quSDaq ba’lu’’a’ (Is this seat taken?)
Usage: When you’re sitting down to negotiations with a Klingon, it’s probably best to proceed with caution—although your polite question may betray your humanoid tendencies.
Usage: As a greeting. “A Klingon will not waste time on trivial pleasantries,” notes Windsor. Why say “hello” when you can issue an order, instead?
Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the series that saved my life. I was an antisocial 11-year-old nerd when Star Trek reruns started airing on local TV (We martial law kids only had 4 channels). It introduced me to science-fiction and the idea that the universe was bigger than I could possibly imagine, and crammed with possibilities, including people I could talk to who would not think I was a freak. Thank you, Gene Rodenberry and all the brilliant writers who boldly went where no one had gone before, and took us with them.
It turns out zombies really can’t be killed. The Walking Dead has been on forever, and it seems like a new zombie apocalypse movie/tv series premieres every month. Please, there are zombie romcoms. The Korean blockbuster Train to Busan by Yeon Sang-Ho takes all the tropes of zombie movies and throws them onto a speeding train, where the living must fight their way through cars packed with the frothing infected. The characters and the situations are familiar—you know exactly who will live and who will die—but the filmmakers make us care about the people, and then they execute the set pieces so well (with clever updates on the genre, such as the tunnel scenes), that they make the undead feel fresh and new.
There’s something for everybody: action, melodrama, comedy, tears and singing. It’s a great crowd pleaser—at a Sunday afternoon screening the audience shrieked, yelped, laughed, sobbed, and scared themselves silly. Train to Busan reminds us that cinema is a communal experience. Like that other terrific train movie, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, it lends itself to all sorts of interpretation. Class, economics, migration and refugees, crowds and chaos, survival and altruism, game theory—knock yourself out.
Often, life in 2016 feels like Train to Busan: beset on all sides by brain-eating killers.
We assumed a lot of things from the poster of Captain Fantastic. The image of a family standing by a bus conjures up Little Miss Sunshine, the palette The Royal Tenenbaums. The brief summary brings up Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast, in which Harrison Ford plays a father who takes his family “back to nature”, somewhere around the Amazon rainforest, with catastrophic results. The movie has bits of all of the above, but this exercise demonstrates how lazy viewers have become. Enough of “pegs”! Let’s talk about things. (Also, I just realized this is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema in weeks that is not part of a franchise.)
Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross (Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley), stars the singular Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a father raising six children ages 7-17 alone in the wild. He and his wife had intended to create a paradise and raise philosopher-kings out of Plato’s Republic. (Lazy descriptions: hippies, hipsters) The children are homeschooled and spectacularly literate—in one scene, the 8-year-old critiques the Bill of Rights. One of the teenagers is reading Lolita, and when she describes it as “interesting”, all the kids remind her that “interesting” is a non-word. True, it’s the default adjective when you’re too lazy to think of a proper description. Then she summarizes the novel, and her father says dwelling on the plot is lazy, too. Thinking deeply! An activity that is going extinct in the digital age.
Apart from literature, political theory, physics and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they learn self-defense, hunting, and how to survive in the woods equipped only with a knife. Every morning they train as if they were competing in the Olympics. Ben always tells them the truth, even the things children are supposed to be shielded from. They don’t celebrate Christmas, they do Noam Chomsky Day. These kids are extremely well-educated, articulate, independent-thinking, anti-capitalist and self-sufficient. In short, they are freaks.
Unbeknownst to his father, the eldest son Bo (an excellent George MacKay) has applied to and been accepted by the entire Ivy League. Then something happens that requires them to encounter “the outside world”, and Ben is forced to re-examine his beliefs. Funny how the sustainable way of life is not sustainable in regular society.
Viggo is always terrific—the full frontal exposure is not completely necessary, but thanks anyway. Ross, who was Departmental Dan in The Last Days of Disco, never treats Ben as a weirdo or the kids as the butts of jokes—we know exactly whose side he’s on. I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy and got an affecting drama about the collision between personal belief and living in the world. Watch it before it vanishes from the cinema. It’s showing at Power Plant only., Greenhills Promenade, and Robinson’s Galleria.
Symptoms: Fear and despair over the state of the world
Treatment: Stranger Things.
It’s supposed to be a horror series—bizarre stuff happens, and some of it is quite scary—but its real hook is nostalgia. Specifically 80s nostalgia: Steven Spielberg of the Close Encounters and E.T. era; Stephen King’s The Body/Stand By Me, It, Firestarter; Goonies; a smattering of 80s music from The Clash, Joy Division, Foreigner, The Bangles and others; Winona Ryder as a harried single mom whose Dungeons and Dragons-playing kid goes missing. The early episodes are the best: they create a mood of unease and “What the hell!” while telling us nothing. When they start explaining the baffling events, the intensity slackens. The series becomes less interesting, but by that time you’re emotionally invested and you have to see it through. Part of the fun lies in identifying the movie references and predicting what happens next. Kids protecting a fugitive and fleeing the authorities on bikes: Will they fly?
Effects: Watching horror mysteries makes us feel that we can make sense of the absurd. And nostalgia is very comforting: it takes us back to a past in which we believed we could understand what was going on.
Symptoms: Life has lost its flavor, and you are mired in ennui.
Treatment: The Great British Bake-Off.
I’ve never been much interested in reality show cooking competitions in which judges terrorize the contestants and reduce them to tearful blobs of jelly. That does not happen here. Everyone is polite, the hosts are funny, the competitors don’t try to destroy each other (if they do, it’s not in the final edit), and the criticism is constructive (The judges soften the blow because life is hard enough as it is).
Effects: Observing the process of creating cakes and pastries is deeply soothing.
Symptoms: You suspect you will never fulfill your ambitions and that you have wasted your life.
Treatment: Sing Street
This musical drama-comedy by the guy who made Once and Begin Again (and got a lot of flak for bad-mouthing Keira Knightley) is about a bunch of kids in economically-depressed Ireland in the 80s who deal with domestic strife and school bullies by forming a band, writing songs and making primitive music videos. The pastiches of songs by Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates are actually good. I would buy “Drive It Like You Stole It”. The film features the best brother in the world, who makes the nerdy kid listen to Joe Jackson and tells him to follow his dreams while everyone else is mocking or ignoring him. Listen, it’s corny and it’s usually an over-promise, but everyone needs to hear some variation of the “Go for it” speech as a kid. (Technically I got a lot of “Go for it” speeches but they were couched as “Why are you wasting your time when you could be blah blah blah.”) Jack Reynor plays the big brother, and Littlefinger Mayor Carcetti is the dad. Think of it as The Commitments, junior edition.
Effects: The film has a contagious joyfulness, and may remind you of your younger, brasher, more optimistic self.
Geoffrey Household’s wonderful thriller Rogue Male is coming to the screen! The film will star Benedict Cumberbatch, who will also produce.
It will be the third adaptation of Rogue Male, after the Fritz Lang version (Boring) and the TV movie starring Peter O’Toole (Somewhat better).
The novel is the gripping tale of an unnamed hunter who decides, on his own, to bag himself a dictator in an unnamed Central European country. He gets caught and tortured by enemy agents, but manages to escape and make his way back to England. There he is hunted by enemy agents, so he goes on the run in the English countryside, and Household’s description of the countryside makes me want to go camping (I have never gone camping in my life, being suspicious of nature). The hero makes himself a hideout, where he holes up for many days. His only companion is a stray black cat who has decided to stick around. He calls the cat Asmodeus, and I am looking forward to scenes in which the Cumberbatch converses with a cat.
Asmodeus is possibly the greatest role for a cat since Jonesy in the first Alien movie, so I hope they cast the right cat. No whitewashing: let it be a black cat.