Korsgaard's Commentary

If you’d have asked anybody even just a year or two ago about Interstellar, you’d have likely been heard about a movie that was all but guaranteed to be a definitive hit to rule at the box office and sweep the Oscars this year. After all, how could Chris Nolan’s first post-Batman directing job, packed with newly-minted Oscar winners and nominees fail to impress?

Because the movie in question is Interstellar, and we really shouldn’t have been surprised.
interstellarThis has nothing to do with my own misgivings about Chris Nolan or his past handiwork, though I do think part of the general panic is over people discovering the same things about Nolan I’d sized up about halfway through The Dark Knight. You might not know it, but Interstellar has a very troubled production history - it was originally conceived as a project for Steven Spielberg, before being handed to Chris Nolan, already a radical departure for Interstellar given the two very different directing styles of the two. The script itself is famously convoluted, and Nolan had it rewritten by Kip Thorne, an astrophysicist who helped write the middling sci-fi film Contact.

So now as the hype evaporates, and reality sets in, there is a very different future in mind for Interstellar, with lukewarm reviews, the Oscar talk drying up, and high odds it will be beaten at the box office by Big Hero 6. So what happened? Was it simply too heady for mainstream audiences? The famously mess of a screenplay unadaptable? Has Chris Nolan finally had his Tim Burton moment? Whatever it is, I plan to find out.

So does Chris Nolan’s much hyped sci-fi vehicle soar beyond our expectations, or at least my own, or crash-and-burn upon takeoff? Join me my dear readers as I see if the stars have aligned for Interstellar.

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Despite the Harry Potter series being a beloved, best-selling fantasy series that has made an immeasurable impact on both speculative fiction and the lives of countless readers, I’ve always had some small quibbles with the collective Harry Potter universe as a whole. Nothing against the series or characters themselves mind you – at least until the latter books swap the initial whimsy and adventure for a grimdark macguffin fetch-quest at least – but with the universe itself.
Harry-Potter-muggle-racismA part of this may come from the fact that, from a certain view, the Harry Potter universe is a very disturbing place – a backward, aristocratic society that not only segregates themselves entirely from perceived racial inferiors they term “Muggles”, but extremely oppressive of most other magical beings, usually justifying it by “they’re inherently evil” or “house elves are happy as slaves.” I’ve just never managed to see the Harry Potter universe the same way since I realized the magical world was a veneer covering the fantasy equivalent of Apartheid-era South Africa.
Harry-Potter-time-travelThe other big issue though, is the same issue many take with a lot of the urban fantasy boom Harry Potter had a hand in sparking: how can a magical world capable of the wonders described both manage to be baffled by light switches and so incapable of action the only thing that saved it multiple times from Voldemort was a bunch of bored teenagers. It’s an inherent issue in speculative fiction, with Harry Potter being a famous example, that magic and time-travel can undo the suspension of disbelief in even an otherwise immaculately crafted narrative. Why is the society that created the time-tuner wasting such power by using it for helping a child do homework?
A-Kind-of-Magic-Potter-02To the latter question, French cartoonist Boulet, whose past works tackling the butterfly effect or grimdark I’m quite a fan of, applies himself with equal fervor of asking what it would be like if the wizarding world of Harry Potter would apply itself to say, space travel, with the same intensity as it does creating chocolate frogs. The comic is called A Kind of Magic, and the resulting view we get it pretty hilarious.

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The polls are closed, the results are in, and it looks like America will be seeing red, at least for the next two years, as the Republican Party has won an undeniable mandate in the 2014 Midterm Elections.
2014_Midterm_Elections_ResultsDwarfing even the gains of the 2010 Midterms, the GOP made historic gains across the board, with the Republicans as of the time of this posting having won seven Senate seats, gaining at least 13 seats in the House, three more governorships while Republican governors like Scott Walker or Brian Sandoval all winning reelection handily, and even sweeping to power in multiple state legislatures.

Notably, one factor behind the GOP success this year was the party managing to put a lid on social conservatism, play it safe and back moderates when it proved wise – hopefully this means they’ve begun to learn the painful lessons the last few elections have made all too clear about the shifting social values of the country.
RepublicansGOPStomppingonObamaAgendaCartoonWith two more likely Senate seats in Alaska and Louisiana, and a number of still ongoing House races likely to go in the GOP’s favor, the Republican Party is likely not just to have full control of Congress, but by the largest margin since before the Great Depression. With a number of races still too close to call, the Republicans now have full control of Congress, with a 52-44-2 majority in the Senate and a 244-184 majority in the House of Representatives.
Ballot-2014-Midterm-ElectionsThe Democrats are in complete shock, if not by the defeat, than by the degree of it. Defending a number of seats won in the 2008 election, the Democratic Party watched on in horror as it lost nearly all of them, as they lost ground in “purple” states like Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa, and even deeply Democratic states like Massachusetts and Maryland elected Republican governors.

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Attack on Titan. Odds are good you don’t even need to have watched the show to know about it, and to have heard plenty about it, which is quite remarkable in some respects.

Like the lovechild of Pacific Rim and HP Lovecraft, Attack on Titan is the biggest media franchise out of Japan since the late 90s and the heyday of PokeMon, DragonBall Z and Sailor Moon. While you’ve had a number of successful anime over the last few years, Attack on Titan has reached a level of mainstream popularity unseen in anime in years. The manga is not only almost single handedly responsible for reviving the struggling manga industry, it’s outselling even mainstream comics like Batman and Superman here in the USA. You can’t go to a convention without it dozens of Attack on Titan cosplayers, while a merchandising empire has seen everything from video games to car commercials. And of course, you have the anime series, whose English dub has been the crown jewel in the revived Toonami lineup. Tonight is the season finale, so I’m finally reviewing the biggest anime phenomenon in recent memory, Attack on Titan.
Attack-on-Titan-posterSo does Attack on Titan measure up to the massive hype, or will it fail to stand up to my scrutiny? This, my dear readers, is my review of Attack on Titan.
Attack-on-Titan-titansOne hundred years in the past, the Titans appeared. These giant humanoid creatures are seemingly immortal, nearly indestructible, and exist for the sole purpose of devouring human beings. Pushed to the brink of extinction, what remained of humanity retreated behind a country-sized multi-walled city, where for the last century, humanity has lived in peace – until now, when even larger Titans breach one of the walls, once more putting the fate of humanity in the balance.
Shingeki-no-Kyojin-Attack-on-titan-image-Armin-Eren-MikasaIt’s this turn of events that sees childhood friends Eren, Armin and Mikasa join the military, both to escape the past, and idealistically, to do what they can to give mankind a future free of the Titans – even if mankind has to become monsters themselves in order to do so.
attack-on-titan-eren-overwatchThat combination of creative world-building and near universal theme work has no doubt been a driving factor behind Attack On Titan’s astonishing success. Set in a vaguely medieval/steampunk world, a lot of the overall setting is either left vague initially, of a slow mystery at this point – even the question if it’s a fantasy world, some far fallen future Earth, or an alternate past is mostly left to interpretation at this point. What Attack on Titan does flesh out though is wildly creative, such as the military whose main combat tactics involve use of compressed air powered jetpacks allowing soldiers to fly on tethers.

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My more faithful readers might have noticed that I may be a bit of a fan of The Crow, be it the movie, or the multitude of comics spun off from the original graphic novel. So it’s with great pleasure that this Devil’s Night, I have a treat for all of you my dear readers – during Wizard World Richmond last month, I had the pleasure of finally meeting the man behind the Crow himself, James O’Barr. Not only that, but I had the chance to interview him, and today, I share that interview with you.

Along with footage from a panel he gave – which will be posted both here and on my YouTube when I finally can find my way around Adobe Premiere, so stay tuned – we talked about this year being the anniversary of both The Crow graphic novel and the Brandon Lee film, the various recent Crow comics published by IDW, along with a few upcoming titles, and of course, the very controversial remake of The Crow, which O’Barr recently did a 180 on – and I am among the first to ask him why.

All in all though, I can say I got some insight into a long-time idol of mine, and I hope you will be able to say the same. So without further adieu, let me introduce James O’Barr!
Wizard_World_Richmond_James_O_BarrKorsgaard: First, let me say what an honor and a pleasure it is to speak you.

James O’Barr: Not a problem.

Korsgaard: It’s been 25 years since the release of the original Crow graphic novel. Did you ever picture The Crow resonating the way it has when you first wrote it?

O’Barr: I thought it had a specific moment in time, and that it would disappear, like films and music and comics tend to. No one’s more surprised than I am that it’s still in print 25 years later, it seems to have been handed down from generation to generation.

Korsgaard: It’s the best-selling independent comic of all time, if I’m not mistaken.

O’Barr: It is, over a million copies sold, I’m pretty proud of that.

Korsgaard: That’s not even counting the spin offs or sequels either.

O’Barr: Right.
James_OBarrKorsgaard: I know when you first started working on it, you were motivated by personal tragedy – do you think part of the lasting appeal of The Crow is that it resonates with so many people going through tragedies of their own?

O’Barr: I certainly think that’s a part of it. When I was 18, my fiancé was killed by a drunk driver, and I was hurt, frustrated, angry. I wanted justice, I wanted peace, and by putting pen to paper I hoped maybe I’d get it out of my system – it didn’t but that’s another story. It actually took me a decade before I ever got it published with Caliber Comics, but I was doing it for myself. Over the years though, a lot of my fans tell me how it helped them cope or how they read it when they were in a dark place, and it means a lot to me. The Crow was born of my pain and tragedies, if it can help people through theirs, I’m glad to have done so. The heart of The Crow has always been the same: Pain and grief, no matter how bad, are temporary. Love is forever.

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Sometimes, you gotta go back to move forward. And I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean going back to see where you came from, where you been, how you got here, see where you’re going. I know there are those that say you can’t go back. Yes you can. You just have to look in the right place.

I am of course, talking about those Lincoln car commercials starring Matthew McConaughey.
Matthew-McConaughey-Lincoln-AdBy now you’ve probably seen one of the several strange commercials for the ailing luxury car brand, where the folks at Lincoln evidently took the title of The Lincoln Lawyer a tad too literally, hiring Matthew McConaughey for a recent ad campaign.

The three commercials feature Matthew McConaughey as he mumbles weird existential utterings while driving a Lincoln MKC crossover, because apparently nothing moves units quite like the guy from Reign of Fire and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Of course, what do I know – there’s probably a reason why I’m writing about their commercials rather than running one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, but I digress.
Matthew-McConaughey-Lincoln-commercial-South-Park-parodyNeedless to say, they’ve been the subject of much mockery and parody everywhere from Ellen DeGeneres to South Park, but never quite so perfectly until a series of Saturday Night Live sketches starring Jim Carrey aired last night.
Jim-Carrey-parodies-Matthew-McConaughey-Lincoln-AdsThe spot-on parodies had Carrey driving around, perfectly mimicking McConaughey’s slow drawl, while parodying the “deep” phrases of the commercials, and even managing to get a pulse on just what is so absurd about the advertisements with one memorable barb:

“Sometimes you gotta go back to move forward, and I don’t mean go back and reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean take a big step back, like go from winning an Oscar to doing a car commercial.”

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I’ve mentioned before that Hollywood has really started to struggle with war movies in recent years, with a few rare exceptions. While this is for a number of reasons, ranging from Hollywood politicizing any that cover recent conflicts, to treating older wars with a bland repetitiveness usually reserved for Call of Duty, perhaps the biggest one is that Hollywood simply doesn’t know how to make a movie that shows warfare at its grimmest and bloodiest anymore. Unless you’ve got someone like Spielberg or Tarantino at the helm, Hollywood is just more comfortable dealing with capes than they are with camouflage and cannon fire.
Fury-Movie-PosterHopefully, David Ayer and Fury will change that. Ayer, himself a Navy Veteran, cut his teeth working with Anton Fuqua on Training Day, and most recently directed the tragically overlooked Schwarzenegger-vehicle Sabotage, has earned a deserved reputation for having a great handle of cinematic conflict. If that weren’t alone, Fury was already attracting buzz for its decorated cast, notably Brad Pitt, for the studio actually bumping up its release date, and there’s even some awards buzz. While there also has been some debate over some content in the movie, Fury also turned the heads of war movie buffs for being the first tank-focused movie in a very long time, and with bigger budgets and better special effects, the once thriving subgenre is primed for an upgrade.

So do Brad Pitt and David Ayer deliver a brutal glimpse of the darker side of the good war, or contrary to the title, is this movie all sound and no fury? Gear up and hop aboard the half-track my dear readers, as I review Fury.

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Did any of you happen to watch David Letterman last night? If so, you may have borne witness to an event that years from now, we will look back on as a watershed moment in pop culture on par with the Beatles performing on Ed Sullivan.
Hatsune_Miku_on_David_LettermanI am of course, referring to Hatsune Miku, a Japanese vocaloid program and all digital program performing via hologram on David Letterman, and staying for a brief (and awkward) interview afterwards. This is the first step in an expo in New York which is to be her unofficial debut in the United States, though Hatsune Miku had done concerts before, and even opened for Lady Gaga earlier this summer.

You don’t even need to watch the video to realize the implications of this – a holographic projection of a computer program not only could be considered a pop star, but has been successful to the point of opening for Lady Gaga and appearing on David Letterman. Mark my words, this is more than just a big moment for Hatsune Miku – for pop culture and pop music, this could be a game changer.
hatsune_miku_vocaloid_programFor the uninitiated, Hatsune Miku is a vocaloid – that is to say a computer program that sings by processing and synthesizing audio and lyrics – one of several created by Cryton Future Media, and along with the other vocaloid programs have become bonafide pop stars and icons in Japan, as these same fans used the program to create an astonishingly diverse volume of music. Some of the bigger hits include “World is Mine”:

“Love is War”:

And even covers of songs like “Let it Go” from Frozen:

The combination of the ability to literally have her sing anything, the anime avatar persona, and a pervasive cultural presence everywhere from video games to car commercials and even the Nyan Cat has seen Hatsune Miku become a pop star in every sense of the word, complete with number one singles, sold out concerts and legions of devoted fans.

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Almost exactly one year ago, I described how I’d hired as a contributing writer to the news desk of the Commonwealth Times, my university’s prestigious newspaper. The more studious among you may have also noticed that, save a handful of proceeding columns, there hasn’t been much more from me on that front. This has been for a number of reasons – my ugly introduction to office politics being a major one, maybe you’ll hear more about that someday – but hopefully, that all changes now.

You see, I’ve transferred to the Opinion section of the Commonwealth Times, where I’ve already in my first month written more articles than I did in my entire tenure at the news desk, and have already earned a promotion from contributing writer to contributing columnist. Not a bad start if I say so myself.
PTSD_Commonwealth_Times_opinionMy first column came out a couple weeks ago, discussing the current phase of television, and whether or not it can be considered a golden age. This week however, I’m tackling a topic very close to my heart, post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans. Please be sure to check them both out, and leave a comment and share them around if you can. Be sure to stay tuned though – my next column is tackling the lost cause of the Confederacy, and those who still advocate for it, which as my more faithful readers know, is a topic I am more than capable of sinking my teeth into.

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On paper at least, you’d think The Equalizer would be an awful idea for a movie – an adaptation of a cult classic TV show from three decades ago given a dark and gritty reboot for the silver screen. I mean, aside from a brief reference in The Wolf of Wall Street, who even remembers The Equalizer in the first place?
The_Equalizer_movie_posterThat may change given the names behind the film, which not only has director Antoine Fuqua at the helm, hot off the heels of Olympus Has Fallen, but reunites him with Denzel Washington, a duo that struck Oscar gold the last time they worked together on Training Day a dozen years ago. While The Equalizer may not be Oscar bait, there’s no denying it looks to be a solid old school action thriller in a year starved of them, to the point even The Expendables 3 went PG-13. In a September thus far starved of genuine crowd-pleasers, The Equalizer could be just what the doctor, and the audiences ordered – if it does indeed manage to be more than what it looks like on paper.

So do Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington stand and deliver, or does the movie fail add up to much beyond the Hollywood formula? Join me my dear readers, as I call on The Equalizer.

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