No, the Alien: Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.

It was the best of Alien films, it was the worst of Alien films, it was the sequel to Prometheus, it was the prequel to Alien, it was the story of David, it was the story of Lucifer, it had an awesome ending, it had the worst ending ever — in short, Alien: Covenant was so much like the entire Alien series that many of its audiences and critics have insisted on discussing it in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Immediately, let’s note that Alien: Covenant could never accurately be considered the best or the worst Alien film. The only contenders for best Alien film are the original Ridley Scott masterpiece and Aliens, the James Cameron action sequel. The worst, depending on who you ask, is the third or the fourth installment, or, if you’re considering them as contenders, the Alien vs Predator movies.

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Rather than discuss the film as a whole – as there are many critics whose job it is to review films in depth, and many armchair critics whose hobby is the same – I’d like to focus on one small aspect of Alien: Covenant that I think was missed by many of its viewers. The film was derided by various bloggers, commenters, and critics as having an “obvious twist ending.” As you know, based on the headline of this article, my argument is that this should not be called either a twist ending or an obvious twist ending.

I’ve also waited long enough to write this so that a) no one is talking about Alien: Covenant anymore b) I’ve had enough time to consider it to know that this is how I feel, and c) we know how well the film did at the box office (not quite $250 million on a nearly $100 million budget, so not awesome.)

First, let’s recap the Alien: Covenant ending, before debating its flaws and strengths

Before calling it a failure or a success, let’s analyze what actually happens at the end of the film. (Note: if you have somehow read this far without seeing Alien: Covenant, this is your moment to either stop reading or to know that any element of the ending will be “spoiled” from here forward.) Continue reading “No, the Alien: Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.”

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Sick of Reboots, Sequels, and Extended Universes? Blame Classic Literature

We find ourselves in the midst of another summer and with it, an endless brigade of sequels, prequels, reboots, requels, and the ongoing march of extended cinematic universes. A new Mummy. A fifth Transformers. A new Baywatch. A third installment in the third imagining of Planet of the Apes. A third actor playing Spider-Man in the last decade. A sequel to the Alien prequel. Another damn King Arthur. Another three Marvel shows on Netflix springing up for every new Marvel film, perpetual menaces likes heads of the hydra.

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The Mummy we deserve

And while the tastemakers and critics bemoan this ongoing onslaught of tired ideas and bloated franchises, it’s worth pausing and reminding ourselves that there is nothing novel about this. This lack of new ideas is not new. Sure, 2017 is bloated with stories and characters lacking originality, but so was 2016, 2007, 1997, and 1597.

If you’re really looking for someone to blame for these endless reboots and expanding cinematic universes, it’s not Michael Bay or Vin Diesel. Blame the real culprits: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and all the other writers throughout history who did the same thing we’re seeing today on the screen.

So, dear reader, it’s time for you to sit back, hold your rebuttal until the end, and consider the following list of explaining how the current “lack of originality” is neither original, nor a problem.

Sequels Upon Sequels Upon Prequels Upon Sequels are Nothing New

Surely you’re familiar with The Three Musketeers, the swashbuckling adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas. Perhaps you’ve read it, or perhaps you’re seen one of its screen adaptations, of which there have been many.

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But where’s d’Artagnan?

But here are a few things you might not know about The Three Musketeers and Dumas:

  • The Three Musketeers has two sequels by Dumas, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.
  • The Vicomte de Bragelonne is often published as three different books instead of one as it’s extremely long, meaning that The Three Musketeers effectively has four sequels.
  • The third part of the third Three Musketeers book is the famous The Man in the Iron Mask.
  • All of these novels were originally published in serialized form, being released in installments over time. The Three Musketeers took four months to be released, much like a television show is released today.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, another novel by Dumas, was originally serialized in 18 parts and ran for over two years.
  • When each of these novels were released in English, they were also serialized, often seeing competing versions and abridgments being released at the same time.

Of course, Dumas invented neither the sequel nor the serial. The following authors also followed their novels with sequels that followed the same characters and cashed in on the popularity:

  • Lewis Carroll, after releasing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed it up with a sequel, Through the Looking Glass, six years later. He then wrote The Hunting of the Snark, an epic poem published in 1876 that features a few characters and creatures from Through the Looking Glass.
  • Leo Tolstoy might be famous of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but his first published novel was Childhood, which launched him into popularity. He wrote two sequels to the novel, called Boyhood and Youth.
  • The famous novel we know today as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was initially two different novels, called Little Women (1868) and its sequel, Good Wives (1869). Not stopping there, Alcott published another two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
  • Sherlock Holmes might be one of the most ubiquitously adapted characters today, which certainly wouldn’t be the case if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t cranked out sixty sequels to his 1887 success A Study in Scarlet.
  • Literary sequels to great works continued into the 20th century, including Joseph Heller writing a sequel to Catch-22 and Johns Cheever and Updike writing a few sequels of their own.

And of course, there is Mark Twain. But we are saving him for later in this list. Continue reading “Sick of Reboots, Sequels, and Extended Universes? Blame Classic Literature”

Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season

The trailers are out for the third season of Fargo and there isn’t much more to say about them than “okay then.” As in, it looks good. Pretty darn good.

But it’s not here yet. The third season of the anthology will premier in late April, giving us time to either rewatch the first two seasons in anxious anticipation or get hyped for it by consuming some other media with similar themes and settings. The following list contains a number of films, shows, and books, all of which can be recommended to an enthusiastic Fargo fan. Many of these are either set in Minnesota, created by Minnesotans, or have some other Midwestern connection.

Many also share at least one of two other traits with Fargo: a sense of humor and a sense of violence.

Watch A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers and Starring Michael Stuhlbarg

Filmed in Minnesota’s Saint Louis Park, A Serious Man is arguably the most autobiographical film that Ethan and Joel Coen have made. But the setting and the creators aren’t the only reason to watch this film in anticipation of the upcoming Fargo season.

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A Serious Man

This 2009 film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a Minnesotan man who finds his life unraveling much in the style of Job. If you’re not immediately familiar with the name Michael Stuhlbag, you might know him better as Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire. Or, you might not be familiar with him at all… but you will be, assuming you watch the upcoming series of Fargo, in which he plays the character Sy Feltz. (It’s also worth noting that Stuhlbarg isn’t the only Boardwalk Empire alum in this season of Fargo; Shea Whigham will also be in this season.) Continue reading “Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season”

The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

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“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

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If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”

Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.

Consider the misquote. It lies in that same realm as citing fake news or reading only the headline. Misquoting is certainly nothing new, but the internet allows a fake quote to be retweeted a thousand times before the truth has even clicked send.

I’ve written about this before, of course. In the summer of 2015, I wrote a blog post called Six Things Hemingway Never Said, in which I listed a series of fake, inaccurate, misappropriated, or apocryphal Hemingway quotes and their origins.

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“Live. Laugh. Love”

Since then, of course, it has only gotten worse. Consider the following list of quotes, provided by Google when one searches for ernest hemingway quotes:

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-12-21-40-pmI won’t catalogue all of these, but let’s say that they range from context-free to paraphrased to nonsense. The seventh is a misquote of a line he said during a famous article by Dorothy Parker in The New Yorker, while the last one on the list sounds like the social media status update of a moody teen.

Why do we misquote?

What is it about the internet and misquoting? What drives one to repeat something that someone else said without bothering to make sure that person said it?  Why would you put something on your Facebook wall, why tweet it, why make it into a cute photo for Instagram without confirming that, yes, it’s a real quote? Continue reading “Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.”

Why This Website Displays No Ads

You may wonder—or perhaps you may not—why this blog displays no ads. Nothing encouraging you to go to other sites, nothing in this margins, nothing at the bottom of the page. You will not be nudged toward fantasy sports, discount shopping, weight loss remedies, or ways to make extra money by working at home. I do not have an “Around the Web” section. The only pop-up is something encouraging you to subscribe to my email list.

Now, I’m not saying this to congratulate myself, or to tell you how lucky you are. I’m telling you this because I want you, dear reader, to buy my books. Continue reading “Why This Website Displays No Ads”

Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)

I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.

Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.

Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?

Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.

Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?

In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.

How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?

Flattered, I hope. By the effort, at the very least. Continue reading “Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)”

In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Moby-Dick!

Not the whale, but the book. 165 years ago today, Herman Melville’s epic novel was published in America for the first time. (A different version of it had come out in England one month earlier, but today is accepted as the anniversary of the version the world knows).

In honor of this anniversary, I think it’s worth taking a moment to look at the books, movies, music, and more that we have as a result of Moby-Dick‘s legacy.

Leviathan ’99 by Ray Bradbury

“The doomed crew of a starship follows their blind, mad captain on a quest into deepest space to joust with destiny, eternity, and God Himself . . .”

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Sound familiar? This novella—collected alongside “Somewhere a Band is Playing” in Bradbury’s Now and Forever—is an unapologetic retelling of Moby-Dick. It’s also sci-fi, set in space, like one or two other works on this list.

Note that this isn’t only a book, but has also been a radio production and a playContinue reading “In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations”

The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels

There has never been a better time to start reading Kurt Vonnegut. To begin with, today is his 94th birthday. Second, we appear to be living inside one of his novels, with an egocentric billionaire slouching toward the White House, the National Anthem at the center of controversy, and our entire existence increasingly descending into a parody of itself (for more on all of this, see my article What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?)

But where to begin? The first Vonnegut novel was published over six decades ago. In the next fifty years of his life, he wrote another thirteen novels, hundreds of short stories and essays, one play, and created a series of paintings and drawings.

I’m here to tell you where to start, and how. You should read Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, if you haven’t already. Should you read all of them? That depends. But you should at least read one of them. (Note: this blog post originally began as something I wrote for the /r/truebooks subreddit, for people looking to read more Vonnegut and not sure where to start.)

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One of many.

In order to give you some guidance in determining a reading order for his lists, I’ve divided his novels into three tiers:

  • Tier One: The novels to start with. His masterpieces. Or, if you’re only going to read one or two of his novels, choose one from this list.
  • Tier Two: The ones to read after you’ve burned through the first tier. Not that these are worse, but they are perhaps less accessible, or won’t make as much sense unless you’ve read the others first.
  • Tier Three: The novels that are either very bizarre, very meta-fictional, less novels than thought experiments, or the ones that expect you to have a greater understanding of who Vonnegut is before tackling.

Make sense? Let’s begin:

Which Vonnegut Novel to Read First?

So you want to read a Vonnegut novel, but not sure which one? I recommend beginning with one of these four:

Cat’s Cradle (1963)

I consider this to be the first (chronologically) of his best novels. It’s also a great introduction to Vonnegut, and it’s easy-to-read, through his use of short chapters and fast pacing. Opens with a Moby-Dick reference, explores religion, science, war, and the apocalypse, and includes some very fun characters. Continue reading “The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels”

What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?

Or, When Did We Start Living in a Fictional Satire?

I’ve compared recent events—and, in particular, this presidential election—to many things: Armageddon, Alien, every Batman story, and almost every ’90s action movie.

But there is one painful metaphor that I have not explored: the 2016 election appears to have been written by writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut.

I first started pondering the question of did Vonnegut write our current political climate this spring, when my aunt (a librarian) pointed out to me how much Donald Trump resembles a Vonnegut character.

I soon googled trump vonnegut and was surprised not to see more about it. I found a handful of articles, but none that fully explored the extent to which the candidate Donald Trump seems to have sprung straight from a Vonnegut novel. Nor did anyone mention the extent to which this entire election resembles a Vonnegut-penned narrative and universe.

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The classic cover of Vonnegut’s masterpiece.

Listen:

America has become a Kurt Vonnegut novel.  Continue reading “What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?”