Weekend Reads: "Donnie Darko," "Harry Potter," Disco, GameStop, A New Blue

Recommended weekend reading material for January 30, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

Twenty years have passed since Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and the film has since become a cult classic. In this extensive oral history, the film’s cast and crew discuss its origins, production, and legacy.

The film had three sharp hooks: a deep cast of angsty up-and-comers, a new-wave soundtrack, and a Reagan-era setting. But what really turned Donnie Darko into an obsession was its complex yet accessible plot and themes, which kept college kids up at night, debating in smoke-filled dorm rooms. What is life? What does it all mean? Like The Matrix did a few years prior, the eerie indie challenged an audience weaned on meta-slasher flicks and raunchy comedies. And while its profundity decreases the older you get, Donnie Darko will always be a wormhole that sucks in curious adolescents and blows their minds.

I still remember the first time I read about Donnie Darko after its Sundance premier. I became obsessed with it almost immediately though I had no idea how or when I’d be able to see it (remember, this was back in 2001-02). When it finally came out in DVD, I snapped up a copy and watched it with my friend David. Suffice to say, we weren’t disappointed (read my review from 2002).

Related: Richard Kelly is apparently working on a proper Donnie Darko sequel (as opposed to 2009’s S. Darko) as well as a Rod Serling biopic.

Speaking of cult classics, The Ringer staff have published a list of the 50 best cult movies of all time.

[Although] there is no official definition for a cult movie — most times, you know it when you see it — voters were asked to consider only films that (a) were not successful at the box office, (b) were not widely and initially praised by critics, and (c) gained popularity only after they left theaters, whether by word of mouth, midnight screenings, or home-video success. Without further ado, here is The Ringer’s ranking of the 50 best cult movies. Perhaps it’ll make you mad and inspire you to defend your favorites. But that’s OK — after all, that’s what cult movies are all about.

There are some pretty great “must see” movies on that list.

HBO Max is reportedly working on a Harry Potter TV series.

News that talks are under way for a Harry Potter TV series should come as no surprise given the value of the franchise to Warner Bros. Rowling's seven-book series was adapted as eight feature films that grossed more than $7 billion worldwide. Warners also has the Fantastic Beasts prequel series of films, with the third set to bow next year and two more likely to come afterward.

The news has prompted a backlash from some Harry Potter fans in light of JK Rowling’s statements concerning transgender individuals. Via Comicbook.com.

Here’s everything you need to know about disco but were afraid to ask.

Disco favored producers, arrangers, re-mixers, and unknown singers. But for every club or chart smash like Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights,” there were thousands of records that sank without trace. The 1979 July Disco Demolition in Chicago did not kill the genre. The Bee Gees and Chic were still producing hits in 1980. Disco adapted and went down several rabbit holes as club music shifted towards new emerging styles. Kraftwerk — who enjoyed dancing in discos — saw their stiff, funky music begin to inspire electronic music in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Queen went electro-disco as late 1982 with Hot Space, and in the same year, Michael Jackson released Thriller, whose uptempo tracks wore out many a dance floor.

This isn’t creepy at all: Spotify has filed a patent for technology that listens to users’ speech and background noise in order to decide what music to recommend.

The patent outlines potential uses of technology that involves the extraction of “intonation, stress, rhythm, and the likes of units of speech” from the user’s voice. The tech could also use speech recognition to identify metadata points such as emotional state, gender, age, accent, and even environment — i.e., whether someone is alone, or with other people — based on audio recording.

As someone pointed out on Twitter, if Spotify has enough money to pursue this sort of technology, then they probably have enough money to pay artists decent royalties.

One of my favorite recent blog discoveries is Grape, which covers both the beautiful and bizarre in Japanese culture. With regards to the former, check out these photos of a hidden shrine that looks like something out of My Neighbor Totoro.

The forest of Sayama Hills in Tokorozawa, Japan is said to be the inspiration behind the setting of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli classic, My Neighbor Totoro, but there are quite a few charming forest areas around the country that could easily act as a real-life stand in for the charming scenery found in the animated delight.

Suffice to say, I’ve started following the photographer on Instagram. (Sidenote: I really want to revisit Japan someday. We spent a month there back in 2009 and it remains one of our family’s most amazing and treasured experiences.)

I’ll admit, I did not have “Redditors use GameStop to screw over billionaires while proving that the stock market is a sham” on my 2021 bingo card, but here we are.

We are seeing, I think, the democratization of financial information, at least to some extent. While we’ve seen technology like deepfakes and facial recognition filter down from research firms and big companies into the hands of ordinary people and amateur technologists who then use them for whatever purposes they want, we are seeing financial technologies, information, and analysis becoming available not just to hedge fund managers, financial institutions, and the very rich, but to the masses.

On the one hand, a certain strain of nihilism seems to be underpinning the actions of “r/WallStreetBets,” which I find disconcerting. On the other hand, I’m not shedding any tears for billion-dollar firms and hedge funds that were beaten at their own game.

Related: Stock trading tool Robinhood, which billed itself as a tool to democratize stock trading, moved to prevent its users from buying more GameStop stock — thus providing more evidence that the stock market is rigged. Just how controversial was Robinhood’s move? It put Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz on the same sidefor a little while, anyway.

Once again, somebody wants to charge for linking to content online, which goes against one of the internet’s foundational principles.

[Tim Berners-Lee] argues the news media bargaining code could set a legal precedent allowing someone to charge for linking, which would let the genie out of the bottle — and plenty more attempts to charge for linking to content would appear.

If the precedent were set that people could be charged for simply linking to content online, it’s possible the underlying principle of linking would be disrupted.

As a result, there would likely be many attempts by both legitimate companies and scammers to charge users for what is currently free.

Not surprisingly, Google and Facebook make such a proposal fairly attractive given their often cavalier attitude towards the content that they siphon up and repackage for their own business interests. Via Publisher Weekly.

Earlier this month, David Roth — widely considered one of the greatest and most influential coin magicians of all time — died at the age of 68. If you’ve never seen one of Roth’s routines, you can find a bunch on YouTube, including his 2015 performance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us.

“YInMn blue” is the first new shade of blue in 200 years.

[T]he pigment’s unwieldy name derives from its chemical makeup of yttrium, indium, and manganese oxides, which together “absorbed red and green wavelengths and reflected blue wavelengths in such a way that it came off looking a very bright blue,” Gabriel Rosenberg notes at NPR. It is a blue, in fact, never before seen, since it is not a naturally occurring pigment, but one literally cooked in a laboratory, and by accident at that.

From the Blog

Earlier this month, I finished the first season of Netflix’s Alice in Borderland, the latest live-action manga adaptation from writer/director Shinsuke Sato.

Adapted from Haro Aso’s manga by writer/​director Shinsuke Sato — who has made a career out of live-action manga adaptations (e.g., Gantz, Bleach, Inuyashiki), Netflix’s Alice in Borderland is an entertaining blend of angst-y melodrama and dark, bloody suspense. It’s not high art or anything, and the series’ premise — people trapped in an alternate Tokyo are forced to play deadly games to collect playing cards or else they’ll be killed by laser beams from the sky — may be too far-fetched for some, but to Sato’s credit, he creates an appropriate sense of atmosphere that helps sell it. (If this tells you anything, I was reminded of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale on more than one occasion, and not just because of the exploding necklaces that certain characters wear.)

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