Inspired by Avengers: Endgame, the 182-minute grand finale of the Marvel cinematic saga, I crunched some numbers and examined how blockbusters—especially ones not encumbered by Endgame's hefty narrative obligations, with so many characters and storylines to pay off—are expanding at a much faster rate than is the human lifespan. I am solely responsible for the math in the piece, and the jokes. You've been warned.
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I'm on today's episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, weighing in on the new season of Netflix's cautionary-tale tech anthology Black Mirror. One thing I should've said had there been time is just how much the open format of the show contributes to its ability to build tension. Two of my favorites among the six new episodes are "U.S.S. Callister," which runs a nearly feature-length 76 minutes, and "Metalhead," which clocks in at around 40 minutes—not even long enough to fill a network hour. Anyway, I was happy as always to join Linda and Glen, and especially glad to get to speak with Brittany Luse, whom I had not met previously. You can hear the episode below, or on whatever smart device you've got. Or both. I mean, we're all cuffed to our digital appendages now, despite the warnings of Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker.
In the "What's Making Me Happy" segment, I plug my latest Christmas mixtape, Noel Means Noel, which remains available for your halldecking, merrymaking edificaiton, along with most of its predecessors. Merry Eight More Days of Christmas.
It's a strange coincidence that Sir Roger Moore, 007 No. 003, died only about 48 hours after the premiere of the very funny Hulu documentary Becoming Bond, about one-and-done 007 George Lazenby — who, incredibly, landed the most sought-after role in showbiz (circa 1968) with double-oh-zero prior acting experience.
I'll never get tired of this real-life story. And the Bond flick that resulted, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, is in my Bond Top Five, way above of any of the Moore entries. Anyway, I wrote about all this for the weekend crowd. And I fan-casted Matt Gourley, again.
I wrote this piece quickly, and it occurred to me only after I'd send it off to my editor, the great Linda Holmes, that I might've mentioned the passage of the documentary wherein Lazenby explains the discovery that turned him from a failing salesman into into a successful one. He might've been talking about acting.
Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Year With Which We're Still Making Contact, or We Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts But It Would Be Better If We Were
With the release of a new iteration of Ghostbusters — Sequel? Reboot? Don't know; the DC screening conflicted with the first session of the new Boxing Fundamentals class I'm teaching at Y — every single one of 1984's ten highest-grossing films has either been sequeled or remade. I believe '84 is the only year for which this is the case. In terms of what ruled the box office, it resembled 2014 a lot more than it did '83 or '85. Because I enjoy staring at box office charts, apparently, I wrote about this discovery for NPR Monkey See.
I'm very happy to be on the panel for this week's Hail, Caesar!-focused Pop Culture Happy Hour, my first with my Washington City Paper pal Bob Mondello. In it, Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon tells Bob he "beat [him] to the Hamlet punch," which is a funny phrase, if you think about it. Earlier in this episode, G-Weld beat me to the Sullivan's Travels punch, but here's the clip I was going to play.
This episode also has some thematic crossover with the Top Five Movies About Movies segment in which I participated on an episode of WBEZ's Filmspotting from late 2011. My NPR review of Hail, Caesar! — wherein I may have underserved the film's philosophical payload, unless I didn't — is here. This was an especially enjoyable episode for me; I hope you all dig it.
No one in the world can possibly appreciate the way the narrator of the new Coen Brothers picture, Sir Michael Gambon — the man who once declined the role of James Bond because, quoth he, "I've got tits like a woman" — says "in westerly Malibu" as much as I do. But just about everyone seems to like the movie. I do, too. My NPR review is here.
I was delighted to join Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson — and to share my first Pop Culture Happy Hour panel with the estimable Gene Demby — to process our reactions to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We recorded this episode just a few hours after seeing the movie; the review I wrote to accompany the release of the podcast came from a day or so later. I know my opinion had not entirely settled yet, but we had a fun, lively discussion.
When I sat down to watch the film again two nights later, with Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon seated beside me, he asked if I missed the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the glowing green Lucasfilm logo appeared onscreen. We've spoken before about how that fanfare always gives us a ripple of excitement no matter what we're about to watch, because of the sense-memory of Star Wars. Strangely, I hadn't noticed its absence until Glen pointed it out. (There was a lot of other stuff to notice, c'mon.)
I don't think I mentioned during the toy-talk portion of the podcast that I divested myself of my entire collection of Star Wars figures — in their bust-of-Darth Vader carrying case — at yard sale sometime in the late 1980s for less than $20. My mom, I recall, was not pleased. It's not that she thought I could hold onto them and maybe pay for grad school one day; it's just that I had put my parents through a lot demanding that they track down particular figures for me. (I also demanded a talking toy car from Knight Rider, as you'll hear.) I'm sorry for that, Mom and Dad.
Stuff I found out for this episode that you won't learn from it: Star Wars action figures each retailed for $1.49 in 1977, $1.99 in 1980, and $2.49 in 1983. There is no small sum of irony in the fact that while many of us, including me, have decried Return of the Jedi as an extended toy ad, it was only the revenue from the sales of Star Wars toys that kept that film's precursor, consensus favorite The Empire Strikes Back, afloat during its troubled production. (Chris Taylor covers all this in his fine book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe.)
Finally, I was happy to be able to pimp my tenth Christmas mixtape, which is posted for your hall-decking streaming pleasure right here.