Tag Archives: film

I’m glad the future didn’t turn out like it did in Back to the Future II

I’ve been seeing it every once a month or so for the past several years, someone posts a picture on the Internet, it’s a screenshot of the clock inside the Doc’s DeLorean. “Today is the date that Marty McFly visited in Back to the Future II!” and, the first time I saw it, I thought it was really cool, but then it kept popping up, someone just photoshopping a new date to match the current one. Super lame.


But it does raise some interesting ideas. Back to the Future II is a movie made in the eighties that attempts to portray what life in America should look like right about now. Obviously there aren’t too many similarities between the real world and that fantasy land where every homeowner has access to his or her personal flying car. But it’s a movie. That’s one idea of what a future might look like.


It makes me wonder, which version of 2014 is better, ours, or the one imagined way back when? While there’s a lot to consider, I’d have to say that the real 2014 has shaped up to be far superior in almost all respects to the one from the movie. And yes, I’m taking into account the fact that mostly everything made in the eighties looks super cheesy in hindsight. But even after acknowledging and compensating for that handicap, the real future is still so much brighter.

That’s not to say that they got everything wrong. I’m obviously talking about Hoverboards here. And while this futuristic neon pink play toy only had a minor role in the movie, it’s lasting grip on our collective imagination only serves to underscore its very noticeable absence from the future that we inhabit today. Yes, the flying cars were also pretty cool, as were the sneakers that tied themselves up with a push of a button. But come on, why do we not have Hoverboards yet? It’s almost enough to make me want to rule in favor of the eighties future, if only to encourage us to realign our modern priorities, shift away from whatever it is we’re currently working on and reorient our goals to making Hoverboards a viable consumer technology.

Almost. But the rest of the eighties future is depressing enough that I can forget for a few moments that I live in a world where Hoverboards remain a distant fiction. Which is weird, because from a cursory glance, the future in Back to the Future II looks bright. Everything is clean and hi-tech, people seem to be happy, in essence, it’s not Mad Max or Robocop or any of the dystopian visions of the future commonly portrayed in the eighties.

But it still kind of sucks. Marty McFly had dreams of becoming a rock star, but in 2014, he instead finds himself living in some highly automated cage where his foreign boss can appear anytime he wants on giant wall mounted TVs. When they decide to fire McFly, it’s not enough to just tell him that he lost his job, they start streaming in commands to all of the printers around the house, “You’re fired!” printed in giant type for his whole family to read. Talk about lack of privacy, I’d rather have the NSA reading my emails than my boss having the ability to weasel his way into my off-the-clock hours.

And speaking of work, why does everybody in the eighties future have to wear two ties? In my version of the future, we’re all wearing less ties, zero ties, not an additional tie. A tie is the stupidest must unnecessary piece of clothing currently in every man’s closet, and yet it’s somehow required for any sort of formal event. What’s the point of looping a piece of fabric around our neck? It’s just dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. And yet someone who made this movie thought it would look a little more advanced if we all got to wear an extra.

It’s just a subtle way of showing how maybe their future wasn’t meant to be as appealing as its glossy coated exterior made it appear. Everybody in the house is working. Work, work, work. Everybody’s so busy that they barely have enough time to feed themselves. They can’t cook dinner, they don’t even have time to go out for a bite to eat. No, instead, Marty’s mom comes over and rehydrates a Pizza Hut pizza in some futuristic kitchen appliance. So not only are the people of the twenty-first century forced to eat dehydrated junk food, they have to fit their houses with expensive appliances that deny them even the ability to enjoy their fast food outside of the house.

And why do Marty and his future son appear to be identical twins? It’s too easy of an answer to say that they just wanted Michael J. Fox to play both roles. No, I think that in this vision of the future, gene therapy has advanced to a point where parents could customize the DNA of their offspring, mapping their appearance to the most minute detail. Of course, Marty being a total self-absorbed rock-n-roll wannabe narcissist, he basically molds his son into his clone, ensuring and predicting a perpetual stagnation of the human race, of eighties American decay, endless suburban sprawl, and lame retro-themed diners.

Yeah, the real future is so much better. Seriously, they didn’t even predict the Internet. How do you not predict the Internet? And the further we march ahead, the sillier Back to the Future II looks in the rearview mirror. I say we leave it all behind, stop airing Part II on TV, and try to forget all of those unexplained temporal paradoxes (Like, when Biff steals the time machine, he comes back to the future after having dropped off the sports almanac, but nothing’s changed yet. Why? Shouldn’t he have come back to a future continued by the timeline in which he’s a ruthless billionaire? It doesn’t make sense.) Except, let’s not forget about the Hoverboards. I’d really, really like a Hoverboard. But I said that already.

When are we getting more Avatar movies?

Nobody talks about Avatar anymore. How did that happen? I remember leaving the theater after watching Avatar for the first time, and yeah, I kind of felt a little cross-eyed from wearing those 3D glasses for so long, but I thought that nothing would ever be the same again. Fast-forward four or so years later, and everything’s exactly the same. I can’t remember the last time I’ve even thought about Avatar, let alone heard anybody else talk about it.


Avatar was supposed to usher in a golden age of 3D movies. But it didn’t. If I ever have the option between 3D and 2D, I’ll always go for the 2D. Again, a lot of it has to do with the creeping sense that the pressure building behind my eyes is always about thirty seconds away from exploding into a full-blown headache. But I’ve seen a few other movies in 3D, and it was all totally unnecessary. Like The Great Gatsby. I would’ve actually been OK with only one dimension for The Great Gatsby.

And what about sequels? After Avatar crushed every box-office record in the books, there was all this talk of future films set on the moon off that blue Jupiter-like planet. There were rumors about underwater adventures. Like maybe the Na’vi can swim, and instead of having giant birds to fly them around, maybe they’d have cool dolphins or something to help them swim really fast.

But any speculation is just a waste of time. Because are you even working on any more Avatar movies James Cameron? The last I heard, he was too busy playing Scuba Steve, building that bullet ship that took him down to the deepest reaches of the ocean. How was that James? Did you have fun? You see any cool giant squid or anything?

You know what I was doing while you were underwater James? I was sitting here wishing that you’d never made Avatar in the first place. Because I want more Avatar so badly. Everybody does. There were all these reports about people getting actually depressed when they’d stare at themselves in the mirror, realizing that they’d never get to walk around inside a nine-foot tall blue body.

People were seriously immersed in your alien world, OK Cameron? And then you just disappear, you’re like, “Actually, I think I’m going to turn my attention toward oceanography.” Guess what? Nobody cares about the ocean. Not unless it’s an ocean on Pandora, OK, and not unless we’re staring at that ocean through a pair of 3D glasses, unable to believe that what we’re looking at on the screen isn’t real. Because it all looks so real.

Don’t you feel like it’s all a little arrogant of you? You’re sitting there thinking, it can wait, I can work on a few other side projects if and when I ever decide to get back to doing what God put me on this planet to do: make more Avatar movies. James, nobody knows how much time they’ll have left on this planet, OK, you could die at any moment. A car accident. Food poisoning. Avian flu. And I’m not even including any of the dumb stunts you’ve been pulling lately, like building your own experimental submarine and traveling to the Mariana Trench.

Even if you started working right this second, dedicating the rest of your waking life to working exclusively on future Avatar projects, you’d only be able to accomplish so much. Don’t you want to maximize the amount of Avatar the world has to consume? Why are you doing this to us James? Was this part of your plan all along? To create the first part of what should have been a thriving franchise by now, all to ultimately put everything on the backburner, causing all of us to slowly forget that Avatar ever existed?

And now I remember it, and I’m flooded with despair, that it’s been so long since I felt what I felt four years ago. Avatar. Cameron, get back to work, man, call a huge press conference, OK, tell us that something’s coming, soon, that we just have to be patient. But not too patient, OK, because I’m going crazy here. Just stop being such a dick and give us more Avatar.

You should watch Blackfish

If you haven’t watched Blackfish on Netflix, do it immediately. It’s definitely one of the best documentary films I’ve seen in my life. Composed mostly of interviews with former trainers at SeaWorld amusement parks, Blackfish argues that it’s barbaric and morally wrong for human beings to hold killer whales in captivity, that regardless of their ability to learn and perform tricks and other complex behaviors, orcas simply aren’t meant to be living their lives in these fish tanks, prisons really, where the lack of stimulus often leads to aggressive behavior not seen in the wild.


The movie is powerful. I watched it a few days ago, and I’ve been carrying around a pit in the center of my stomach ever since, a weird sort of indefinable sadness lurking in the periphery of my thoughts. I’m not like a whale lover or anything, I mean, I certainly respect the majesty and the intelligence of these creatures. We share the same planet yet they occupy a totally different world, experience reality in ways that we can only guess.

And that’s, I think, kind of the root behind why I’m feeling so down. That while I can guess as to how the whales feel, out in the wild, in captivity, I really have no idea, and I’ll never have any idea. One of the trainers in the film looks back at his time with SeaWorld, he remarks that he used to feel like he had a special connection with his whale. But after having been removed from the situation, he starts questioning, was it really a connection? Or was it merely anthropomorphized responses motivated by the fish used to reward each behavior?

Who knows what a whale is thinking? I look at my dog, who knows what my dog is thinking? And this is where I start to get really bummed out. We adopted our dog Steve when he was only six weeks old. We were living in Ecuador at the time, and this flea-covered animal, barely bigger than a baseball, was all but thrown at us by a well-intentioned neighbor. “Here you go, look, a puppy,” was the gist of it, and we raised him, we brought him back to the United States with us, giving this animal that should have been living on the streets a life of luxury and comfort.

But is that what Steve wants? I know that he likes to eat, and if I’m holding out a dog biscuit or a piece of rawhide, he’ll sit, he’ll lay down, he’ll give me his paws. But if the reward weren’t a part of the equation, is there any way he’d be doing what he’s doing? Steve spends a lot of the time sleeping on the couch, or looking out the window. Is there a part of him that wishes he had his freedom? How big of a part is it?

It all boils down to the fact that, I have no idea what he’s thinking. I look at him and I make assumptions based on his behavior that he’s happy or not happy. And I do love my dog, and I really do hope that he’s happy. When I come home after work and he’s jumping at the door, I like to think that he’s excited to see me, rather than just excited at the potential that I might be moved to ask him to do a trick to be rewarded with a dog biscuit. When I’m sitting down on the couch and he lies down on top of me, I hope to think that he enjoys my presence, that he’s not begrudgingly using me as a substitute for what should be physical contact with other dogs.

Whales aren’t dogs, I know that. I know that dogs have a history of domestication, of a mutual partnership with human beings that dates far back throughout history. But dogs aren’t people either. And I can’t even tell what other people are thinking most of the time. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll probably always smile and say, “Great!” But am I really doing great? Maybe. Maybe I’m super pissed off. But I just want to come across as cheerful, because that’s going to get me farther in life than being pissed off.

I guess I just have to do the best I can, to try my best to be empathetic, to treat everybody with compassion and kindness. But there are always a million other questions that I’ll never really be able to touch. Like what the cow feels as it’s led to the slaughter. Or what the cockroach feels as I stamp it out under my shoe when I see it running across my living room floor. It’s too much. These moral dilemmas, I don’t have any convincing answers to make myself feel better.

But seriously, watch Blackfish, because it’s a great movie, and it made me certain of at least one thing: don’t go to SeaWorld. Don’t support them caging those whales. Fuck that.

You’ve got to watch this great documentary

I had this thought earlier today, like I could be a great documentarian if I wanted to, that if only I had the equipment, and the knowledge of how to use that equipment, I’d make some of the best documentaries in the history of film. Like these headphones that I’m holding in my hand right now. Where were they made, in China? Where? That’s where I’d start. I’d take my crew, my top-of-the-line cameras and lights and unobtrusive microphone packs.


If only I had the time, and the money to be able to commit to supporting myself while I figured out which Chinese factory these headphones came from, and then even more money to book a flight, to gain access to the assembly line. I’m sure I’d have to talk to some sort of a party official. I guess I’d have to learn how to speak Chinese.

If only I could speak Chinese, I’d make one of the most gripping documentaries about Chinese people making mass-consumed cheap throwaway products, stuff that we get for free over here, like when we buy a cellphone, or when we fly on a plane. I’d follow around just one guy, like his story would embody my story, the story being, look at this man, he’s just a cog in the machine. But he’s a person.

I’d probably have to either bribe my way through whichever party officials would be in charge of allowing an American to just waltz in and paint this cinematographic representation of how bleak factory life must be for the average Chinese laborer, “Bleak, but tinged with hope!” again, my Chinese would have to be spot on, or I’d have to pay a lot of money for a translator clever enough to understand exactly what I’m trying to say, in English, while at the same time being able to deceive the party officials into making it like I’m trying to capture all of the positive aspects of China’s industrial workforce.

I’m sure it wouldn’t be as simple of pointing and shooting, like, there would probably have to be planned out questions, all of the filming employing multiple cameras, so that while he’d be pondering the answer to some existential question, something like, “What does it all mean?” I’d be able to switch between the two cameras, one of them aimed just off of the center of his face, his pensive stare positioned just behind where I’d be if you could see me standing behind the camera, and then the other camera would be a profile shot, and it would have some grainy filter, and it would be in black and white.

I hadn’t considered subtitles. I’d have to use subtitles, right? Yeah, definitely, if even just for my own sake, you know, assuming that I hadn’t learned Chinese. No way I’d be able to learn Chinese. I mean, I’m not saying that it’s impossible. I’m sure that if I absolutely had to … what I mean is, I think that my brain is physically capable of learning Chinese … but subtitles, definitely subtitles. What font would I use? Do documentarians have to outsource the font work, like they do in comic books? Couldn’t I just pick out something myself?

If only I was well versed in documentaries. I think I’ve only ever seen like maybe six or seven documentaries, total. That’s not a lot of real-life documentary experience to then use as the basis for my very own documentary. Or maybe that’s what I’d need, a complete outsider’s perspective. I’d show up at the documentary film awards and everybody would be like, “Who is this nobody?” and I’d win every category hands-down, even the judges wouldn’t be able to close their mouths, hanging wide open in shock, like, he did it, this guy just completely changed the genre forever, for the better.

I remember when I was in college I saw that documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. There’s this opening scene where George W. Bush is making some broad generalization about something, you know, I don’t even remember what he was talking about really, but the camera zooms out and it turns out that he’s golfing, he says something like, “Now watch this drive.” I remember thinking, man, fucking George W. Bush. If that guy spent less time golfing and more time governing, well, whatever, fucking Bush.

But now it’s like, every once in a while I’ll see something on right-wing news, when it’s a slow news day they’ll point the finger at Obama, taking a vacation, or playing golf. They throw out barbs like, “This president has spent more time on the golf course than any other president in history!” And I get so mad, I’m just like, back off, all right? He’s the president. That’s a tough job. Everybody’s got to unwind, right?