Dreaming of a Future: RADWIMPS’ “Weekly Shonen Jump”

By Michael W. Harris

RADWIMPS is a Japanese band I first became familiar with via their music for Makoto Shinkai’s beautiful anime film Your Name, and whose music I will forever associate with my final months in Virginia—a time of my life that will forever stir up complex and uncertain emotions. And while the exact memories and images of places accumulated in my ten months at the College of William & Mary have already begun to fade as I settle into my new life in Memphis, the music of RADWIMPS will always yank me back to the sidewalks and streets of Williamsburg, VA.

The music of the group is a mélange of styles, ranging from hip-hop to rock, but the majority of their music would fall into what I would squarely call pop. And catchy, sensible pop at that. So it was that shortly after falling into the world of Shinkai and Your Name, I quickly downloaded all the albums and EPs that I could and put them on repeat. Which is to say that I had listened to most of their catalog prior to moving to Memphis, and which is why I find it curious that it was not until after I had moved that I had the experience of being stopped in my tracks by the song “Weekly Shonen Jump.” Continue reading “Dreaming of a Future: RADWIMPS’ “Weekly Shonen Jump””

It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This is part three of a series on Alex Garland’s films, if you have not already, you should probably read Part I on Sunshine and Part II on Ex Machina before diving in.

Almost any film (or narrative story) is about “the journey.” It is what gives a character their arc and shows their growth. Sometimes there is a very literal metaphor of this arc with a character climbing a mountain or driving across the country with a friend or their father’s ashes…or Einstein’s brain. Regardless, something they all have in common, though, is that the journey is the means by which the character grows. This is the essence of “The Hero’s Journey” and the well-trodden Joseph Campbell Hero With a Thousand Faces and what not.

But what about a film that is not about the hero’s journey and how it changes them? What about a film in which the journey itself is the point? A journey that, while somehow revelatory of the character and either their motivations for the journey or society as a whole, rather than changing them or causing them to grow as a person, instead ends up either not affecting them or, if anything, leaving them worse off for making the trip.

These kinds of films are about how what is being journeyed through reflects or, in the case of Annihilation, refracts back on the person or society. Continue reading “It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation”

Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H

 

By Michael W. Harris

The gang’s all here

I try not to identify a lot with fictional characters—the Fantastic Four aside. It is hard, though. Fiction is designed to engage us on an emotional level, draw us in and create moments of reflection within us. Growing up, as strange as it may sound, one of the characters I identified with most was Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit. Continue reading “Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H”

The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina

By Michael W. Harris

Yes, what will happen?

If there is one question left in my brain at the end of Ex Machina, it is “who was the true villain of the film?” For so much of its runtime we are left in a state of unease at the actions and personality of its erstwhile genius creator Nathan (Oscar Issac)—some sort Steve Jobs crossed with Mark Zuckerberg crossed with Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist—and we wonder when the other shoe will drop. Nathan is erratic, quick to anger and just as quick to soften; unpredictable, clearly an alcoholic, and also paranoid. His security measures prove to be his very undoing, and also cause the death of his unwitting test subject/examiner, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), one of Nathan’s employees who is there to perform a Turing Test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), Nathan’s android creation.

There is not a lot of set-up to the film—we are quickly dumped into the beginnings of the story which is slowly unwound for us via dialogue—which works because Caleb is just as clueless as the audience. Nathan, on the outside, would seem to be the picture of the cool, laid back, Silicon Valley billionaire. A brilliant, youthful genius whose ambition is outpaced only by his reckless and odd behavior. Continue reading “The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina”

Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)

By Michael W. Harris

Our world is dying…

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), written by the future Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) writer/director Alex Garland, was, for me, the film from which I learned the phrase “third act problems.” In this way, it was a seminal film in my development as a critical viewer and analyzer of the cinematic arts. And yet, despite these problems, it remains, in my regard, an outstanding example of the science fiction genre and a film that I whole heartedly recommend.

The following essay had its start in my long delayed hauntology project (I promise that will begin posting soon), but in the process of streamlining that series and removing a number of films because the essays I was writing kept getting longer, I decided that both Sunshine and Ex Machina did not really fit with the themes I was developing…though Sunshine was heartbreaking to remove because I do want more people to watch it, flaws and all. Continue reading “Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)”

Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma

By Michael W. Harris

Yep, this is a show I legit love!

Shokugeki no Soma, aka Food Wars!, is a strange anime. It is a show with its central focus on the world of a gourmet cooking academy in Japan, albeit one with a large, sprawling campus, a huge student base, though also is a school rigorous enough that students are routinely culled in intense examinations and trials. It is categorized as a: comedy anime, a slice of life show (it is essentially a high school series after all), a competition/battle anime (most of its story arcs revolve around the titular “Food War” battles), and also an ecchi series (or semi-erotic/sexy anime, in this case the clothes of various characters are routinely blown off as a way of demonstrating just how intense and flavorful the food is). As with any ecchi series, yes, many of the women are drawn without regard to realistic body proportions, but dammit if the show isn’t a hell of a lot of fun and also funny. And the actual food wars, or shokugeki, are absolutely thrilling and really make me want to do more cooking, or at the very least experiment more in the kitchen.

And it is the food wars that I want to to talk about a bit more here, or one in particular that occurred in the first half of season 3: Yukihira Soma (our main character) vs. Eizan Etsuya (a member of the school’s Elite Ten council of students).

For any of this to make sense, though, I should probably explain a few things first. Continue reading “Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma”

Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

By Michael W. Harris

One of the items I acquired over Christmas 2016 was the recent Funimation box set of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a 2006/2009 anime based on a series of popular Japanese light novels. I had heard many recommendations for this series, and the basic idea of it sounded both weird and fascinating: a high school girl who is an unknowing all-powerful being who might accidentally wipe out existence if she gets bored. The trailer for Funimation’s release of the series gives a decent overview:

This clip also gives a hint at a fascinating scene that occurs in episode six (of the chronological ordering…yes there are various viewing orders and it is somewhat confusing so just read this) when Haruhi has created a “closed space” dimension and sucked our poor, snarky protagonist Kyon into it with her. During a climactic moment when Kyon realizes what he needs to do to escape with Haruhi the closing minutes of the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony #8 kicks in. The sequence lasts for almost 4 ½ minutes and features a seemingly unbroken stretch of the movement. Continue reading “Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”

Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III

By Michael W. Harris

N.B.—This is a lightly edited form of my remarks delivered at the 2016 Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference held in Atlanta and the 2016 Music and the Moving Image conference held at New York University. Hence why this is nearly twice the length of my normal post.

James Horner has been a divisive figure in the film music community, fandom and scholarship alike, for many years. The cause of this division stems from Horner’s predilection for not only lifting material from other composers—Sergei Prokofiev and Dimitri Shostakovich to name but two—but also from routinely recycling material from his own scores. But the legal debate over copyright and plagiarism is best left to the Hollywood lawyers, but understanding the debate surrounding Horner is important. Continue reading “Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III”

There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films

How do you solve a problem like viewing order?
How do you solve a problem like viewing order?

By Michael W. Harris

Well, I finally did it. I watched all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films back to back to back to back to back to back, and all in their Extended Editions (the only way to watch the films, as will be assumed throughout this post). That’s almost 21 hours of movie, to say nothing of breaks for cooking food, taking periodic walks, let alone sleep and other necessities. But throughout my viewing, the question lingered: what is the right viewing order of these six films? A film series I hereby dub the Tolkien Hexalogy, for lack of a better term.

Back when the final Hobbit film was released, an article on Medium.com was published that gave a number of possible viewing orders outside of the obvious options of story chronology option (Hobbit followed by Lord of the Rings), which is the how I watched them over two days this past week, or the release order (Rings followed by Hobbit). But none of the orders in the Medium article really resonated with me, and I mused if there was a viewing order that solved some of the viewing issues with the Hobbit films (somewhat bloated storyline, spoilers and foreshadowing for Lord of the Rings that might not make sense without seeing those films, etc.) the way that the rightfully famous Machete Order makes the Star Wars prequels watchable.

So what I will present in this post is my Machete inspired Tolkien Hexalogy viewing order, but just as Rod Hilton starts off his Machete Order post with some disclaimers, I feel like I must first tackle the elephant in the room… Continue reading “There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films”

Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This was written the Sunday after the election, after Leonard Cohen’s death, and after Saturday Night Live’s masterful blending of so much of the country’s reaction to both. It is going up a week later only due to my writing schedule.

It was just one of those weeks. When it seemed like the universe just knew what was going to happen and have a plan. Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died in November 7th but it was not announced until the 10th. Regardless, it was a double whammy to many coming so close to the American presidential election, and indeed one of Cohen’s most famous songs, the wistful, gospel like “Hallelujah,” seemed to sum up so much of our somber reaction to the news that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

So it was that Saturday Night Live opened their post-election episode with Kate McKinnon performing “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton, white pantsuit and all. Continue reading “Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music”