As some of you know, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. It was probably my first big fandom. So you might be wondering why I haven’t been reviewing Star Trek Discovery. Well, the truth is I’ve found the show to be an disappointing mess. It flouts the liberal humanism and optimistic spirit of Star Trek in favor of modern TV grimdark conventions. The show is filled with plot twists that seem more designed to shock audiences than to open interesting new story possibilities. Frankly, I don’t really have much to say that hasn’t already been said about this show. This LA Times Review of Books explains many of the problems.
Like many Trek fans, I’ve waited years for Star Trek to return to TV. It’s too bad the end product wasn’t worth the wait.
I had the honor of joining the Mythgard Movie Club last week to talk about The Last Jedi. It was honestly one of the better discussions I’ve heard about the film. Whereas most of the discussion has been dominated by the polarized reaction to certain scenes, we tried to focus on understanding the themes in this film.
You can listen to the audio-only version here or watch the video below:
In the weeks since I shared my first impressions of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Episode VIII has become the most divisive film in the Star Wars canon. Professional reviewers, who tend to prioritize the acting and themes in a film, have overwhelmingly praised the way director Rian Johnson deconstructs Star Wars tropes and subverts expectations. By contrast, fans, who often care more about the characters and story continuity, have been much more mixed in their response. Some love that the film takes the franchise in new directions, while others complain about the self-aware humor and the slow middle act. The Last Jedi has become a sort of Star Wars Rorschach test in that each viewer’s response says as much about that person’s relationship with Star Wars as it does about the film. Continue reading
One of my biggest critiques of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that it relied too much on nostalgia. At times, it seemed like a soft reboot of A New Hope. Naturally, this led me to worry that Disney was too reluctant, too concerned with profits to take risks with the franchise. When promotional images for The Last Jedi included vehicles that looked suspiciously like AT-AT walkers, I worried that Director Rian Johnson’s new Star Wars film would again play it safe by retreading the plot of The Empire Strikes Back.
I was wrong. I am glad. Continue reading
I come to this book less as a Marvel fan and more as someone interested in the history of pop culture. Given the recent explosion of superhero films, Stan Lee has come to rank as one of the most important figures in pop culture history. Yet, I realized I knew remarkably little about him. I’ve enjoyed some of the Marvel movies, but had never read any of Stan Lee’s comics.
Bob Batchelor’s new biography is a good start for the uninitiated. He provides a comprehensive overview of Stan Lee’s life and work. It’s a largely sympathetic – but not uncritical – biography of a man who brimmed with creative energy and occasionally made bad financial deals. Continue reading
Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was one of the best science fiction novels of the past decade, so I was naturally intrigued when I heard about his new book, Artemis. On the one hand, Weir’s success means that he’ll likely have a much larger audience for Artemis than he initially did for The Martian, which he had to self-publish on Amazon. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparing Artemis to The Martian, and unfortunately that comparison does Weir’s new book no favors. Continue reading
Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner helped me understand humanity. The film is rightly lauded for its detailed world-building and hypnotic score, but it is also a philosophical treatise about human identity (seriously, Ridley Scott’s oeuvre has spawned a whole academic subfield). Humans unfortunately have a tendency to tribalism, defining some members of the species as sufficiently worthy of respect while excluding “Others” on the basis of race, gender, or religion. Blade Runner argues that the ability to feel empathy towards other forms of life is key to humanity. Indeed, in the world of 2019, bounty hunters use the Voight-Kampff machine to detect replicants (or androids) by measuring their empathy. Continue reading
Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones just wrapped up, but the speculation and commentary still rages on. A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about medieval warfare in Game of Thrones. This time, I take a look at You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. This book analyzes Game of Thrones from the perspective of Greco-Roman literature, showing how ancient epics from our own world can help us better understand Westeros.
Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings mythology, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is set in a world that looks like – and is clearly inspired by – our Middle Ages, but isn’t actually set in Europe between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Instead, Game of Thrones takes place in a fantastical world in which winters last a generation and magic is real. However, given the similarities between our Westeros and Medieval Europe, it’s natural to wonder how much Game of Thrones accurately reflects our own history. In Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War, Ken Mondschein, an expert on medieval warfare, looks at how Martin’s books – and, to a lesser extent, HBO’s adaptation – depict medieval warfare. Continue reading
Many things about the past few years have shocked me. 2007 me I would never have believed that George Lucas would sell Star Wars to Disney, that I would come to love my cell phone, or that Donald Trump would win the 2016 presidential election. Most surprising of all, 20th Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes reboot is the best movie trilogy since at least Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, if not the original Star Wars trilogy. War for Planet of the Apes is an unexpectedly emotional conclusion to this unexpectedly thoughtful saga. Continue reading