The Abstract Artist We Need in the Age of Trump

A critical review of Dark Times: A Visual Dialectic in Four Parts, by Q. E. Armstrong

The first panel of Q. E. Armstrong’s innovative Dark Times series reveals a playful conversation between black and blue, with other friends chirping in the background. Q. E.’s choice of canvas, simple 8.5 by 11 inch paper from a common retail store, dares us to compare the artist to a two-year-old boy whose father is too cheap to buy him proper supplies, strikingly undercutting the visual independence of the piece. Continue reading “The Abstract Artist We Need in the Age of Trump”

The Martian Presents a Hopeful Future for Humanity

The Martian is a tense action-drama focusing on the efforts of astronaut Mark Watney to stay alive on Mars after he is left behind in the course of a near-future mission.

The Martian Film

Readers of Andy Weir’s novel The Martian (which I reviewed for Objective Standard) knew that the science presented in the film would be highly realistic. (The major exception is the opening dust storm, which, as Weir has granted, is much more powerful than is possible in Mars’s thin air; Weir strayed from the science here for dramatic effect.)

We knew that the story would be a tense action-drama focusing on the efforts of astronaut Mark Watney to stay alive on Mars after he is left behind in the course of a near-future mission.

We also knew that the characters, particularly Watney, would be colorful and engaging.

What I did not know is whether the film would be very good. On one hand, it’s directed by Ridley Scott, and it stars Matt Damon and a superb supporting cast, so what could go wrong? On the other hand, lines such as Watney’s remark, “I’m going to have to science the s**t out of this” (added by screenwriter Drew Goddard, not Weir), could have come across as hokey in less talented hands. Was this film going to bring Weir’s enthralling tale fully to life or paint it by numbers?

I loved it. The film version of The Martian surpassed my hopes, which started out pretty high. I had been excited about the film since I first heard about it after reading the novel. In some ways, the film improves on the novel, as with its better-developed ending.

True, after an intense opening sequence, the film progresses a little slowly. But it builds steam as it develops its characters and reveals the enormity of the challenges that Watney faces. This is not your typical high-explosion, constant-motion (but ultimately meaningless) action flick; it is a story that is both exciting and deeply human.

Matt Damon is excellent. He nails the intensely emotional scenes as well as the funny ones. All of the lines, many of which a lesser actor would have bungled, come across as authentic and in-character—even the pirate jokes.

Among the supporting cast, standouts include Jessica Chastain as the mission commander who plays a pivotal role in the rescue effort; the always-outstanding Chiwetel Ejiofor as a NASA official; Mackenzie Davis as a young NASA satellite operative who first discovers Watney is still alive; and Donald Glover as an innovative astrophysicist who hatches a plan to bring Watney home.

Also, Sean Bean has a nice role as the earth-stationed flight commander—and he doesn’t even die!

Both the Martian landscapes and the scenes in space are gorgeous. Watching this film, it’s easy to imagine yourself on Mars.

I love Watney’s determination and his sense of humor under enormous pressure.  But mostly I love The Martian‘s glimpse into the future of space colonization that we humans are destined to have—if only we choose to strive for that future. This is probably the most enjoyable film I’ll watch this year—and it may the most important film of the era.

Related:

What Is Ayn Rand’s “New” Novel, “Ideal?”

Ideal by Ayn Rand
A new publication of a work of one of the 20th century’s most read (and most controversial) novelists is big news. Ideal is the work at issue; Ayn Rand is the author. So what is Ideal?

Ideal is not new; it was written in 1934 and revised as a play over the next year or two. (The play wasn’t produced until 1989.) What’s new is the publication of Rand’s early novelization of the story.

The play was published in 1983 in The Early Ayn Rand. The new publication contains the novelization which preceded the play—and which is substantially less polished—as well as a reprint of the play. The oddity, then, is that the “new” work is in rougher shape than is the previously published version of the work.

What, then, is the purpose of publishing an older version of the same basic story? Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s heir, suggests two main reasons in his introduction to the new work. First, a publication of one of Ayn Rand’s earliest works, and in two different versions at that, may offer valuable insights into her intellectual and literary development. Second, a novel offers a reader a complete, self-contained experience in a way that a play cannot.

On this latter point, Peikoff explains:

By itself, a script is not a work of art or a genre of literature. Novel and play alike, being complete, enable you fully to enter and experience the world they create. But the script by itself does not: it omits the essence in this context of literary art; it is written for perception (to be heard from a cast of actors seen on a stage), yet by itself it is detached from any such perception.

As an indication of just how substantially Rand revised the play relative to the preliminary novel, consider Peikoff’s description of a section:

In Chapter 3 of the novel, the central character is Jeremiah Sliney, an ignorant, dialect-speaking farmer. On her typescript, even before she started the play, AR slashed out the whole chapter, with ruthless lines signifying emphatic rejection. . . . Dropping Sliney from the play, she instead took the name of a son-in-law of his, who had been an incidental character, and made him the scene’s central character. In this reincarnation, Chuck Fink [the new character] has an ideological identity: he is a member of the Communist Party.

By any standard, that is a major change. Yet the “new” publication contains the original text, despite Rand’s rejection of it. Peikoff writes, “Despite [Rand]’s deletion of Slinky, I have left him in the novel just as he was in its first draft.” Peikoff puts readers on notice, then, that this novelization does not reflect a polished, final work that Rand herself approved. Rather, it reflects a work in progress.

Why did Rand develop the material into a play rather than into a revised novel? I had assumed that the reason had something to do with Rand’s anticipation of getting a play produced. But Peikoff suggests literary reasons. First, Peikoff suggests, the beauty of the central character is integral to the story, and that is probably better shown than described. Second, the play format seems to have allowed Rand to introduce a wide array of minor characters more perceptually and therefore more briskly.

What is Ideal about? Peikoff offers a good summary in notes published with the 1983 version:

[Ideal is] a story in which a famous actress, so beautiful that she comes to represent to men the embodiment of their deepest ideals, actually enters the lives of her admirers. She comes in a context suggesting that she is in grave danger. Until this point, her worshippers have professed their reverence for her—in words, which cost them nothing. Now, however, she is no longer a distant dream, but a reality demanding action on their part, or betrayal.

“The theme is the evil of divorcing ideals from life,” Peikoff writes there.

That is a theme well worth contemplating in novel form, even if the novel in question does not reflect Ayn Rand in mature literary form.

Rowling Said to Pen Potter-Universe Film Trilogy

Image: Daniel Ogren
Image: Daniel Ogren

According to Cinemablend, J. K. Rowling herself is adapting her Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for a trilogy of films, the first of which is set to arrive in 2016. “The story is expected to pick up some seventy years before Harry Potter set foot in Hogwarts, and would follow fictional Fantastic Beasts author Newt Scamander during his exploration of the subject,” Cinemablend reports.

I confess that after the inflation of the Hobbit films to a ridiculous total length, I’m worried about the adaptation of even scrawnier source material for a trilogy. But, given Rowling’s direct involvement with the project, perhaps she’ll come up with a rich enough story line to actually merit the extensive film treatment. (I’ll see them regardless; I’m just wondering how much I’ll enjoy them.)

Incidentally, this would be a great time to more fully master the Potter universe by reading my lit-crit book, Values of Harry Potter. You can read more about it at ValuesOfHarryPotter.com.

Three Sci-Fi Reviews: Edge, Martian, and Trek

edge-tomorrowThe Fall 2014 issue of the Objective Standard features my reviews of the following works:

Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman, starring Tom Cruise.

The Martian, a novel by Andy Weir (soon to be a film).

Star Trek: First Contact, directed by Jonathan Frakes, still my favorite Trek film.

I loved all three of these works. Check out my reviews (the second two of which are partly behind a paywall, so feel free to subscribe to the journal).

Adama on Militarized Police

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Adama from Scyfy’s Battlestar Galactica says, “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” As John Edwin Mason writes, “God bless the screenwriter who wrote these lines.” Hat tip to Paul Hsieh.

That’s Captain China to You

captain-americaA Chinese film reviewer for Douban.com wrote of Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the hero’s enemy “is the very country he loves and protects. To love one’s country isn’t the same as loving one’s government: This is the main draw of Captain America.” This translation comes by way of Warner Brown’s article for Foreign Policy (via Edward Gresser via James Pethokoukis). (I checked the original in Google Translate, which produced a bit of a jumble, but the translations seem to roughly square.) Of course, Captain America’s enemy in the film is not the “country he loves”; it is instead a corrupt group controlling the country’s government. By defeating that group, Captain America saves his country. Hopefully that message is appealing to Americans and Chinese alike.

Pipe Guy and the Internationalization of Culture

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

According to Statistic Brain, 490 million people use YouTube every month, and they spend a collective 2.9 billion hours watching YouTube videos. That works out to around six hours of video watching per active person per month, on average. I think it’s safe to say that most of those hours are spent on entertainment.

Of the many remarkable things about YouTube is the way it lets people share their artistic talents with a worldwide audience in a way never before possible. No doubt you’ve heard of Psy, but have you heard of Lim Chang Jung—in my view a far better artist? His music video has over seven million views despite not being English friendly. A self-made comedian makes hilarious videos through his MediocreFilms; his “Cell Phone Crashing at the Airport” has over eleven million views since December. The latest video I’ve enjoyed is a musical performance by “Pipe Guy,” an Australian who plays cleverly arranged PVC pipes. His video, only a few days old, has over a million views.

And to think: I am one of the last human beings ever to be born in the pre-Internet age.

To Make Much of Time

Image: Eva Rinaldi
Image: Eva Rinaldi

I never knew until this evening that Robert Herrick (1591–1674) wrote the poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” Here is the first and last verse:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying. . . .

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

Nicole Perlman’s Marvel-ous Adventure in Writing Guardians of the Galaxy

Image: Ewen Roberts
Image: Ewen Roberts

Boulderite Nicole Perlman has exactly one credit to her name at IMDB, but it’s for co-writing Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that made $94 million its first weekend. Not surprisingly, she how has an announced second credit, for Black Widow. Time has out a remarkable article on how Perlman broke into the “guys’ club” of sci-fi script writing. Congratulations to Marvel for recognizing her talent. What caught my eye is that Perlman has also written biopic screenplays about Richard Feynman, Neil Armstrong, and the Wright brothers—I hope somebody funds those films, because I’d love to watch them.