Some takes on 2017, before it ends

The end of 2017 is nigh. And with it, the top ten lists, the retrospectives, the predictions. Rather than the Top Books Published in 2017 or the Best Films of the Year or anything like this, here’s my list of opinions, ideas, and arguments that I have not already written about in 2017 and would like to make sure I write about before the year is up and they become potentially irrelevant.

So, here we go.

The Literature Takes

One. Are we living in Vonnegut’s unfinished final novel?

I’ve already written about how painfully the current world resembles a Vonnegut novel. But as nuclear war ticks closer, metaphors invade real life, and madmen in decline occupy the highest positions of power, it’s worth wondering if we might simply be living in Vonnegut’s world.

According to his book A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut had an unfinished novel at the end of his life, a novel with little-to-no prospect of ever being finished. He called it If God Were Alive Today and describes it as

“…about Gil Berman, thirty-six years my junior, a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.”

AManWithoutACountry

Is it possible that this is where we are right now? Is Vonnegut writing our history from a different place? Is this idea really dramatically different than Elon Musk saying we living in a simulation? Or the suggestion made by philosopher David Chalmers that we are not just in a simulation, but one that is breaking? Wouldn’t it be at least more reassuring to think that we are in a Vonnegut novel, rather than a computer program that is slowly breaking down? Continue reading “Some takes on 2017, before it ends”

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Why Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard

It’s the season of Die Hard. The season of “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Or, at the very least, “did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”  

Die Hard is, inarguably, a Christmas Movie. This is an accepted reality in our zeitgeist. Many have argued for it, with the majority of the arguments tracing their roots back to a simple Cracked article from 2009.

But what troubles me is that, lost in the shuffle of this omnipresent conversation is that its sequel, Die Hard 2, is everything that Die Hard is and more. More Christmas movie. More ’90s action movie. More Die Hard. Hence the subtitle, Die Harder.

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So, let’s investigate how Die Hard 2 is everything that Die Hard is, and more. Continue reading “Why Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard”

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.”

Ten Ways to Celebrate #MoonLandingDay and Moon Landing Week 2017

The big week is here: Moon Landing Week!

Or at least, it eventually will be known as Moon Landing Week. For now, we know that this upcoming Thursday (July 20th) is the 48th anniversary of the Moon Landing… or perhaps we don’t. Perhaps you just learned that now.

In honor of this year’s Moon Landing Day, here are ten things you can do to celebrate.

Listen to JFK’s Space Speech at Rice University

In September of 1962, with little over a year to live, John F. Kennedy, gave a speech where he reimagined the history of humankind into a 50 year span, and told us what we could accomplish before midnight during these condensed five decades.

jfk-rice-speech

He tells us, in this speech, that space has the potential to be “a sea of peace” or a “new terrifying theater of war.” He also reminds his audience that sometimes the right thing is the difficult one:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

We could dwell at length on the lessons in this speech, the similarities and contradictions between that moment in America and this one. Regardless, it’s something listen to and consider on this Moon Landing Day.

Of course, Kennedy did not live to see the Moon Landing, but it did happen within the decade, as he envisioned.  Continue reading “Ten Ways to Celebrate #MoonLandingDay and Moon Landing Week 2017”

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.

cruise-mummy
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.

3-musketeers
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”

What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?

The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.

fight-club-ending
Where is Mr. Robot’s mind?

Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself,  and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.) Continue reading “What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?”

What Would F. Scott Fitzgerald Say About the Ghostbusters Reboot Controversy?

If you haven’t noticed, there is a very heated and very strange argument occurring right now in certain circles of the internet. It’s about Ghostbusters.

There are two sides to this argument:

  • The new Ghostbusters is going to be the worst movie of all time. It won’t be funny and it does not honor the original two films and its very existence tarnishes and taints the original films.
  • The new Ghostbusters is going to be awesome and has a great team behind it. Also, the reason people are going so crazy over it is because they are crazy fanboys and they’re sexist.

A simple googling of “ghostbusters controversy” or “ghostbusters sexism” can tell you anything else you need to know: lots of people are choosing one side or the other, with rational people opting for the latter bulletpoint above. But to get an idea of it, without having to google, here and here and here are a few of the articles summarizing the controversy. Continue reading “What Would F. Scott Fitzgerald Say About the Ghostbusters Reboot Controversy?”

How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains

“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Paul Ryan said yesterday, explaining why his party will fight any Supreme Court justice nomination made by Barack Obama in 2016, and why they are specifically going to fight the nomination of Merrick Garland.

This, from a party ostensibly dedicated to the Constitution. This response to the President’s nomination has proved something: the Republicans have lost all sense of identity, becoming the contemporary political equivalent to the villains that Batman fights daily in the fictional Gotham City.

whatever-happened
From Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman and and Andy Kubert.

How so? In Batman media – whether comic books, films, or television – there is a running theme that the Batman’s “rogues gallery” is defined only by being the yin to Batman’s yang.

Their ideals, their missions, their goals and visions are all ethereal, shifting, defined not by what they are but by what Batman is not: Continue reading “How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains”

No Matter His Name (Or How Old He Gets), He’s Still Indy and They’re Not

Ever wondered what your grandpa would look like in a fedora? Well, Harrison Ford may give you a good idea. Believe it or not, another Indiana Jones movie is in the works, and, according to Steven Spielberg, there’s only one person who can carry the whip.

“I don’t think anyone could replace Harrison as Indy, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” Spielberg said in this interview. “There is only going to be one actor playing Indiana Jones and that’s Harrison Ford.”

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Pop Quiz: what’s Indiana Jones’s real first name?

While it remains to be seen what the new film will be about, what is clear is that no matter what happens, Indiana Jones has become a cinematic icon. Everybody knows him, and in the pantheon of movie characters, he’s got to be near the top. And as such, it comes as little surprise that over the years people have tried to capitalize on his likeness. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, these characters pretty much straight-up copied Indiana. Continue reading “No Matter His Name (Or How Old He Gets), He’s Still Indy and They’re Not”