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Leah Schnelbach

Life’s But an Existentialist Shadow in Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth

How do I even write about this? Joel Coen has created a stunning, often terrifying, German Expressionist-ish take on Macbeth that, when it chooses to be, tips into full horror. While it isn’t my favorite take on the play (that would Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood) this is the first time I’ve seen a Shakespeare adaptation and immediately wanted to rewatch it before the credits were even done rolling.

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Archive 81 Is a Wonderfully Creepy Ode to Film Restoration

First things first: Archive 81 is fun as hell, most of the time, and reliably creepy. The writers and directors went all-in on atmosphere and mounting dread, and rely on horror to grow out of psychological terror rather than gore. There is almost no physical violence in this show? The horror plot reminded me more than anything of an old-timey 1930s haunted house movie, which is exactly what I wanted to watch over a freezing winter weekend.

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The Best (and Worst) Cartoon Sidekicks of 1980s Television

I’ll always have a soft spot for the variety of SFF (and SFF-tinged) cartoon series aimed at kids in the 1980s—partly because of the amazing sidekicks that tagged along for adventures in Eternia, Pac-Land, or a ghost-infested version of NYC. But which sidekicks reign supreme? Naturally, this requires a ranking list post.

THESE ARE MY OWN PERSONAL VIEWS. IT’S OK IF YOU LIKE SNARF.

I mean, I think you might want to talk to a therapist, but it’s probably okay, cosmically speaking.

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A Gentle Trauma Plot: Outside the Gates by Molly Gloss

How has it taken me so long to read Molly Gloss? I finally got to Outside the Gates in my TBR Stack, and it was amazing? I didn’t so much read this book as swallow it in a couple hours. It only took me that long because I kept making myself take breaks, both because I wanted the book to last longer (it’s pretty short) and also because I loved these characters so much, and I was so concerned for them I needed to avert my eyes a few times.

No spoilers, but I think you’ll be seeing more of Gloss’ work in this column.

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Don’t Look Up’s Satirical Take on the Apocalypse Could Use More Sincerity

Before I say another word: if you found Don’t Look Up moving, terrifying, or if it has inspired you to do anything you can to help fight climate collapse, or to help stem the rising COVID numbers, or to look at social media with a larger grain of salt, then excellent. Please take that energy into 2022, we all need you. (I need you. I need to do more. I’ve just spent the last couple weeks mainlining Beatles documentaries and watching Andrew Garfield’s Tick Tick Boom! press tour—I’m in a MOOD.)

As I type this, on a fine spring day in January, I don’t think the movie is “exaggerated” or “simplistic,” and I think there was a ton of good stuff in the film, both in terms of comedy and appropriate alarmism. What frustrated me was the way the movie got to its points. I’m going to try to unpack a few thoughts below, and along the way I’ll recommend another movie that unspools on parallel lines to Don’t Look Up, but does a few things better.

[and I feel FINE]

You Should Definitely Add AD/BC: A Rock Opera to Your Holiday Movie List

Every year, people who get paid to write on the internet celebrate a very strange ritual: we try to dig up obscure Christmas specials, or find new angles on popular ones. Thus, we receive epic takedowns of Love Actually; assertions that not only is Die Hard a Christmas movie, it’s the best Christmas movie; and the annual realization that Alf’s Special Christmas is an atrocity. These are all worthy specials, deserving of your limited holiday media time. However, I have not come here to ask you to reconsider anything, or to tell you that something you watch each December 24th is actually garbage—I am here to offer you a gift.

The gift of AD/BC: A Rock Opera.

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An Updated Ranking of All the Superhero Origin Movies I Could Remember

We’re about two decades into an era that history will remember as That Time Humans Demanded At Least Four Comic Book Movies A Year. (I’m guessing this era will be remembered for other things, too, but I’m trying to stay positive for once.) My colleagues and I talk about comics characters pretty much every day, and those conversations lead me to mull a specific type of comic book movie: the Superhero Origin Story.

Before I even knew what was happening, I found myself drawn, inexorably, as if by some powerful destiny, to rank these stories.

In reverse order from worst to best.

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Let’s Talk About the Most Important Scene in Spider-Man: No Way Home

…OK there are a few Most Important Scenes, I’ll admit that.

I might have uhhh screamed, real loud, at least five times during this film. I really loved it, I thought it finally gave the MCU’s Peter Parker a great story of his own, free of Tony Stark and his complications, while also balancing a wide cast of characters and a ton of expectations.

And from here I’ll have to get into spoiler territory, so only come with me if you’ve seen the film, or don’t care about knowing some STUFF.

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A Muppet Family Christmas Is the Greatest Holiday Gift of All

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and their guests dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. In this Very Special Holiday Episode, Leah meditates on The True Meaning of Christmas Parties, with a little help from The Muppets.

I used to host a Christmas party every year.

When I was a kid, and imagined the parties I would host in the future, they were classy cocktail shindigs with Vince Guaraldi playing softly in the background while hilarious people drank stylish drinks, traded witticisms, and made sure to remark on the fabulousness of my Manhattan loft.

This has not quite come to pass. My friends are hilarious, and when I allow them to make the cocktails, rest assured, the drinks are classy AF. (My own tastes run more to ridiculous tiki concoctions that are, calorically, akin to drinking a whole cake. I am a monster.) But the parties themselves aren’t the kind where people stand around being funny—they are Media Extravaganzas.

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Series: Close Reads

On Murderbots and Media: Martha Well’s Network Effect

In the lead-up to the 2021 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

This is Murderbot’s time. I was thinking about it in spring 2020 when Network Effect first came out, as many of us had to adjust to a life in quarantine, with hours and hours that needed to be filled in a way that would distract us from the horrors out in the world, while also hopefully nourishing some deep part of ourselves, that Murderbot was maybe our best model of behavior.

And the more I think about it the more I agree with myself.

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Celebrating the Sheer Weirdness of Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle was my first sci-fi. Maybe also my first fantasy. I read her before Lewis, Tolkien, Adams, Bradbury. I was 11 when I read A Wrinkle in Time, and I quickly burned through all the rest of her YA, and I even dug into her contemplative journals a bit later, as I began to study religion more seriously in my late teens.

My favorite was A Swiftly Tilting Planet (I’m embarrassed to tell you how often I’ve mumbled St. Patrick’s Breastplate into whichever adult beverage I’m using as cheap anesthetic to keep the wolves from the door over this past year) but I read all of her books in pieces, creating a patchwork quilt of memories. I loved the opening of this one, a particular death scene in that one, an oblique sexual encounter in another. Bright red curtains with geometrical patterns, The Star-Watching Rock, hot Nephilim with purple hair—the usual stuff. But as I looked back over L’Engle’s oeuvre and I was struck, more than anything, by the sheer weirdness of her work.

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A Love Letter to Mystery Science Theater 3000

Thirty-three years ago, on November 24, 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered on KTMA, a cable access channel in Minneapolis. In human years, the show is out of college by now (probably), maybe trying to buy a home, or start a family. It bristles when Cheers calls it a millennial—it’s always felt like an old soul, with the references to Get Christie Love and Charlie McCarthy, and-three it gets frustrated when other shows consider it shallow. It’s not just a reference factory, after all. There’s real depth and heart here, if you know how to pay attention.

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The Pros and Cons of the New Cowboy Bebop

The Cowboy Bebop of the 1990s was a delightful show, following Jet and Spike as they bounced from job to job, met Ein, ended up adopting Ein, me Faye, ended up adopting Faye, and finally met Ed, and ended up adopting Ed. The show gave us the adventures of a found family of misfits as they slowly learned to depend on each other. Those adventures were fun, fast-moving, sometimes very violent, and gloried in that decade’s love of mash-up and retro homage. But like fellow ’90s classics The X-Files and Due South, Bebop threaded larger, more serious stories through all the cases of the week and ridiculous banter. Part of why the anime has endured, I think, is that the story of Jet’s old partner, Faye’s pre-cryosleep life, and Spike’s operatic relationships with Vicious and Julia give the hangout episodes a tragic undertone.

Netflix’s update of the show has reconfigured that old balance, sometimes to great effect, but also often to the series’ detriment. Join me for some thoughts and some spoilers!

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