Saturday, February 25, 2012

How soon is too soon to start studying the nineties? a decade of cultural failure?

Let's look at this for a moment: brought to you by BuzzFeed, 48 Pictures that Perfectly Capture the 90's.

These pictures are a lot of things--they are funny. They are dorky. They are very, very accurate in capturing the decade none of us could ever forget, because we grew up there.

Besides this--quirky, kind of silly, mismatched, weird--there aren't a lot of adjectives that come to mind when you imagine the 90's. There are a lot of nouns, mostly proper nouns--Lisa Frank! Will Smith! Full House!--but it doesn't seem to have the same niche in our cultural consciousness as many other decades from the 21st century. 1990 was more than 20 years ago, but you aren't going to see anybody throwing 90's themed parties.

It's kind of an indescribable era--one can tell, one can feel, if you will, when something is "90's," but it's nearly impossible to explain why. It was a strange transitional period between the so-bad-it's-good style and media from the 80's, but not quite the shiny tech-laced era we spent the past ten years in. For this reason, as well as others, I contend that the 1990's was a decade of cultural failure.

People will protest this statement--Krista, they will say, what about Rugrats? What about Madonna? And they are correct! There are a variety of good things that came out of the nineties. Let's take a look:

  • Children's television
    • The nineties is characterized by television, namely animated shows on Nickelodeon, and animated Disney films, that were aimed at children but have the vitality to still be enjoyable to those same children today, as they become adults. Finding the balance between subtle adult humor and plots and characters that children would also enjoy was a masterful accomplishment of the decade.
  • Surrealist Music: 

What is happening in any of these? Who knows? What caused the nineties to contain this surrealism? Who knows?

  • Some good movies.
    • Pulp Fiction.
  • Good rap music
    • And for all the good rap, there is some ridiculously bad rap, too. Exhibit A: 
I'm not talking about things that are so-bad-they're-good, because people's opinions on that differ, and to be fair, the nineties is full of things like that. Even so, the quantity of so-bad-it's-good media and fashion in the nineties doesn't nearly reach that of the eighties, and much of it is good for the novelty and the nostalgia, but how much can you actually take? I'm not saying I don't love Saved by the Bell because of how ridiculous it is, and I'm not contending that I didn't watch every episode of Full House when it was on reruns on ABC family--but they aren't quite ridiculous enough to enjoy the way you can enjoy slasher-boom films of the eighties. The Backstreet Boys and NSync are over the top and crazy, but can they even aspire to the over-the-top craziness of their boy-band predecessors like Drop Dead Fred or, more subtly, Tears for Fears? Nineties fashion is hideous, but can it be rocked the way hideous eighties fashion can? 
These women know how crazy they are.
These women think they are normal. 
Further evidence:
Molly Ringwald looks great, and almost elegant! And young!

Candace Cameron, on the other hand, looks sad and old. 
Something that's really significant about the nineties is that the way we see it today is very much characterized by nostalgia--not any sort of longing nostalgia, just a sort of reflective, laughing nostalgia at how ridiculous we were. How ridiculous we just were, less than twenty years ago.

Before I make my next point, let's not rule out that perhaps there is nostalgia for many decades like this, that I can't relate to because I wasn't there. I do desperately wish that I were alive in the eighties, or the fifties, or the twenties...but I can't feel it like I can with the nineties.

Even so! It seems like we have a lot of nostalgia for the nineties, and not a lot else. The reason there is so much nostalgia, and it is so plentiful, is because we didn't actually take anything from the decade. Sitcoms have been drastically changed since then, children's television isn't anywhere near as good, we moved away from the terrible fashion as much as possible, pop has changed entirely. The only thing we really got from the nineties is...

Oh, right. That.
My friends, hipsters came from the nineties.

You know this. I know this. Fred Armisen knows this. For all the Lisa Frank, for all the cheesy, cheesy movies and fluffy rap, all the good natured, value preachin' sitcoms, we took the sad music and strange clothing from Seattle. 

I mean no disrespect to grunge, don't get me wrong. I love grunge, I really do. And I'm sure Seattle is great. 
Let's break it down a bit.

Grunge came about as a reaction to a lot of bad things that were going on in the 90's. Current events of the decade are marked by domestic bombings and civil war--Columbine, the Oklahoma City Boming, the Rwandan Genocide all happened in the nineties. Our military attention switched from Soviet Russia to the Middle East, where we began fighting a culture that we understood even less. Politics are marred by sex scandals and economic problems, resulting in a mistrust of authority. So what does it say about our improvement as a society that the cultural reaction to these negative things is what endured into the millenium? Forget how obnoxious we may find hipsters to be, their cultural basis is sad, and that says some sad things about us.

QED, the nineties was a decade of cultural failure.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


In case you all didn't know, I am a nerd girl.
True life: I'm a nerd girl. Confessions of a Nerd Girl. Hello, my name is Krista, and I am a female nerd.
This is a part of myself that I've been dealing with for some time now, but it's time to share it with the world. I should be proud.
That's right. I'm a dork. I read tons of very culty and strange webcomics. I am excited by video game themed crafts. I listen to They Might Be Giants, Pride, Predjudice, and Zombies is at the top of my reading list, and I can quote Firefly in my sleep.

And I am very, very excited for all the incredibly quirky, campy, nerdy movies that are hitting theaters this summer.

So it's time for a little SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW. No better way to cure the winter blues, right?

(Nerdy) Summer Movie Preview--2012--Filmpocalypse
This April, the movie I am most excited about ever is happening. The Cabin in The Woods. Watch the trailer: 

As far as I can tell from that video, this is a self aware slasher movie (my favorite genre) but it's also somehow also a science fiction movie, has something to do with terrifying government surveillance, zombies (?) a monster in the lake (?) and a curse that happens in the pagan-esque chamber that is apparently in the basement (???)

There really is no way to explain what is happening there. It seems to have all the elements of a good old fashioned cabin-in-the-woods slasher, which it better, considering the title: a group of very stereotypical and unbearable teenagers, a small remote house, a keg, some aspect of zombie or mind control film (a la Evil Dead) and a very creepy gas station with a horrifying hillbilly. 

Side note: creepy gas stations are the only fear I believe I obtained directly from Slasher movies. I drive past about a million run-down convenience stores on my way home from college to get to a Cumberland Farms or a Hess Express, no matter how much I need to use the bathroom or how hungry my car is. Go figure. 

I would be happy enough with a meta-teens in the woods horror film, but this turns that completely on it's head. 

The traditional slasher trailer is about surprise--you begin thinking it's about happy teenagers, at some point, we realize they're getting killed. We aren't surprised by that, we know the tricks. Thus, the traditional meta-trailer: we see the happy teens, we predict the killer, soon after comes some aspect of comedy or a line of dialogue about the self awareness of the film, and we know it's a trailer for the next Scream or Scary Movie (which, unfortunately, is also gracing the screens this April). 

This trailer even turns that convention on it's head--fairly quickly we go through the steps--happy teens, going to a cabin in the woods, dialogue too obvious to believe that we're supposed to take this seriously. And then, without warning--some sort of electrical matrix fence? Girl kissing a deer head? Scary masked men?

And, as if it could get more perfect--Joss Whedon wrote it. The brilliant, nerd-god, Joss Whedon. 

SPEAKING of Joss Whedon....

Drumroll, please--
To a certain degree, the excitement of this movie coming out goes without saying.

Normally, I'm opposed to contrived sequels, but this, (along with another movie on this list,) is a bit of an exception. Instead of being a sequel it's like the last clue in a crazy filmic treasure hunt, where the first five clues were wonderful in and of themselves.

It took me a long time to gain appreciation for comic book and super hero films, but in a lot of ways they are just like slasher films. The cult following and the campy-ness that they are allowed charms me in the same way that those qualities in horror do. Superhero movies have the character development that the more low-quality slasher movies tend to let slip, and of course, character development is my favorite part of any film. The Avengers will have characters that we've already seen develop, that we, the insane, culty, nerdy audience, will know very well at the beginning of the movie, whether from the earlier films, or from the comics (and the cartoon, which I enjoy.) This leaves room for an entire new level of character development as well as relationship development between the different heroes, which seems to be the focus of the film.

A good friend of mine has told me about how this could set a precedent for other films, to have films take place in the same universe and then perhaps conclude in a massive film which combines the different story lines, which, though I am not educated enough on the subject to get into right now, sounds like an awesome direction for Hollywood to go in right now. Joss Whedon directed this movie, which was a brilliant move on Marvel's part. Those people know their fanbase.

Another note on this film: Robert Downey Jr. is in it. SO. Even if superheros aren't your thing, Robert Downey Jr. probably is.

In the new grand tradition of totally insane movie titles comes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. 

As previously discussed here on the blog, there seems to be a new trend of having films with titles that communicate immediately that the film is going to be amazing for one of two possible reasons: it will legitimately kick some nerdy movie ass, or will be so completely nonsensical and crazy that it can become a cult classic for his accidental hilarity. Nerdy ass-kicking movies and accidentally hilarious cult classics are two favorite genres of many, many people, most of whom reside inside of the internet.

Unfortunately, not a lot of information is out right now about this film, but come on. Abraham Lincoln slaying vampires. Produced by Tim Burton, hero of dark and strange films, and social commentary. Starring the stunningly beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead, my personal celebrity crush.
Three great things that go great together, killing an annoying cultural icon. 
Definitely seeing this one at midnight if at all possible. By myself. Like a creep. A history/horror/nerd creep.

As a side note, Rock of Ages is also coming out this month. This is the only musical I've ever seen on Broadway. I convinced my family to go, because they would know all the songs and they served drinks in the audience. The lead singer of White Snake came on the microphone at the beginning and said only dicks took out their phones during shows. 
The movie is going to either be horrible or amazing. Most likely, horrible in an amazing way. But I'm excited.

This deserves even more than a drumroll. We need the intro to the Rocky theme for this one. 

Please only listen to the first ten seconds. Ok, we're good.

I just watched Batman Begins last week, and I saw The Dark Knight in theaters, and I love them both so much. Christopher Nolan may very well be my favorite mainstream director right now. He should be, and I believe, is, at the forefront of the progression of modern cinema. The man is a genius. His dedication to being as real as possible in his films, and avoiding CGI at all costs, is immensely admirable, and shows through not only in the special effects but also in the overall tone of the movies. Not to mention how intense it is that in Dark Knight, they actually flip an 18 wheeler, they actually blow up a hospital shaped building. It creates a situation where there is no room for gratuitous explosions, which makes all of his blockbusters stand out from other action films. Nolan is also one of the pioneers of the emerging action/romance genre, which is a very important aspect of current cinema, and has taken the idea of a mind-blowing twist at the end of every movie to a new level. 

It is only fitting that Nolan, with all of his dedication to realism, directs the Batman films, with the hero who is really only human. Perhaps it is also the realistic, non-supernatural aspects of the Batman franchise that allow it to be so successful and iconic, and represent cultural ills so well! Batman Begins has some serious undertones of mistrust in the government, very appropriate for 2005, smack in the middle of the Bush administration. The Dark Knight is all about terrorism that we cannot understand, and how properly to fight it (I think, I should look into it more). And here we have the stunningly beautiful Cat Woman, translating the shouts from Occupy Wall Street into whispers to Christian Bale. Lately I've been helping out with some high school English classes, and that's the example I use when I need to explain to them why knowing the political and social events surrounding a story is an important part of understanding literature--"You know sexy Anne Hathaway in the Dark Knight Rises trailer? She's talking about Occupy Wall Street! Doesn't that make the movie more interesting?"

Speaking of sexy characters in Batman, in this we have, as always Christian Bale. 

Forgive me for the side note, but this man deserves some attention. Christian Bale has, in his life, has played Demetrius from A Midsummer Night's Dream, (my favorite Shakespeare,) Patrick Bateman, everyone's favorite serial killer, Howl from Howl's Moving Castle, possibly the most dreamy anime character I have ever encountered, the awesome guy from The Prestige, John Connor in The Terminator, Thomas, the adorable friend of John Smith in Pochahontas, JESUS, in a made for TV Jesus movie, and Batman. The guy is Jesus and Batman. Seriously. 

Aside from the inhumanly attractive Bale, we also have Joseph Gordon Levitt, possibly the only one who can match Bale in attractiveness. These superhero movies are certainly playing to the ladies. Not that they need to. Even if we go for the hearthrobs, but we stay for the realistic special effects, sociopolitical commentary, character development, and cultural satire. 

In conclusion: I'm going to the movies every day this summer. Yes, it is certainly a good time to be a nerd girl.