Discover more from Opus
Weekend Reads (Apr 15): “The Simpsons,” “Star Wars,” Everything But the Girl, NPR vs. Twitter
Recommended weekend reading material for April 15, 2023.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
The Simpsons is one of the funniest shows ever created. While you can debate the show’s current quality level in 2023, it would be very hard to argue that the incredibly long-lived animated series doesn’t have a lengthy list of fantastic and hilarious episodes.
I recently watched “Homer at the Bat” for the first time in years, and it still totally held up. I will never not chuckle at lines like “It’s like there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited” or “You don’t know when to keep your mouth shut, do you Sax-y boy?”
Related: The Simpsons debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show 36 years ago this month.
As befitting the name, Star Wars Celebration 2023 announced a bunch of stuff for the vaunted pop culture franchise, including the return of Rey.
Yes, Daisy Ridley will return as Rey in what will be Lucasfilm’s first theatrical Star Wars release since Rise Of Skywalker. The film, written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) and directed by Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Ms. Marvel), will reportedly be set 15 years after the events of the sequel trilogy and will focus on Rey as she builds a new Jedi order as a Jedi Master.
The John Wick movies have been an unqualified success, elevating Hollywood action and rejuvenating Keanu Reeves’ career while bringing in box office dollars and critical acclaim. Matt Patches considers 5 lessons that Hollywood should learn from the franchise. For instance, the need to develop new action talent.
Who is putting in the time to become an absorbing thespian and professional martial artist? And is Hollywood even looking for them? While 87North has gone the extra length to train a new generation of stunt people, studios need to look beyond the Hot People actor pool to find physical performers who can do work that’s impressive enough to stand out. Hollywood understood this once upon a time: Gene Kelly brought dance to the screen and figured out the movie-star thing as he went. Who else could be a star if they were put on the massive stage of a tentpole movie? Who else will stand out if studios lean on natural ability and dedicated training, instead of gravity-defying VFX? Audiences show up for practical fights and impressive stunts: See Everything Everywhere All at Once, a Best Picture winner completely built off Michelle Yeoh’s ability to slap.
Related: I took a deep dive into John Wick lore to try and figure out how the movie’s violent fictional world might actually work: “If the world’s ruled by its most violent and notorious criminals, then how do politics work? Do election disputes, international grievances, and trade deals get hammered out by hitmen like John Wick?”
Speaking of the John Wick movies, Walter Chaw surveys the “assassin movie” genre and explores why movies about assassins and hitmen are so popular.
Even within the assassin genre of pictures are various, often cross-pollinated subgenres: the gangster/triad/yakuza film, the shadow government conspiracy picture, the revenge scenario where a retired spook is spurred back to action by the death or abduction of a loved one. Of these, the ones most fascinating to me are the ronin pictures: the films about assassins that are entirely mercenary, freebooters plying their trade at the discretion of the highest bidder, bounty hunters. Flag Captain Piett in The Empire Strikes Back refers to these creatures as “scum,” his disdain driven by what he perceives to be their lawlessness, their lack of order, but really they’re rebels who work within their own set of regulations. When I say that it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy to be a bounty hunter, it’s partially because I think people might sometimes like to kill and get away with it; but more and more I’m thinking it’s because just the notion that there are consequences for the bad guys in this world can feel like a quixotic dream.
I really do love a good hitman/assassin movie, be it John Wick, The Killer, Léon: The Professional, or Grosse Pointe Blank.
Folks like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino insist that we should start watching movies in the theater again. But if so, why is the theatrical experience so underwhelming?
Anybody who still feels compelled, as I do, to see new movies in a theater needs a high tolerance for irritation. Exhibitors are constantly finding new ways to make the experience worse — from noisy, sub-Applebee’s dine-in service to AMC’s recently announced plan to charge more depending on where you sit. But the only thing that reliably makes me wish I’d waited for a title to come out on streaming is bad projection. If a movie theater can’t perform its most basic function and deliver a sharp, well-lit image with the right colors and contrast, then we might as well knock it down and put up a bank.
The “Wilhelm Scream” is one of Hollywood’s most well-known and ubiquitous sound effects, appearing in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beauty and the Beast, Reservoir Dogs, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Incredibles, as well as various TV series and video games. Basically, whenever there’s a scene of someone falling off a cliff or taking a tumble from some high place, chances are, the Wilhelm Scream will make an appearance.
One of my favorite bands of all time is Hood, but unfortunately, a good deal of their music was released during the early days of the Web, so finding articles about them can be challenging. Which is why I was thrilled to see this 1996 profile from Ptolemaic Terrascope.
For their influences they cite the Bark Psychosis/Disco Inferno school of UK post-rock, the Bristol scene as represented by the likes of flying saucer attack, Movietone and Third Eye Foundation, the West Coast-and-beyond pop of The Beach Boys, Love, High Llamas and Talk Talk, and, very significantly, the antipodean song and sound craft of The Go-Betweens, The Chills and This Kind of Punishment. Any criticisms (and they have been made by the lazy) that Hood are a pale imitation of flying saucer attack are not supported by the evidence. The fsa vision is something like a kitchen sink collision between Jesus and Mary Chain and Popol Vuh. Hood are what Bark Psychosis might have sounded like had they come from Dunedin, and they are more likely to own Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II and Spring Heel Jack’s These Are Strings than anything by Popol Vuh. Hood are also about the interior life and introspective desires of that class of well-educated British youth that does not necessarily want to play the nine-to-five career game. A song title like “An Oblique View of an Irrationally Happy Life” may sound more suited to a Museum of Contemporary Art installation, but it fits in with their sonic cinema verité without incongruity.
Also Related: My March 2023 playlist and podcast were all about the music of Richard Adams, who co-founded Hood with his brother Chris in the early ‘90s. They were to mark the release of Really Early, Really Late, the excellent new album from Adams’ current project, The Declining Winter.
After more than 20 years, Everything But the Girl are back with a new album. Speaking with Pitchfork’s Owen Myers, the duo of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt discuss the new album and reflect on their decades-long career, including their progression from acoustic balladry to their own spin on electronic music.
We were deciding whether we wanted to move out there, so we took a sublet in Tribeca. We were talking to [producer] Brad Wood, who’d done Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. We were about to commit to go into the studio with him, and then some friends of mine rang from London and said, “Have you heard these new drum’n’bass records?” That became a massive turning point, listening to early Alex Reece, Peshay, early Metalheadz. The breakbeats are pitched so high, and the sub-bass is pitched so low, it rattles along with this spectral drive. But there’s just a huge space left in the middle of that music. I thought, “I could put Tracey’s voice right there.” It was like an aural epiphany. So we headed back to London.
Related: One of my favorite Everything But the Girl songs is “Good Cop, Bad Cop” from 1996’s Walking Wounded. That song was the focus of my February 2023 podcast episode: “I’ve seen some claim that Walking Wounded was the first album to blend pop music and drum n’ bass. I don’t know about that. But I do know that thanks to songs like ‘Good Cop Bad Cop,’ it’s one of, if not the, best blending of pop and drum n’ bass.”
After being labeled “state-affiliated media” and “government-funded media,” NPR and PBS are leaving Twitter.
NPR said in a statement Wednesday that it “will no longer be active on Twitter because the platform is taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.”
“Defund @NPR,” was Musk’s tweeted response. His latest tiff with a news organization reflects a gamble for the social media platform he bought last year.
It’ll be interesting to see if other news organizations follow NPR and PBS’ lead, given Elon Musk’s antagonistic stance towards journalists in general.
Related: Numerous advertisers left Twitter or suspended their activity following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. While advertisers are beginning to return to the platform, some analysts are predicting that Twitter’s ad revenue is still set to plummet.
Also related: Twitter’s latest kerfuffle with Substack reveals just how petty and childish Musk can be.
From the Blog
Some of my friends are car guys. I’m more of a website guy who likes to think of his website as something akin to a hot rod. Not because it’s the biggest or baddest out there, but because it constantly gives me an opportunity to tinker.
Historically speaking, I tend to redesign Opus approximately every year and a half, often after I’ve discovered some new design style or web development technique that I want to try out. I wish I kept better records of all of the site’s many redesigns, but I believe the current design — the one with the blue/red gradient in the header and footer — has been in place for almost two years now, if not longer, making it one of my more successful designs. But while it’s probably looked more or less the same to readers during that time, I’ve actually rewritten the design’s underlying HTML and CSS three times, at least.
This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, podcasts, and sneak previews. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.