rinse and repeat,” is often their only strategy. Opening weekend box office sales may have gone “up up and away,” but DC needs to decide if the product they are giving us is truly representative of their past standards or just a momentary knee-jerk reaction to grab some quick cash.

After all, now that you have built a darker world where Superman -a man who literally is supposed to wear hope on his chest- is monotone and brooding, than what is the role of Batman? The great thing about Bruce and Clark is not their similarities but how they balance one another. Similarly their best moments rarely come when they are fighting, but instead when they are working together. Naming a movie Batman v Superman is such a juvenile transparent corporate profit stunt that it is barely made less ludicrous by the fact that they couldn’t even take the time to spell out “versus” or even at least abbreviate it to “vs.” It feels like the movie equivalent of a 5 year old ramming two action figures together and calling it a day, but then again, what else can you do when you have created a universe where your two main characters have the same depressed and violent personality.

The Last Straw of Krypton
Let’s get the obvious complaint out of the way first: Superman kills Zod, and as egregious as that is, it is only the beginning of the problem. In fact, we are a little surprised that Snyder didn’t slow down the reel so we could revel in the violence just a little longer, like Leonidas hacking a Persian to bits. Mr. Synder, we understand  you want to make a grittier and darker version of Superman, but sometimes tarnishing something that is supposed to be shiny and spotless makes that thing into something else entirely. This isn’t Sparta, and Superman is not Batman.

The Man of Steel is meant to be a boy scout. Bruce calls him that all the time, and it is meant as a term of endearment. It’s part of what makes him who he is. You lost a lot of people with that particular head-snapping-stunt, including Mark Waid, who explains, “Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering ‘Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…’ and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, ‘THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,’ and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out, and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.”

Snyder defends his position saying that this act will be the origin for why Superman doesn’t kill, but that’s not really the point.  That one final act just neatly crystallizes a larger problem. This Superman shows very little regard for human life throughout the entirety of the first movie. Yes, he saves people, but those are all scripted moments. They felt like peace-token offerings meant to placate audiences so that Snyder had an excuse to blow up buildings in the third act, because when the shazbot really does hits the fan we find a Superman who not only ignores the plight of innocent bystanders, but actively disregards the consequences of his destructive battle on the people caught in its path. We can understand the impracticality of stopping mid-fight with the major villain of the movie to try and save bystanders, but it would have been good to see Superman attempt it, despite the impracticality, maybe even because of the impracticality. If we had more examples of Superman trying to hold up a falling structure as people fled, only to be thwarted by a Zod counter-attack, then we might even have felt a little more urgency and even understanding when it came time for Superman’s fateful and final decision.

Superman: Birth Defect
In a non-Synder universe Clark becomes Superman to protect people. He wears a big goofy and bright outfit so people won’t be afraid of him. He does it because he feels this need to make the world a better place and because he is tired of hiding who he is. He does it to bring hope to people and to make his parents proud. In Man of Steel, Clark Kent becomes Superman because Zod forces him into the decision. He doesn’t begin his career as a savior, he begins it as a flying alien who would rather punch things, than stop a few fighter jets from crashing into the downtown area of Smallville.

Ultimately, that is people’s biggest problem with Snyder-man. The Man of Steel that we know and love from comics, cartoons, video games, and Richard Donner movies is a protector, not a warrior. That’s Wonder Woman’s job. Superman should be a beacon of hope who catches falling planes, not a dark avenger who hunts criminals. That’s Batman’s job. That is why the three of them work so well together, they are different shades of the same idea, but if Man of Steel taught us anything it is that DC believes their cinematic universe can only have one bleak and washed out shade of color. Superman shouldn’t need a reason for not killing. He knows how strong he is and how easy he can break things and break the people around him. The real Superman always understood that his powers gave him the responsibility to not do harm, but maybe in Snyder’s universe we can blame this particular flaw on the parents.

In Man of Steel Jonathon Ken expressed a real concern about his son exposing himself to the world, and any parent can understand that. However, you tend to lose audiences when he starts telling Clark that maybe he should let people die. More than the ending, that moment is the biggest let down of the movie. It was a metaphorical neck-snap of the entire Superman mythos. Pa Kent, a man who Clark always admired and revered and wanted to make proud, is reduced to a damned coward. As an aside, it is also worth mentioning that Clark Kent could have easily saved that dog from the tornado while walking at normal human speed. There was absolutely no reason Jonathon Kent had to sacrifice himself, especially because… again… Superman is not Batman. The Man of Steel never needed dead parents to motivate him, if anything it has always been his living parents that kept him grounded and happy.

We cannot be sure what Batman v Superman will add to the mistakes of Man of Steel. It is possible that this movie will hit the mark in ways we cannot even fathom and retroactively justify every decision made in the first movie. Unfortunately, with what we have been reading lately, that hope may be as long gone as Krypton itself. Despite the fact that DC still has award winning cartoons and enjoyable -if not a little campy- TV shows, heroes like Superman have always been easy targets for critics, but this time around we DC apologists may find ourselves facing another indefensible pile of CGI, jumbled plot lines, and frustratingly missed opportunities. For now, we’ll just have to console ourselves over a pint of ice cream and settle for rereading Superman: Birthright and watching old episodes of Justice League Unlimited.

It is that time of the year again, the super bowl of the film industry, the Oscars. It is when the stars and starlets of Hollywood come out to pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves for all the hard work they accomplished over the past year. We all watch as the names are called and the nominees sit fidgeting in their seats, a sea of nervous and expectant and very much white faces. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors for the actor categories, and though we here at The NYRD are not big on award shows -mostly because we have never been nominated for anything- we feel it is time we explore this trend in more depth.

The Nominations for Best Statistic in a Historic Context
One in 10,000. When the Economist looked at the demographics of actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild they found that roughly 30% of the SAG members are minority actors. so, if all the guild members were equally likely to receive Oscar nominations then each year -statistically speaking- minority Guild members would receive 12 out of the 40 available acting nominations. Yet, for 2016 and 2015 that was not the case, but just by shear numbers alone the odds of no single minority actor being nominated in back to back ceremonies, even during a 15-year period, are around 1 in 100,000. However, both you and that racists guy on the subway know that Oscar nominations are not handed out based on the statistical analysis of  sample groups.

The first black actor to win was Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress in 1939. She portrayed Mammy in Gone With the Wind, and accepted the award at a time when black people were not even allowed to be guests in the hotel that the Oscars were being held in. Yet, this milestone was not as historic as you might first think. McDaniel -herself the daughter of two former slaves- won for portraying a sassy black slave in a white-led picture. That was one of only few “acceptable” roles for black people to play in the 1930’s and 1940’s, let alone win an award for, but at least we have moved beyond that… right? Well, it was 27 years until Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor award, 73 years until a black woman, Halle Berry, won for Best Actress, and the most recent black actor to take home an award was Lupita Nyongo in 2014 for her stirring portrayal of… you guessed it… a slave woman. Only 15 African American actors have ever won an Oscar since the Academy began giving out awards in 1929.

Of course, the statistics get even more depressing when you move from black Americans to other racial minorities. African Americans make up about 12.6% of the American population, and since 2000 10% of Oscar nominations have gone to black actors. Latinos make up 16% of the American population and have only nabbed just 3% of nominations. Only 1% of actors with Asian backgrounds have received any nominations, and only 2% of actors from other heritage groups have ever been nominated. No one from those last two categories has ever won. It is even worse if you a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community.

Behind the Scenes
So why does this happen? Isn’t prejudice over in America? The answer to that, by the way, is a resounding, “No.” Like Hattie McDaniel, minorities are still finding themselves saddled with new but “acceptable” roles. They may no longer be the role of the sassy slave -even if some of them still are- but they exist. For African Americans it is the role of the rapper or the sports star. For Asians it is the role of the buffoon or the dragon lady. For Hispanics the role of the gang member or cleaning lady, and the list goes on and on. All of this happens, while white actors continue to get roles meant for minorities, such as casting Emma Stone as a Hawaiian, Ben Afleck as Latino, or Johnny Depp as Native American. Studios will tell you that these decisions are made for financial reasons. It can take over $100 million to get a movie off the ground and most studio executives are not be willing to risk that kind of cash on an unknown minority lead, which is sort of like saying you never want to risk trying asparagus because you’ve never tried asparagus before. It becomes a slow self-perpetuating problem.

Yet, surely Hollywood -the bastion of liberal America- has moved beyond institutional racism by 2016? The answer again, is a resounding “No.” Hollywood is much like any other industry in America, and despite the left-leaning views of its actors, the establishment is still very much entrenched in the racial notions of the past. The majority of the current membership of the Academy is still white and over 50, with an average age of about 63. Many of the people who are doing the nominating and decision making in Hollywood are still very much old, rich, male, and white. We here at The NYRD are not saying these gentlemen are overtly racist, but they are overtly stuck in their ways. Anything in the entertainment industry moves at glacial speed and change doubly so. When it comes to the movies themselves, they have become about opening box-office weekend profits, or chasing the current movie trend whether it be video game nostalgia, superheroes, or Chris Pratt. So studio executives will claim they are only following the trends set out by movie-goers, and that brings us to our next problem.

The Seat-Fillers
According to the LA Weekly, 61% of people in California who give their money to the entertainment industry are non-white, and yet even with such an overwhelming number of minority viewers and movie-goers Hollywood still chooses Jack Black to voice a kung-fu Panda while Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan have about five lines apiece in the same movie. So, what do we do as the viewing audience, protest? No, we go and see the movie anyway. We give our money to studios and say, “Ehh whatever, it’s just a cartoon. It’s just a movie.” It’s just a fictional representation internalized by society and subconsciously perpetuated everyday in America. Movies are not mindless entertainment, they are art imitating life imitating art.

Yet, we continue to support films that cast white leads as opposed to minorities. Even majorly minority movies, like Glory still prominently feature Ferris Bueller in the lead, because studios fear audience will not show up to see the movie otherwise, and in a way they are right. Selma has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it was beat in the box office by -in no particular order- a terrible movie about a kid with spider-powers, a story about Matthew McConaughey in space, a story about giant robots destroying our collective childhoods, a story about Jennifer Lawrence looking for her pita bread, and the list goes on. Of IMDB’s top 50 movies for 2014, only one of them stars a minority lead, and its a wacky comedy. In fact, compare Selma, a historic account of the Civil Rights movement, to 2014’s American Sniper, a historic account of a Bradley Cooper killing brown people and you start to see some disheartening numbers. Selma made $66.8 million, American Sniper made $547.4 million. Most of us cannot vote in the Oscars, but we do vote with our feet and our wallets.

When a child in a minority group looks up at a movie screen and sees no one who looks like themselves, they may not necessarily think, “I’m the weird one,” but when they see that same whiteness spread out across several movies and TV shows, then at least part of them begins to see that as “normal.” It is a problem when the things we pay hard earned money to entertain us also gives us subtle messages that white is normal, and non-white is the “other;” or that white equals the hero while black equals the gang member, Middle Eastern equals the terrorist, or Indian equals the IT guy. This is a trend that is not entirely the fault of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but it most acutely represented by the Oscars. All we can say is that maybe it is a time we took a good hard look at both Hollywood and ourselves. Change needs to come from theater seat, because right now it is not coming from the nominator’s or the director’s seat.

The original Ghostbusters came out back in 1984, as a true product of its time. The Reagan era was just starting to heat up. The recession of the early 1980’s was affecting families across the board, and Times Square had more strippers than a paint store. It was not a time for heroes who were powerful or rich or even expertly skilled. Instead, it was a time for the working class man to stand up and take charge. The Ghostbusters fit the bill perfectly. Blue collar workers just doing an extraordinary job, not with a flashy smile or a giant cape, but with jumpsjuits and an unsure joke, like heroic garbage men. We at The NYRD can only wonder if the newest crop of Ghosbusters will have the same every-man -or every-woman- feel to it.

Dogs and Cats
To understand the true charm of Ghostbusters you need some background on what America was like in 1984. Two years prior, unemployment reached 9.7% nationwide -and as high as 11% in some areas- which is the highest it has ever been. By 1984 it was still hovering around 7.5%, and would not shrink down to less than 6% until 1988. The recession of the early 80’s was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. This economic state came about because of a few factors. Many of the newly unemployed were from the production industry, as American producers began moving overseas or just could not compete. The Federal Government also tried to regulate inflation and unemployment through an artificial stop-go monetary policy, but it proved to be unsustainable, and eventually burst. In essence the economic loss was created through a failure of business and government.

Ronald Reagan was serving his first term in office and running for reelection in 1984. The President’s message of American exceptionalism and optimism resonated with voters and he easily defeated his Democratic opponent in a landslide victory. Part of Reagan’s success and part of the tenor of the decade came from the President’s personality. Some would call it arrogance, but for many it was a reassuring feeling that even when times looked bad Americans had the ability to pick themselves and change their circumstance and the world. This was doubly so when it came to the Cold War. America was left fighting an intangible boogeyman, but for maybe the first time in several decades that enemy no longer seemed as unconquerable or scary. American arms and ingenuity showed potential to exterminate the red specter, once and for all.

In the field of science, the United States was proving it could make fantasy seem like reality, with innovations like cell phones and stretchy pants. The shuttle program was still brand new and exciting. Suddenly, the astronauts going into space were no longer military heroes or combat pilots. Instead, the shuttle allowed regular scientists to journey into near Earth orbit to conduct tests and repair satellites. Being an astronaut now meant being a scientist, not a test pilot. The label of scientist itself was beginning to change. No longer did it apply to villains in pulp comics, or that guy in the laboratory with crazy hair. In a small way, scientists and their crazy ideas were becoming something more mainstream.

Crossing the Streams
Ghostbusters drew on everything that the early 1980’s had to offer. Dr. Stanz, Dr. Spengler, and Dr. Venkman were all scientists, originally working at Columbia University, but within the first few frames of the film they find themselves out on the street. Many people in early 80’s, including highly educated and professional workers, similarly, found themselves unemployed and forced to work jobs at lower wages that they were overqualified for. Enter into that mix Winston Zeddemore, who didn’t even believe in ghosts. He was just a man looking for a paycheck, perhaps the most believable motivation in movie history. Nor did the ghost-busting business even bring success to the four men as they were always broke, but like many Americans they pushed on hoping  to find a way out of financial crisis.

The group was never portrayed as heroic. They were just regular guys doing a job, and that has always been part of the movie’s charm. The Ghostbusters are more like exterminators than elite commandos. Even the imagery of Ecto-1, the simple uniforms, and the firehouse portray images of the working class. Being a Ghostbuster looks like a job anyone can do. In fact, part of the optimism of the 1980’s was the romance of the working man. People like Bruce Springsteen immortalized the plight of the average Joe who was just doing what he could for a paycheck and his lady. Yes the three main characters were scientists but they didn’t exactly fit any typical scientist mold, except for maybe Egon. Much like NASA, Ghostbusters showed us that scientists are not all alike. Some are weird and straighten their childhood slinkies while others can actually be funny and charming, and they were accomplishing something that even the government couldn’t do.

Reagan was a big proponent of the idea that the “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Nor was big business the solution either. After all, both the factory industry and government regulation had failed to keep the American people out of a recession. Instead, everyday people became the solution to even the biggest problems, including ghosts. The idea of actual and dangerous specters is the type of problem you would almost expect a government agency to handle. Gozer seems like the kind of thing we would need attack helicopters and marines to solve, but in Ghostbusters, the government is part of the problem. Gozer is heralded by an explosion caused by Walter Peck, the EPA representative and most-punchable-character, after he shut down the containment unit. Eventually, even the government of New York has to admit that the Ghostbusters -independent workering men- were more quipped to solve the massive ghost problem than their own agencies. It is the ultimate fulfillment of Reagan’s declaration.

Lastly, it may be a stretch to say that the ghost could literally represent the Soviet Union, but there may be something to the fact that in the 80’s people were tired of feeling afraid of some vague and nebulous specter hanging over them. The ghosts more accurately represent the ever present threat that hung over the Cold War, an intangible spirit that quietly menaced an otherwise peaceful existence. Yet, with the reassuring leadership of Reagan beginning a massive nuclear buildup suddenly defeating the Great Red-Free-Floating-Full-Torso-Vaporous Apparition seemed not only possible but within the realm of accomplishment. After all, what do the Ghostbusters use to defeat ghosts, nuclear power, or more precisely “unlicensed nuclear accelerators,” and of course a good bit of Murray -read American- charisma. In the end of the first movie the Ghostbusters choose the nuclear option to defeat Gozer and in the second movie they choose giant walking symbolism -and American patriotism- to defeat the Eastern European tyrant, Vigo.

Bustin’ Makes Feel Good
These blue collar hero scientists probably could not have existed in cinema even a decade before hand. The Ghostbusters were products of their times, and like any good art that imitates the paranormal-antics of life, they also helped influence it. For many children of the 80’s and 90’s -like those currently employed here at The NYRD- Ghostbusters became a mark of the decade as much as bright colors and big hair. Of course, it is also worth mentioning that the movie would not have been possible without the prior existence of organizations like Saturday Night Live or National Lampoons who perfected the right sort of comedy/interest movie that became so classic in the 1980’s. Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd did not set out to pen an existential and supernatural look at the world around them, but they did nonetheless. They not only managed to make something that was funny but also relatable to the world they inhabited. That is not an easy task for a supernatural comedy about exterminating giant walking marshmallow men, but it worked.

So as we near the opening for the newest Ghostbusters, we here at The NYRD have hope. Much like the original, the new one is emerging after a time of an economic recession rivaled only by the recession that helped herald the 1980’s Ivan Reitman film. Saturday Night Live -though modernized and slicker- still holds the comedic heavy-weight title and it is no coincidence that much of the film’s cast is drawn from its ranks. We doubt that this newest female-led version will be the same as the original male-led movie, but that’s okay. After all, if this new movie hopes to succeed, it will need to be a product of 2016 in much the same way that Ghostbusters translated and epitomized the feel of 1984.

Simulation Hypothesis

With the release of Deadpool this weekend we here at The NYRD thought it might be a good time to dive into some of the science behind… What’s that sound? Oh no, not him again.

Here’s Johnny!.. You called me name?

I only said it once.

That’s all it takes. Who do I look like Michael Keaton?

*Sounds of a Scuffle*

Hey folks and folkettes its your friendly neighborhood Deadpool here. The original writer of this Internet swill has found himself a bit tied up…

*Muffled screams coming from the closet*

…So I thought I’d take it from here. With the release of my mega-awesome movie that even Ryan Reynolds should not be able to screw up, I thought we should talk about one of the things that makes me so special, my katanas -I love them so much- but seriously I have been known to break the fourth wall on occasion. So I thought I would return the favor and help you mindless meat sacks do the same. Now it’s time to talk today about a little thing called the Simulation Hypothesis…. Muah ha ha ha… MUAH HA HA HA… *cough* Sorry had something in my throat.

The Professor X Factor
What is it that bald starship captain once said, “All this might just be an elaborate simulation, running inside a little device sitting on someone’s table?” Hey, did you ever notice he looks suspiciously like Professor X? Also, he’s not wrong. Star Trek is a TV show. Unlike you and me, that bald captain and his bearded first officer are fake. They’re only simulations, fictions in a fictitious world. A world, by the way, that is waaay better than those crappy Abrams movies. Not that I watch Star Trek, or anything, but I wouldn’t mind getting a night on the holodeck with Counselor Troi. I got a thing for girls who can read minds… I’d be like, “Hey baby, want to feel my emotions” as I pointed to my crotch, and she’d be like, “I’m wearing a phaser,” and I’d be like… Wait. Sorry, folks. I’m getting distracted.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe your reality is fake too? Now, now, just hear me out on this. I have a well thought-out and cogent argument: “You can’t prove that it, nah nah nah nah nah nah.” Think about it. It’s almost impossible to prove a negative, which is a negative statement itself, therefore its impossible to prove that you can’t prove a negative, but if you can’t not prove it then you can prove it? Ah screw it, because what I and other smarty smart people really mean is that there is a lack of evidence to disprove the Simulation Hypothesis. After all, the simulation itself would hide that information from us or make it so that we saw any discrepancies as normal, which is why I am a genius.

Seriously, look at old Tony Stark or even Reed Richards. Mr. Fantastic thinks he’s so… fantastic, but you and I know better. He has no idea he’s living in a comic book or in a critically and audience panned movie reboot starring that Facebook guy, but old Deadpool knows the difference. The Silver Surfer may have the power of Cosmic Awareness, but I have Comic Awareness. Even my old pal, Logan, thinks I’m crazy -and he’s had more people poking around his brain than the Sunday buffet line at Red Lobster- They’re all just afraid to accept the truth, I may be the sanest of them all. Isn’t that a scary thought, and here are some more:

What is the Matrix… Now, I’ll Take Dead Comic Characters for 200, Alex
If all of this is sounding like a Keenu Reeves movie then you’re wrong. It is nothing like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. What it does sound like is The Matrix and there is a reason for that. The creator of the Simulation Hypothesis, Dr. Nicholas Bostrom didn’t come up with this idea until 2003, thus ruining people’s grasp on reality the same year that The Matrix Revolutions ruined people’s grasp on a good franchise. Now, I’m not saying he stole the idea from Keenu, but I am also not not saying it. Nick “The Boss” Bostrom -that should totally be his nickname- came up with the idea that we’re all living like a bunch of Sims, except with less magic pool ladder removals. C’mon, you know you’ve done it. I once constructed a small room where I kept my sim for 8 weeks, only allowing them to live on bare minimum food and water till they slowly went crazy, or wait, was that my housekeeper? Truly, life is a strange and mysterious place.

So you might be wondering who in their right mind would want to create a computer simulation to watch millions of people basically do nothing with their life but watch cat videos on YouTube? The answer would be aliens or post-humans or intelligent hamsters or something. Basically whatever evolves next on this planet might have an interest in creating simulations of the way things were before the Hamster Apocalypse of 2136. Look at it this way. Is it impossible to believe that a civilization would ever have the technology to create a fictitious world with advanced artificial intelligence programing, whether it be for purposes of learning, experimentation, or just good old fashioned voyeuristic entertainment? According to The Boss and his thought-experiment we have three scenarios to consider:

  1. The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
  2. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; or
  3. The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

I am going to say that number 2 is definitely incorrect, because as most of the Internet knows, if we had the technology to create intelligent computer programs we would probably already be running a porn based simulated world, populated by pizza delivery men, pool boys, and naughty school girls. Yet, if we accept number 1 as true, then we also accept that we are real but we’re probably going to do ourselves in before we get to the level of technology needed to create any artificially intelligent girl on girl simulations. So in my foremost expert brilliant opinion it seems that we almost need to accept number 3. If posthuman simulations are numerous and possible it would mean that statistically we are already living in one.

Unlike Neo and Laurence Fisburne, the Simulated Hypothesis does not say that we are actually humans at all. Nor are we living in vats with our brains wired up to giant car batteries, though that does sound like a good afternoon’s diversion. No, the Simulated Hypothesis claims that we are all computer programs, generated by a larger program. In fact, the program could be running at 10x normal speed and we would not even know it, anymore than Keenu knows it when I fast forward my DVD over his parts in Point Break. We did not create the simulation. In fact, it is more likely that the program created you using random code and personality algorithms. The program may not even have an end goal, other than to simulate civilizations. That means free will is still possible, at least to a point. We are not playing this game, we are the game. We’re NPC’s and we do not have any control over our programmed environment, anymore than the simulated ants walking on the ground, at least till their stomped under my heel. Yeah, take that ants. That’ll show you for thinking you’re better than me.

Frank Castle is a Wimp
The Boss Bostrom points out that we could be the first generation of morons to inhabit this planet and that it may be us who will one day create the simulations that are the subject of the Simulation Hypothesis. his ideas are not so much about whether this thought experiment is true, as much as it is about probability. Statistically speaking there could be a whole lot more simulated people than real people. There may even be multiple simulated versions of you and me. Actually I know there are. I’ve met them, like Ultimate Deadpool, that’s guys a jerk, a handsome jerk. The point is that if there are two simulated versions of you and one non-simulated version, than you have a higher probability of being one of the simulated versions. If you believe that humans -or hamsters- will one day possess the technology to create simulated intelligent worlds, populated by billions of simulated people, then you need to accept that the number of simulated people will outweigh that society’s non-simulated ancestors. So, if everyone who ever or will ever exist –simulated or otherwise– guesses that they are the non-simulated versions, then statistically the majority of them will be wrong. Hell, the real world may not even be like our fictional world. We could be living in a world programmed for increased gravity, higher levels of oxygen, or even higher levels of tolerance for bad Spider-Man movies.

Again, there is no real way to test this, other than for some random malware glitch to suddenly turn our world into a hellscape of penis enlargement advertisements and desperate Nigerian princes. Oh what a world that would be… Some argue that we could test it if we find incomplete areas in our simulation. You know, like if there are things that don’t make sense, like dark matter, dark energy, or the appeal of the Kardashian family, but even with that type of thing we could just chalk it up to a lack of scientific knowledge, and reality TV. There is also a theory that says it we figure out how to make our own simulations then our great unseen couch potato masters will probably pull the plug on us. We may never know, because the only way to really test the Simulation Hypothesis is to have an exceptionally long life span. The longer one lives in the simulation the more likely they might be to see the end of it, but barring amazing healing powers and sweet katana skills, like yours truly, most of you will probably not live long enough to prove anything, other than the existence of heart disease.

You see, that’s kind of the point of this idea. We are all only trapped in our own bodies. We only have our own perspectives and experiences to draw from. Everyone else around us might as well be computer characters. That would also explain why I often enjoy playing real-life Mortal Kombat with those hobos near the train tracks. -There used to be a lot more of the- So, who is to say we aren’t all fictional characters in a fictional world created by madmen and DC Comics writers. There’s a scary thought, but it brings me to my real point. Maybe you people need to start being a little more like me. Break the fourth wall, break someone’s perception of reality, or if that doesn’t work, break their jaw. Just do something to show those possibly-overweight-and-over-pimpled computer gods that you’re not content to live in the reality they assigned you. So, go crazy, because we may all just be one spilled can of Mountain Dew away from total annihilation.

Don’t you just love a good thought experiment? Personally, I am usually up for any sort of experimentation, if you get my meaning… You know a lot of people underestimate how scholarly and worldly I can be… Well okay, I basically copied a lot of this wholesale of Wikipedia, but this writing thing isn’t too hard. I don’t know what these NYRDS are always complaining about.

*Muffled yells from the closet*

JJ Abrams is at it again. Not content with sitting back after releasing the biggest movie of the past decade the director, best know for Lost and making millions of Star Trek fans very upset, has decided to revisit the world of his lackluster shaky-cam monster movie, Cloverfield. Even more interesting the movie, titled 10 Cloverfield Lane, is set to release on March 11, and we are only seeing the trailer today.

In typical Abrams style both his production company, Bad Robot Productions and Paramount Pictures kept the entire movie under wraps for the majority of its production, which is an admittedly impressive feat in today’s social media world. Back in 2014, Bad Robot and Paramount announced that they hired Dan Trachtenberg to direct a post-apocalyptic thriller titled Valencia or The Cellar. We now know that was just a ruse, as the secret title of the movie was really Cloverfield 2.

Though not shot in a found footage style shaky camera, the trailer below does still give the feel of a homemade recording style. 10 Cloverfield Lane stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr. and John Goodman. A sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield, the details are still unclear. From what we know, Winstead’s character wakes up in a bomb shelter with two strangers. The world outside is supposedly destroyed from nuclear fallout, but in typical Abrams style we don’t get much more than that.

It will be interesting to see if the Cloverfield monster makes an appearance or if this will just be a single-room post-apocalyptic thriller, with only very minimal ties to the original movie, but what do you think?

Check out the trailer below and let us know if you are excited to see more of the aftermath of the 2008 monster flick? Will this movie follow in Cloverfield’s footsteps, all hype and no substance? Will we find out that John Goodman is the true monster, the actor not his character? Let us know all your theories in the comments below.

10 Cloverfield Lane will be released on March 11, 2016.


Image courtesy: http://hdmoviespoint.com/cloverfield-2008-movie-720p-free-download/

We here at The NYRD finally feel that enough time has passed that we can be -relatively- certain that most of the world has seen Star Wars: The Force Rises Groggily After Its Alarm Goes Off. So we decided that now might be the best time to have a heart-to-heart about the movie’s main protagonist, Kylo Ren and how he almost certainly reflects the Star Wars and geek community at large. We are by no means the first people to point this out, but we think that both it and Ren are worth exploring. It should also be said right now that if you haven’t yet seen this movie -because you’ve obviously been frozen in carbonite for the past six months and we want to welcome you back to reality- be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Geeking Out Far Far Away
Kylo Ren is a geek, and not just any geek. He’s a Star Wars geek, and we mean that in both the sense that he is a geek in the Star Wars galaxy and a geek for the Star Wars galaxy, specifically the story of Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is obsessed with Vader in only the way someone on an Internet forum could be. More to the point, he also hates Anakin Skywalker -and possibly Jar Jar Binks- because he is that kind of a nerd. Kylo Ren is a purist. In essence he is a fan of the original trilogy, and only the original trilogy.

It makes sense in a way. Darth Vader is by far one of the coolest villains in all of movie history. Tall, imposing, and vicious he is more a force of nature than an actual person. “More man than machine,” as someone once said. Even when Vader gets angry all he has to do is force choke an admiral or two and be on his way. He almost never flies off the handle or acts irrationally, except for that whole Nooooooooo incident, but we don’t really talk about that… except for right now. The reason that outburst of emotion at the end of Revenge of the Sith seems so odd is because it is way out of character for what we know as the big man in black. That is also why so many people have so many problems with Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren included.

Hayden Christensen’s and Jake Lloyd’s acting aside, Anakin is annoying. It is one of the reasons why the prequel trilogy never worked as well as the original. Unfortunately, by the very nature of the character of Anakin Skywalker he will always get immediately compared with Darth Vader and will always come back looking weak and whinny when compared to his cooler and older counterpart. However and more to the point for Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker was good and Darth Vader was not, and that is where the distinction seems to be drawn for our Master of the Knights of Ren. The son of Han and Leia is a hardcore fan. He practically cosplays as the man and he even went so far as to collect memorabilia of his grandfather -though he did take it out of its original packaging so it will eventually depreciate in value.

Let the Nerd Rage Flow Through You
The irony is that Kylo Ren is arguably more powerful than his grandfather. It was often said that all the machinery in Vader kept him from fully accessing the Force, but his grandson does not have that limitation. He does not merely stop a blaster bolt with his hand, as Vader did. Ren freezes it completely in mid-air, and then proceeds to have a conversation with very little effort. Kylo Ren can rip memories and information from people’s minds. He does not simply Force choke his opponents he completely incapacitates them. However, unlike Vader’s cool and simmering anger, Ren’s rage explodes in violent tantrums. In many ways he is a child, an incredible dangerous one, but a child nonetheless.

What makes Kyle Ren more dangerous than Darth Vader is that Ren is a white-knuckled-zealous-fanatic when it comes to the First Order. He doesn’t just believe in this new diet version of the Empire, he lives it. It is part of his identity as a person. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand only joined Palpatine in some misguided attempt to save Queen Panda Bear. He held some beliefs similar to Darth Sidious, but his motives were more about justifying a personal end. That is why he ultimately turned back toward the lightside when confronted with the faith of his son, and why Ben Solo did not turn back when faced with the faith of his father. His obsession with the First Order and the darkside are part of how he identifies himself as a person, same as any one of us who proudly label ourselves as an unabashed Star Wars geek or nerd. After all, that is why so many people get so angry over things like the Special Editions, or the prequels, or anything else George Lucas did in the past two decades. No matter how much we may not mean to, we make these things part of ourselves and then when someone or something threatens them we react, sometimes irrationally.

In the Star Wars: The Force Struggles to Brew Its Morning Coffee, Kylo Ren’s rage is often triggered when things are not going his way, but especially when people violate the things he holds sacred. When faced with “Finn the Human” he very clearly yells the word “traitor,” because that matters to him. Finn, by running away from the First Order, stepped on something Ren holds dear. Vader, on the other hand, never cared if you were a defecting stormtrooper, Rebel-cannon-fodder #2, or a Kowakian monkey-lizard. He would just kill you without needing to tell you what you were. Also and in the most heavy handed symbolism of the movie, Kylo Ren literally unleashes his rage on a computer terminal, because that’s what you do when you’re a nerd. If someone argues that “Greedo shot first,” your only recourse is to thrash wildly at a computer screen until you make your point, and that is exactly the guiding principle that drive Ren through most of the movie. Some people may find him to be an uncomfortable, petulant, and unabashed man-child. Unfortunately, that is also exactly how many people see us Millennials.

The Millennials’ Falcon
Kylo Ren is the kind of person who will defend his obsession with the countenance of a cosplaying Sith Lord who just got told that Captain Kirk could beat up Darth Maul, because he is a Millennial. Think about it for a moment. We can assume he was raised in relative comfort, living in the shadow of his famous parents. He probably never faced much hardship as the previous war was mostly won by the time he was born. The Empire was defeated, his parents and uncle were heroes, and he was expected to live up to their legacy. Yet, he was not as cool as his father, as smart as his mother, or as focused as his uncle. He probably spent much of his childhood feeling inadequate and alone and -like many of us- he turned to stories for solace and escape. He found his identity and idol in the man who was his grandfather. Dark, imposing, and powerful, Vader must have seemed like a mythic figure to young Ben Solo. He did not just want to be like the Sith lord, he wanted to be the Sith lord. He even went so far as to kill other Jedi students, emulating the violent acts of the man he admires.

Not all Millennials have lived the easy life in the shadow of the hardwork of their parents, just as not all nerds rage at computer screens when people disagree with them, but there is an intersection of both populations where that is the case. Jar Jar Abrams is making a comment on the blind fanaticism of hardcore Star Wars fans, but there might also be a valid criticism buried under that black mask as well. There is something ultimately chilling about a geek gone wrong. Kylo Ren is a villain who feels alone and unloved, and he long ago gave up reality for the fantasy of his obsessions. He did not just fall from the lightside, but actively ran from it. Despite his in inability to properly pace a movie, Abrams does a good job of holding up a mirror to his own audience. We are like Luke Skywalker, entering the Darkside Tree on Dagobah. We think we are facing an all powerful imposing villain, but instead when the mask falls away, we find a reflection of our own faces.

For the most part, Millennials, especially nerds and geeks, are amazing people. Most of them will give you the limited edition 1978 Millennium Falcon shirt right off their backs, but we must all admit that there is a darker aspect to our culture and our love of things, like Star Wars. Like Kylo Ren we tend to make our favorite stories a part of our identities and personalities, and then we rage against the people we perceive as threatening who we are. With the advent of the social media and a popular culture that has suddenly embraced all things geeky, the angry nerd is starting to become a villain. In a way we may be forgetting to actually enjoy the things we claim to love, and instead we are spending our time looking for all the little things that make us angry. The true irony is that there has been no bigger target for nerd rage over the last fifteen years than Star Wars. So maybe Abrams actually hit the womp rat on the nose with this one.  Star Wars: The Force Drags Itself Out of Bed and into the Shower was by no means a perfect movie, but it does remind us that it was just a movie.

Long ago, our ancestors gazed up to the stars to find the meaning and guidance that was hidden in the sparkly goodness of the zodiac. For in those celestial shapes they found wisdom and stories of great heroes and deeds. We are no different than our stargazing forefathers, as we too tell stories of heroes and sepia toned supermen, and those stars still hold many truths for us, as well, which are just waiting to be discovered.

Much like the standard zodiac the signs of the nerd zodiac or Nerdiac can give us great insights into our day to day living as well as the many talents and special qualities we posses as both people and geeks. Many ancient nerds believed that you could discover a great deal of relevant information about yourself through reading about your Nerdiac sign. So we at The NYRD invite you to find your sign and your destiny.

Archaeologist
March 21 to April 19
AcherologistThe Archaeologist is a desert sign and those born under it are regarded as adventurous, active, and outgoing. It won’t matter where you go or how remote or unusual it is. From the Outback to the Antarctic, you can be sure that an Archaeologist has been there before you. Although they are independent, outgoing and assertive they are also surprisingly trusting, and at times will innocently walk into a temple of doom with no thought for their own safety. They love to discover new things, and very much believe these things should be shared with the world, because sometimes it really does belong in a museum. Yet, no matter what upheaval, challenge, or triumph that confronts them, Archaeologists have a wonderful ability to find their way through. Their faith in life and the future remains untouched by hardship, and their gift is such that with every new discovery the world is still a magical place (and there are sometimes aliens, but we try not to think about that one.)

The Archaeologist is considered the most masculine sign of the nerd zodiac, with females born under the sign sometimes called Crofts and men sometimes called Jones. In romance, Archaeologists are forceful, dynamic, and aggressive, and can often intimidate potential partners. For true happiness a person born under the Archaeologist sign needs a partner that balances their component traits (their true mirror reflection side). This balance can often be referred to as The O’Connells. Archaeologists are doers rather than talkers. They are the impulsive. They act first and doubt later. Their ability to live life close to the edge provides them with a wealth of real experience to call upon. Being active people Archaeologists cannot adapt to any kind of restriction, particularly possessive relationships. They often travel to escape any feelings of being stuck or possessed, even have been know to jump out of their own office windows on occasion.

Vulcan
April 20 to May 20
VulcanUnderneath their cool, calm, and logical exterior, Vulcans differ greatly from all the other signs of the nerd zodiac. Often times they will let others get close, but only so close as they want them. Some claim that trying to connect with a Vulcan on an emotional level is similar to trying to break through a Tholian Web, but that is not true at all. There is no such thing as an open-book Vulcan, but their feelings, fears, and desires often run far deeper than anyone around them would guess. In some ways, of all the souls you may encounter a Vulcan’s will be the most human. Their true spirit often remains hidden behind a veneer of day-to-day activities, which is why those born under the Vulcan sign can sometimes be perceived as withdrawn, boring, or even cold. In terms of the future, Vulcans hate the unknown and often strive to create tomorrow in advance, rather than leave it to fate. They do not normally seek adventure or the unknown, instead preferring a life where they can live long and prosper in other realms.

In love, they are regarded as extremely sensual beings, but ones which only mate on an average of once every seven years. For most people, a relationship with a Vulcan will be defined by intellectual pursuits and based in cold hard reality, but when a Vulcan mates, they mate for life. It is the rare and lucky person, (friend or lover) for which a Vulcan will reveal his true inner self, because he or she has and always shall be your friend.

Timelord
May 21 to June 20
TimelordThose born under the sign of Timelord are always on the move; thirsty for knowledge and new experiences. Terminally curious and sometimes even mischievous, Timelords are multi-faceted souls who enjoy knowing a little bit of everything. Those born under the sign of Timelord have also gained the reputation of being the incessant talkers, and have a special interest in anything foreign or unique in the universe. Their comfort zone has almost no boundaries, and as such when things often look their worse a Timelord will be in their prime. In love, they look for a companion who can keep up with them mentally and physically. Among the many signs of the nerd zodiac, they are the sign that is often discussed, dissected, and sometimes even put down most by the other Nerdiac signs. This is sometimes a subtle form of jealousy by others, because Timelords lead very unique and unusual lives. Those born under this sign are lovers of adventure and game playing that involves out-thinking other people.

Their personality usually appears mysterious or detached to others and therefore they are often misunderstood and unappreciated for the talents they offer to the world at large, but this does not mean they do not feel, for in fact they have two hearts. Most members of this sign simply hide their feelings behind their jovial and verbose natures. It is rare and often scary when a Timelord chooses to reveal any hurt, pain, or sacrifice they bear. That is called going a little Capaldi. It is has been said, that even demons run when a Timelord goes to war.

River
June 21 to July 22
RiverThose born under the sign of River, are one of the Nerdiac’s enigmas. It is fair to say that most are a bundle of contradictions and mysteries. One moment, a River can seem like a child, scared and alone, the next that same person can be capable of slaying a hundred Reavers. They invoke strong family ties, especially those between siblings. Those born under this sign are also incredibly intuitive to the point of being psychic. They can be compassionate and caring with friends and family, yet find a weakness that will cut you to your bone. The mood of a River is ever changing, making them endearingly eccentric and insecure. They are often described as an albatross, both lucky and unlucky depending on how they are handled. Rivers go through many phases of experience. Life doesn’t stand still for this sign of the nerd zodiac, and even if they remain in one place or on one ship, they live as much in their internal ocean of emotions as they do among reality.

They flow both up and down, like a leaf on the wind. Most Rivers feel one way one minute, then sometimes totally different the next. With their changeable natures Rivers are fascinating, mysterious, stimulating, and extremely alluring. This sign is one of the most alluring of all and once their touch has reached you, they can be the most beguiling partners and co-pilots you can hope to find out there in the black.

Kingslayer
July 23 to August 22
KingslayerKingslayers are said to be born fortunate. Charismatic and ambitious, they attract not only an abundance of friends and opportunities, but manage to survive life’s stormy times with style and good humor. Once a Kinglsayer is committed to a relationship, no matter how incestuous it may be, they are totally devoted and faithful. Any born under this nerdy zodiac sign are often considered honorable, though others may find their honor to be a twisted sort of one. Much like their namesake who slew the mad king, Kingslayers will often taken measures that may seem extreme, but are entirely justifiable to themselves. In love, should their heart or trust be broken they will never forgive or forget. When a relationship breaks down -even a long standing one- they can disappear into the South without a backwards look. For a Kingslayer, when a relationship is over, really over, it is over for good. They will move on, sometimes finding solace in new and larger companions.

Above all Kingslayers are trendsetters, leaders, and adventurers. Their weakness is their pride, and sometimes their golden hand. Some sayings associated with those born under the Kingslayer are, “flattery will get you everything,” and a “Kingslayer always repays his debts,” in coin as well as in blood.

Samwise
August 23 to September 22
SamwiseSamwise are often put down by many and perceived as being soft and provincial. But when this sign of the nerd zodiac shines, there is practically no stopping their inner light. When a person born under the Samwise sign is confident within themselves they are the most successful, structured, and creative of all the Nerdiac signs. Many Samwise can be found working in the service to others, such as teachers, gardeners, and fellowship companions. One of the most magical characteristics of the Samewise is no matter how many times life turns sour on them, they still manage to maintain faith in others, refusing to become cynical. There is an genuineness around this sign, a kind-heartedness, which unfortunately is sometimes played upon by others for their advantage. Samwise can often become victims of relationship power-games, where they are mistreated. Creative and sensitive, people born under Samwise are delicate, like rare and special orchids that often require individual treatment to fully blossom into their true unique beauty.

Shy at times, they are content to allow others to take center-stage and often generate their time and energy into making those they love happy or successful. They are givers and when the chips are down and you need someone to help you bear your burden to a mountain of fire, you want a Samwise. With them in your life, you will always have someone who understands and cares, and any romance or friendship based upon these qualities is certain to be mutually rewarding.

Link
September 23 to October 22
LinkIt is the fantasy of every adolescent born under the Link sign to rescue the prince or princess of their dreams. As their lives unfold and the Song of Time is played, the experiences, false starts, dramas, broken heart pieces and disillusionment they encounter while seeking this personal quest, often shapes their futures in the most extraordinary manner. Love and love-lost (especially when lost to evil wizards) makes a big difference to someone born under this sign of the nerd zodiac, although the happy-go-lucky appearance they present -against all kinds of odds- may not reveal this as fact. Links can switch off from the world, as easily as turning off a video game. Many who fall under the sign of Link can be difficult to fathom, but that is because many born under this Nerdiac sign often don’t express the more diverse sides to their personalities. When applied their charm can win jobs and provide powerful friends, whether Zora or Goron.

It is a sad fact that many Links fair far better in both personal and professional ventures if they remain alone, but for those who do find their secret dream and rescue their prince or princess, that is another story. A Link must always remember that when they are looking to fulfill their dreams they should never undermine their own integrity, or anger the chickens. Life for a person born under this sign is a true quest, and if they stick to it long enough, not only will they find their Master Sword, but reach their goals, no matter the adversity.

Skywalker
October 23 to November 21
SkywalkerReputed to be one of the most powerful signs of the nerd zodiac and the Jedi, Skywalkers lead fate-filled lives and have intense and dramatic personal relationships. Even as children on Tatoonie, Skywalkers are often found to be wise beyond their years, and gifted pod-racers. Those born under this sign often know all the answers, but they have difficulty finding what they need to develop their own happiness. Passion, desire, and power go hand in hand for those born under this sign. This often leads to many challenges and temptations, and a Skywalker’s biggest test in life is choosing between the power of love and the love of power. Coming to grips with their extraordinary emotional depths and sensitivity isn’t easy for those around them. They are different from all other Nerdiac signs and this difference has them following a different path to their destiny. Others can often live with a Skywalker partner for years -and for many horribly acted scenes- but not really know them. Their eyes often blaze with feelings that words never express, and beware on the days or nights they hide their feelings behind dark helmets, as there is likely to be a force storm brewing.

When you deal with a Skywalker you have to always deal with them on an intuitive level. They often wear a mask and occasionally a respirator, and too often say no when they really mean yes. Once they find true love they can be the most faithful and dedicated of all partners, but fall out badly with a Skywalker and you are likely to find your windpipe being crushed. They never forgive or forget. Most born under Skywalker are winners. The main thing they have to worry about is their attitudes, which influence their mind powers and can either make or break them for the dark or the lightside. When they are negative about something or someone, or critical of themselves, they can tend to get in their own way, because sometimes the only thing found inside the Cave of the Darkside is what you take with you.

Airbender
November 22 to December 21
AirbenderAirbenders possess a natural exuberance, sense of adventure, and love of life that makes them one of the most optimistic  signs of all. Like their element of choice, those born under this Nerdiac sign tend to blow toward whatever it is they find alluring -a love partner, dream job, vacation, etc- and make it their own. Airbenders believe that anything is possible, and because of this belief system, they are adept at seeking out their own destiny. They are not blown by the winds of change, instead they control them and bend them to their will. Sometimes trying to tie down these free-spirited individuals is frustrating for those around them. Airbenders are happiest on the move, exploring new cultures and ideas and many are attracted to occupations related to travel, outdoor work, begin the avatar, and philosophical pursuits. In love, they often shy away from being fenced in, but once they find a partner who understands their needs to retain their own sense of self and identity, Airbenders can be the most big-hearted, generous and fun-loving companions of all.

Although people born under this nerd zodiac sign are often intellectually and spiritually advanced, they are notorious for their directness, which can sometimes be seen by others as a lack of tact. However, they are freedom loving, optimistic, and honest. Those born under Airbender are ruled by a wisdom all their own, and have an inherent need to develop their own unique philosophy of life.

Ironman
December 22 to January 19
IronmanThe sign of the high roller, Ironman is regarded as the Nerdiac’s top in life and business achievers. Often the most hard-shelled and stubborn of the signs, it can be difficult to get an Ironman to concede on any point, whether it be physically, mentally, or politically, especially when it comes to superhero registration. Those born under this nerd zodiac sign are often never content till they reach the top of whatever endeavor they are involved with. However, with their stubborn nature also comes patience, an iron will, and repulsor cannons. They reach their goals because they know the longest journey commences with a single step and that the first step is always the most difficult. However, the one thing an Ironman must always try to do is balance work with play; otherwise they can become too one-sided, sacrificing one aspect for the other. Ironmen often do rise to the occasion when faced with a new task or deadline, even if it sometimes takes them a while.yet, if things go wrong, their ambition to reach the ultimate keeps them moving forever onward and upwards.

They are also innovators who are willing to think outside the box and try unusual approaches on their road to success in business or in love. Romantically, they desire a permanent relationship with someone who will give them the affection they crave and often neglect to give themselves, but finding that person will be a road of trial and error, even if he or she have been staring them in the face -getting coffee, fetching dry-cleaning, being an under appreciated personal assistant, etc- all along. Although many Ironmen are borderline workaholics, this does not necessarily make them dull or gloomy. They have an offbeat sense of humor, which seems to erupt at the most unexpected moments. Their motivating force in life is success, money, status, authority and, -although many might not admit it- love.

Batman
January 20 to February 18
BatmanThose born under the sign of Batman have a high focus on intellect and perfectionism. Others may view them as eccentric or misunderstood. Many inventors, explorers, and caped crusaders are born under this Nerdiac sign, and with such a high level of focus, Batmen succeed in almost any area they devote themselves to, whether it be physical or mental. This trait is often a boon and a bane, as this level of focus also means that a person born under the Batman sign may have trouble letting go of past hurts and are often haunted by the things about their life they cannot change. Many extremes surround this sign, and these extremes can take them to heaven or hell. In everyday terms, most Batmen are humanitarian in nature and often devote themselves to helping others. They can also be objective in judgement, as they have a unique talent for burying their emotions in an inner cave. Men and women born under this nerd zodiac are happiest when they are useful and they often have a strong sense of right and wrong. However, their single-minded obsessions can sometimes lead to a life of insomnia, as those born under the Batman are the most likely to suffer from sleeplessness.

In romance, the Batman is unlucky. The extremes of their life often lead to quick and shallow relationships, as many partners will not see beyond the mask of the billionaire playboy. Those lovers who are able to pierce the veneer will often be another Batman, -also sometimes called a Catwoman, for a female born under this sign- and the relationship, though deep, will never be smooth.

Snape
February 19 to March 20
SnapeMysterious and alluring individuals, most Snapes are gifted in many ways, but still manage to spend most of their lives battling confusing conditions. Snapes are frequently torn between two pathways in life, often mirroring their own conflicting desires to serve or rule. This can lead to an almost dual life as villain and hero. This nerd zodiac sign is acknowledged as being the Saint and the Sinner rolled into one. Snape is the sign of the lost soul, the philosopher, the psychotic, and the visionary. As a credit to them, and considering their many vulnerable characteristics, those born under this sign are incredibly adaptable and resilient. Many Snapes can be amongst the top wizards of the world, but many can also be found in places such as Azkaban. One thing that plays havoc with the life of a member of this Snape sign is romance. They often replace fantasy for reality and this is especially true when it comes to relationships.

Most born under this Nerdiac are more likely to pine for a person from a distance, unable to act on their feelings and yet equally unable to let them go. This can sometimes result in situations were a person born under the sign of Snape may be forced to help the offspring of a long lost love defeat a dark wizard, despite the conflicting emotions of hate and love they may feel for that child. Snapes are the nerd zodiac’s most sensitive sign, and should take extra special care, as nobody can beat them up as much as they can beat themselves up -with maybe with the exception of those kids from Gryffindor.

2016

It is 2016, a shiny new year in the 21st century. There is no denying that we are in the future, a time when our sock hopping ancestors believed we would have things like jet packs and underwater cities. Instead all we have are underwater pollution and -criminally mislabeled- “hoverboards.” Still, our modern era is not all bad, and we here at The NYRD are optimistic about what is yet to come. 2016 holds a lot of promise and we thought it would be best to start the year off right and talk about all the good possibilities, trends, and breakthroughs for the coming year, because we all know there will inevitably be bad enough ones too.

Virtually All Reality
2016 will mark the beginning of consumer virtual reality. VR headsets are set to become the next big “thing” in the technology and gaming world. This year will see the release of the Oculus Rift as well as several other devices. These new VR sets will range from premium high end models to cardboard boxes that can be fit around your smart phone, but rest assured our reality will never look the same again. Whether it will be playing games, watching movies, or even experiencing news stories first hand, the world is going to start to look  a lot different in ways even we cannot imagine.

Franchise, Franchise, Franchise
We would be remiss if we did not use this opportunity to bring up some of the most anticipated video games, movies, and TV shows coming out in 2016. This new year will most assuredly be the year of the shared universe, with movies like Batman V. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ghostbusters and of course, Star Wars: Rogue One. Disney will be certainly looking to shove even more Star Wars and Marvel down our collective gullets, and -truth be told- we are sort of okay with that. On the small screen side there will be plenty of old and new shows to look forward to, including the return of Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Sherlock. However, we are also looking forward to new Agent Carter and Daredevil, not to mention a possible Luke Cage show near the end of the year. Meanwhile, other shows like Preacher and the new X-Files have our interest piqued, and, of course, we would hate to leave out that 2016 will mark the last season of Mythbusters.

In the literary world, everyone is talking about a possible 2016 release date for The Winds of Winter, George R. R. Martin’s next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Unfortunately, we would advise that you don’t hold your breath, unless you want to be just another causality in the long list of deaths attributed to the blood soaked career of Martin. JK Rowling is also getting back into the Harry Potter game with her newest movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a new stage-play following the adult Harry Potter titled, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

On the video game side, there is only one title we here at The NYRD want to talk about, No Man’s Sky. This self-creating infinite galaxy MMO has the possibility to blow the lid off the immersive video game genre, and has the potential to pave the way for all new gaming experiences. Last year, NMS “stole the show” at every conference and convention where it was previewed. This could mark the next leap forward in video game experiences and we fully expect that we will have to shut down our office for a week just to get a grip on it.

Juno, the Dragon, and Beyond
This year in space exploration will see the Juno probe visit Jupiter in hopes of unlocking more of the gas giant’s secrets, including the moisture content of its atmosphere and how it was originally formed. There is still a lot we don’t know about the largest planetary body in our solar system and Juno is going to help us figure it out. We should also see the first manned launch of SpaceX’s Dragon V2.  SpaceX just ended 2015 with the successful landing of reusable rocket boosters that have the potential to dramatically cut costs of space launches. If everything remains on schedule American astronauts will no longer have to be dependent on Russia to reach the International Space Station. Instead NASA will buy them tickets on the Dragon, much like one might buy a bus ticket, except with more explosions and more leg room. Lastly, the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will be completed this September in Guizhou Province of China. The largest single-aperture telescope in the world it will be able to gaze three-times further into space than its predecessor, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Weathering the New Year
We ended 2015 on a high note, the Paris Climate Summit was an unmitigated success, but in 2016 the real work begins. There is a lot of reason to be hopeful. In June all the states of the USA need to submit their plans to reduce emissions from power plants. The US Energy Commission is predicting an impressive increase in all renewable energy sources, and a steadying of CO2 based emissions in comparison with the past four years. This includes a 14% growth for solar and wind energy. With hybrids and electric cars becoming more affordable and commonplace, and with increasing EPA emissions standards even car manufacturers and other big businesses are starting to think green.

Around the world places like India and China are starting to slow their pollution. China has even suspended new mining endeavours, which gives real hope that we can stay under the 1.5 degree mark for global warming. One could even say the winds are starting to change, at least as long as that person doesn’t mind using terrible cliched puns. We at the NYRD are completely above all that, of course.

The End of the Rainbow Discrimination
With both Hilary Clinton and Barry Sanders -who co-sponsored the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964– have expressed deep concern for the fact that 31 states have no explicit law  against firing members of the LGBTQ community for their gender or sexual identity. This is despite the fact that it is now legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. There is a strong hope that 2016 will see an end to this type of discrimination. With the two front-running democrats both claiming they will push for a more protection for LGBTQ people we have high hopes that something will get done this year on this issue. At the very least it should become a topic of major debate both for Presidential nominees and members of Congress.

50 Shades of Gun Metal Gray
President Obama recently announced that he will be enacting an executive order to tighten existing gun laws in the country. This comes after a 2015 filled with mass shooting and nonsensical rhetoric. In fact, 27 Americans were killed by guns on Christmas. We will not go into the specifics of the President’s plan -as he still has yet to announce the majority of it- but hopefully more regulated gun control can make 2016 a much less violent year. Unfortunately we are already off to a rocky start. With any luck things can only improve.

Another hope for less violence comes in the form of an announcement that the Justice Department will begin keeping track of how many individuals are killed by law enforcement officials. In the past, the data collection on either purposeful or accidental deaths caused by police and other law enforcement were voluntary. In other words, it was near impossible to get clear statistics, data, and accountability on the rise and decline of police violence in certain areas. This is only one small piece that has led to more mistrust of law enforcement by citizens, especially by black Americans, in a year already riddled by alleged brutality and possible police misconduct. Having greater statistical accountability is only a small step, but it is one in the right direction. With any luck, in 2016 we will heal the wounds of the previous year and help us move forward not as black or white but as citizens and neighbors.

No Country for Old Politics
Currently, the American political landscape is a mess. The Republican primaries are more bloated than Jabba the Hutt after a large meal, and the front-runners are more extreme and perverse than even some of Jabba’s tastes. On the Democratic side a David and Goliath battle is being waged between the party establishment-hopeful, Clinton, and the social media darling, Sanders. Even worse everybody on your Facebook seems to have an opinion and none of them are completely satisfying, but there is a possible silver lining to this darkening and maddening cloud.

The popularity of Sanders, Trump, and Carson -despite what anyone may think of their politics- is actually a hopeful sign. The Democratic and Republican parties have been controlled for too long by party elders and big donors, all of which seem out of touch with what the common American wants. The fact that any of the “fringe candidates” are still polling competitively at this point in the race shows that things are starting to change. Trump and Carson are especially interesting, because even though they couuld never win a general election, they are exposing cracks in the normal GOP/Tea Party rhetoric. There has been speculation that this could even lead to the dissolution of the party or at the very least to a radical changing of the Republican party in America. That may be an extreme example, but either way nothing is ever going to be the same again for the conservatives.

Bear in mind, that we have made our opinions on Trump and his hate-mongering known before, but he does prove that the power of the people can outweigh the power of the corporations and the lobbyists. Bernie Sanders, too, has practically financed his entire campaign from donors giving $200 or less. Whenever anyone talks about the political system these days it is always in tones of how much worse things have gotten, but for once, let’s take a step back and see the positives of what is going on.

All the Rest
Finally, we cannot forget that 2016 marks the Summer Olympics in Rio, where -surprisingly- the USA Rugby team has a decent chance at winning the gold. -We bet you didn’t even know that the US had a rugby team- Of course, there is also San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and all the other great conventions and annual events look forward to as well. As it stands the coming year offers a lot of promise for a better, stronger, and nerdier America and the world. However, these things are never easy and the path is almost never clear. That is why it takes people like you and us to forge it.

So, if you are looking for a resolution, let us offer this suggestion. Do everything you can to read and educate yourself on the important changes, topics, and events going on around you this year. Use your knowledge to take an active role and not sit on the sidelines. Get out and vote, or volunteer, or even just offer a helping hand to a friend in distress. 2016 can be a truly amazing year, but only with your help. As for us, we here at The NYRD promise to do our part to try and keep you informed and entertained this new year. So stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.

Have a Happy and Hopeful New Year.

Personally, we would have went with the title Independence Day: Veterans’ Days, but that is just us. However, it could be accurate as both Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are looking much older than their former alien fighting glory days in the new Independence Day trailer. Of course, Will Smith is nowhere to be seen, which will remain to be seen whether that is a good or poor decision on the part of DC’s Deadshot. Still despite all of this we are intrigued.

Independence Day is one of the seminal Roland Emmerich disaster movies. When it was released 1996 it set the new record for not only what a disaster movie should be, but gave us a new ideas of the alien invasion movie. Also, Will Smith had all the good one-liners.  However, from what we see of this new trailer, it is possible that this next movie will be more of a sci-fi adventure movie, rather than a disaster movie. After all, Earth has adapted and rebuilt. It has used the technology from the crashed alien ships to upgrade their technology, which looks like it includes new fighter jets, laser guns, and Jeff Goldblum on the moon.

You would think this new fight between Earth and the invading aliens will be a bit more balanced, which could lend for even better drama or could prove this new Independence Day was a blockbuster too far. Let us know what you think? Will the aliens win this time? Will a bearded Bill Pullman give an even more epic speech? Is Will Smith Dead? let us know your thoughts below.

Independence Day: Resurgence opens in theaters on June 24, 2016.


Image courtesy:http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/independence-day-resurgence

It is finally here in all its mutant-loving, bald-headed glory. The first trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse. This movie will follow in the footsteps of Bryan Singer’s reboot/retcon of his original X-Men movie franchise. Now that X-Men: Days of Future Past has fixed the canon we can all go forward confidently as our mutants, under the care of Charles Xavier, fight Apocalypse and 80’s fashion in this newest installment of the franchise. From the shots we have seen and the trailer below we are very excited to see what Singer will bring to the table when dealing with the most powerful foe the X-Men have ever faced.

Though the trailer does not give us much in terms of plot we definitely get several good glimpses of the young X-Men, including Cylcops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Sansa Stark… err Jean Grey. We do know that we will finally learn why Professor Xavier is bald, -we have our money on Nair- and how the Xavier Institute finally came into permanent existence. We also got a possible glimpse of Apocalypse’s four horseman: Storm, Psylocke, Archangel, and Magneto, from the looks of it. We will just have to wait and see if any of those predictions are right.

For now we want to hear about your thoughts on the trailer. Are you excited? Still bitter that our favorite mutants are not in the MCU? Let us know in the comments below. X-Men: Apocalypse will be in theaters on May 27, 2016.


Photos courtesy: http://www.ew.com/gallery/first-look-x-men-apocalypse

It has finally arrived the trailer for the second film featuring the Michael Bay mutations that sort of resemble a cartoon show you used to watch as kids. With that said, we will admit that there is something a lot more fun and interesting about this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle trailer than anything else we have seen from the rebooted TMNT so far. For all the criticism we can give you -and there is a fair amount- we can at least say this seems to be the weirdest and most cartoonish live-adaptation of the Ninja Turtles we have ever seen.

From this trailer alone we get a look at Casey Jones, the Turtle Wagon, and everyone’s favorite mutated duo, Beebop and Rocksteady. It doesn’t even look like the producers and animators tried to make those two appear different from their late 80’s cartoon counterparts, and that makes the little kid in us scream in excitement, just a bit. It even looks as if this movie is toning down the steroid-tastic look of the turtles themselves, which is good, because that made out inner little kid scream for all different reasons.

It helps that Michael Bay is no longer attached to this movie franchise, but his stink still seems to remain. The movie looks like it will not be toning down the gratuitous sexualizing and racist stereotyping that we have come to expect from productions associated with the explode-fetish director. Still there is hope as the story for TMNT 2 has been penned by none other than Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who were responsible for bringing us the Turtles in the first place.

Surprisingly, we at The NYRD don’t hate this movie, but watch the trailer, judge for yourself, and let us know your opinions in the comments below. TMNT 2 will hit theaters on June 3, 2016.


Image courtesy: http://moviepilot.com/posts/3343622

The Lego Movie was a surprise monster hit to everyone, including the staff here at The NYRD, and as life long Master Builders ourselves we were thrilled with the movie we got. It had all the humor, action, and anti-copyright arguments Internet writers such as ourselves could hope for. “Wait,” you might be asking, “what was that last one?” It’s true the Lego Movie -intentionally or unintentionally- brought a pretty strong argument for why copyright laws in the United States should be lessened, and it is all cleverly hidden inside a movie that showcases more copyrighted materials than a Walt Disney investors’ meeting.

Following the Instructions
Believe it or not copyright laws in the United States date back to the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 states, that the United States Congress has the power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Odd capitalization aside, the Constitution helps protect the intellectual property of artists and inventors because artistry and innovation help bolster a free a vibrant society. The clause does not go into the specifics of how, as that was later established through several Supreme Court cases and copyright laws. Originally works by authors and artists were copyrighted for 28 years after their publication, before being deemed public domain.

Because -as crazy as it sounds- part of the original idea of copyrights is that they are supposed to expire, and that is why we are now free to remake things like Macbeth, Hamlet, and A Christmas Carol -in every possible way, every December. It is why Disney can make movies about the Little Mermaid or Snow White or Cinderella and not have to pay a dime for using those characters. Thus, it is the biggest irony that Disney is one of the largest proponents of extending copyrights on their licensed products, but they are not alone. Mark Twain, for instance, was a big believer in longer copyrights and so over the years that original 28 years became extended more and more. In 1821 it was extended to 42 years. In 1909 it was extended to 56 years. In 1976 it was extended to the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. In 1998 it was extended again to the lifetime of the author plus 70 years, a decision which was heavily pushed by none other than the Disney corporation.

So what does this all have to do The Lego Movie? A movie in which Will Ferrell plays an evil Lord Business that is highly invested in keeping all the Lego Lands separate and tidy according to their original building instruction books? It is only Emmett and his ragtag group of Master Builders who dare buck the system and use pieces from different worlds and properties to build new and original creations, despite the efforts of Lord Business and his micro-managers. The Lego Movie could have easily named their villain anything: Lord Absent-Father-Figure, Señor Manuel de Instrucciones, or even Darth Meticulous -actually that is a good name, I think we’re going to copyright that one… No, instead they named him Lord Business.

Lego Wild West©
In the movie Emmett addresses the Council of Master Builders in Cloud Cuckoo, and with a name like that you know it must be some crazy cloud. It is a place where builders go, free of the influence of Lord Business to mix and match and create using existing Lego sets and properties. No one in Cloud Cuckoo cares if you have Gandalf and Dumbledore arguing or if you find Batman hitting on Princess Leia -well Han Solo might care. Essentially, this crazy cloud place exists outside the rules of Lord Business and his walled off realms of Legoland. You know what other type of cloud based crazy space exists like that and often defies the rules of corporate copyrights? The Internet.

Though The NYRD does its very best to stay within all legal limits of copyright and fair use practices, we know that websites like ours, which regularly use copyrighted material to promote -and intelligently discuss- issues and stories would face greater scrutiny in the world of print media or television, because those are the realms which Lord Business controls. The Internet is a place where all the Lego sets are free to be taken apart and rebuilt in new and crazy ways, but not if corporations have a greater say in things.

Bad Cop is Lord Business’ main henchmen, which is sort of funny when you think about it. In the world of Lego the great corporate tyrant could have picked anyone, a ninja, a pirate, a spaceman, but we are presented with a bad -and sometimes conflicted- representation of the law. In fact it is Bad Cop who leads the attack on Cloud Cuckoo, which imprisons the Master Builders and limits the creativity and free expression that was taking place there, and we came very close to seeing such a thing happen back in 2012 with bills such as SOPA and PIPA. Those two Congressional bills aimed to put much greater legal limits on the use of copyrighted materials on the Internet. It is the most literal example you can have of the law coming in to do the bidding of big business. Thankfully, both SOPA and PIPA were struck down, but with no thanks to large corporations such as the Disney Company.

Lego Pirates©
We here at The NYRD are not condoning piracy. The literal stealing of movies and the verbatim reproduction of other people’s intellectual properties is wrong and rightly illegal, whether it be music, software, literature, movies, or television. However, what we are talking about is not piracy but creativity. The government already recognizes the need for creators to have rights to play around in the worlds and franchises of already established fictions. It is why we have Fair Use and Parody laws already on the books, though often the meaning of what constitutes “fair use” is still debated. Without the freedom to use and exploit established material we would be deprived of great works, especially in the realm of comedy. Without these laws Mel Brooks would not have a movie career and that would be a tragic loss for the entire world.

It is great to have established franchises and properties. We love them, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and all the rest. We love hearing stories that take place in their universes, but when the rest of us are free to borrow and reexamine our favorite fictions and characters in new and interesting ways -both disturbing and wholesome- society as a whole benefits. All of sudden, something new and wonderful could be created, like a double-decker sofa. Because, The Lego Movie also makes the argument that when you are stuck in a world of strict copyright laws the best any of us can really look forward to is bland intellectual properties like the show, “Where are my Pants?” Open copyright laws do not cut into the fun of the original artists’ work, if anything they enhance it. They also do not cut into a companies’ profits either.

When SOPA and PIPA were being argued in Congress by Good Cop and Bad Cop, it was said that copyright infringement and online piracy were costing the United States anywhere between 58 and 250 billion dollars a year. As Freakonomics points out, those numbers are both unrealistic and possibly arrived through faulty methodology. Even Disney has recently learned that lessening their fiendishly white-gloved grip on their properties has benefits. One of the contributing factors to Frozen‘s massive commercial success -and the reason you can’t get Let it Go out of your damn head- is because Disney chose not enforce copyright laws on the millions of YouTube parodies, homages, and musical covers that cropped up around the time of the movie’s theatrical and subsequent DVD releases. The House of Mouse finally came to understand that a chorus of fathers signing like a Disney princess, or a tutorial video on how to do Elsa’s makeup do not infringe upon the profits of their movie, and in fact that the exact opposite is true.

Lego Future©
In the end, maybe Lego was the perfect vehicle to breach the topic of copyrights. The toy has always been about imagination and innovation, and those are both important aspect of copyright laws. We certainly want creators and artists to have the security of knowing that their work will be preserved and their livelihoods maintained. We here at The NYRD are all writers and artists and that is important to us too. There is a reason it was included in the US Constitution, but rampant enforcement and Lord Business have turned copyright laws not into tools of artistic protection but blunt objects of corporate greed. After all, who do strict copyright laws really benefit? The public -who without them could look forward to new and interesting takes and remakes of existing properties- or the companies that hold the copyrights and can continue exploiting them for more money?

So, you can look at a movie like The Lego Movie as the classic struggle of whether to build with or without the instruction manual, or you can look at it as a deeper subtext in relation to copyright laws. It may also be no coincidence that the movie’s final plot and script seemed to coalesce in 2012 at the height of the SOPA and PIPA debates. Either way, we have to hand it to a movie which is basically just a feature length commercial. It managed to make an incredible and heartfelt argument for the power of creative freedom all while using Batman and other licensed characters to do it. Everything is awesome.

Disney has finally released it’s cartoon-gloved-grip on the latest trailer for Captain America’s next outing, and boy is it a big one. Captain America: Civil War, looks like it is shaping up to be Avengers 2.5, with many of the Marvel Cinematic cast returning. The story itself will follow along the lines of the famous Civil War crossover event from the comics, which will put Captain America at odds with Iron Man. This has been the movie that many nerds have been waiting to see, including those of us here at The NYRD.

The trailer itself is unusual because it debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but Disney has been going to great lengths lately to drop their geekiest of trailers in the most unusual places, including presenting the last Star Wars; The Force Awakens trailer during football. For Disney/ABC this seems like an attempt to draw in new audiences to these franchises,while forcing obsessive and fanatic fans to watch events and shows they would not normally watch.

As for the trailer itself, it hits most of the notes people are looking for, but probably the most exciting shots are the few glimpses we get of Black Panther. We personally cannot wait to see how this Civil War pans outs. Still no Spider-Man sightings.

Captain America: Civil War debuts in theaters on May 6.


Image courtesy: http://marvel.com/movies/movie/219/captain_america_civil_war