Monday, August 29, 2011


"Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people." - Carl Sagan.

Earlier this year, SETI shut down 42 radio telescopes (the Allen Telescope Array). Funding for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence had dried up. That's not too surprising - with the recession, the housing crisis, unemployment... people are too busy worrying about how to pay the bills to spare a thought about little green men. And after all, there are no scientists in Congress. Our world leaders are trained laywers, accountants, and businemessmen - but not scientists*. Our society prioritizes oil and advertising and entertainment, but the exploration of the seeming cold, vast, emptiness of space has been left by the wayside.

Well, Jodie Foster has saved the day! She and other good samaritans raised enough money to bring the ATA back out of hibernation. In a note accompanying her donation to SETI, Foster explained "Just like Ellie Arroway, the ATA is 'good to go' and we need to return it to the task of searching newly discovered planetary worlds for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence [...] The Allen Telescope Array could turn science fiction into science fact, but only if it is actively searching the skies."

* I wish I had come up with that insightful observation but it was actually Neil deGrasse Tyson recently on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Hesher tells the story of a tragic boy, T.J., left numb and empty by his mother’s death, his depressed dad, who hasn’t been able to get out of bed in the mornings or hold down a job or shave since his wife died, his lonely grandmother, and the metalhead (Hesher) who haunts this family. 
Hesher is a monument to nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s a monument to metal, and an ode to destruction.  The soundtrack features songs by Metallica and Motorhead, including one scene in which Hesher lights a diving board on fire, proceeds to run through the flames and cannonball into a swimming pool full of broken furniture, and then climbs out of the pool nonchalantly humming the lyrics to “Jump in the Fire”.

But there is no obvious point to the movie, no clear meaning. Hesher just appears, and then disappears. Inbetween, he takes T.J. for a ride. Hesher is T.J.'s mentor, but also his demon. He is foulmouthed, unpredictable, and cruel, but also calm and rational in the midst of T.J.'s chaotic grief. He drives T.J. into trouble and despair, but he is also his saviour.
Metallica have said that Hesher reminds them of Cliff Burton, which is profoundly appropriate, because Hesher is like a ghost, more of a mythological figure than a man. That's what makes Hesher stand out. Even though it’s really just a simple story about a troubled child, there's something otherworldly about it.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt unapologetically brings Hesher to life, completely believable as he headbangs fiercely and drums out Motorhead tracks on his steering wheel. Devin Brochu's lack of acting experience is noticeable at times, but it’s a challenging role, and he alternates between moments of rage and blank apathy convincingly enough. Rainn Wilson has obviously mastered the role of tragic loser. Piper Laurie adds a great deal of depth to a character who, on the surface, appears to be just a sweet old grandma who wants to go for a walk.
But then, the entire movie is more than what it appears to be. It has all the raw, violent energy of thrashing albums like Kill 'Em All, but it is also beautiful and poetic, like Hesher's metaphors that aren't really metaphors.
Hesher will obviously appeal to any metalhead worth their salt, but even if you have no interest whatsoever in the music or the scene, its still a worthwhile watch, as an exploration of grief and the demons that haunt us all.