This Week In Pop Culture (9/29/17)
9/29/2017: How Standalone Films Will Actually Save The DCEU
By Luis Prada
Batman Forever sucks. But there was one moment in it that made kid-me so happy. During a conversation with Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne casually mentions Metropolis. With one word, the standalone Batman movie lets us know that it takes place in a larger universe, one which includes Superman, without a distracting cameo. It looks like DC and Warner Bros. are going back to that tactic. In news that should surprise no one, they are having some reservations about the DC Extended Universe. This kind of thing happens when only one of the four movies in the series doesn't require fanboys to talk themselves into thinking it was good.
The new strategy is to eliminate unnecessary crossovers between characters and focus more on standalone stories that each nod at the larger universe. Or, as DC President and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns put it: "The movie's not about another movie." And with that, those of us who've written angry walls of text lambasting DC and Warner Brother's insistence that their cinematic universe try to accomplish everything Marvel's did in a fraction of the time can give our weary keyboards a rest. Just over a month away from the release of Justice League, they finally get why Marvel's interconnected universe works so well.
Marvel's success isn't lightning in a bottle. It's the work of careful planning by people like Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios and the guy who, in essence, acts as the director of the entire MCU. His overarching vision for the cinematic universe gives every movie and show a sense of organic cohesion. In his system, each filmmaker is allowed to put their own spin on a property without too many instances of jamming in references because they need an Avengers movie ten minutes ago.
The news pairs well with Warner Bros. wanting to put DC properties in the hands of "master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other." That's exactly the strategy that Marvel used to establish their universe before they earned the right over a dozen movies later to have the Hulk costar in Thor: Ragnarok. A few well-placed references in a standalone movie go a long way.
9/28/2017: 17.2 Million People Watched Young Sheldon. What?
By Lydia Bugg
Look to your left. Now look to your right. Statistically speaking, one of the people you just looked at watched the premiere of Young Sheldon last night. 17.2 million viewers tuned in to the series' premiere. It was the biggest comedy premiere in four years. Roughly all of the pop culture thinkpieces this morning were about Young Sheldon, but I have to wonder: Who is the audience for this show? Did anyone who doesn't write about pop culture for work actually tune in?
I know how important it is to have a dialogue with people, so I tried to reach out to a Young Sheldon viewer. But I couldn't find a single human person who watched the show. Here is a real conversation one of our writers had with a Big Bang Theory fan about Young Sheldon:
Do any of us want to see the child? If so, why? Can this show surprise us in any way if we already know so much about how it ends? I personally would love to see a twist ending wherein Young Sheldon murders someone. It would add a dark undertone to all the episodes of Big Bang Theory, as we watch Old Sheldon and silently contemplate the fact that he's a murderer who has escaped justice. If I knew that was coming, I would totally watch Young Sheldon.
As it is, I have not seen the show, but 17.2 million other people apparently did. Doesn't that number just seem a little bit baffling? 17.2 million people? Are we sure it wasn't 17.2 million dogs whose owners left the TV on while they were out? Was it maybe 17.2 million televisions that were hooked up at CBS's Chuck Lorre watch-farm? Was it 17.2 million children who were being forced to watch the show as a cruel and unusual punishment?
Where did these 17.2 million people come from? What are their stories? Can someone please contact This American Life and ask them to do a Young Sheldon segment? I need more information on these people, and why they want to see the child. Is the child really a thing that needs to be seen? Apparently if you ask 17.2 million people, they will say yes.
9/27/2017: This Reaction To The Harry Knowles Scandal Is Everything Wrong With Nerd Culture
By Mark Hill
Harry Knowles -- the film critic who described Blade II as a movie that "starts with long licks with a nose bump on the joy button slowly" and Guillermo del Toro as a director who "takes the audiences' clit in his mouth and just licks it like crazy" -- has, shockingly, been accused of sexual harassment and assault by five women. The accusations, as detailed by IndieWire's Kate Erbland and Dana Harris, include that he repeatedly grabbed a woman's ass and thighs without her consent, that he responded to requests for screening tickets by promising them in exchange for a kiss or nude photos, that he grabbed an Alamo Drafthouse employee and told her he wanted to see her naked, and that he told a woman who was trying to network that "you can have my vienna sausage anytime."
Naturally, some people have heroically leapt to Knowles' defense. One woman was accused of lying and fabricating evidence, and told that she didn't deserve to be a writer in the film community. That, of course, is a reference to Jean-Luc Godard's famous belief that a woman can't truly appreciate the art of cinema until she's groped by a famous fan, then dutifully ignores it because they're told that's just part of the creep's wacky personality. And film writer Scott Weinberg found this defense of Knowles by Louis Black (not to be confused with famed comedian Lewis Black), the co-founder of The Austin Chronicle and SXSW. Black wrote:
"My Harry Knowles Story: I watched as Harry through his leadership brought film nerds together, completely changed and expanded their impact on film and their standing in the industry, while making stars and giving power to geeks who for generations before had found their greatest fame in limited circulation fanzines. No one wrote for AICN for the money, the [sic] wrote for the power and prestige and the sheer joy of communicating with an audience of like minded film enthusiasts who had never come together before. Film nerds though their status changed, are still film nerds. The moment the opportunity presented itself they turned on Harry with a ruthless vengeance."
I could hire an elite team of academics to formulate a more tone-deaf answer, and they wouldn't be able to top that if they dedicated their entire lives to the task. For readers who are wondering why so much fuss is being made about a man whose profound thoughts on Heroes were dedicated to obsessively analyzing a high-schooler's hymen and virginity, Knowles launched the film-focused Ain't It Cool News in 1996. The site became huge thanks mainly to the fact that it was one of the first websites where anyone could discuss movies (and, of course, the nipple-pinching "rampage of orgasms" that might be contained within one). That's hard for anyone who's had internet access since birth to appreciate, but to a certain generation of nerds, getting involved in a large, like-minded community was revolutionary. It was proof that they weren't alone in the world.
Despite a writing style that could best be described as "hypersexual ape taught English in a futile attempt to cure its attention deficit disorder," Knowles went on to launch an influential movie festival, become prominent in the Austin film scene, and generally make himself kind of a big deal. He scored plenty of mainstream media attention, to the point where he appeared on Roger Ebert's show. Some of the women accusing him viewed him as a gatekeeper who could help them break into film writing -- or ruin them if they dared to speak up. So Black's not wrong when he says that Knowles brought film nerds together and changed the landscape for fans. He's just misplaced his priorities so badly that scientists will need to invent a telescope more powerful than any which exists today in order to locate them.
Black's response is the perfect summation of the attitude that creates shitty people who doubt women when they accuse icons of harassment. There's this persistent idea that nerd culture is a fragile thing that must be sheltered from reality at all costs, lest an army of bullies straight out of 1980s stereotypes wash it away in a flood of swirlies. The "power and prestige" of nerds is more important than any silly little complaint some woman might have about being "assaulted." Look how he phrased his comment. It's "My Harry Knowles Story," as if his story is just as relevant as those of women who didn't like getting grabbed by a man whose very first thought on actress Hayden Panettiere was "born August 21, 1989, now 17 (legal in Texas, which is important, because her character is in Odessa, Texas)."
People who are like Black -- and you only have to spend a few minutes online to find a lot of them -- believe it will be 1996 forever. That they're part of those "generations before who had found their greatest fame in limited circulation fanzines." That it's somehow still shameful to, gasp, like geeky movies, and that anyone who admits to doing so is the real hero. But 1996 was a long time ago. Black is right about Knowles helping nerds get power. But once you have power, you're not an outcast anymore, and you can't keep acting like one, no matter how much you think you identify with the movies about them. That's how people like Knowles get away with abusing their power, and why when the truth finally comes out, people rush to their defense. The allegations suggest that Knowles' response to finally getting power after being the underdog has been to become a sexual bully. Meanwhile, defenders like Black try to pretend he is still a victim, even while he victimizes others. It's a pattern we're going to see until either we collectively stop believing that people who have geeky interests are somehow still wacky, misunderstood outcasts in this day and age, or the Universe grinds to a halt. You know, whichever comes first.
9/26/2017: James Cameron Has A Billion-Dollar Problem
James Cameron is finally making a sequel to Avatar, the 2009 landmark film which introduced us to a new era in special effects filmmaking and blue animal-people sex. And by "a sequel," I mean that he's making four sequels, one after another, with the first projected to be released in 2020. And together, they will cost a billion dollars. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to James Cameron.
It's not the worst thing because Avatar, for all of its achievements, is just kind of a bland bonanza of CGI and tired themes, and the next four films in the series will probably be more of the same. That lack of a reliance on anything resembling a fresh story will probably help it in overseas markets, which gobble up stuff like this and The Mummy and Pirates Of The Caribbean and Transformers -- franchises which eschew traditional elements like "adequate dialogue" and "consistent narratives" for two-hour strings of chases and explosions.
No, it's the worst thing because it forces Cameron to hit the impossible revolutionary standard that he's set up for himself. Anything less than the next big trend in movies is a failure. The Terminator and Aliens are seminal '80s horror/action classics. Terminator 2 was part of a generation of films that included Jurassic Park, which ushered in a blend of CGI and practical effects that filmmakers still struggle to top to this day. At the time of its release, Titanic was the highest-grossing movie ever, and also looked damn impressive. Avatar pioneered new motion capture techniques and stereoscopic filmmaking. Hell, the only Cameron film in recent memory that didn't serve as an overthrow of the previous era of movies was True Lies, and even that thing cost about $100 million.
Where do you go when you've defined your career through being the man who pushes us into the future? Sure, Cameron is a bit of an insufferable douche, but I'm not sure that he deserves the title of "That guy who sucks now because he didn't blow our minds that one fucking time." Which he will inevitably be if each Avatar sequel doesn't out-gross the last one, and doesn't present us with some new technique in shooting film that's made completely out of moon dust and dreams or whatever. But he's got nowhere left to go. With James Cameron, it's either Pandora or retirement.
9/25/2017: Supersize Me 2: What The Chicken?
By Ian Fortey
Following the huge success of his massively debunked sorta-documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock is back with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, a film more important today than at any time in history, if for no other reason than that "supersizing" hasn't been an option at McDonald's in 13 years. Way to stay relevant, Old Man Spurlock.
This new film, which YouTube Red snatched up for $3.5 million, carries the abominable subtitle of "Holy Chicken!" because that's a thing people say somewhere? "Holy cow!" is a thing people say, so maybe "Holy Chicken!" grew from that? Anything from "What the Cluck?" to "Motherclucker!" to "Cock-a-Doodle-Don't" would have clearly been superior titles for this movie, unless it turns out it's about the zany misadventures of a rooster who was somehow elected pope. Sadly, it's not, as the doc will focus on giving "insights into the food industry of today -- an industry which uses trigger words like 'all natural' and 'free-range' to sell people on the illusion of health and self-improvement." So we can see how "free range" chickens aren't actually free, and not a single chicken is allowed to be pope.
As our earlier article shows, almost nothing in Spurlock's original documentary made sense, and was widely shredded from numerous sources for being, to put not too fine a point on it, a pack of shady, shitty lies. But surely this new film will provide an honest portrayal of fast food, right? According to Deadline, the sequel follows Spurlock as he opens a restaurant to "attempt the same deception of consumers that so many restaurants pursue, all to demystify an industry that prefers to keep consumers at a remove." So a pack of shady, shitty lies, but this time on purpose!
If the first movie was Spurlock on the receiving end of the fast food industry's nefarious and liver-destroying victuals, and this movie sees him turning the tables as a purveyor of wicked and ill-conceived delights, expect that we'll be seeing people eating what they think is free-range, non-GMO, organic chicken, but what is actually the severed foot of a hobo on bath salts. But in a way that teaches us a valuable lesson about consumer culture and nutrition, and not how to lie to people for money.
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