Tag Archives: 2015 Reviews

Yet another fruitless war: Tangerines ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 9, 2015)

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So there was this card-carrying commie banjo player named Pete Seeger, who used to perform an antiwar singalong called “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The lyrics are essentially a set of rhetorical questions, ending with a haunting refrain “…when will we ever learn?” Apparently, the answer to that last question is: “Never?” At least, judging from the fact that 60 years after that song was written, wars continue to rage all over the world. Yet people keep singing that silly tune, in the vain hope that those who hold the power to wage them will listen, and that its message will finally sink in: Wars are dumb.

Card-carrying dumb.

Pete Seeger based his lyrics on a passage from a traditional Cossack folk song lamenting the fruitlessness of war. I only mention this because it so happens the latest antiwar film to inquire as to the whereabouts of the flowers also originates from the steppes of Russia.

Tangerines is an Estonian-Georgian production written and directed by Zaza Urushadze. Urushadze sets his drama in Georgia, against the backdrop of the somewhat politically byzantine Abkhazian War of the early 1990s. Although this bloody civil war is raging quite literally on the doorstep of their sleepy little hamlet, two crusty Estonian men with adjoining properties, woodworker Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and farmer Margus (Elmo Nuganen) are more concerned with harvesting Margus’ small tangerine crop and getting it to market before the fruit rots (or before the orchard itself becomes collateral damage).

However, faster than you can say “acceptable losses”, a sudden, violent skirmish erupts one evening, mere steps away from Ivo’s modest cottage. Ivo and Margus cautiously investigate the resultant carnage, and discover that there are two survivors: a Chechen mercenary, who is fighting for the separatists (Giorgi Nakashidze), and a Georgian government soldier (Mikheil Meskhi). Ivo takes both soldiers under his roof and begins to nurse them back to health. As these wounded men are sworn enemies of each other, you may already have an idea where this story is going. Or maybe you only think you do.

While there are obvious touchstones like All Quiet on the Western Front, La Grande Illusion and Hell in the Pacific, Urushadze’s film sneaks up on you as a work of true compassion. As the characters slowly come to recognize their shared humanity, so do we (after all, everyone bleeds the same color).

As the characters come to recognize their shared humanity; so do we. Beautifully written, directed and acted as the film is, I hope there comes a day in this fucked-up slaughterhouse of a world when no one feels the need to make another like it.  As a great 20th Century English poet once wrote: You may say I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one.

Aiming low: Kill Me Three Times *1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 11, 2015)

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This is a public service announcement, brought to you by Saturday Night at the Movies. Are you an aspiring film maker? Do you have Tarantino-Coen Syndrome? Know the 5 major warning signs:

  • Do you have excessive blood in your spool? Surf music?
  • Does your screenplay suffer from shortness of breadth?
  • Do the twists and turns in your narrative cause viewer dizziness?
  • Do you have difficulty keeping your timelines linear?
  • Do your influences go as far back as Blood Simple or Pulp Fiction?

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, don’t feel alone. You’ve got company. Take Messrs. Kriv Stendors (director) and James McFarland (screenwriter). Clearly, these gentlemen are among the afflicted, as evidenced from their strictly by-the-numbers “hit man comedy”, Kill Me Three Times.

Despite the presence of seasoned comic actor Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), the film is a curiously dull and not-so-funny affair about a smarmy hit man (Pegg) who ties together a triumvirate of nefarious schemes involving (wait for it) revenge, blackmail and murder in the Australian outback.

Not that I am imperiously declaring that there should be a moratorium on employing those reliable noir staples in a genre pic, but if you want to stand out from the pack, at least pretend you’re making an effort come up with an original angle. Otherwise, take 2 aspirin and see a script doctor first thing in the morning.

The antisocial network: The Sisterhood of Night ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 11, 2015)

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Jeez…adolescence was traumatic enough before the internet and advent of cyber-bullying (yes, I’m that old). Unfortunately (and perversely), it’s become much easier for the perpetrators and that much tougher on the victims. Your tormentors no longer have to hang out after school, bundled up for inclement weather, waiting for you to finish with chess club so they can stomp on your glasses (or worse). Now, they can chill out in the comfort of their parent’s basement, cloaked in anonymity, as they harass, denigrate, flame, impersonate, or stalk ‘til the cows come home (with virtual impunity).

But hey, enough about our comment section (you know I’m a kidder).

They are certainly not kidding around about the darker side of social media in The Sisterhood of Night, the debut feature film from director Caryn Waechter. Adapted by Marilyn Fu from a short story by Steven Millhauser, it’s a sharply observed, contemporary take on the Salem witch trials. The “sisterhood” in question is comprised of an insular trio of high-school students (Georgie Henley, Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman, and Olivia DeJonge), who make a pact to disengage from social media; opting instead for late-night gatherings in the woods.

What they “do” there (wouldn’t you like to know?) is a mystery; and in an era where people compulsively hit “send” to share too much information about what they’re up to every waking moment, this secretiveness naturally makes them suspect. For personal reasons (which I won’t reveal here) one of their classmates (Kara Hayward) starts her own nasty whisper campaign about the girls on her low-traffic blog, igniting a firestorm of small-town hysteria, which escalates into a media feeding frenzy.

This film blindsided me, going in some unexpected directions. It was also deeper and more emotionally resonant than I had anticipated (judge not a movie by its trailer, which suggested something along the lines of Heathers meets The Virgin Suicides). The performances are all quite good; especially from the four leads, with excellent support from Kal Penn (as a guidance counselor) and Laura Fraser (as the mother of one of the girls). Sensitive direction, atmospheric photography by DP Zak Mulligan (particularly for the night scenes) and a moody score from The Crystal Method rounds things off nicely.

Rich and strange: Welcome to New York **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 4, 2015)

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In my 2009 review of Tom Tykwer’s conspiracy thriller, The International, I observed:

The timing of the film’s release is interesting, in light of the current banking crisis and plethora of financial scandals. From what I understand, certain elements of the story are based on the B.C.C.I. scandal. I predict this will become the new trend in screen villains-the R. Allen Stanfords and Bernie Madoffs seem heaven-sent to replace Middle-Eastern terrorists as the newest Heavies du Jour in action thrillers. You can take that to the bank.

While it is not a “action thriller” per se, Abel Ferrara’s new film, Welcome to New York, is likewise “ripped from the headlines”, involves an evil banker, and agog with backroom deals and secret handshakes. More specifically, the film is based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal. In case you need a refresher, he was the fine fellow who was accused and indicted for an alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of a maid employed by the ritzy NYC hotel he was staying at during a 2011 business trip.

The case was dismissed after the maid’s credibility was brought into question (Strauss-Kahn later admitted in a TV interview that a liaison did occur, but denied any criminal wrongdoing). I’m sure that the fact that Strauss-Kahn happened to be head of the International Monetary Fund at the time (and a front-runner in France’s 2012 presidential race) had absolutely nothing to do with him traipsing out from the sordid affair smelling like a rose.

There’s no question that Bronx native Ferrara loves New York; nearly all of the two dozen or so films to his credit have been set in the Big Apple. And like many New Yorkers, Ferrara loves a parade, which is likely why he opens his new film with a veritable parade of high-priced call girls, rotating in and out of one particular NYC hotel room in cadres of three or four at a time. Their insatiable client is one Mr. Devereaux (Gerard Depardieu), a powerful international financier. Sweaty, wheezing and boorish, he’s nobody’s dream date, but the sad fact remains…money talks, bullshit walks (bringing to mind my favorite line from Swingers: “What do you drive?”).

Sometime after the revelries subside, a maid enters (thinking the room unoccupied), and encounters our apparently still frisky Mr. Devereaux, fresh from the shower. Ferrara cleverly (and thankfully) pulls away before we can bear witness to what happens next, but then devotes the remainder of the film dealing with the fallout.

This film left me feeling  ambivalent; I think this is because the director seems ambivalent toward his subject. Not that a film inspired by a true story (especially one that so closely mirrors the actual events) is required to be didactic, or a morality play, but Ferrara has taken a hyper-realistic approach that can be stultifying at times.

Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see Jacqueline Bisset back on the big screen (as Devereaux’s long-suffering wife). She seems to have made a graceful transition into a full-blooded performer; while perennially easy on the eye, I always found her characterizations wooden-but she puts more “character” into her work nowadays.

It is interesting watching the hulking Depardieu wrestle with the motivations (and what passes as the “conscience”) of his Dostoevskian character. It doesn’t make this creep any more sympathetic, but it is a fearless late-career performance, as naked (literally and emotionally) as Brando was playing a similarly loathsome study in Last Tango in Paris (not to go so far as to say that  Ferrara is quite in the same league as Bertolucci, mind you).

Alter cocker rocker: Danny Collins ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 4, 2015)

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Al Pacino may be one of the finest actors of his generation, but he cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Now, if you can live with that, his new vehicle Danny Collins is likely to leave you with a smile on your face, and a song in your…well, erm…with a smile on your face.

Now picture Pacino as geriatric rock star Danny Collins. Danny, whose heyday was in the 1970s, still indulges in the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle (though he’s beginning to look a bit peaked). He makes his grand entrance in a manner akin to the protagonist of the 2013 Italian film The Great Beauty (my review), feted by well-wishers and hangers-on at a wild and decadent birthday bash thrown in his honor. There is ample evidence that Danny has done well; judging by his opulent mansion, and his hot young trophy fiancée (currently shitfaced and passed out on the edge of the pool).

Yet, there is Something Missing. These nifty trappings came at a steep price…his Integrity (oh, the humanity). When Danny burst onto the scene back in the day, he was a gifted young singer-songwriter. But “gifted” doesn’t pay the bills. Eventually, he had a breakthrough hit, but it was a Neil Diamond-ish singalong he didn’t compose. So he went the way of Elvis; becoming more of a “showman” than an “artist”. He’s about to get the icing on this bittersweet cake. His longtime manager (Christopher Plummer) gifts him with a handwritten letter from John Lennon, praising Danny’s work and offering to mentor him. Here’s the rub: the 40 year-old note, sent c/o Danny’s first management, was never passed on to him; it was sold to a collector.

And so Danny’s game of “what if?” is afoot, and he hits the road sans the usual entourage (to the chagrin of his manager, who is anxious about Danny’s upcoming string of tour dates), in search of his long-lost Muse (ah, the luxuries of the creative class) What ensues is like Searching for Sugarman…in reverse. In that 2013 documentary, a film maker tracks down a talented American singer-songwriter who released two obscure LPs in the 70s, then dropped out of the biz. Unbeknownst to the artist, he had become a superstar in South America over the decades, based solely on the two LPs (with ignorance being bliss, he kept his integrity). Danny, on the other hand, knows he is a superstar, yet yearns to “find” and restore his integrity.

This is the directorial debut for Dan Fogelman, who also scripted. Despite some jarring tonal shifts,  affable supporting performances from Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale, coupled with one of Pacino’s better turns of recent years, wins the day. It doesn’t hurt to have a bevy of great Lennon tunes on the soundtrack. And as long as Al doesn’t quit his day job, our ears remain safe.

People they do bad things: Serena *1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 28, 2015)

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Off the rails: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Serena

It’s a damn shame to see a good cast wasted. Such is the case with Danish director Susanne Bier’s curiously off-putting period melodrama Serena, which gets inextricably bogged down somewhere between torrid soap opera and watered-down Shakespearean tragedy. It appears Bier, despite having several acclaimed films to her credit (including 2011 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, In a Better World), may have nodded off at the wheel this time out.

The story is set during the Great Depression. Bradley Cooper stars as George Pemberton, a burgeoning lumber baron who is carving (well, more like chopping) out an empire from the rugged woodlands of North Carolina. Being one of the most eligible bachelors in the holler, George is ever on the lookout for a wife.

One day, while he’s out shootin’ at some food, he spots the eponymous protagonist/future missus (Jennifer Lawrence), who literally comes riding into frame on a white horse; confident, mysterious and purty as all get-out.

Serena, as it turns out, is no shrinking violet. In fact, she is so headstrong that George’s second-hand man (David Dencik) takes an immediate disliking to her, especially after she muscles her way into hubby’s business. She’s also a sociopath, which becomes apparent as she morphs into a backwoods Lady Macbeth.

The machinations that ensue in Christopher Kyle’s muddled screenplay (adapted from the 2008 novel by Ron Rash) are at once so underdeveloped and over-the-top that, coupled with the histrionic performances, the film just misses qualifying as an “instant camp classic” (Fifty Shades of Grey is the one to beat this year).

There are a few steamy, pseudo-explicit moments with Cooper and Lawrence that may make you sit up straight and pay attention, but as the bard himself said…two or three inspired hump scenes alone doth not a good melodrama make.

Blu-ray reissue: Ride the Pink Horse ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 28, 2015)

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Ride the Pink Horse – Criterion Collection Blu-ray

If you prefer your dark tales of avarice and deception served up with style and atmosphere, I’m happy to report that Ride the Pink Horse, a nearly forgotten film noir gem, has just been reissued on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.

Previously unavailable for home viewing (save an occasional airing on TCM), the 1947 crime drama was the second directorial effort from actor Robert Montgomery (his debut, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe mystery Lady in the Lake, came out the same year). Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer adapted the screenplay from the 1946 book by Dorothy B. Hughes (Hughes also penned In a Lonely Place, the source novel for Nicholas Ray’s classic 1950 noir).

Montgomery casts himself as a poker-faced, no-nonsense customer named Gagin (no first name is ever mentioned). Gagin rolls into a sleepy New Mexico burg, where the locals are gearing up for an annual fiesta blowout. Gagin, however, has but one thing on his mind: putting the squeeze on the mobster (Fred Clark) who killed his best friend. Gagin’s plan is to hit this professional blackmailer where it’ll hurt him the most…in his wallet. Much to his chagrin, a wily G-man (Art Smith) already has his mark staked out…and has taken a pretty good educated guess as to what Gagin is up to.

The story becomes more psychologically complex once the insular Gagin unexpectedly develops a surrogate family bond with a bighearted carousel owner (Thomas Gomez, whose performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and a taciturn, semi-mystic Latina (Wanda Hendrix).

Ride the Pink Horse is unique in that it skirts several genres. In its most obvious guise, it fits right into the “disillusioned vet” sub-genre of the classic post-war noir cycle, alongside films like Act of Violence, Thieves’ Highway, The Blue Dahlia and High Wall. It also works as a character study, as well as a “fish out of water” culture-clash drama.

Montgomery skillfully mines the irony from the cultural contrasts in a manner uncannily presaging John Huston’s 1982 film adaptation of Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano (which, weirdly enough, was published in 1947, the same year that Ride the Pink Horse was released).

Criterion’s restored print really sparkles, highlighting Russell Metty’s atmospheric, beautifully composed cinematography. Extras include an insightful commentary track by two noir experts. Genre fans will not be disappointed.

9 to 5 at 45 RPM: The Wrecking Crew ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 21, 2015)

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Full disclosure: I originally saw The Wrecking Crew (the 2015 music documentary, not to be confused with the 1969 “Matt Helm” caper starring Dean Martin and Sharon Tate) four chords and seven years ago, when it played at the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival. Wrangling over music licensing has since kept this marvelous film in mothballs, but it is finally getting a proper “official” wide release.

“The Wrecking Crew” was a moniker given to an aggregation of crack L.A. session players who in essence created the distinctive pop “sound” that defined classic Top 40 from the late 50s through the mid-70s. With several notable exceptions (Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack) their names remain obscure to the general public, even if the music they helped forge is forever burned into our collective neurons.

The film was a labor of love in every sense of the word for first-time director Denny Tedesco, whose late father was the guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, a premier member of the team.

Tedesco traces origins of the Wrecking Crew, from participation in co-creating the legendary “Wall of Sound” of the early 60s (lorded over by mercurial pop savant Phil Spector) to collaborations with Brian Wilson (most notably, on the Beach Boys’ seminal Pet Sounds album) and backing sessions with just about any other popular artist of the era you could throw out there (Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Righteous Brothers, Henry Mancini, Ike & Tina Turner, The Monkees, The Association, Nancy Sinatra, The Fifth Dimension, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Petula Clark, The Mamas and the Papas, Frank Zappa, etc.). Not to mention myriad TV themes and movie soundtracks.

Tedesco has curated fascinating vintage studio footage, as well as archival and present day interviews with key players. You also hear from some of the producers (Herb Alpert, Lou Adler and Jack Nitzsche) who utilized their talents. Tedesco assembled a group of surviving members to swap anecdotes (and as you can imagine, they have got some great stories to tell).

One of my favorite reminiscences concerned the earliest recording sessions for The Monkees. An apparently uninformed Peter Tork showed up in the studio, guitar in hand-and was greeted by a roomful of bemused session players, giving him a “WTF are YOU doing here?!” look before he slunk away in embarrassment.

One of the revelations in the film is bass player/guitarist Carol Kaye, a quietly unassuming pioneer who commanded a lot of respect in a traditionally male-dominated niche of the music industry. In a great scene, she modestly demonstrates a few signature bass lines that you may have heard once or twice; the opening riffs for “The Beat Goes On”, “California Girls”, the “Mission Impossible Theme”, even that subtle 5 note run that opens Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”.

The documentary’s scene stealer is Hal Blaine, who may be the most recorded drummer in the history of pop music. Blaine was in attendance at the SIFF screening I caught in 2008, and did a Q & A along with the director after the film. I remember him telling the audience that he was then in the midst of compiling his discography ; he said so far they had been able to annotate “only” about 5,000 sessions (some estimates top the 10,000 mark). Blaine tells colorful and hilarious stories; he reminds me of another droll musician-raconteur…Pete Barbuti (who never failed to put me on the floor in his many appearances on The Tonight Show throughout the 1970s).

Tedesco’s film makes a nice companion to the 2003 doc Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which profiled another group of hitherto unheralded session players (aka the “Funk Brothers”) who backed nearly every Motown hit. I know that some people look down their nose at this “lunch pail” approach to creating music, but there is no denying the chops that these players bring to the table, and I say more power to ‘em, myself. Tedesco’s film is a joyous celebration of a unique era of popular art that (love it or loathe it), literally provided the “soundtrack of our lives” for some of us of a (ahem) certain age.

OK, since I brought him up…here’s my favorite Pete Barbuti bit:

I bling the body electric: Chappie ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 7, 2015)

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The mathematician/cryptologist I.J. Good (an Alan Turing associate) once famously postulated:

Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man…however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion’, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus, the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

Good raised this warning in 1965, about the same time director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke were formulating the narrative that would evolve into both the novel and film versions of 2001: a Space Odyssey. And it’s no coincidence that the “heavy” in 2001 was an ultra-intelligent machine that wreaks havoc once its human overseers lose “control” …Good was a consultant on the film.

While the “A-I gone awry” prototype dates as far back as the metallic “Maria” in the 1927 silent Metropolis, it was “HAL 9000” that took techno-phobia to a new level, spawning a sci-fi film sub-genre that includes The Demon Seed, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Robocop, I, Robot, and (of course) A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

There are echoes of all the aforementioned (plus a large orange soda) in Chappie, the third feature film from South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp. In this outing, Blomkamp returns to his native Johannesburg (which provided the backdrop for his 2009 debut, District 9). And for the third time in a row, his story takes place in a near-future dystopia  (call me Sherlock, but I’m sensing a theme).

Johannesburg is a crime-riddled hellhole, ruled by ultra-violent drug lords and roving gangs of thugs. The streets are so dangerous that the police department is reticent to put officers on the front lines. So they do what any self-respecting police department of a near-future dystopia does…they send droids out to apprehend criminals.

The popularity of these programmable robocops has created lucrative contracts for Tetravaal, the company which employs mild-mannered designer Deon (Dev Patel). In his spare time, Deon has been working on an A.I. chip that approximates “consciousness”.

Jacked on Red Bull, Deon pulls an all-niter and makes his breakthrough. Excited, Deon approaches Tetravaal’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver) with a proposal to work up a prototype. Unfortunately, she doesn’t share his vision, and Deon is laughed out of her office. Who needs a police droid with “feelings”, right?

Determined to carry out his experiment, he re-appropriates a damaged droid scheduled for destruction. Before he can make it safely home,  he is carjacked and abducted by a trio of inept gang bangers (Ninja, Yolandi Visser, and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who figure they can coerce Deon into securing them a remote control that shuts down police droids (they are only speculating such a device exists).

What they do end up with is a droid with self-awareness, and the ability to absorb and mimic human behavior. Will he “grow up” as the enlightened being that his Gepetto-like creator intended, or will he turn into the “gangsta” that his thug “Daddy” wants him to be?

Through their creation of the character “Chappie”, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell have managed to put a fresh spin on a well-worn trope. When you cut through all the obligatory action tropes, “his” story resonates at its core with a universal, timeless appeal. The film has more in common with Oliver Twist than with Robocop.  Chappie is, by definition of his inception, an “orphan”; innocent and pure of heart. The child-like droid is shuffled by fate into the thug life, where he is tutored in street smarts and criminal behavior by “Ninja”, who plays Fagin to his Oliver (on one level, Blomkamp and Tatchell are exploring the “nature vs nurture” theme).

This is a return to form for the director, especially after his slightly disappointing sophomore effort Elysium. I really got a kick out of the performances, especially the scene-stealing Ninja and Visser, who are slumming from their day job as rap outfit Die Antwoord (apparently popular with the “zef” crowd…I’ll let you look that up, like grandpa had to prepping this review). Hugh Jackman hams it up as a heavy, and Blomkamp’s favorite leading man Sharlto Copley does a marvelous job breathing “life” and personality into Chappie (move over, Andy Serkis). BTW, despite my references to Pinocchio and David Copperfield, this one is definitely not for the kids; it’s rated ‘R’ .

The beginning of wisdom: What I learned from Mr. Spock

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 28, 2015)

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In my review of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise, I wrote:

 Gene Roddenberry’s universally beloved creation has become so ingrained into our pop culture and the collective subconscious of Boomers […] that the producers of the latest installment didn’t have to entitle it with a qualifier. It’s not Star Trek: Origins, or Star Trek: 2009. It’s just Star Trek. They could have just as well called it Free Beer, judging from the $80,000,000 it has rung up at the box office already.

This likely explains the prodigious outpouring of sentiment regarding Leonard Nimoy’s passing. And this is not emanating solely from the geekier sectors of the blogosphere, but from such bastions of traditional journalism as The New York Times, which duly noted:

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper”.

Of course, my “logical” half is well aware that this “unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan” was a fictional creation, in reality a nice Jewish boy from Boston (“Lenny” to his friends) who was only playing a half-human, half-alien science officer on a silly sci-fi TV show.

By all accounts, Nimoy was an engaging and generous human being, who devoted off-screen time to various progressive political and social causes. Fellow Star Trek alumnus  George Takei  offered touching insight on this aspect in an MSNBC interview earlier this week.

But back to the pointy-eared gentleman, an early and critical role model for me as a child. Keep in mind, at the time of the TV show’s initial run (1966), I was all of 10 years old. Also, note that I was kind of a weird 10 year-old. I wasn’t that keen on hanging out with kids my age; I always had an easier time relating to elders (my best friend at the time was 13).

To me, children were silly, immature creatures; I generally found their behavior to be quite “illogical” (believe me…it took years to de-evolve into the silly man-child I am today; to quote Bob Dylan, “ I was much older then, I’m younger than that now”).

While many of my little friends thought he was the shit, cocky Captain Kirk never did it for me (I’ve always had an issue with authority figures, not to mention that whole alpha male thing).

But I could relate to Mr. Spock. I think he appealed to my own sense of “otherness”. Also, like Mr. Spock, I’m a “halfsie” (my parents might as well have been from different planets-a Jewish girl from Brooklyn and a Protestant farm boy from Ohio).

But that’s my personal take. I think Spock’s mass appeal stems from a universal recognition of the inherent duality within us all. When it comes to love and war, the constant vacillation between our logical and emotional selves is the very definition of human nature, nest’-ce pas?

This is best demonstrated by the very human Mr. Nimoy himself, who once decried “I am not Spock” in his eponymous 1975 autobiography, only to recant that, oh, wait… “I am Spock” with his follow-up memoir 20 years on.

Perhaps he’d had time to ponder something his own character once said: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” And, as it does to us all, this one particular epiphany came tagging along with age, finally presenting itself in the fullness of time: We are all Spock.