Why All the Love for John Wick?

John WickWhen discussing Hollywood filmmaking, I always have to come back to Laurie Anderson’s song “Big Science,” “I think we should put some mountains here. Otherwise, what are all the characters going to fall off of?” I tend to think of the song as deeply spiritual — questioning the nature of existence and time. But that one line pretty much sums up how Hollywood makes movies. These movies are to story telling what legos are to architecture. And even that if giving most films too much credit. And it is certainly giving John Wick too much credit.

I wanted to see the film. For one, I’m a Keanu Reeves fan. And I like revenge stories. And above all, I’m willing to meet a film on its own terms. But it was just bad. It had just about every comic book movie cliche in it. I’ve always felt that my greatest weakness as a fiction writer is my dialog. But listening to the dialog in this film was bad — like Jail Bait bad. The action sequences are all retreads of The Matrix. And the characters all act exactly as is necessary to move the plot along. That generally means they act stupidly.

Let us consider Viggo, the main villain. In order to save his life, he gives up his son to John Wick. Wick then kills the son and it is done. But then it is revealed that Marcus was working for Wick (this comes as absolutely no surprise unless you think that an assassin with rifle scope is incompetent — on multiple occasions). So what does Viggo do? He kidnaps Marcus and tortures him to death so that John Wick will come back and kill him. After having given up his son, why would he do this? There’s only one reason: because the screenwriter didn’t bother to write a credible motivation for the final confrontation.

But the critics have generally raved about the film. Why? Because it is so stylish! Well, it is stylish. It looked a hell of a lot like Constantine — made almost a decade earlier. The critics also liked the action, which as I said, was just a rehashing of The Matrix (15 years earlier). So John Wick puts together two previous Reeves films — but without the interesting plots that those films offered. And this is apparently enough.

Will people still think this is a great film in 25 years like they do “The Killer”? I’m sure they won’t.

Here’s the funny thing: John Wick works on its own terms. It tries to be nothing but violence porn — a big budget Ichi the Killer — and it succeeds at this. But the critics can’t talk about that. They have to talk about “style.” Meanwhile, they dump all over Krippendorf’s Tribe, even though it fully delivers the silly nonsense that it intends.

There is a tradition of this. Critics are much more likely to judge a drama (if that’s the right word for John Wick) on its own terms than they are a comedy. Just look at the critical response to Ishtar, which is a hilarious film. It has a 28% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes; John Wick has an 85% fresh rating.

So when it comes to John Wick, I will say what I usually say about films: it succeeds on its own terms. But that is not what critics normally say. What’s going on is that critics decide that they like a film and justify it. In the case of this film, there really isn’t much to like. It is what it is, but who enjoys this kind of thing? Will people still think this is a great film in 25 years like they do The Killer? I’m sure they won’t. But John Wick is passable. It’s enough like things we’ve seen Keanu Reeves do before, so it must be good. And God help us, they are making another one.

Bobby Jindal: the Uncanny Valley of GOP Politics

Bobby JindalI can’t even remember how many responses I’ve read to Kevin Drum’s weak argument, Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees. I really don’t care. I am with Martin Longman in thinking that Republicans who claim to be such strong jerks are really wimps who “become incontinent every time they think of a Muslim terrorist.” But really, it is this kind of stuff that has me depressed this week. Can’t the whole country have its entirely predictable freak out without it being considered news? Oh my God: Republicans want to increase our military presence in the Middle East! That’s right up there with: crossing guard used to keep schoolchildren safe at busy intersection.

So I was really pleased when I read Talking Points Memo yesterday, Bobby Jindal Drops Out of 2016 Republican Race. He said, “This is not my time.” And I understand: this too is on par with the crossing guard story. But at least I haven’t read it fifty times this week. And it is nice to see more people drop out of the Republican nominating contest. It’s not because I think it will make it more serious. Jindal is no more crazy than the rest of them. But getting down to a reasonable number of candidates is a good thing.

No one is surprised, of course. In fact, FARK’s headline was, Bobby Jindal Was Running for President? But it is much more than that. Back in January, The Onion published, Bobby Jindal Not Sure He Willing to Put Family Through 2-Month Presidential Campaign. They only got the timing wrong. Jindal stayed in the race for almost five months! But they were quite right that he wasn’t going to come anywhere near to the actual Iowa Caucus:

“If I were to declare my candidacy this June, I’d immediately have to head out on the campaign trail and would likely be apart from my family for as much as half the summer — that’s a sacrifice I really have to think about,” Jindal said of a potential bid for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. “We’re talking four, maybe five big town hall events in the early primary states, a handful of public rallies, and a few Sundays spent at meet-and-greets with local voters. That’s multiple weekends on the road, and I’m not sure it would be fair to my kids.”

To be honest, I’m not sure what Jindal did with the extra couple of months. And I’m not too sure of what any of them are doing. I would think they would be in Iowa and New Hampshire just going door to door. It seems to me that politicians have gotten really lazy. If they aren’t talking to big crowds or on the television, they don’t seem to care. If the debates (at least on the Republican side) are what passes for campaigns, then we are in serious trouble. Because the candidates are at their worst under those circumstances. I dread seeing them all pounding their chests about Paris at the next debate.

As for why Jindal has dropped out and why he was never going to be the Republican nominee, I think I have the answer. It’s something like the uncanny valley in robotics. The idea is that we like robots that don’t look like us; they are cute or charming. And we are fine with robots that look just like us. But robots that look almost like us give us the creeps. In Jindal’s case, he wasn’t dark enough to make Republicans feel good about how non-racist they are. Just the same, he was way too dark to be white. So he was in the uncanny valley where his skin color and cultural background didn’t help him.

I know this probably sounds like I’m joking, but I am most certainly not. If Bobby Jindal looked more like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio — men who are quite literally LINOs: Latino In Name Only — then he might have had a chance. He would have done even better if he were African American, where all Republicans demand is that the candidate tell them that they are right to hate all “those kind” of black people. But a Hindu turned Catholic who was governor of a state with lots of French names? He’s more Secretary of Labor material.

Anyway, it’s great news; now he can spend every weekend with his kids.

Anniversary Post: MAVEN

MAVENOn this day in 2013, the MAVEN space probe was launch from Earth. MAVEN stands for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission.” It entered into orbit around Mars on 22 September 2014. It was designed to study the evolution of Mars’ atmosphere over time. And less than two weeks ago, NASA announced, NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere.

It was discovered that the Martian atmosphere is significantly eroded during solar storms. This indicates that Mars used to have a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere that kept the planet much warmer than it now is — warm enough for liquid water to exist on the surface. The change from this warm Mars to the cold Mars of today apparently took place roughly four billion years ago.

I find this frustrating. I wish I were still associated with a college. I have questions. Did Earth’s larger magnetic field shield it from this effect? Is there a reason why this effect would be most important with carbon dioxide or is it just that the Martian atmosphere is primarily composed of the gas? Would the same thing have happened if the atmosphere had been mostly nitrogen or oxygen?

Regardless, this is fascinating stuff. And I don’t remember hearing a bunch of news coverage about this last week. It goes along with something I say often: our science reporting is terrible. Our political reporting is terrible. It seems that journalism is terrible with regard to anything I know a bit about. So I think we can conclude from this that journalism is terrible regarding everything. That’s not to say that all of journalism is bad or that all reporters suck. But it does indicate that there is something wrong with the industry. And I’m afraid I know what it is: the profit motive. It needs to be publicly supported. That is as important to democracy as elections.