Archive for the ‘Mere Anachrony’ Category

Mere Anachrony: Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Girl Meets World, the Disney Channel’s long-awaited Boy Meets World spin-off, premiers tonight. Except it’s not Disney’s typical audience of pre-teens who are awaiting this premiere—it’s people in their 20s who have been clamoring the loudest for this show about an eleven-year-old girl. And why? Because we millennials fucking love Boy Meets World.

For those unfamiliar, Boy Meets World aired on ABC from 1993 to 2000, as part of the network’s “TGIF” lineup of family-friendly programming. The titular boy was Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage). He was in sixth grade when the series began. His parents were happily married. He had an older brother (Eric, played by Will Friedle) and a younger sister (Morgan, played brilliantly by Lily Nicksay, then forgettably by Lindsay Ridgeway). His best friend was Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) and the object of his affections was Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel). Most important, though, was his next-door neighbor and perpetual teacher, Mr. Feeny (William Daniels), who was the show’s voice of reason and guiding light.

But all that sounds pretty cookie-cutter. It doesn’t really capture the enduring appeal of Boy Meets World. So what does? What accounts for the enthusiasm for Cory and Topanga’s return? Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: Atlas Shrugged

Looks OK....

W.B.O.A.T.

Ayn Rand is an odd figure in our political and cultural climate. She is one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century—her books have sold over 25 million copies—despite the fact that she wrote long, dense tomes about political philosophy. She’s beloved by many and hated by more. Yet many politicians tout the controversial Rand with a fervor usually reserved for Founding Fathers and Jesus.

Rand functions as a kind of ideological shibboleth, a password into the club of self-reliance and small government. But many readers also really love her. They cherish her books with a passionate intensity that’s impossible to ignore.

Although I’d read The Fountainhead—and liked it quite a bit more than I expected—I had never read Atlas Shrugged, which Rand herself considered her greatest work and which gets mentioned the most in discussions of her literature and philosophy. Given all the fuss about Rand and specifically this book, I felt like not reading it was a gap in my knowledge. What was it that Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Mark Cuban, and so many others found so exciting about this novel?

So I read it.

And at the risk of sounding intemperate, Atlas Shrugged is by far the worst book I’ve ever read. This is true on a purely aesthetic level, leaving aside Rand’s abhorrent philosophical views—though the philosophy embedded in the book only makes it much, much worse. The prose is tedious, the characters are absurd and the story is both repetitive and nonsensical. On virtually every page there is something to insult the reader’s intelligence. It is somehow both consistently infuriating AND incredibly boring. The English language is worse off for having been contorted into the shape of this misbegotten novel.

But allow me to elaborate… Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: When The President Talks To God

With the ten year anniversary of the Iraq War coming up this month, I’ve been thinking some about the war’s legacy and specifically asking one question: Given the sizable opposition to the war, why were there no real notable protest songs about Iraq?

Of course, there were some protest songs, mainly from the traditionally political acts you’d expect to release antiwar songs: Neil Young, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, etc. But all these acts were long passed the peak of their relevance, and the songs were so predictable that they were greeted with little more than a shrug. There were some attempts by mainstream acts, like “Mosh” by Eminem, but nothing commensurate with controversy the war generated. Sadly, the most substantial political moment of the last decade in pop music probably involved the Dixie Chicks…

There are certainly a lot of reasons for this: the political apathy of the post-Baby Boomer generations, the corporatization of the music industry, the blandness of pop music in general, etc. But it’s also worth pointing out a simpler explanation: It’s hard to write a good protest song. Continue reading

This Day in Revisionist History: Christmas Edition!

December 25:

“Okay, I’m just spit-balling here, but what if we organized some type of Secret Santa?”- the rather feckless Lt. Cecil Farnsworth to his commanding officers during World War I, shortly after combat with the Germans was unofficially suspended in the famous “Christmas Truce.”

Cecil Farnsworth had been an only child, and with no siblings to compete for the affection of his parents he had enjoyed a rather privileged, sheltered childhood, especially when the holidays came around and he was spoiled with presents. But Cecil, if perhaps entitled, was also very generous, wishing to share the gift of Christmas with those around him. And it was this benevolent spirit, long engendered within him, that led to his naïve, entirely inappropriate question in the brief intermission of an otherwise savage battle. Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King

Last month John S began his look back at Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. He looked at The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. Now, he turns his attention to the last chapter in the trilogy, The Return of the King.

Of all the films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I had the highest expectations for The Return of the King. The final installment in the series did make Oscar history, winning all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture. On IMDb, the movie is ranked 11th on the Top 250 films of all time. According to many critics, including Roger Ebert, it was The Return of the King that cemented the status of Peter Jackson’s films as true epics.

Aside from the praise of others, though, was the simple fact that The Return of the King was the final installment in the Lord of the Rings series. As I’ve said before about other things, conclusions are always important to a story that you’ve invested a lot of time in, and how a story ends often reshapes how we see its beginnings. The Return of the King, then, was where things that seemed odd or irrelevant in the first two movies would start to make sense, and where the ongoing stories of those films would finally get their much-worked-for payoffs.

Unfortunately, The Return of the King was a big letdown. Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Last week, John S started his look back at Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with a review of The Fellowship of the Ring. Now he takes a look at the second film in the series, The Two Towers.

When we last left our heroes of Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam had abandoned the rest of the Fellowship to head for Mordor on their own. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin had been kidnapped by Saruman’s Orcs while the rest of the now-dissolved Fellowship—Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli—are trying to hunt down the Orcs and free the hobbits.

In any trilogy, the second film is the least set in stone. The first film is going to introduce us to our protagonists and antagonists, and set up the conflict. The last film is going to present the final confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys. But the second film serves mainly as a bridge from Act I to Act III, with a lot of its efforts spent putting the pieces in place for the last showdown. This can be a mixed blessing. While some second acts feel as if they are treading water or repeating themselves (The Matrix Reloaded, The Bourne Supremacy), others are often considered the best of the series, thanks in part to a lack of necessary exposition or resolution. The Empire Strikes Back, the only legitimately good Star Wars movie, is the best example of this phenomenon.* Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

A few months ago, during NPI’s retrospective on the Aughts, I looked back at the ten best films of the last decade. One noticeable and unacknowledged omission was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was one of the most commercially successful and critically beloved franchises of the Aughts. Indeed, it may even be the defining film phenomenon of the last decade (it’d certainly be a better choice than fucking Avatar). I’d love to say that there was a well-thought out and sophisticated reason for leaving the films out, but the only real reason was that I had yet to see any of the movies. So to rectify this oversight, I thought I’d revisit the films in order, and see if they really deserve the acclaim and attention they received.

I should preface my review of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by explaining that I’ve never read Tolkien’s novels and have only a passing understanding of the story going in. Luckily, there’s an eight-minute prologue at the beginning of Peter Jackson’s epic that provides us with a nice, if lengthy, backstory. The truth is that for Tolkien’s epic story, rich enough to fill three very long movies, eight minutes seems about necessary to fill you in on everything. Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: Being John Malkovich

Back in December, when we at NPI were going over what we were most looking forward to in the new decade, Josh mentioned his anticipation of Charlie Kaufman’s next film. He is not alone. Kaufman has many admirers: Roger Ebert called his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, the best of the Aughts, and many other sources gave that honor to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The cult of Kaufman began in earnest, though, with the release of Being John Malkovich in 1999. This film, directed by Spike Jonze, was Kaufman’s first produced screenplay. It established Kaufman’s reputation as an inventive, cerebral, and idiosyncratic voice in Hollywood. Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Simpsons Season One

I like how this calls back to our Mere Anachrony on "The Sopranos."

“Sometimes I think we’re the worst family in town.”

“Maybe we should move to a bigger community.”

“Dad, the sad truth is all families are like this.”

This short conversation among Homer, Marge, and Lisa Simpson is, in so much as the longest-running comedy series in television history has one, The Simpsons’ thesis statement. In fact, the episode from which it comes, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” is really the ideological start of the series: The Simpsons do everything possible in 22 minutes to distance themselves from television’s traditional family, exemplified by the Cleavers, Waltons, Bradys, and Cosbys—and represented in this episode by the family of an unnamed coworker.

Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs

WARNING: This post contains spoilers. You should only read it if you’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, or if you have no interest in seeing the movie but for some reason want to read a review of it.

I was not a fan of Reservoir Dogs when I first saw it.

The first time I saw it was at summer camp when I was 14 years old. A friend of mine had sprained his ankle in the middle of the summer, which prevented him from doing pretty much anything the rest of us did. It’s hard to play basketball or soccer when you can’t really stand up (unless you’re Willis Reed, I guess). So he basically spent all of his time alone in his bunk watching movies on VHS.

Most of these films were generic comedies of the 1990s, like American Pie, Ace Ventura and Friday, but one day he head tossed in Reservoir Dogs, and I walked in about halfway through.

Now, it’s never ideal to start in the middle of a movie, and this is a perfect example why. I don’t remember exactly when I started watching the film attentively—I had gotten pretty used to tuning the movies out by that point, they were on all the time—but at some point it got my undivided attention. It is incredibly hard to ignore a Quentin Tarantio movie. They are so visually arresting and the dialogue is so sharp that they demand your attention.

But while I was engrossed in the film by it’s ending, I was ultimately disappointed by the conclusion. The final scene seemed abrupt and unsatisfying. It was a flashy, intense, bloody ending with little emotional value. Mr. Sprained Ankle agreed. Continue reading

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