Our brand is crisis?

14469652_564576230393957_3537145904902612686_nThere is nothing like coming back from vacation to help you see life through new eyes, particularly if you’ve been lucky enough to spend a chunk of time somewhere that is quite different from the world you inhabit on a daily basis. If you have such good fortune, you will likely be asking questions like these: Why do we move so fast? How come we are always going somewhere? Why do we get so antsy when we lose our almost constant input from numerous electronic sources? Okay, may I should just speak for myself when it comes to the antsy part, but you get the point…

I was also surprised at how difficult it was to receive almost no world news for days, and more surprised when I came back to the campaign rhetoric going on in my own homeland. My house was as comfy as ever. A salad from the local farmers market was still a treat. The wine we brought back was delicious. So what is everyone so upset about, I wondered. To hear the ads slathered around the swing state in which I live, we are suddenly on the verge of destruction. Quick, duck and cover. It’s awful, what-ever-it-is, and it’s coming fast.

Really?  Right before we left on vacation my husband and I happened to watch the movie “Our Brand is Crisis.” It came out in early 2016, stars Sandra Bullock (a favorite of mine) and Billy Bob Thorton and it tells the tale of two opposing U.S. campaign strategists as each tries to help a Bolivian candidate win the highest office in the land.

I found it a good movie, though not a great one. The characters are all well written and well acted, however the dirty tricks that make up most of the plot are only mildly interesting, and the overall tone has an odd moral ambiguity until the end, when it takes a sharp turn into easy schmaltz. I’m kind of okay with easy schmaltz, actually, but the transition is a little jarring.

I later learned that the movie was based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary about the real 2002 election in Bolivia.  If true, it’s a much sadder story than is conveyed, and the characters, in my opinion, should have been shown less as sexy and smart and more as ethically repugnant. But hey, that’s me. I don’t have much of a sense of humor about some things.

The movie came to my mind after I got back from vacation, because of its central premise which is conveniently placed in the movie’s title. If you want attention, if you want action, you need to persuade people that there is a problem. A big problem. It’s how you make people buy things. (Your acid reflux is serious.) It’s how you get them to donate money, and vote. Scaring people into doing things works.

The only problem is that you end up with scared people.

Image result for political ralliesThere are some places in the world that are almost literally on fire right now, but I don’t live in one of them and I bet you don’t either. Don’t get me wrong, I fully recognize that we have plenty of things in our society that are screwed up and that we need to fix. My list is probably different than yours, and quite possibly longer. (It’s that “not much of a sense of humor” thing.) But surely we can agree that we are not in a crisis. We really aren’t.

Others, many others with all sorts of beliefs, have a vested interest in convincing us that we are, but we can refuse to be manipulated by all of them. So please, take a breath. Look around. Find some small thing to appreciate in your life and then go ahead and find another. Once your feeling calmer about it all, consider tuning out the pundits who are determined to work you into a frenzy. The people of Bolivia would have made much better decisions if they had done so.

Now, once you’ve found that calm place, you should definitely vote. After that, the antacid tablets are optional.

(For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be AlrightWe need to talk about this, just maybe not so much, and Is it over yet?)

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see The Moon Rises on my c3 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)

Best movies about time, at least in this space/time continuum

travel-in-time-to-1969-space-time-continuum-andee-designI am part of the movie-viewing public that never tires of a well done flick that examines time. But, as one might guess from the plot of z2, my favorites involve a clever manipulation of time, or a riff on the mysteries of time, rather than straight time travel stories.

There are several reasons that simple time travel stories don’t generally impress me.

yankeeFirst, when they only involve going into the past, they are too often no more than an excuse to do a “fish out of water” piece on a present day hero in an historical setting of the writer’s choosing. I think that Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (written all the way back in 1889) pretty much covered this, and the subsequent 1949 movie starring Bing Crosby brought it to the screen well. If you want to write about (or watch) contemporary people experiencing early Rome or the Ming dynasty, that’s fine, you are absolutely entitled to your pleasures.  I just consider such stories to be more historical fiction than science fiction, and I’m not all that fond of historical fiction.

eloiConversely, if the time travel is only to the future, the DeLorean (or whatever the time machine is called) is only a vehicle to get present day people into the author’s wonderful, or awful, vision of tomorrow.  It is science fiction, but like H.G. Well’s tale of the poor Eloi, the time travel aspect is far less important than the future that is created. I may or may not like the story, depending on what I think of the tomorrow that is being described. For example, although I admire H.G. Wells and his groundbreaking ideas for 1895, I personally wasn’t all that crazy about the flesh eating Morlocks.

spock-prime1The remaining option, obviously, is to craft a story in which folks shuttle back and forth through time. I believe that this kind of fiction is so hard to do well. It is easy for a writer to fall into the silly and overused “the whole universe is going to unravel because I sneezed” situation, as in my least favorite time travel series ever, “Back to the Future.” Some plots avoid this better than others. I thought that the whole Spock Prime thing in the 2013 movie “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a wonderful example of how to avoid this scenario without a complicated explanation. Well done.

So what time related movies do intrigue this humble author? Well, I recently found this wonderful post called 8 great movies that manipulate time written by Jay A. Fernandez back in June 5, 2014 on a blog called “Signature” and I invite you to check it out for yourself.

Four of the eight are some of my favorite movies ever, based on their wonderful looks at the slippery and fascinating phenomenon of time. In order of increasing preference:

4. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) is based on a 1922 story by F.Scott Fitzgerald. The idea of a baby born as an old man who gets younger as he ages is intriguing, even though the love story which forms most of the plot was too schmaltzy for my tastes. (The truth is that I like romance novels even less than I like historical fiction.) A more modern take on this same idea isTime's Arrow Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. This is a far darker story based on the idea of time running in the other direction, in a scenario in which the opposite of reality makes more sense than the reality itself.

3. “Memento”(2000) tells the tale of a man who completely lacks short term memory, meaning that there is no recent past for him. The story picks at that disturbing connection between human consciousness and the laws of physics. What is time without an observer?

2. “Run, Lola, Run” (1998) shows how three split second variations at the start of a story yield three vastly different outcomes, not only for Lola, but for everyone whose life she touches on her maniac mission to save her boyfriend. 

1. “Groundhog Day” (1993) is the infamous story of a man forced to live the same day repeatedly. Yes, it is officially my favorite movie, because of its cosmic implication that we all get each of life’s lessons over and over until we finally wise up and learn what we need.

warped-clockThe list includes three other movies I have always meant to see (“Twelve Monkeys”, “Inception”and “Irreversible”) and one other I somehow missed hearing about but have now added to my list to check out (“Primer.”) It also gives an honorable mention to another favorite of mine, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, which makes up for the honorable mention it gives to Back to the Future. Clearly intelligent movies about the nature of time are plentiful, and hopefully the recent interest in science fiction will spur on even more.