May 16, 2014

What’s Going to Happen in Season Two of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?

What’s Going to Happen in Season Two of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?

This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Consider yourself warned.

Boy, am I glad to stuck with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The show, which spun off from the wildly successful Marvel films, follows a ragtag bunch of secret agent misfit types as they travel the globe battling super-powered foes, nefarious covert organizations bent on world domination… you know, as you do. The show started off with a lot of buzz and good will since it was following in the wake of The Avengers’ massive success, and more importantly, because it featured fan favorite Phil Coulson, the no-nonsense S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who had apparently been killed at the end of The Avengers.

However, the show went through a pretty rough patch in the middle of the season, due in large part to the focus on Skye’s attempts to become a real S.H.I.E.L.D. agent while trying to learn more about her origins. Put simply, Skye was the least interesting character, and her arc’s emphasis often detracted from the other arcs, such as the group’s search for the Clairvoyant, a criminal mastermind behind bizarre experiments, conspiracies, attacks on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, etc.

And then Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier happened, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got a much-needed shot in the arm. The fallout from that film — e.g., the existence of Hydra, the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. — put our motley crew on the run, and led to betrayal, loss, and sacrifice. And it all led to a wonderfully enjoyable finale with “Beginning of the End.” There was much to like about the finale, including a heartbreaking scene between Fitz-Simmons at the bottom of the ocean, the glorious return of Nick Fury, and an awesome Melinda May/Grant Ward battle royale.

I especially enjoyed how unapologetically comic book-y the episode was, from the monologuing to the gadgets, from the melodrama to the big reveals, and a constant stream of winks to the audience. Producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who wrote the episode, knew exactly what fans wanted, and gave it to us in spades. But what’s next? The show was recently renewed for a second season, so where do Coulson and crew go from here?

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May 12, 2014

Smash Mouth Has Never Sounded Better than In “Mouth Sounds”

Smash Mouth Has Never Sounded Better than In “Mouth Sounds”

Neil Cicierega’s 60-minute “Mouth Sounds” mix is, without a doubt, a very skillful mash-up thanks to its deft blending of Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Talking Heads, Daft Punk, Smashing Pumpkins, and Enya (to name but a few artists) along with copious amounts of Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” However, it’s especially noteworthy for two reasons:

  1. Its brilliantly subversive juxtaposition (at the 16:51 mark) of Alanis Morissette’s ultra-angsty ‘90s hit “You Oughta Know” with the Full House theme. Indeed, there’s something deeply delightful about listening to Morissette hyperventilate over a schmaltzy saxophone riff.
  2. It took Smash Mouth to make John Lennon’s “Imagine” actually somewhat enjoyable. (The miracle begins at the 18:13 mark.)

Listen to the entire thing in all of its absurd genius below.


This Fan Trailer Is All the Live-Action “Akira” That I Need

Originally released in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira has since become a landmark anime title, not simply for the excellence of its animation and visuals — which still hold up very well after nearly 3 decades — but also because it was instrumental in anime’s rising global popularity. It was one of the first anime movies released here in the States, and for many, the first experience of anime as a serious artform.

Not surprisingly, Hollywood has been trying to create a live action version for over a decade now. Names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman, Keanu Reeves, Helena Bonham Carter, and Gary Oldman (to name a few) have been attached to the project at various times, but so far, nothing has really emerged but controversy over how Hollywood is going to (mis)treat the title.

But after having seen this incredibly well-made fan trailer for Akira, which recreates a number of iconic scenes from the movie (right down to those ghosting tail light effects), I’m not so sure I need to see the Hollywood remake (should it ever get made for real). Sure, a Hollywood studio might be able to sink a bajillion dollars into a live action adaptation full of more dazzling special effects, but I doubt it’ll have a fraction of the passion and creativity that obviously drove this work.

May 11, 2014

Reading: Tolkien’s Politics, Nuclear Floppies, Neuroscience for Moviemakers, Torture & More

Reading: Tolkien’s Politics, Nuclear Floppies, Neuroscience for Moviemakers, Torture & More

Jake Meador considers the politics found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, and how well they map to our 21st century society: “I would conclude that Tolkien’s politics are basically the politics one expects of a staunch Catholic who affirms Rome’s teachings on subsidiarity.”

As a child of the Cold War, learning that America’s nuclear arsenal still runs off floppy disks was both nostalgic and deeply disturbing. But hey, at least they’re impervious to cyber-attacks. That’s something, right? Via

Last month, I wrote about Game of Thrones in light of a recent episode that contained a disturbing rape scene — and so did a bajillion other bloggers. One of those bloggers was Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles. But when Salon reposted his piece, they turned it into something else entirely: “Salon took a minor throwaway point that I was making about how we would HAVE to ignore the rape IN ORDER to accept his redemption, and turned it into a headline that suggested it was wrong for the Game of Thrones viewers to become outraged by the scene.” Related:Salon Finally Gets a Taste of Its Own Outrage.”

Jennifer Ouellette profiles Sergei Gepshtein, a neuroscientist who is working on a new way to create movies, one that eschews normal editing techniques (like the cut) for an approach that takes advantage of how our brains process visual information. Which could lead to far more immersive cinematic experiences. Via

Waterboarding is back in the spotlight following some recent awful comments from Sarah Palin. Rod Dreher takes Palin to task for her “sacrilegious” talk: “Not only is this woman, putatively a Christian, praising torture, but she is comparing it to a holy sacrament of the Christian faith. It’s disgusting — but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her.”

And speaking of waterboarding, and torture in general, Mark Shea has written an excellent piece condemning theological defenses of torture: “…Catholic moral theology *never* proceeds from the notion that we should seek to see how close we can get to mortal sin without quite committing it. Indeed, in other arenas, to even ask that question is to already reveal a profoundly wrong-headed approach to moral reasoning.” That seems like good advice for anyone to follow, even if you’re not Catholic.

Becoming a parent changes a lot of things, including how you understand certain songs: “Even now, as the dad of a five-year-old, I hate most songs on the subject. What has changed in my listening is that I recognize parenting insights in tracks that aren't explicitly about the subject.” Some of the songs mentioned include Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” Björk’s “It’s Not Up to You,” Jay-Z’s “New Day,” and Radiohead’s “Sail to the Moon.”

Ted Gioia laments that music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting and that’s bad for musicians, labels, listeners, and critics: “…criticism is a tiny part of the ecology of the music business, but an essential part. Without smart, independent critics who know their stuff, everything collapses into hype, public relations, and the almighty dollar. We have already seen where that leads us — take a look at the trendline of recording sales, if you have any doubts.”

Greg Storey argues that, even with advances in CSS, JS, etc., websites look too much alike: “While our new post-Internet Explorer 6 world enables an amazing array of browser effects, the one tool we all need is constraint. Though the people we serve — managers, stakeholders, and clients — come to us with parallax envy, we must be mindful of who we are all really working for: their customers, the users.”

Emily Letts filmed her abortion and wrote about the experience: “I was focused on staying positive and feeling the love from everyone in the room. I am so lucky that I knew everyone involved, and I was so supported. I remember breathing and humming through it like I was giving birth. I know that sounds weird, but to me, this was as birth-like as it could be. It will always be a special memory for me. I still have my sonogram, and if my apartment were to catch fire, it would be the first thing I'd grab.” I had to double-check that this wasn’t reposted from The Onion.

May 9, 2014
Décembre au Mont des Oliviers

Décembre au Mont des Oliviers

Lonsai Maïkov (2013, Brave Mysteries)

This may be neo-folk, but don’t expect an album full of nothing but blissed out psych-folk or martial industrial numbers.

Chad Valley Invites You To Turks & Caicos

Chad Valley Invites You To Turks & Caicos

The Turks & Caicos are a small group of islands located near the Bahamas known for tourism and its tropical climate. As such, it’s a perfect name for Chad Valley (née Hugo Manuel)’s latest side project. Turks & Caicos (the musical project, that is) isn’t all that dissimilar from Chad Valley, musically speaking: both are washed out in blissed electronics, dancehouse beats, and a warm swell of nostalgia. However, while Chad Valley trades in R&B-influenced pop, Turks & Caicos is less focused on melody and hooks and more on texture and atmosphere.

To be sure, there’s plenty of drive and groove — consider the synth-slap-bass on “Missed Opportunity,” for instance — but overall, the music’s laidback vibe makes it ideal summer evening soundtrack material, regardless of whether you’re on a tropical beach or not.

More songs can be found Turks & Caicos’ Soundcloud page.

“Community” Has Been Cancelled

“Community” Has Been Cancelled

I suppose it was only inevitable, and really it’s something of a miracle that a show so zany, madcap, unpredictable, and downright meta survived as long as it did, but it’s official: NBC has cancelled Community after 5 seasons. Of course, there’s a chance the show might get picked up by somebody else, perhaps even by Hulu or Netflix à la Arrested Development. But honestly, I’m not holding my breath.

As disappointing as this is, I take solace in the fact that Community’s first 3 seasons were pure genius, and nothing can take that away from them. (The 5th season had its moments of brilliance, too, and as far as I'm concerned, there was no 4th season.)

Sadly, we’ll probably never learn the identity of the Ass Crack Bandit now…

Below are some of my favorite scenes from Community, beginning with the scene that sold me on the show and made me realize I was watching something truly special.

May 7, 2014

A Parenting Conundrum

Here's a great conundrum, one all parents will inevitably face. The setting: A quiet morning and your child is playing a game involving Legos and a plastic cheetah, and is oblivious to the rest of the world. He’s completely caught up in flow, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would put it.

Part of you wants to join in, to try and somehow experience a little part of the world that’s currently unfolding in his imagination. However, another part of you knows that the moment you do so, that little internal world of his — that precious little world — will cease to exist; it won’t withstand the assault of your adult perspective.

And so you resign yourself to simply sitting in your chair and watching him, remaining as silent as can be lest you break the spell.

April 30, 2014

Pure Bathing Culture Was Amazing at 2012 PDX Pop Now!

Pure Bathing Culture Was Amazing at 2012 PDX Pop Now!

I’ve done little to hide how much I love Pure Bathing Culture’s lush, dreamy pop. They recorded one of my favorite releases of 2013, Moon Tides, and every time I listen to it, it feels as fresh as the first time. Which is likely due to the intricacy at work in the duo’s music, due in large part to Daniel Hindman’s guitar.

Anyway, I really regret missing them when they played in Omaha last year. So this video that I found of their 2012 performance at the 2012 PDX Pop Now! festival is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s a solid performance which reveals that the group is quite capable of reproducing their lush sound in a live environment. I mean, just listen to Sarah Versprille’s voice on “Pendulum” or “Golden Girl,” or the shimmering guitar solo that closes out “Silver Shore’s Lake” (and would almost certainly make Vini Reilly glow with pride).

On the other hand, it just reminds me of what I could’ve seen had I just made the 45-minute drive to Omaha that night.

Help Support Christ and Pop Culture: Become a Member Today

Many of you know that in addition to Opus, I also write and edit for Christ and Pop Culture — which, in my completely unbiased opinion, is one of the best sites exploring the tension between Christianity and culture. Over the past few years, we’ve built up a fantastic base of writers and content, and our continuing goal is to help our fellow Christians interact thoughtfully and graciously with the surrounding culture. This takes the form of music and movie reviews, political analysis, contemplations on parenting, articles about science and technology, and much more.

As you might imagine, all of this takes time and resources — which are currently being contributed by everyone involved with very little compensation. However, that model simply isn’t sustainable. We have a big vision for Christ and Pop Culture but we need your help to accomplish it. Which is why we’re now offering official memberships.

If you’ve found Christ and Pop Culture to be a valuable and worthwhile resource, then please consider signing up for $5/month. And in addition to helping our ministry (yes, we consider it a ministry), you’ll also get some pretty neat benefits, like free music and e-books, access to exclusive content, and participation in our member's only community, where you can help further guide and develop Christ and Pop Culture.