HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s a new year for Pop Cultural Studies; I’m hoping to have at least one post every week this year. I’m excited for another year of pop culture goodness! Anyhow, let’s get started.
Movies: 2015 vs. 2016
I really hadn’t expected 2015 to have as many great movies as it did. I was anticipating nothing but Age of Ultron and Force Awakens, but I was floored by movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina, Creed, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, and the criminally underrated Love & Mercy (which has no Oscar nominations). It’ll be interesting to see if we’ll see the same amount of great movies this year.
I’m very excited for the new films coming out in 2016. It’s rife with Superhero films, such as Deadpool (February), Batman v. Superman (March), Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse (May), and Suicide Squad (August). It’s pretty amazing. I’m not so excited for some, kind of excited for others, and beyond hyped for Civil War. It should be interesting to see the impact that this has on the genre, which is already approaching a saturation point. Another movie I’m really excited for is Hail, Caesar!, the next Coen brothers film, coming out in March. It’s a juicy crime-thriller with an amazing cast set in Hollywood. Recently, a trailer surfaced for 10 Cloverfield Lane, a spin-off (or sequel, it’s hard to tell) of the 2008 found-footage monster-horror film Cloverfield. In an interesting bit of viral marketing, the trailer was initially released as a bootlegged recording; an homage to the first film’s found-footage cinematography. (The trailer has since been re-uploaded in a normal fashion.) 10 Cloverfield Lane, despite just being announced recently, comes out in March. There’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a wonderful chance to revisit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. And of course, in December, there’s the Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the early days of the rebellion. (I should try to make it a personal goal to mention Star Wars in every post.)
Honestly, the one that excites me the most, other than perhaps Hail, Caesar! or Civil War, is the animated movie Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s funny because my interest in this movie is based almost exclusively on the teaser trailer that came before The Force Awakens. I think that the animation in this looks very interesting, the cast is excellent, and it seems rather creative, and there’s not much else to be said about it. I just think it looks really good from the trailer.
That’s just a few things that I’m excited for this year, but what about you? Which movie are you most excited for this year?
One of my favorite shows on television (or Netflix, rather) is Marvel Studio’s Daredevil. The first season was masterful. In “The Batman Singularity,” I mentioned that it was a wonderful commentary on good and evil and talked about its amazing fight choreography. The show’s second season will debut in March of this year.
Recently, screenshots were released showing Daredevil being held captive by the Punisher, played by Walking Dead and Wolf of Wall Street actor Jon Bernthal. The idea of Punisher, the most murderous Marvel antihero, joining the show really excites me. In the first season, Matthew Murdoch/Daredevil struggled with the morality or immorality of taking a life. So to introduce a character that has such a callous disregard for human life, to once again test Matt’s resolve to do right and be moral, just makes sense. I don’t know if he’ll be a protagonist or antagonist, so it’ll be interesting to see what transpires between these two characters.
In late 2013, J.K. Rowling announced that London would play host to a canonical Harry Potter sequel play, titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There was a big stir made recently as the actress cast to play Hermione, Noma Domezweni, is black. There are those who are open to change and like the idea of a black actress playing the character; Hermione has always been inspiring to young girls, so why can’t she be inspiring, specifically, to young black girls? Others simply prefer the character as she was depicted by Emma Watson, over 10 years and 8 films. (Of course, there are likely a sad few who are just racist.) Overall, this has caused a bit of rift in the fandom. J.K Rowling asserts that her books never clarified that Hermione was right, and simply described “frizzy hair.” I was honestly rather indifferent to the subject, seeing as I would likely never see the play (which is to be staged in London), and really just hoped that she would play the character well.
But then I saw this tweet.
And then I got it.
Of course, it isn’t the only thing Hermione does in the book, but there is a notable subplot (which didn’t make it to the films) in which she started an advocacy group for enslaved house-elves. This came after Chamber of Secrets introduced the idea of mudbloods/squibs/muggle-borns and explained how that related to Hermione’s story. Hermione helps the house elves overcome prejudice because she overcame prejudice as a muggle-born. By casting a black actress as Hermione, and making this Hermione black, another layer is added to this. The people who reacted in a racist (or even skeptical) manner, become the real-world manifestation of Hermione’s story and the adversity she overcomes. It’s for reasons like this why the Harry Potter is so wonderful and tends to make its readers better people.
Anyhow, more about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; it debuts in London in July of this year. (Hopefully, a text of the play will be released for fans who will not be able to see the play live.) The synopsis reads:
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
I often get apprehensive when revisiting a franchise after its conclusion It can go poorly (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) or it can go well (Mad Max: Fury Road). But this idea shows promise. It will be an interesting blend of old and new, and another visitation to the world which has captured many hearts.
The Young Han Solo
The Disney-Lucasfilm team-up has given us some great things. It’s given us The Force Awakens, a new Battlefront game, and a large revival of all things Star Wars. In addition to the core movies in the series, we’re also getting several spin-offs: Rogue One (as mentioned above), a Boba Fett film, and a Han Solo film.
The shortlist of actors who will potentially play Solo in the film has recently been released. It consists of Scott Eastwood, Dave Franco, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Logan Lerman, Jack Reynor, Blake Jenner, and Emory Cohen.
Why on earth we need a Han Solo film (young or old) is beyond me. I worry that it’ll be an origins-style film; do we, as viewers, absolutely need to see the origins of Han Solo? Is there something more than what we would expect there? This is a project I worry for. I’m very enthusiastic for Boba Fett, because although we know his origin story, there’s still a palpable sense of mystery. But at this point, I feel like we know Han well enough, and we’ve explored his character as much as we should, or possibly, can.
It’s said that this film could go the route of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The first Pirates of the Caribbean is a classic and wonderful film; it garnered 79% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The next two films, becoming longer and bloated, received 54 and 45% respectively. The fourth film, On Stranger Tides, no longer having Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner to serve as the film’s main character, was considered a critical failure and has 33% approval on RT. On Stranger Tides streamlined the plot, but had the difficult task of taking the scene-stealing and humorous rogue side-character and making him the star. On Stranger Tides suffered from a handful of problems, but chief among those problems was the fact that the leading character worked better as a supporting character. Sound familiar?
There are plenty of problems that could face this movie. There does seem to be a large chunk of the internet (for example, here or here) that is opposed to this idea. There just seems like there’s a lot of room for this movie to go wrong, and after just going through the worry and anticipation of trying to see if The Force Awakens was good, I’m not sure I want to be worried like that again. Of course, there is the possibility that the Han Solo spinoff is amazing, in which case, I will come back to this post, and happily eat my words.
For whatever reason, the month of January has taken some pop culture greats away from this world.
On January 10th, music legend David Bowie passed away. Bowie was famed for songs like “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” and “Under Pressure”, with which he collaborated with Queen. Notably among his discography is the fantastic song “Heroes,” which I would certainly argue as being one of the greatest songs of all time.
Lesser known, perhaps, is Bowie’s film career. He starred in The Man who Fell to Earth, a 1976 sci-fi which has since garnered a cult following. His better known performance is found in Labyrinth, featuring wonderful music and a multitude of puppets. He’s also brought some nuance to well-known historical figures such as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ and eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla in a personal favorite, The Prestige.
One thing I’ve always noticed about Bowie – if you look at all his hits, it’s easy to see that he’s a bit of a musical chameleon that can move from genre to genre without feeling out of place. (Queen also had the same talent.) “Space Oddity” is a psychedelic combination of folk and jazz. “Let’s Dance” is poppy disco music. “Life on Mars?” is a show of swelling classical piano and electric guitar. “Rebel Rebel” is a relaxed guitar jam, whereas “Suffragette City” is fast-moving and relentless rock n’ roll. The number one complaint people have with a specific band or artist is usually “All their songs sound the same,” but this is certainly not the case for Bowie. Bowie’s versatility marvels me, and ought to be an example for every musician.
In addition to this, there was the tragic passing of Alan Rickman. The English actor was well known for his roles in Harry Potter and Die Hard. In the former, we saw him as a brilliant criminal mastermind. In the latter, we saw him as Severus Snape, the cruel, overbearing teacher; but in The Deathly Hallows (HARRY POTTER SPOILER ALERT) we see the character’s emotional nuance in a flashback which reveals him as one of the most noble and pivotal characters in the entire series. In a few pages in the book, and just a few minutes in the film, we see Snape’s redemption beautifully laid out before us, and I think that it’s for this reason why Alan Rickman’s death has hit the Harry Potter fandom so hard.
His voice has always been his most notable feature, as it has a naturally impressive quality that when combined with his delivery, makes for some memorable moments. See this moment from The Prisoner of Azkaban, which has one of his most quoteable lines, “Turn to Page 394”; this line would be so mundane if said by anyone else, but after the entrance Snape makes it really is quite a powerful moment. Rickman’s voice was so haunting and notable that it was parodied on Family Guy, in quite a funny way.
Mr. Rickman was an extremely gifted actor, and it will likely be a while before we see another performer with his physical and vocal presence.
Posts for January: