I’m hoping that Get Out picks up at least a couple Oscars tonight. The Academy generally isn’t fond of genre movies, but Get Out is so much more than a horror movie. It’s a funny, incisive commentary on race and our inability to fully reckon with the legacy of racism in America. I also really liked the interspecies romance The Shape of Water, but Get Out is the more important movie. Director Jordan Peele is an exciting new voice and I want him to have plenty of leverage to do whatever he wants as his next project, although I’m already looking forward to his work on the rebooted Twilight Zone.
My latest pop culture obsession is reruns of ER. The entire series (all 13 seasons) recently became available on Hulu and I’ve gotten in the habit of watching an episode or two before bed. For a show that debuted in 1994, ER holds up remarkably well. The scenes have a kinetic energy that captures the chaos of an emergency room in an urban hospital. The multiple storylines and in-your-face realism would not be out of place in a modern-day series on HBO or Netflix. ER does falter when its focus shifts away from the patients (some of the early interactions between Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway are pretty cringeworthy), but it excels as a workplace drama. And it’s fair to say that the show is enjoying a resurgence of interest from critics.
I’m not sure I’ll do a rewatch of the entire series; I recall that it gets a little silly in later seasons. But for now, I’m content to spend my evenings with the staff of County General. And whatever happened to Sherry Stringfield? I had forgotten that I had a little crush on her back in my twenties.
I’m saddened to hear that my local comics shop, Big Brain Comics, is closing next month. And I feel a little guilty about not patronizing it more in recent years. Ever since comics became widely available in digital format, my trips to Big Brain have become far less frequent. But back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for me to drop close to $100 in a single visit. In fact, Big Brain played a huge role in helping me rediscover comics. I read a lot of comics during my frequent hospitalizations as a kid, but they were difficult to find in hometown of Green Bay. I stumbled across Big Brain soon after I bought my place in downtown Minneapolis and it soon became one of my favorite walking destinations. The owner, Michael Drivas, was always happy to help me find things or make recommendations. My spare bedroom is filled with stacks of comics purchased from Big Brain.
Today is Free Comic Book Day, so I think I’ll pay a visit to Big Brain and perhaps purchase a handsome collected volume as a final “thank you” to a place that encouraged me to let my geek flag fly.
- Music: Two albums that kept me interested from beginning to end were Grimes’ Art Angels and Jamie xx’s In Colour. I liked Grimes’ last album, Visions, well enough, but I wasn’t prepared for the pop mastery she displays on her latest. Over several tracks that range from gauzy pop confection to spare piano ballads, Grimes paints a self-portrait of an artist in full command of her craft and who will not tolerate any bullshit. In Colour is a guided tour of electronic music of the past two decades, filtered through Jamie xx’s ear for melody and a good beat. The chorus in “Loud Places” is one of the best musical payoffs I heard this year.
- Books: Two books that stayed with me this year both addressed the beauty and peril to be found in life’s randomness. Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life follows the multiple fates of a British woman who lives and dies repeatedly in the first half of the twentieth century, while Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel introduces us to a traveling theater troupe navigating a bleak postapocalyptic America. Each book beautifully illustrates how small events can ripple through time to shape the lives of people we will never meet.
I’d like wish my readers (all ten of you!) a happy and safe New Year. Perhaps we can create a few of our own ripples in 2016.
You didn’t think I would let the year end without offering my annual and entirely unsolicited take on my favorite slices of pop culture from the past year, did you?
- TV: Even I had a difficult time keeping up with the overwhelming quantity of scripted and unscripted television that networks and streaming outlets produced this year. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but I wonder how long this can go on before economic forces catch up with the ambitions of creators and executives. As in past years, shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead kept me thoroughly entertained, even if the writers made some questionable plotting decisions along the way. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a visually stunning adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel, is a grim look at life in an occupied America. Netflix’s Jessica Jones took a minor character from the Marvel universe and delivered a gripping noir that addresses the lingering aftermath of sexual assault and challenges our traditional notions of villainy. And Stephen Colbert made The Late Show his own, demonstrating that his wit and intelligence could thrive beyond the confines of the character that he played for the past nine years.
- Movies: I had a lot of fun at the opening day of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While the script calls out the first movie in ways both obvious and subtle, this is definitely a Star Wars film for the 21st century. The younger cast members, particularly Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, are a pleasure to watch and I can’t wait to see what the next episode brings. But the movie that captivated me the most this year was Mad Max: Fury Road. The title is misleading because Max isn’t the movie’s focus; it’s the young women escaping a predatory tyrant and their champion, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This is their story and Max is quite literally along for the ride. And it’s a ride that is brilliantly executed by director George Miller, a demented car chase through a Technicolor wasteland that features actual cars careening into each other. Also, a flame-throwing electric guitar.
Later this week: music and books!
Remember that time when I couldn’t stop gushing about Children of Men? It’s still one of my favorite movies and it’s still a favorite topic of discussion among fellow film nerds. Case in point: this excellent video that examines how Cuaron’s use of background imagery works in conjunction with the main story playing out in the foreground.
This movie has been on my mind as I’ve watched news stories about the refugees seeking better lives in Europe. The situation isn’t quite as bleak as what’s portrayed in the film, but the vile xenophobia on display in places like Hungary isn’t far removed from it, either.
I started watching The Daily Show sometime in 2000, just before the madness that was the Bush-Gore election saga. Jon Stewart’s brand of baffled, snarky liberalism became an essential part of my media diet, helping me cope with a Bush administration that seemed grimly determined to keep America in a perpetual age of war and fear. Stewart was the first media figure of my generation who seemed capable of speaking truth to power without sounding naive or inarticulate. His brilliant writing staff’s mastery of finding just the write video clip to undercut some grandstanding politician presaged the constant fact-checking that now occurs every day on social media. Interviews like the one below with the obnoxious CNBC financial “guru” Jim Cramer perfectly embody Stewart’s fondness for using someone’s own words to expose them as fools and/or hypocrites:
The Daily Show may have lost some of its edge in recent years and Stewart could have done a better job of diversifying both his on-air talent and his guests, but he also introduced us to other incredibly funny and smart people like Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, and John Oliver. Fifty years from now, American satirists and comedians will still be citing Stewart as an influence. I’m excited to see what Trevor Noah will do with the show, but I’m going to sorely miss Jon’s presence on my TiVo.
The AV Club is doing a pop culture retrospective of 1995, a year that has a special significance for me. It’s the year when I first began to feel like an adult. I graduated from college that spring and moved to Minneapolis a few months later. When I wasn’t trying to comprehend the basics of contract law and torts, I spent quite a bit of time navigating this newfangled thing called the Internet.
And now all of that is 20 years ago. Ugh. I’m going to put on some Oasis and order a sports car on eBay.
A few pop culture thoughts to end the week:
- The new teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie stands up well to repeated viewings. That shot of a Star Destroyer wreck in the desert (apparently not Tatooine, though) looks magnificent. But the teaser also raises many questions. What exactly is this new iteration of the Empire glimpsed in various scenes? Did the Rebels totally screw up their chance at governance? Are Han and Leia still a thing? These are the questions that will keep me awake between now and December.
- I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the Daredevil series on Netflix, but what I have seen is excellent. The tone is dark but not oppressive, the dialogue is snappy, and the fight scenes are stunning. You should watch it.
The 90s are coming back in a big way. A Clinton will soon be running for President. My favorite gaming genre is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And most importantly, The X-Files is returning! Fox announced today that the paranormal drama will be revived as a limited 6-episode series that will feature both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprising their roles as Mulder and Scully. No word yet on whether The Lone Gunmen will make an appearance.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I was a big fan of the show back in the day, so this news is terribly exciting for me. Six episodes seems like an ideal vehicle for a revival. It should allow for enough time to tell a few good stories without getting bogged down in ponderous mythology. If the writing is good and attracts an audience, perhaps we’ll get another season. And if not, even mediocre X-Files is better than nothing.
All I need now from this wave of 90s nostalgia is another Massive Attack album.