Marvel-less

As the capstone of an 11-year cinematic journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame was so thoroughly conclusive and satisfying that it has made me consider giving up on the MCU.

Seriously, how can you top this:

I’m sure someone can “well, actually” me about other even more epic crossover events in the comics or whatever. But I’m not a comics person. I have no connection to the Marvel universe beyond the films themselves.

And I’ve been a big fan of them! I wrote a positive review of Iron Man for my college newspaper at the time and have engaged with the MCU ever since. That’s probably why life as a casual fan post-Endgame has been a bit bewildering.

My only foray has been WandaVision. We signed up for a year of Disney+ back in March 2020, pretty much right after COVID-19 lockdown started, so we had it for just enough time to watch that show—but none of the subsequent ones—before our subscription expired.

I didn’t resubscribe mostly because Disney’s megathread on Twitter back in December announcing the next few years’ worth of movies and shows coming to theaters and Disney+ broke my brain a little bit. The prospect of the MCU metastasizing even further beyond its already expansive ambit forced me to consider how much time and energy the next phase is worth. (Or is it phases? I don’t know phases.)

The bottom line is: I’m OK with skipping whatever is on Disney+ (that’s what Wikipedia summaries are for) and I’m still open to seeing (some of) the forthcoming movies, though the threshold for seeing them in theaters versus waiting until they’re on DVD/Blu-ray will be high. I’ll let critical acclaim and my personal interest sort that out on an individual basis.

In the meantime, I look back on the journey to Endgame fondly. It remains a monumental achievement, and one I’ll treasure revisiting one day with Mr. 2 Years Old.

French Dispatch from a Remington Portable 3

Finally took some time to clean up this 1931 Remington Portable 3 with Mr. 2 Years Old, who understandably couldn’t keep his hands off of it. Aside from a faded ribbon, some dried chunks of rubber rattling around inside, and tons of dust bunnies (the compressed air can was a big hit), it’s working fine.

I got it over two years ago from my mother-in-law, who had gotten it for free from someone in her book club. It’s now the oldest typewriter in my collection by almost a decade.

Though it was made in the United States, the keyboard contains French diacritics, most notably the accent (`), cedilla (ç), circumflex (ˆ), and diaeresis (¨). The combination of the latter two on one typebar makes for a rather expressive key top:

The other notable feature (at least for my collection) is that the machine is attached to the base of the carrying case:

The rest of the case pops on and off fairly easily, and contains a little compartment presumably for storing supplies or secret dossiers.

Though I’m looking to slim down my collection, I think I’ll hold onto this one. It’s a fun typer and very solid for a portable. Vive la dactylographiée!

Media of the moment

An ongoing series of what I’ve read, seen, and heard lately

Schmigadoon. Though its story is a little loose at the edges throughout the show’s short six-episode run, the central conceit of a couple getting stuck inside the world of an old-timey musical was a fun journey. Watch out for “Corn Puddin’” because it’s an earworm. More TV musicals please!

Ted Lasso, season 2. Will be curious to see how this season fills out as a whole, but nothing can damper my love of the best show on TV. We really enjoyed the stretch of a couple weeks in July and August when we could watch the latest episodes of this and Schmigadoon as an uplifting and wholesome Friday night double feature.

Crimson Tide. So, this ruled. And made me really miss seeing Gene Hackman in movies.

In the Heights (movie and soundtrack). Seeing this was my first time back in the theater since February 2020, and I’ve had the soundtrack pretty much on repeat since. Favorite little moments: “damn, we only jokin’, stay broke then” and the It’s A Wonderful Life reference.

Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson. My favorite author strikes again.

A Quiet Place / A Quiet Place Part II. Being horror-averse I put off the first one for a while, basically until I saw the excellent reviews for Part II and realized they’re not actually horror but more of the “momentarily scary well-made thriller” variety, which I’m down with.

Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West by Cameron Blevins. Shoutout to the post office.

Showbiz Kids. Affecting documentary on HBO Max featuring former child actors talking about their past and present struggles.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. I’ve never listened to the podcast this book is based on, but still enjoyed Green’s unique, earnest, and wry literary voice shining through this collection of essays.

Favorite Films of 2004

I’m creating my annual movie lists retroactively. See all of them.

As a freshman/sophomore in high school, this year provided me several memorable theater experiences, including the last great M. Night Shyamalan movie, some surprisingly excellent sequels, and a romance that inspired one of my very first blog posts.

But chief among these theatrical outings were Anchorman and Dodgeball. Both were instrumental to the development of my comedic sensibility (for better or worse), having hit me and my peers at the exact right age for maximum effect and quotability. A shocking amount of lines remain lodged in my subconscious to this day, just waiting to be deployed—much to my wife’s puzzlement or annoyance.

I can’t defend everything about them. A recent rewatch of Dodgeball confirmed just how much of its comedy wouldn’t survive into today. But dammit, if “We’re better than you, and we know it!” and “I immediately regret this decision!” and countless other references are wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

On to the list…

1. Before Sunset

The Before series is one of four trilogies I own on DVD, the others being Back to the Future, Die Hard (4 and 5 don’t count), and Lord of the Rings. Unlike with those series, this second movie is the best of the trilogy.

2. The Incredibles

This is at #3 in my Pixar rankings, behind WALL-E and Toy Story. Such a beautiful, exhilarating vision from Brad Bird.

3. Shaun of the Dead

I think about this film essay on Edgar Wright’s visual comedy a lot. While my opinions vary on his films, there’s no denying his filmmaking prowess, which is nearly Wes Anderson-esque in its distinctness.

4. The Village

The last great M. Night Shyamalan movie. I know the twist is divisive, but it worked for me, as did the gorgeous James Newton Howard score, the crackling chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the murderers row of character actors.

5. Anchorman

Within Pewit’s Nest gorge in Baraboo, Wisconsin, you can wade down Skillet Creek and jump off small cliffs into pools within the creek. I was there several years ago with a few people when I clambered up one of these cliffs and, right before jumping, delivered Ron Burgundy’s poolside monologue to those nearby, punctuated with a cannonball into the water just like in the movie. To my chagrin, no one understood the reference and therefore probably considered me a disturbed weirdo. I should have capped it with “Don’t act like you’re not impressed…”

6. Collateral

Tom Cruise needs to play more villains.

7. Miracle

Not all live-action Disney sports movies work, but this one just straight-up does. And like most good sports movies, you don’t need to know much about the sport.

8. Ocean’s Twelve

Saw this with a group of friends, and we decided to get dressed up for a fancy night at the movies just to emulate the suaveness of the cast. This is usually ranked last in the trilogy, but it’s not far behind Thirteen.

9. Friday Night Lights

The show was good, but this was great. My introduction to the music of Explosions in the Sky.

10. I, Robot

This holds up, not only as sci-fi dystopian action but as a Will Smith vehicle during his late prime.

Honorable mentions:

  • National Treasure
  • Team America: World Police
  • Spider-Man 2
  • Vera Drake
  • 50 First Dates
  • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Kill Bill Vol. 2
  • Kung Fu Hustle
  • The Notebook
  • Shrek 2
  • Spanglish
  • Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!

Siskel & Ebert, Mark Driscoll, and the Power of Popularity

Among the podcasts in my regular rotation, there are two others I’m listening to that are both limited series, airing concurrently, and happen to share a surprising thematic overlap.

One is Gene and Roger, an eight-part Spotify-exclusive series from The Ringer that serves as an oral history of Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and their movie criticism legacy. The other is The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today, which charts the story of Mars Hill Church and its controversial pastor Mark Driscoll.

What’s the connection between these two disparate stories? The epiphany came after listening to recent episodes of both shows, released on the same day.

For the brand

“Top Guns” finds Siskel and Ebert reaching new heights of exposure, popularity, and power through their TV show and “two thumbs up” brand. Meanwhile, “The Brand” follows Driscoll as he and Mars Hill’s burgeoning marketing team harness technology and internet to build his personal brand and rocket the church’s growth.

Both subjects became celebrities within their domains despite their unlikely origins, unorthodox approaches, and often prickly demeanor. Whatever criticism that came their way—like for the reductive sloganeering of Siskel and Ebert’s “two thumbs up” and for Driscoll’s macho masculinity and objectification of women—was overshadowed by their surprising success and cultural ubiquity.

Movies and machismo

Though I was too young to watch Siskel and Ebert together on TV at the time, I was a regular viewer of the post-Siskel iteration with Richard Roeper and even the post-Ebert version with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Before podcasts and social media, this was the only time I could see intelligent people arguing about movies. You also couldn’t be a film lover and understand what it means to write and think about movies without Ebert’s influence specifically. (His Great Movies anthologies are an essential resource, and the documentary Life Itself is a great primer on his life and work.)

Driscoll had a similar influence within American Christianity. I listened to his sermon podcasts through iTunes in the early 2010s, back when they were usually topping the Religion charts (and back when I was still listening to sermons). Driscoll’s tough-guy personality and the reported toxic culture of Mars Hill eventually turned me off, but his cultural cache lived on—probably peaking with his infamous trolling of Obama for his second Inauguration—until Mars Hill’s demise less than two years later on account of Driscoll’s bullying and “patterns of persistent sinful behavior”.

The beauty of synchronicity

The comparisons do fade at some point. The end of Siskel and Ebert—as a show and as individuals—was caused by untimely illness, while it was Driscoll’s behavior that led to his disgrace.

Still, it was a synchronistic delight to catch both of these excellent podcasts at the right moment to hear how seemingly unrelated stories can inform each other. One of the benefits of subscribing to (probably) too many podcasts…

Podcasts of the moment

I won’t do this quite as often as Media of the Moment, but I think it’s interesting to check in every once in a while with my podcast lineup and habits, since they do change over time for various reasons.

What hasn’t changed since my last dispatch: I listen to too many podcasts, and/but I’m still quick to skip episodes as desired.

What has changed: I’ve transitioned to Spotify (free version), and I listen at 1.5x speed.

I’m not super happy about the first one, but once four of my regular listens went Spotify-exclusive I decided to bite the bullet for the sake of a unified podcast listening experience, however frustrating it can be. There’s still one holdout stranded in Apple Podcasts because Spotify doesn’t allow for adding podcasts by custom URL, but otherwise that’s where I live.

Anyway, here’s the current lineup:

Regular Listens

  • Armchair Expert
  • The Big Picture
  • Dare to Lead with Brene Brown
  • Filmspotting
  • Judge John Hodgman
  • The Office Deep Dive
  • Office Ladies
  • The Rewatchables
  • 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt
  • Unlocking Us with Brene Brown

Depends on the Subject/Guest

  • The Bill Simmons Podcast
  • Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
  • The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
  • The Dispatch Podcast
  • The Ezra Klein Show
  • On Being
  • Revisionist History
  • Slate Political Gabfest
  • SmartLess
  • Typology

My professional pantheon

I now have my own office at work, along with a bookshelf I don’t have much to put on. So I moved the figurines I used to keep on my desk to the top of the bookshelf and christened them my professional pantheon. Here’s what they are and what I’ll look to them for.

Top:

  • Liberty Bell pencil holder (for… promoting freedom?)
  • LEGO DeLorean (for pondering paradoxes)

Bottom, from left:

  • Bobblehead of Dwight Schrute from The Office (for staying weird)
  • A pirate (for finding adventure)
  • A book-reading giraffe from Tanzania (for seeking wisdom)
  • Abraham Lincoln bobblehead (for inspiring my better angels)
  • Deluxe Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure set (for reppin’ that #librarylife)

5 tips for planning a wedding

Wedding season has got me thinking about what I learned from my own experience putting together a wedding six years ago. Here’s what I got.

Pick four things to really care about.

Wedding planning is chock-full of choices, but you can’t care about everything equally unless you want to have a mental breakdown. Pick four things that really matter to you and invest some thought/time/money into making them happen. For my wife it was a good photographer (see below) and good flowers, and for me it was enjoying the time with our friends and having a fun reception. Everything else we tried to keep in perspective. (You will fail at this. Just try.)

Invest in a good photographer.

We considered and met with a few photographers before landing on the final choice, who also did our engagement shoot. Outside of the venue, this was probably the single biggest expense but what we got were exceptional photos that captured the whole experience beautifully and remain treasured artifacts from the day.

Do the receiving line leading into the reception.

Don’t go around to each table during the reception assuming you’ll get to talk to everyone. You’ll get stuck in chitchat, waste valuable party time, and won’t even talk to everyone. If your venue and schedule can swing it, do the receiving line leading into the reception so everyone gets face-time and then it’s out of the way.

Have a buffer day between wedding and honeymoon.

I do not understand the people who fly out the night of their wedding or even the next day. Not only did we have a bunch of stuff to bring back from the venue to our place, we also had to repack for the honeymoon and have some time to decompress and process the incredible day we’d had. You’ll appreciate that transition time before heading off onto the next adventure.

Pick the right spouse.

This will make everything easier and much more enjoyable.

Mad Max on the Feminism Road

mad max fury road reaction gif

Really enjoyed this post from Freddie de Boer about his frustration with the common misinterpretation of Mad Max: Fury Road as “Furiosa replaces Max in a Mad Max movie”—a take that’s entirely false:

It’s important to understand that Furiosa doesn’t replace Max because the entire movie demonstrates the failure of dictatorship and the superiority of communal leadership. It’s not about men being erased in deference to women; it would be totally bizarre for a movie with that intent to place so much agency in its male characters. (Nux’s sacrifice saves the lives of the remaining characters, to pick an obvious example.) It’s about the superiority of democracy and shared governance and diversity over the the whims of an individual autocrat.

He then links this framework to how a “new masculinity”, embodied by Max, can be “unthreatened by the strengths and abilities of others” while joining with the ideal version of feminism:

Feminism is not about women replacing men in an equally stratified and undemocratic structure as the patriarchy that preceded it; that’s a parody of feminism. Feminism is about equality, diversity, communalism, and radical democracy. Indeed, the movie models consensus and communal deliberation for us. When they stop and discuss whether to continue on the salt flats or turn back for the Citadel, Max and Furiosa do most of the talking, but everyone weighs in and is heard. Furiosa doesn’t lead by fiat. She listens and becomes convinced, as do the rest, and they all make a plan together. Max isn’t erased; he’s a valued and essential part of the whole, just as white men will be in the new world of democracy and equality we are building.

In that group discussion on the salt flats—one of the few quiet moments of the movie—Max concludes his case to Furiosa thusly:

Look, it’ll be a hard day. But I guarantee you that 160 days riding that way, there’s nothing but salt. At least that way, we might be able to, together, come across some kind of redemption.

What a great metaphor! The path towards a better world is hard and painful, but retreating away from it is worse in the long run. “The obstacle is the way,” as Ryan Holiday would say.

Might be time for a Fury Road rewatch.

Stargazing with WALL-E

Spent the holiday weekend at my wife’s family’s beach community, where they do a fireworks show every year on the beach. (Read my 2017 reflection about this experience.)

Though it was fun to watch Little Man experience fireworks for the first time, my personal highlight was being able to see the clear night sky without much light pollution for the first time in a while. And, man, was it glorious to behold.

All that love’s about

It echoed a moment that stood out in our recent rewatch of WALL-E, which we decided to try with Little Man after he gravitated to a WALL-E toy at Target (probably because it looked like a truck).

In the film’s transcendent first act, WALL-E pauses during his garbage collection routine and looks up to the sky just as the otherwise dense smog clears just enough for him to see stars. “It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly! underscores the moment, specifically at the line “And that is all that love’s about.”

This is a lovely bit of foreshadowing for later in the movie, when WALL-E and EVE perform their fire extinguisher-fueled space ballet among the stars—a scene I love so much I named it one of my favorite movie music moments. (The movie itself is #2 on my best of 2008 list.)

The robot toddler

Another takeaway from the movie this time around was something I couldn’t have realized before having a kid: WALL-E embodies all the best characteristics of toddlers.

He’s diligent, curious, enthusiastic, loving, loyal, temperamental. He’s a tinkerer who tosses aside a diamond ring because he’s more interested in the box it came in. He’s eager to show EVE all his toys when she visits his home. He basically has two speeds: inching along or sprinting. He’s charmingly clumsy, quick to make friends, and an accidental agent of chaos—but one that ultimately brings life to those around him.

In short, an excellent role model, and not just for kids. Here’s to all of us being more like WALL-E.