content by

Jake Hinkson

Take Back The Night: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Genre is a funny thing. Take the vampire movie. It’s been around since the silent days of cinema. It’s been used as a conduit for horror, action, romance, and comedy. It’s been used for trash. It’s been used for art. And, yes, it’s been showing signs of wear lately. When Dracula Untold hit theaters last year promising a “new” look at the most rehashed vampire tale of them all, it had all the earmarks of a tired genre piece from a wheezing genre that had finally exhausted itself through countless repetitions.

The undead will always rise again, though, and here comes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the most interesting and original vampire movie to come along in…well, in a long time.

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Whatever Will Be Will Be: Predestination and The Time Travel Movie

In theological terms, the idea of predestination holds that god creates human beings with a specific destiny. Because god is all-knowing and all powerful, the theory goes, humans are traveling a path known and ordained by the creator. This applies not just to this life, but to the next. Of course, there are those who disagree. Lorenzo Dow, one of the key figures in the Second Great Awakening, once mocked Calvinist predestination theology as “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Dow, like many others, believed in free-will, which teaches that people have the ability to choose to follow the righteous path, and thus change both their temporal and eternal destiny. So which is it? Are we traveling a path that’s been laid out, or are we forging our own path?

This is just one of the questions that pops up when you see Predestination, the new sci-fi drama from Michael and Peter Spierig (billed together as The Spierig Brothers). I use the term “sci-fi drama” pointedly here because although it is billed as a thriller, and the advertisements showcase star Ethan Hawke with a gun, in fact Predestination is a more of a character study than a shoot ‘em up.

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‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas: Batman Returns

This year marked the 75th anniversary of Batman, so it seems only fitting to close out the year with Tim Burton’s classic Christmas movie, Batman Returns.

When it was released back in the summer of 1992, the movie was greeted as an oddball failure. Sure, it made enough money to warrant another sequel, but it suffered a sharp drop off at the box office after a big opening weekend and it faced a backlash from audiences who found it too dark, too sexual, and too weird. One can hardly blame the good people of ’92, though. Batman Returns is indeed one the strangest blockbusters ever made.

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“There’s No Escape Out of Time”: La Jetée

Heads up, people: the following contains spoilers.

Few short films have had as long a life as the 1963 French sci-fi classic La Jetée. Simply surviving and accruing a cult following over the years is a large accomplishment for a 28-minute film, but what makes this accomplishment all the move impressive is that the film itself would seem—at least on paper—to be a challenge to most viewers. It is a film told almost entirely in still photographs. It has no stars. It has no dialog. It has no action, of course, because it has no movement. Oh, and it has a bleak, hopeless ending.

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Us and Them: The Thing From Another World

“I’ve tried to tell you before, scientists have always been pawns of the military.”

I can’t speak to the relationship between scientists and military personnel in Starfleet, but David’s warning to his mother, Dr. Marcus, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan neatly underlines the antagonism between the eggheads and the meatheads in so much of science fiction. The scientists see the military as a bunch of trigger-happy morons, while the soldiers see the scientists as a bunch of troublemaking nerds who do more harm than good.

You can probably trace the intensity of this mutual distrust back to the dawn of the atomic age, when the militarization of science produced the means to kill everyone on earth. The animosity is certainly on full display in one of the key science fiction films of that era, 1951’s The Thing From Another World. In the film, scientists and Air Force officers stationed at the North Pole discover a wrecked UFO. They uncover a body encased in ice near the wreckage and transport it back to their base just before a storm blows in and cuts them off from the outside world. Then, of course, the thing in the ice thaws out.

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Something in Red: Scarlett Johansson’s SciFi Appeal

While we’re waiting to see whether or not Marvel will finally give Black Widow her own stand alone film, we can take this moment to look at the place Scarlett Johansson plays in the current universe of cinematic science fiction.

It’s interesting to recall that just a few years ago, Johansson was known primarily as an indie darling. After cutting her teeth as a child star in the 90s (most notably in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer), she transitioned into more adult roles in 2001 with the one-two punch of Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn’t There. Though those two films were miles apart in subject matter, they had some tonal similarities—focusing on the existential ennui of a harried protagonist—Ghost World’s caustic high schooler Enid (Thora Birch) and Man’s laconic barber Ed (Billy Bob Thornton). Playing a supporting role in both films, Johansson’s character is inaccessible—a vision that the protagonist can’t reach. In Ghost World, she’s the childhood friend who grows up and away, lost to young adulthood. In The Man Who Wasn’t There, she’s the underage object of an older man’s shy desire, a would-be Lolita for a near-mute Humbert Humbert.

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Criminal: The Comic Book Crime Epic We Really Need

With Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez set to deliver Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the long-awaited follow up to 2005’s Sin City, now might be a good time contemplate other variations on the comic book crime story. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive of Miller’s Sin City universe, nor do I mean it to be dismissive of the work he and Rodriquez have done on the Sin City films. I liked the first film, and I’ll be in line to see the sequel. But Sin City shows the crime story done in an intentionally over-the-top fashion. It’s the crime story boiled down to archetypes and then injected with an ultra-violent, hyper-masculine comic book ethos. It’s noir as violent cartoon, with dialog so hardboiled James Cagney would have cracked up trying to say it.

If Hollywood gets around to taking on another comic book crime epic, I hope someone has the good sense to consider the Criminal books by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Here’s a series that’s about as gritty as any ever made—if made into a faithful film it would be a hard R—but it has an emotional resonance that’s lacking in the superhuman antiheroics of Sin City. In the Criminal universe, everyone is all too human.

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“He Wanted Us To Catch Him!” Let’s Retire this Villain Cliché

I was just settling into the whole Khan versus Enterprise plot of Star Trek Into Darkness when something started to seem overly familiar to me about the way the story was developing. And I don’t mean familiar in that “Hey, they’re ripping off the Wrath Of Khan” way that began the moment Cumberbatch revealed his true age and identity. No, I mean the familiarly that began when the crew started to speculate that perhaps Khan had wanted to be captured. After all, it had all been so easy…

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The Deluge Myth: Snowpiercer and Noah

It’s impossible to know who first told the story of a great flood that destroys most of the world, but the deluge myth appeared early and often in various cultures. The most famous account of the flood is, of course, the sketch of Noah’s Ark from Genesis, but the great deluge also figures prominently in the Mesopotamian epics of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, in the Shatapatha Brahmana story of Manu, and in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Variations abound, but the germ of the story is the same: the last vestiges of humanity huddle aboard a massive vessel while the rest of the world drowns.

In our eschatology-obsessed times, we’ve seen renewed interest in the deluge myth. This summer alone has given us two prominent variations in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. These two films present a natural and compelling contrast—while Noah portrays the deluge as religious retribution for wickedness, Snowpiercer presents it as a scientific calamity. In both cases, it would seem, humanity had it coming.

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The Last Last Policeman: Ben H. Winters’ World Of Trouble

Ours is not the first generation to dream that it is the last generation. In some ways, you could say that the world has been looking forward to the end since the beginning. The end of things—the end of everything—has been foretold in most major religions, and around the world, throughout history, cults have sprung up and flourished and died based solely around some vision of apocalypse. There is nothing new about the end of the world.

And yet, doesn’t it feel as if we’re living in an age obsessed with End Time visions? Is it the aftermath of 9/11—the lingering trauma of seeing skyscrapers plummet to the earth? Was it the panic that followed, all those dark warnings about mushroom clouds over cities? Is it the ongoing wars in the Middle East, the land that gave us so much of our apocalyptic literature? Or is it the simple scientific fact—often discussed but seldom confronted—that we are poisoning our planet as fast as we can? Whatever the causes, contemporary American culture has produced a glut of doomsday images—so many now that global destruction is essentially the subject of most blockbusters these days. It’s as if we’re all waiting for the worst to happen.

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Sex and the Swamp Thing

Alan Moore likes sex. This makes him something of an anomaly in the world of comic book writers. I’m not saying that other scribes don’t enjoy the pleasures of the flesh in their off hours, but relatively few are interested enough in the erotic as a subject to make it a part of their writing.

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons for this prudishness—not the least of which is industry censorship—but the result is that comic books are largely a sex free zone. To the degree that sex does appear in comics, it mostly takes the form of suggestively drawn female characters. At best, that’s an adolescent way of dealing with sex, and at worst it’s something darker—with the sex drive either implicitly rejected or sublimated into violence.

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Captain America And The Saga of The Winter Soldier

Captain America is square. He’s always been square, and he always will be square. It’s built into the DNA of the character. When Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched the adventures of the Sentinel Of Liberty back in 1941, he was pure propaganda—a star spangled hero punching out the Axis Powers. Maybe that’s why, after the war ended, the character simply disappeared. “Old soldiers never die,” General Douglas MacArthur famously told a joint session of congress, “they just fade away.” It’s probably for the best that Cap faded away before the onset of the jingoistic, paranoid fifties. (A brief, failed attempt to reintroduce the character in 1953 as “Captain America…Commie Smasher!” gives us a glimpse of what we avoided.) When he made his reappearance in the Silver Age, he became the thawed out super soldier that we all know and love today: still square, sure, but more of a ‘roided up crime fighter than a political cartoon.

Even more than most comic book creations, however, Captain America has retained an intrinsic symbolic function. (All but unavoidable when half your name is America.) Over the years, various writers—Roger Stern, J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Gruenwald—have tapped his symbolic quality and used the character as a springboard to deal with various social problems (racism, extremism, homophobia), shaping him into one of Marvel’s most fascinating creations.

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Serial Queens of the Silent Era: The First Female Action Heroes

We’re in a new golden age of female ass-kicking. When Gal Gadot takes up the mantle of Wonder Woman in the next Man Of Steel film, she will join popular headbusters like Katniss Everdeen, Black Widow, and Hit-Girl. These cinematic heroines, however, belong to a lineage that stretches back a hundred years—past Buffy, past Sarah Connor, past Ripley, past Foxy Brown—to the earliest days of motion pictures. Today’s female action heroes owe a lot to the serial queens of silent cinema.

In the 1910s—years before the passage of the 19th Amendment granting universal suffrage—moviegoers flocked to see weekly action serials, and during this period, the biggest stars of action films were women. Week in and week out, these heroines found themselves in ever-escalating trouble.

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Anarchy In The UK: V For Vendetta at 25

It was 1988. I was 12 years old, squeezing through the crowded and cluttered aisles at Little Rock’s only comic store, when I saw a poster of a cloaked, chalk-faced figure running across the top of a wall. The copy on the poster read:

A ten issue series by

I’d never seen such a thing. My comic book buying in those days was exclusively of the Batman, Captain America, and Green Lantern variety. I didn’t know what “fascist” meant, had no idea who Moore and Lloyd were, and had no good reason to want to collect a ten issue series of English comic books.

But something in the stark imagery of the poster appealed to me. (It was around this same time that I discovered the 1950 Edmond O’Brien flick D.O.A, which kicked off my love of film noir, so maybe I was just ready to take a plunge into a certain kind of dark crime story. Or maybe it was something in the Arkansas water.) I went back a week later and bought issue one.

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What to Do with the Future of Star Trek

When a recent Star Trek Creation convention voted J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness the worst film in the franchise, some industry people (including the film’s screenwriter) shook their heads. The movie made good money (though not the breakaway box office that some predicted) and notched generally favorable reviews. So what’s the problem? Is this just a case of some Trekkers and fanboys being overly critical? Or does it point to larger, long term problems? After all, while the new Trek films have been built to be general audience pleasers, they still rely on the fanboys to be their backbone. What happens to Star Trek if the Trekkers start to abandon it?

Maybe the best way to answer that is to look at ways the franchise could right itself. Here then are some suggestions…

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