Friday, May 8, 2015

Pop Culture Round-up: Spring 2015 (Angsty Parentheses Edition)

Spring, glorious spring! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming... so why not stay inside and enjoy some pop culture fun?

Here's what I've been digging lately:

Photo credit:
Marvel on TV
Marvel's Daredevil and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

I've wondered for a long time why Charlie Cox isn't a big star -- he's handsome, British, and a great actor (if you haven't seen Stardust, go watch it now - unless you hate fun.). Hopefully he'll get all the attention he deserves now that he's in the very hot Netflix property, Marvel's Daredevil (I'm going to drop the Marvel now, mkay?). This is basically the super-hero show I've always wanted: it has heft - thanks to great writing, themes of sin and redemption, and the acting chops of Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, and Vondie Curtis-Hall -- plus amazing fight choreography and a film noir vibe. I'm hoping that Netflix's upcoming Marvel-collab AKA Jessica Jones does for another fave, Krysten Ritter, what Daredevil has done for Cox: given a little-known actor the part they deserve. (And if you think all of that sounds a lot like Batman, The Mary Sue did a great article on how Daredevil earns its angst.)

And if you're one of those who dropped Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D in its first season, it's definitely worth catching up now. With the introduction of Marvel's Inhuman mythology (yeah, wikipedia is essential for me in catch up with Marvel mythology since I'm not a big fan of superhero comics) S.H.I.E.L.D has added rich new dimentions. Basically - Inhumans are powered people. In the first year, S.H.I.E.L.D stayed away from putting powered people front and center, because it was about how humans deal in a world where there are superheroes. However, they've been able to introduce the Inhumans - and make some major characters Inhumans -- without sacrificing the humanity. Plus, who doesn't love Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, the actors who play the beating heart of the show?

I've been pretty impressed with the expansion of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (that's what you're supposed to call it). It gives me hope that if anyone ever does buckle down and adapt Stephen King's The Dark Tower into a group of films and TV properties, it will go OK. 

(Seriously, what's with my use of parentheticals today?)

Concept poster by Franco Francavilla

Ex Machina

If there's one thing we should learn from comics and sci-fi, it's that creating conscious robots is NOT a good idea... or is it? In the new movie Ex Machina, artificial intelligence comes in the form of a robot with the face of Alicia Vikander and the body of the inside of a vacuum -- she clicks and whirs as she moves. The movie centers around the young man who is testing whether Ava is actually conscious, and her mad scientist creator, played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac with a super-cool beard. With only four characters, Ex Machina is an antidote to the current cinema's preoccupation with over-long, over-stuffed science fiction. As true fans know, the best sci-fi asks us to interrogate our current society to help us determine what kind of future we want to live in.

Kintsugi, Death Cab For Cutie

I know this girl who went to college with the members of Death Cab, and because indie music kids of the 90's were fiercely territorial, I've always thought of Death Cab as her band. Hence, it took me a long time to actually start listening to them. Like 17 years. Kintsugi is the perfect album for the moment we're living in right now. It's all about the existential angst of living in a world where experience is mediated through technology. (Apparently, along with parentheses, I'm really into angst right now). I'm particularly fond of "Little Wanderer," a song with beautiful metaphors about being the one who stays home and gets those digital pictures while a loved one is traveling. I also love "Binary Sea," the album's last song, which takes the existential angst to its logical conclusion, asking if we ever existed if there's no record of us.

Hozier with George Ezra, Warehouse Live, Houston TX

I was lucky enough to get tickets to Hozier's first Houston show, which he played at a fairly small club ballroom venue. George Ezra opened two weeks before his SNL appearance and before his song "Budapest" was on the radio constantly. Despite the annoyances of seeing an artist on a high from a hit single (lots of teen girls, way too many people watching the whole thing through their phones. See: Kintsugi for commentary on our need for mediated experience), it was a fantastic show. Hozier had a surprisingly delightful persona, given the (yes!) angst of many of his songs. He seemed genuinely happy that the show was going well, and his mostly-female band was excellent. I do find his fame somewhat odd, given his allusion-heavy album which references the abuses of the Irish-Catholic church, 50's rock and roll, and Plato's Cave, but I'm glad that his popularity gave me the chance to see him in person. 

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