The Apocalyptic Poetry of Paul Dehn

By 1969, British writer Paul Dehn had spent time as a film critic, a spy during World War II, and as a screenwriter of films including Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. But it was his work as a poet that would ultimately link him inextricably with one of the most inventive and socially conscious film series of all time.
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Team Zira

Dr. Zaius gets the coolest songs from The Simpsons.  Caesar gets all of the respect. But, if you ask me who my favorite ape is in the Planet of the Apes series, there’s only one possible answer: Zira.

Zira — actually, that’s Dr. Zira — is a chimpanzee, a scientist,  a pacifist, and half of the husband/wife team of Cornelius and Zira.  Still, even though she’s closely associated with a partner, she’s her own ape, and she’ll let you know about it. Here are reasons to be Team Zira.

She’s Basically Right About Everything


In Planet of the Apes, she figures out everything pretty quickly: That Taylor is intelligent, that he can talk, and that he must prove that apes evolved from not-mute humans. She does this through the awesome power SCIENCE! (And, uh, human lobotomies.) A lot of talk is thrown around in that first movie about what makes someone intelligent, and Zira shows by example, taking in the evidence around her and drawing a conclusion that makes sense, even if it changes her worldview.

She’s Braver Than Cornelius

Or at least more outspoken. In Planet of the Apes, Cornelius is afraid to unearth his discoveries in the Forbidden Zone, fearing they’d be charged with heresy. She pushes him into it. In Escape From the Planet of the Apes, she also urges them reveal the truth about where they come from while Cornelius is being wishy-washy. She doesn’t just understand the truth, she advocates for it.

She Becomes a Feminist Icon


And wears a pantsuit. And gets drunk. Pretty much everything she says and does in Escape From the Planet of the Apes is amazing.

She’s Played by Kim Hunter

Kim Hunter

Aka Stella Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire.  She’s an Oscar winner, y’all.

Where’s the Next Zira?


Like everyone else, I was extremely pleased with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, especially the way the climax of the movie seems to go on forever. If there’s one disappointment, it’s that there wasn’t a Zira equivalent. There were hardly any female apes at all, really — one, Cornelia, was pointed out, but didn’t get to do anything — let alone one as strong and confident as Zira. Cornelia is listed in the IMDb credits for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — played by Judy Greer, no less — so let’s hope she’s cast in the Zira mold.

A ‘Planet of the Apes’ Primer

This weekend’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be the eighth feature film (the second in the new series that began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes) in a franchise that has spanned books, film, television, and comics over the last fifty years. The Apes series, with its popularity, merchandise, and ancillaries, in many ways prefigured the modern franchise era that is generally acknowledged as beginning with Star Wars (and was codified with 1989’s Batman).

That Planet of the Apes became such a sensation is especially interesting because the series is so deeply weird. Full of powerful inversions to go along with the story’s portrait of a world turned upside down, the series was hugely popular with children despite being full of talky moral debate and featuring relentessly downbeat endings. Just as audiences find themselves oriented in a world where the humans are subjugated and apes rule, the series will turn things around and get them to identify with the apes and root against humankind (and then, perhaps, back again). This is a series that extends a further three entries after an ending that would seem to preclude any further stories.

First things first, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you should just go and watch the original series of five films. They’re imaginative adventure films with memorable characters and rich socio-political content, and they’re so full of twists and turns that even if you know the big reveal at the end of the first film there are still plenty of shocking twists and turns in store. Continue reading A ‘Planet of the Apes’ Primer

Ruth Graham, Not Quite Wrong: Why Liking YA Literature Doesn’t Make It Great

Do you read? Do you also read the internet? If so, you might be aware of an article posted on Slate by Ruth Graham, pegged to Fault in Our Stars mania as a film based on that ultra-popular, mega-beloved John Green young-adult novel was poised to make a killing at the box office (it did, albeit in a more Twilight-y way that some might have expected, given its mostly positive reviews). Graham’s piece discussed the phenomenon of adults reading YA literature, and her argument against it. It was dismissive, maybe even a little haughty, and outfitted with a sensationalist headline (backed up by some actual sensationalist prose) about how adults should be embarrassed to read these kinds of books.

And a part of me agreed with her.

Let me be clear: I do not agree with the idea that anyone should be embarrassed by what they read. Though I don’t use my degree in Library Science (I prefer the Dark Arts of Libraries, but that’s not what the diploma says) often, one thing I did take away from my professors, many of them with experience as school or public librarians, was that reading is reading is reading. It is a net positive, no matter what it is that’s being read. We all have things we read that we could, in different contexts or historical periods, be embarrassed about: comic books, Choose Your Own Adventure, romance novels, Garfield books, Animorphs, Twilight, Slate. There is no reason to be embarrassed by what you read because whatever it is, you have it over on someone who does not read at all.

Strangely, although reading is generally seen as a more worthwhile pursuit than watching things, the stigma attached to watching the “wrong” things seems far smaller, far easier to laugh off. People talk about how they watch those Real Housewives shows all the time. As a movie guy who prides himself on having pretty good taste, I’m not embarrassed to have seen Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and I’m not even embarrassed to have seen and enjoyed a number of Resident Evil movies. I’m sure some people would be, but I wonder if the general academic/education notion that sitting in front of the TV (or, now, screenamajig) was generally bad for you (save the occasional ingestion of PBS) was in vogue for so long that some are still working through the distinction between bad TV and just TV, in terms of potential embarrassment. I understand that the alleged extremely high quality of television gets a lot of press these days, but I’m speaking in terms of culture-at-large perceptions here, not necessarily of the pop-culture-studies AV Club audience.

In any event: on the matter of embarrassment, regardless of how tongue-in-cheek and/or attention-baiting its use was intended, Graham is incorrect. Friend of and hopefully future contributor to Jen Vega wrote a very smart piece further dismantling much of Graham’s argument in a thoughtful, measured way. Graham is wrong about a lot.

That said, again:

A part of me agreed with her.
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OK Go Ahead and Watch This Now

When I go see a concert, I hardly ever buy the album from the opening band. It’s not that I never wind up liking the opening band. It’s just shelling out for merch so quickly is a big commitment. I need to go home, consider, do some research, and make sure that band will still sound good to me in the harsh light of day, after the excitement of the gig has worn off.

Except there was that one time…

I hardly ever buy EPs. Maybe I did at some point, before the Hype Machine and SoundCloud and Spotify made it I could have access to the few EP songs that are worthwhile to me.

Except there was that one time…

Those “one time” were the same time. It was a cold November in 2000, and I was at the Bowery Ballroom to see They Might Be Giants–as you do. There was something different about the opening band. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I do remember being excited that they played “Panic”. They had two EPs, and I bought them both.

And then they became famous for doing crazy videos. That’s cool, too. Probably better than being known for a Smiths cover, in fact.

The latest of their crazy videos is out today. Watch it below.


See, I knew they had something. Is that all one take? I particularly like the part with the boxes.

Slow Your Roll, Nerds: Ten Reasons a New Jurassic Park Might Not Be So Good

Hold on to your butts: Jurassic Park 4 (known as Jurassic World) has entered production and is currently slotted for a Summer 2015 release. This announcement should have left me in a drooly nerd-coma, but honestly, it’s left me fraught with worry. I’m talking Timmy-on-the-electric-fence worried. Here are ten sources of my worry, and why I’m not assuming this Jurassic World movie is going to be the second-slash-fourth coming we’re all hoping for. Continue reading Slow Your Roll, Nerds: Ten Reasons a New Jurassic Park Might Not Be So Good

Disney Animated Witches, Ranked

We’re talking Disney animated feature films only, here. No Pixar, no Marvel, no Magica De Spellno Hocus Pocus. We can argue about what constitutes a witch later. For now, in honor of the live-action Maleficent, here’s an up-to-date ranking of the ladies I’ve determined to be animated Disney witches.

10. The Enchantress
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
She sets the events of the movie in motion, but only appears in the stained-glass prologue. Stained glass will never haunt your nightmares. 

The Enchantress

9. Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen
The Black Cauldron (1985)
Only my sister and I have fond memories of this movie, which our grandma snuck us into after a showing of Flight of the Navigator. Even then, I only remember Gurgi, and nothing of these witches.

Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen

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Let’s Talk about X[-Men: Days of Future Past], Baby

So: X-Men Days of Future Past came out. It got some good reviews and made some good money and generally re-affirmed the X-Men as a big franchise for Fox that nonetheless doesn’t have quite the same cross-demographic appeal as an Iron Man or Batman movie (it may, however, become the first X-Men movie to outgross a Spider-Man movie — then again, X-Men: The Last Stand may retroactively gain that title against Amazing Spider-Man 2, too).

In an ideal world, we’d have a post-movie podcast for you, but 2/5 of the founding editors have been afflicted with a variety of maladies over the past two weeks, and that’s not counting whatever other diseases may be circulating our upstate offices. Our healing factor is decidedly unWolverinelike and I can’t really hear out of my left ear at the moment so any podcast would be like forty percent me going WHAT?! (though if we had done a podcast after X-Men: The Last Stand, that number would have been more like 78%, for different reasons).

What we can offer is a little X-Men discussion forum, so please, by all means, respond to the prompts below or just talk about your unrelated X-Men experience. Spoilers likely abound.

Stray Comments:

–While the movies insist on making Wolverine a major character in most of their stories, this may be the first X-Men movie to really use Wolverine as part of the X-team and without working in his personal issues or feelings of ambiguity toward the idea of X-Men into the center of the story (though his personal issues do loom in the background).

–I think it’s probably safe to say the “Singer is OK but he can’t really direct action” stuff should be put to bed considering the portal-hopping sequence and the Quicksilver sequence. I would have been fine with putting it to bed after X2; on the other hand, I’m sure this will somehow be a chief objection to X-Men: Apocalypse in two years, assuming he gets to make that movie.

–It’s easy to imagine a version of this series that turns Xavier/Charles/Mystique into a Bad YA-style love triangle, so extra props for that being dramatically fertile material both here and in First Class.

–I’ve heard lots of talk of how this movie actually makes the credits stinger from The Wolverine make zero sense, but after talking it out, actually, I think it totally makes sense. When we join the future X-Men in DOFP, Wolverine is fully committed to fighting with them against the Sentinels. So when he’s approached by Professor X and Magneto two years after the events of The Wolverine, they’re recruiting him when the Sentinels are starting to become a threat. This does not explain how Xavier got his body back from where we left him post-credits in X-Men: The Last Stand, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not saying there aren’t continuity hiccups here and there, but I think the Wolverine thing is actually solid.

Stray Questions:

–Is McAvoy now officially your favorite Professor X? Much love to Patrick Stewart, who I’m pretty sure was the original (and only?) oft-fan-cast actor to actually work out, but McAvoy does a lot of the heavy lifting in this new movie, acting-wise.

–Quicksilver: Everyone’s new favorite X-Man? I never read any comics with him. What’s he like in them and how might he be different in The Avengers 2, which somehow also has the rights to use him?

–By actually doing a time-travel story that changes whether previous movies have happened or not, did the X-Men series actually and possibly accidentally become the most comics-faithful movie series ever?

–Who do you want to see on the team in X-Men: Apocalypse? And what will be credit-teased in that movie? X-Men Origins: Gambit?

–There are now seven X-Men movies. Rank ’em out!

Godzilla Week!

Run in terror before‘s week of Godzilla coverage! We’ve got:

…a Godzilla primer for the uninitiated.

…a rundown of Godzilla’s appearance through the ages.

…a list of suitable opponents, should a sequel arise.

…a look into Godzilla’s work as a TV pitchman and general celebrity.

…a work of short fiction (or is it a memoir?) about the disappointment of seeing Godzilla in 1998.

…a look back at the four movies titled Godzilla (including a reaction to the new film!).

…and a Tumblr where you can see one of our founders as a youth attending a Godzilla convention in a tie-dyed Star Wars t-shirt.

Every Adam Sandler Comedy, Ranked

Adam Sandler has never been a critical darling. This information is practically a cliché; even the movies now regarded as his early, funny ones didn’t exactly receive glowing notices during their original runs, and as the audience that enjoyed his early comedies aged into possible critical-establishment roles, they, too, came to lament the low quality of his vehicles. As a former fifteen-year-old, I think I can attest that this isn’t just grumpiness or nostalgia setting in: I dutifully see Adam Sandler comedies not because they’re usually good, but because they can be good, and I want them to be good. Regardless of what we pointy-headed types may look at as diminished returns, Sandler has remained a popular movie star (in his comedies, at least) for close to twenty years by this point. He may not have hit the same box office or critical highs as fellow SNL players turned movie stars like Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, but in terms of pure numbers, he’s probably the most financially successful (depending on how you count Eddie Murphy’s more erratic mix of massive hits and huge flops).

Though they do vary in quality, it’s his consistency that has come to define his career. The sheer uniformity of his output remains almost unmatched: the vast majority of movies starring Adam Sandler come from his Happy Madison production company, with multiple writing, directing, and/or producing credits from Sandler’s usual gang of buddies, associates, and hangers-on (for these purposes, movies made with Sandler’s usual screenwriters, producers, and/or directors before the official creation of the Happy Madison shingle count towards that total).

This includes the twenty-one movies that I’ve fudged into a top (or bottom) twenty below. This list does not include the more serious movies he has made for other people every two to four years (Punch-Drunk Love; Spanglish; Reign Over Me; Funny People); his voiceover work in Hotel Transylvania (borderline, because it features Sandler’s buddies in supporting roles and a co-writing credit from Robert Smigel, but is also very much of the Sony Animation house style and presumably would have been made without Sandler’s participation); or his sole action-comedy, Bulletproof. Sandler also did supporting roles in a couple of unsuccessful comedies in 1994: Airheads and Mixed Nuts. I have seen them both; let’s leave it at that.

For each Official Adam Sandler Comedy, I’ve included notes on which of Sandler’s team of SNL writers (most often Tim Herlihy; sometimes Fred Wolf, Robert Smigel, or Steve Koren) and journeyman directors (Dennis Dugan, Frank Coraci, Peter Segal, Steve Brill) get credit, along with counts of how many SNL performers he manages to hire. I have not included Allen Covert, Peter Dante, or Jonathan Loughran in these counts; just assume that all of them are in all of these movies and that Covert produces most of them, even if that’s not literally true. I’m also avoiding doing a Nick Swardson tally. He’s been in eight of these. It feels like more. Finally, I’ve noted Sandler’s myriad love interests, not only because they represent a surprisingly and weirdly diverse cross-section of name actresses from the past few decades, but also because it’s worth noting how many of them are significantly younger than he is, even (especially) when he’s playing a total man-child.

Sandler’s consistency makes the task of ranking his films perhaps even more fruitless than the usual list-making; both his best and his worst can be considered toss-ups, especially when you subtract the easy outs of Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, which are the two best movies he’s actually appeared in. But closer study does reveal not just the way Sandler repeats himself, but the way his repetitions accommodate subtle shifts, occasional jumps in quality or particularly ill-advised detours. (Longer essays or reviews I’ve written about some of these films are linked to their titles, when available.)

Herewith, your intro to those Adam Sandler studies.
Continue reading Every Adam Sandler Comedy, Ranked