content by

Leah Schnelbach

What Is The Frequency of Hope? Tomorrowland Never Quite Tells Us

Mad Max: Fury Road will remain firmly atop its pedestal as my favorite film of summer so far. Tomorrowland, despite all the hope and fairy dust, did not unseat it. And for anyone complaining that Fury Road had a “thin” plot… well, Tomorrowland’s plot is essentially: Hope is great! We should all have it! This is not to say it’s a bad film, but it is a simple one, and I am not its target audience. This is the kind of optimistic, gee whiz kids movie that the ’80s were particularly good at, and if you have a human under 14 in your home, you might want to drop it off at the theater and pick it up after.


We All Agree that Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important.

Mad Max: Fury Road premiered to an avalanche of praise, with an astonishingly high Rotten Tomatoes score, an even higher IMDB score (it’s already at #23!), and nigh unanimous praise from everyone from The New Yorker to The Hollywood Reporter to The Mary Sue, with SBNation getting it best (I think) by saying that “Mad Max: Fury Road is a Movie Made with Caps Lock On.” Quite right. Many people also noted the film’s feminism and the environmental themes. But here was one thing I noticed: even in reviews that were a little more in-depth, many of them didn’t actually dig into what makes this film important, and how it is a giant step forward for the Mad Max series–a trilogy that seemed to go out with a hilariously over-the-top bang in 1985.

I want to take a closer look at why this film is so resonant. Spoilers abound for all the Mad Maxes (obviously) and for Thelma & Louise (come on, you’ve had, like, 50 years to watch it) and Game of Thrones (ugh). This post will discuss sexual violence, so tread carefully if you need to.

[We Are Not Things.]

The Hype is Real. Mad Max: Fury Road is One of The Best Films of the Year

The first half hour of Mad Max: Fury Road may be the greatest action movie I’ve ever seen. But then the film keeps going, keeps piling on more cars and more explosions and more perfectly choreographed fight scenes, and quickly becomes one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period. Really this review should just be me writing GO SEE IT WHAT ARE YOU DOING TELL YOUR BOSS YOU’RE SICK AND GET YOUR ASS TO A THEATER RIGHT NOW, because honestly, anything less is unethical on my part.

[Oh what a lovely day!]

Should You Watch the Original Mad Max Trilogy?

The short answer is “Yes, of course, what the heck were you thinking not watching it?” But perhaps you need some convincing. Perhaps you missed Beyond Thunderdome each of the many times it was shown on a cable outlet, and are now leery of Tina Turner in a fright wig. Perhaps you think moviemakers couldn’t create a believable post-apocalyptic landscape in the (mostly) CGI-free days of the 1980s. Perhaps you just can’t with Mel Gibson. I understand. (Truly! Especially about that last one.) But I’m here to show you that the original Mad Max trilogy holds many wonders!

[Tina Turner’s hair is but one of them.]

Does Biology Need to Be Destiny in the Work of Joss Whedon?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is about a lot of things. The film is a conversation about monsters, gods, what is right, what is wrong. Ultron is a monster, by our standards, but he thinks of himself as a god. Is Tony a monster for creating him? Will Steve ever be able to leave the war behind? Will Hawkeye ever finish the dining room?

The biggest question that my friends and I have been discussing, however, is what we’ve all already started calling “The Black Widow Monster Scene.” There are several ways to interpret the exchange between Natasha and Bruce, all of which seem valid, in my opinion. But I specifically want to examine how this scene functions in the context of Joss Whedon’s overall work, and the popular perception of Whedon as a feminist writer. Simply put: let’s look at how often Whedon has relied on this trope of a woman’s power or uniqueness or, yes, monstrosity, being inseparable from her gender and sexuality—why, in Whedon’s stories of women’s power, does their strength and talent always need to be bound to their bodies and biology?

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An Uncut and Non-Remastered List of Star Wars Editions!

The thing that makes Star Wars truly great is Greedo shooting first. Wait, come back, I’m being serious! The original Star Wars trilogy was an incredible cultural touchstone, and obviously Star Wars merchandise and expanded universe novels created a whole world for fans to inhabit. However, the moment when Star Wars became truly great was the moment in 1997 when a generation of fans had to examine what this film meant to them, and why it was so important that Han shoot first. This moment galvanized an already fervent fandom to, if you don’t mind me mixing my geek metaphors, play Sam Beckett in the SWU, going back to earlier prints of the films to put right what Lucas had made wrong.

Using the sort of film tech popularized by Lucas himself, the fandom dove in and started making new editions of the original trilogy, and then turned their scalpels on each of the prequels. Rather than accepting anything as “canon,” they made their own. Now, as a flurry of new films loom, causing hope, fear, and trembling, I’ve rounded up nine different ways you can experience Star Wars into one handy list!

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Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe

One of the things reviewers have commented on is Daredevil’s unexpected grittiness. The violence is real, and the consequences of that violence are also real. When Matt Murdock snaps a man’s arm, the femur (ulna?) bone breaks through the skin. When Karen Page is choked with a sheet, the welt shows on her neck for several episodes afterwards. People make their choices, and then they face the consequences. This realism quickly made Daredevil one of my favorite elements of the MCU.

The other thing that I love is how the show’s brutal world is informed by the particularly Catholic morality of its hero. There have been a few conversations online about whether this show gives us an accurate portrayal of Matt’s religion, and I would argue not only that it does, but that by taking his religious beliefs seriously, and weaving Catholicism into the fabric of the show, Netflix has given us the deepest, most emotionally resonant version of Daredevil we’ve ever had.

Warning: this post comes with SPOILERS for the ENTIRE SEASON.

[Plus confession comes with a latte!]

Shakespeare Adaptations That Best Speak to Teens

Later in our Shakespeare on essay series, Emily Asher-Perrin will tell you about a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was engineered to get teens excited about Shakespeare. It did not work. It also wasn’t the only scheme of its kind: There’s always some well-meaning drama teacher—or movie director—who wants to make Shakespeare speak to the youth of today. Whether that involves playing up the sex, drugs, and violence that characterize various works; dropping Shakespearean verse into a modern setting; or building something entirely new off the framework of a play—many have tried.

In the best of these adaptations, Shakespeare’s work serves as a jumping-off point for meditations on race, sexuality, and gender roles, with films that embrace diversity in more meaningful ways than just colorblind casting or genderswapping, and instead try to get to core truths about the human condition. (Often with outrageous musical numbers.)

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Series: Shakespeare on

A Perfect Cost-to-Shenanigan Ratio: Community Season Six is Here!

So the big question with Community: Is it still good? Is it even better? Has the jump to Yahoo changed it? The answers, respectively are: Yes; kind of?; not really.

It is still a great, solid sitcom about a group of wacky friends and their hilarious misadventures. The test with these kind of shows is simple, and sounds kind of dumb when you say it: I missed Greendale, and I was glad to spend time with these characters again. The plots were the usual mix of important things (like Britta’s need to grow up) and silly things (like the Dean suddenly becoming obsessed with early-90s-style VR). The only downside is that after five seasons, the important plots can’t help but feel a bit reheated.

[“You bet your sweet ass I saw Lawnmower Man!”]

Is Ladyhawke the Best Fairy Tale of Them All?

I spent last month rewatching a bunch of 1980s fantasy movies. (I know, I missed some, I’ll get there eventually.) Sometime around the middle of the month, I revisited Ladyhawke for the first time since high school, and found myself surprised at just how well it held up. True, some elements have not aged well—an opening song that recalls nothing so much as the MacGyver theme, for instance—but on the whole, it ended up being one of my favorites. And the more I think about it, the more I think Ladyhawke may be the most successful of all the fairy tale films.

[Yes, even better than The Princess Bride. Yes, those are fightin’ words.]

Watch Closely Everyone; I’m Going to Show You How To Kill a God

Generally speaking, if you think of a god, a few characteristics come to mind: immortality, omniscience, omnipotence… But sometimes, we puny humans can get the better of our gods in art, if not in life. I’ve gathered up some of our most memorable deicides from genre fiction—some cathartic, some tragic, and some part of a grand cosmic plan.

Spoilers for murdered gods, apocalypses, the ending of Final Fantasy XIII (all of ‘em), and possibly the damnation of your immortal souls.


A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy That Would Please Crom Himself!

Long before Game of Thrones, there was a time in history when HBO stood for “Hey, Beastmaster’s on!” A time when, if you asked for a dragon, you got a puppet instead of CGI. A time when the words “fantasy hero” didn’t call to mind a pensive Viggo Mortenson or a bespectacled Daniel Radcliffe—nay, but a shirtless, bemuscled Arnold Schwarzenegger (or cheaper facsimile) dripping with oil.

I have travelled back to that time to bring forth the Ultimate 1980s Fantasy Epic Ranking List Post! And By Crom, I swear I’ve gotten… most of them. Join me below to celebrate the 1980s fantasy epic, in all of its loincloth-wearing, phallic-sword-waving, secret-wing-unfurling, spandex-bulging, camel-punching glory.

[By Crom!]

Time Flies, and So Do Heads! Sleepy Hollow: “Tempus Fugit”

So. There was a scene, in Season One, that made me love this show. It was a scene in “The Sin Eater” (Remember? When we met Henry?) and in it Ichabod agreed to poison himself for the greater good, and tried to get Abbie to leave him, so she’d be spared watching him die. But she refused to let him die alone, and held his hand, with every intention of staying there to the end. This was a great moment for many reasons: the show opened itself up in a way to see the depth of love and trust between these two characters, and allowed you to imagine an entire world around them in the process.

Last night’s episode, “Tempus Fugit,” gave us another moment like that.

[The show is finally good again!]

Terror on a Deadline: Remembering Richard Matheson

In writing some of the On This Day features for, I’ve been privileged to learn more about some of the greatest writers in the SFF canon. One thing that has continually impressed me is the way these people treated writing as a job. They didn’t wring their hands over their genre’s marginalization, or complain about writers block—they just told stories. Sometimes the stories hit, sometimes they didn’t, but these writers knew there’d always be another one to tell, and in the meantime the rent was due and the kids needed to be fed. Richard Matheson, whose birthday we celebrate today, is an excellent example of this old school work ethic.

[Cue evil Zuni doll cackling]

Series: On This Day

Where We’re Going, We Won’t Need Roads. Sleepy Hollow: “Awakening”

Sleepy Hollow only has one episode left in this season, Sleepyheads! And after last night’s “Awakenings,” I am desperately hoping for a Season 3. I guess if you’re going o do something to reinvigorate your show, the penultimate episode is a good place to do it, but I’m not sure how they can wrap that final twist up in one episode.


Spoons, Hammers, and Mighty Pogo Sticks! Favorite Superhero Parodies

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years studying heroes, and what our cultural heroes say about society. Much is made of gritty vs. fun, Man of Steel vs. Guardians of the Galaxy. But one thing that is often overlooked is the importance of parody superheroes to this discussion. I think that that parodies serve just as much as a dismantling of the superhero archetype as anything Frank Miller wrote. Not to belabor this too much, but clearly the people behind these parodies were commenting on the pervasive hero-worship of characters like Supes and Cap, and often jabbing the broodiness of Batman and Punisher. There is also a very real message in many of these books: normal people can be heroes, too.

So here’s a by-no-means exhaustive list of some superhero parodies—be sure to join the discussion in the comments!


SFF Sexier Than Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey opens this weekend, with many audiences worried that the movie will repeat the mistakes of the book in depicting an unrealistic, unhealthy BDSM relationship. But it doesn’t have to be this way—after all, sci-fi and fantasy authors have written believable power exchanges and sexual agency into their books and comics for decades. Instead of headdesking over Christian and Ana once again, pick up these books by Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Matt Fraction, and more.

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Let’s Rewrite the Declaration of Independence! Sleepy Hollow: “What Lies Beneath”

So much happened in this one! We met yet another of Ichabod’s beloveds, learned more about his past, and had an all-too-short glimpse into Frank Irving’s soul, plus we got a wonderful cold open, a slightly convoluted moral dilemma, and maybe best of all, met a truly intriguing new character!

Guys! There are only two more episodes after this! I don’t know how to feel!

[Why does this show turn me into Gene Belcher?]

Jupiter Ascending is a High-Concept Sci-Fi Explosion (And This is a Good Thing!)

Have you ever asked a five-year-old to tell you a story? Because if you see Jupiter Ascending, and I truly hope that you do, you are essentially asking a super-creative five-year-old to tell you a story. What if a werewolf who’s also an angel and, like, a space warrior had to fight Lord Voldemort and Dorian Gray for the love of Cinderella? Well, add in some fabulous eyeliner and a suspicious amount of crystal, and you’ve got Jupiter Ascending.

This movie is for sci-fi fans who enjoy their class critique and rickety world building to be well-cushioned in loud, fun, explody action sequences. Did you like Pacific Rim? You’ll probably like this movie. Did you feel that The Fifth Element was, at times, almost too restrained? You’ll definitely like this movie. Do you think Karl Marx had some swell ideas? You’ll like this movie. Do you want to see a big Hollywood movie that’s all about the evils of anti-aging schemes? You’ll looooove this movie.


Why Do Reboots Cause Such Mass Hysteria?

A few weeks ago I was showing a friend of mine Kevin Feige’s Marvel Phase 3 announcement, and we got to talking about identification, privilege, and how changes to characters affect fans. His specific point was that as a kid he always identified with She-Ra more than He-Man, so he assumed growing up that girls also identified with male characters I had always provided a helpful example for him, since, as a kid stuck in a town I didn’t much like, craving adventure and excitement, I identified wholly with Luke. Leia, the beautiful, self-assured royal diplomat, was not someone I felt in tune with, despite our similarities in name and gender.

So he was a bit taken aback at my excitement for the upcoming Black Panther and Captain Marvel films. He certainly isn’t against them, but he was surprised when I talked about how important it was that superhero movies, and SFF in general, was finally becoming more diverse. And the more we talked, the more I realized that I always identified most with characters like Indiana Jones, Peter Venkman, Raphael (the turtle, not the painter), Al Calavicci, Arthur Dent… I spent most of my childhood thinking my way into perspectives that were all male, and usually white. Of course, I’ve thought about this before, but the conversation put it back in the front of my brain. And then Paul Feig announced his Ghostbusters reboot cast.

[But…busting used to make me so happy.]