Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question: What upcoming 2013 entertainment are you most anticipating?
Scott Von Doviak
My answer to this question will always be: “Is there a new Coen Brothers movie?” Even though I’ve skipped most of the big summer behemoths this year, I still feel like I’ve been pummeled into submission by superheroes, monsters, and giant robots. That’s why it’s such a relief to realize that on or around December 20, I’ll be seated in a theater watching Inside Llewyn Davis, the first Coen Brothers movie in three long years. Set in the New York folk scene of the early 1960s, the film centers on a fictional singer/songwriter (played by relative unknown Oscar Isaac) who may bear some coincidental resemblance to the Coens’ Minnesota homeboy Bob Dylan. It’s a fertile milieu for another one of the brothers’ immersive, off-kilter explorations of a subculture, and judging from the trailers so far, Manhattan will not be reduced to smoking rubble by the end of the movie.
My emotional connection to new music seems to decrease the older I get, with very few exceptions. Happily, the exceptional Janelle Monáe is releasing her second full-length album, The Electric Lady, this September. From the moment I first saw her after following Big Boi’s links to his guest spot in the “Tightrope” video, I've been mesmerized by Monáe’s combination of style and creativity. Her first album had a marvelous combination of that Southern hip-hop with Prince-style musical experimentation and a science fiction concept that reminded me of David Bowie at his best. That variety seems to still be on display in the first two singles, particularly the joyous “Dance Apocalyptic,” which has me feeling quite confident that my excitement for The Electric Lady is entirely justified.
Though fans know better than to hold their breath, this fall could potentially see new albums from two of modern soul’s most notorious recluses. Should it ever see daylight, D’Angelo’s James River will make the bigger headlines—its “neo-soul J.D. Salinger finishes his own Chinese Democracy” narrative is too much for any music writer to resist—but the one I’m most looking forward to is the one most likely to actually hit shelves: Maxwell’s blackSUMMERS’night, the second installment in a trilogy the singer is in no apparent rush to complete. Like his albums, which reveal themselves slowly, Maxwell has never been one to trumpet his own greatness, but make no mistake about it: He is one of the greats, and 2009’s inaugural installment in his Black trilogy was his most beautifully intricate work yet. That album took him eight years to complete, but it was worth the wait. I’m betting its sequel will be too.
Like a lot of fans of the show, I have mixed feelings about Boardwalk Empire. The Prohibition-era gangster drama isn’t top-tier TV on the order of Breaking Bad or Mad Men. But the pleasures of the show are far from guilty, as the acting and dialogue are superb, and it’s just fun to watch Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson rub shoulders with the likes of Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. Not to mention the show’s breakout supporting players, Michael Shannon and Danny Huston. It isn’t a show I thought I’d anticipate highly, just something pretty good to watch until Game Of Thrones comes back. But then I stumbled onto actor Michael Kenneth Williams’ Instagram feed, where he was posting pictures of himself in period costume alongside Jeffrey Wright, and damn if my heart wasn't pumping in anticipation of a new season of Boardwalk. Wright seems poised to fill the villain-of-the-year slot held by Bobby Cannavale last year, and will be joined by Ron Livingston and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Who needs thematic depth when you’ve got that cast, tommy guns, and a shipment of hooch coming in on the docks at midnight?
It’s been three years since The Body’s sophomore album, All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood, was released. Since then the experimental Providence outfit has been busy with compilations, collaborations, and EPs. Nothing beats a sprawling, immersive, cohesively conceived full-length from The Body, though—and I’m about to get my wish on October 15, when Thrill Jockey unleashes the group’s third album, Christs, Redeemers. From what I’ve heard so far, it’s a horrifying yet transcendent evolution for the band, one that feels as suffocating as it does liberating; amid tribal rhythms and hymnal atmosphere is an agonizing stretch toward oblivion that dilates consciousness and deflowers the flesh.
I’m going to cheat a little here and go with the next generation of videogame consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft have new systems coming out this year, in the respective forms of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Personally, I’m less interested in specific games for each system and more curious about how they will (or won’t) expand our current notions of online interactivity. As someone who primarily uses his current console for non-gaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, I want to see what these new systems offer in terms of community for more than just big multiplayer sessions in Halo or Call Of Duty. The technological leap between this generation and the next won’t be as pronounced as the one we experienced a half-decade ago. But the way we conceive of these consoles has radically changed in the era of smartphones, tablets, and other devices vying for our attention. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can’t just be about gaming. They are the potential centers of our electronic entertainment universes. And they can’t get here soon enough.
My pick for the rest of 2013 is Homeland’s third season, which has a lot riding on it. The second season ended on a strange note, following a plot twist that may have very well taken the show off the rails. I’m not quite sure about it myself, but if nothing else, I admire its bold-faced ambition—which is why I want to see how Homeland resolves what it started in season two. The first few episodes of season three could make season two’s ending look like a coup de grace or a total flop. That’s a lot for one show to try to accomplish. But if anyone could make it work, it’s the daring writers and talented cast of Homeland, who have made one of the best series on television in a season of many other bright stars. I’ve become more invested in Carrie Mathison than nearly any other character on television, which means I am already counting down the days to September 29.
While I’m obviously excited for the hopefully dramatic and satisfying culmination of Breaking Bad, I think I’m going to have to go with the new Arcade Fire record. It’s out October 29, and while it has no real title and no leaked songs yet, producer James Murphy says it’s great, and that’s enough for me. I’m dying to know if the Montreal group is going to keep churning out themed records, and if so, what will the new one be about? Gender? Race? Consumerism? Also, I’d imagine the band’s going to tour around the new record, and though I’ve seen them a couple of times, it’s always a great show, so I’ll happily trek out to any dates once again.
Between Kim Ji-Woon’s The Last Stand and Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker, the move of some contemporary Korean filmmakers into English-language cinema has yielded middling results. But Snowpiercer, the forthcoming post-apocalyptic runaway train movie from Bong Joon-Ho (The Host, Memories Of Murder) is going to be different. It has to be. Set in the wake of a global-warming catastrophe that has the remnants of humanity circumnavigating the planet in a perpetually chugging locomotive—which is separated, head to tail, by economic barriers—Snowpiercer’s alchemy of genre cinema and revolutionary class warfare feels like it was devised in a lab specifically to appeal to my tastes. Even in a big South Korean monster movie like The Host, Bong expressed a deft capacity for handling (and revising) the expectations of genre while delivering finely sketched, fully developed characters. Hopefully Snowpiercer offers the same. And if not, hey, at least it’ll have Tilda Swinton in goofy teeth and a dumb wig doing Margaret Thatcher. (Snowpiercer doesn’t have a North American release date yet, though it’s due out in South Korea later this summer.)
I can’t believe no one has said Breaking Bad yet so, yes, duh, Breaking Bad. Seriously, I haven’t been this excited for a TV show’s endgame since Lost. That didn't work out quite as well as I’d hoped, but I have faith that once August 11 rolls around, Vince Gilligan and crew will stick the landing far better than Lost managed to do. It probably helps that they don't have to explain the smoke monster. Since answering with Breaking Bad feels like such a cop out—seriously, is there anyone at The A.V. Club that isn't slavering in anticipation of the final eight episodes?—I’ll give a shout out to my other most-anticipated release, which is Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. I’ve been following his career since he was named as the director of the ill-fated Halo movie adaptation, and I was frankly blown away by District 9, so I’m pretty excited to see what he can do with a giant budget and some star power behind him. Sure, Elysium looks a little more like generic Hollywood action-movie fare, but it’s still engaging with big issues—inequality of wealth, healthcare rationing, and economic apartheid—even if it’s doing so by way of Matt Damon as a cyborg Bourne clone.
I can’t wait to see some of the festival movies this year—Bastards, The Past, Stranger By The Lake, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Venus In Fur—but they won’t get to me in Houston until they’re shipped here on plastic coasters in 2015. Case in point: the fishing documentary Leviathan. From what I’ve heard and seen, this thing sounds like a real trip, and I’ve been drooling for it for months. Co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s previous documentary, the lush Montana shepherd odyssey Sweetgrass, is a rattlesnake I first saw streaming and buffering on Netflix. After skipping Houston (and Dallas and San Antonio and plenty of other massive cities) on its theatrical run, Leviathan is thankfully coming out on disc in September. Which doesn’t beat the immersion of a movie theater, but at least it’ll make a terrific birthday present.
While it’s difficult for me to think about non-Breaking Bad related entertainment right now, the final season of Walter White’s adventures in assholery is an expected event; we knew it was coming since last September, and arguably long before that. More surprising was the announcement earlier this year that Thomas Pynchon had a new novel coming out in the fall. It’s been four years since Inherent Vice, Pynchon’s last novel, was published, and while four years sounds like a reasonable period of time between books, Pynchon has never worked on consistent schedule. Against The Day came out three years before Vice, but a whole nine years after 1997’s Mason & Dixon. Regardless of the timing, any new Pynchon novel is reason to celebrate. So far, all we know about Bleeding Edge is that it’s set in the early 2000s in Manhattan’s “Silicon Alley,” during “the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11,” and that it’s due to hit shelves September 17. Hopefully I can sleep before then.
I’m behind on a lot of stuff that came out in the first half of 2013—yes, Orphan Black DVDs, I hear you—but I’m ahead on one September book release I’m eager to read in its final form: Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography. Jim Henson is an overdue account of a 20th-century pop-culture titan’s life, which has been the subject of previous literary works, but none this comprehensive. If you’ve read as much about Henson as I have, a lot of the information in Jones’ biography won’t be new. But this volume does feature quotes from the people who knew Henson, crucial insights on and remembrances of the man from his two families: The nuclear one (including wife Jane Henson, who died this past spring) and the one that formed just below the sight lines of TV and movie cameras, arms raised in the act of giving life to bits of felt and fur. I’m halfway through a galley copy of Jim Henson, and while the positive picture it paints of its subject occasionally verges on hagiography, it occurs to me that it might’ve taken this long to get a Henson biography on the shelves because he wasn’t the type for lurid, tell-all-ready behavior. But there are still a few hundred pages ahead of me, so maybe one of the Henson kids has a story in store that will forever sully my own idealized vision of their dad.
I have a trio of albums due in September I'm super psyched about, chief among them The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case. Case has topped my year-end list every time she has released an album since I’ve been at The A.V. Club, and there’s a very good chance she’ll do it again in 2013, because she rules. She’s also playing A.V. Fest days after the record comes out, so everything's coming up Milhouse as far as that goes. Yesterday I received a press stream of my other most anticipated album of the year, The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES, out September 24. Can it still be most anticipated if I’ve listened to it now? I say yes. (And it’s great.) Finally, I’m also excited about another electro-pop group, The Naked And Famous, which is releasing its second album, In Rolling Waves in mid-September. It’s going to be a good month.
I’m an ardent supporter of Trent Reznor’s music, and was pretty bummed when Nine Inch Nails “retired”; I even traveled to see their farewell tour (and left before Jane’s Addiction). And so even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the How To Destroy Angels LP released earlier this year (a project by Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross, and Rob Sheridan), I’m rather stoked for Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks. The album’s first single, “Came Back Haunted," while not as catchy as some of NIN’s previous tracks, has the brittle electronic feel and creepy-ghost vibe of Reznor’s best work, which makes me hopeful for the full-length. Running a close second to NIN in my world in terms of anticipation is Placebo’s Loud Like Love. The band hasn’t gotten a huge amount of attention in the U.S. in about a decade, but their combination of debauched glam and seedy electro always seems to resonate with me, no matter what the season.
About a month or so ago, a friend casually introduced me to Lorde, the 16-year-old New Zealand singer who’s being positioned as the Next Big Thing. I fell for her first EP, The Love Club, pretty hard. It reminds me a lot of Lily Allen’s debut album, with its seemingly fluffy take on clubbing and youth culture, but the songs hold an awful lot of buried archness and sadness. Her production, however, sounds more like Florence + The Machine, and her voice is somewhere between Allen without the accent, and a younger, less smoky Adele. Love Club features an interesting variety of music in just five songs, which is why I’m hugely looking forward to Lorde’s untitled full-length debut, supposedly out in September. There’s so much range in so little space on Love Club, I can’t wait to see how far she reaches with more room.
Reunion records are tricky for numerous reasons, but the announcement of Modern Life Is War’s Fever Hunting has me unreasonably excited. The band’s sophomore album Witness remains a modern hardcore classic, and with its original line-up back for Fever Hunting the chances it could match those seminal works seems less like wishful thinking and more like a definite possibility. On a similar tip is the third album from MLIW’s label mates Touché Amoré titled Is Survived By. The band’s second album, Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me, was a short burst of screamo-inspired hardcore, and if its recent split EP with Pianos Become The Teeth has proved anything, the band has embraced subtlety without losing its signature bite. And, finally, on the topic of EPs is Dads’ Pretty Good. The New Jersey duo released my favorite album of last year, American Radass (This Is Important), and the two tracks from Pretty Good that are currently streaming—one right here on The A.V. Club—more than justify my excitement.
There are a lot of films I’m looking forward to for the rest of the year, because of the actors or directors involved—just look at the lineup for Toronto this year to get an idea—but Ben Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty piques my curiosity on a different level. “Walter Mitty” is one of the first short stories I remember reading as a kid, along with Poe’s “The Red Masque Of Death” and Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily”—and a fantastical vision that still makes me laugh whenever I run across it today. Stiller’s last major directorial effort Tropic Thunder took a premise I wasn’t too interested in and wrung plenty of laughs from a great cast, and Walter Mitty is no slouch, with Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Kathryn Hahn, and Shirley MacLaine. It could end up being a tepid holiday comedy, but considering Stiller’s usual Christmastime fare includes the Fockers and Night At The Museum series, I'd much rather see a James Thurber adaptation.
I got a chance to see a little footage from Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Gravity at Comic-Con, and a movie I was already anticipating shot up to the top of my list. To a degree, it sort of looked like Life Of Pi if the entire movie was about the ship sinking and George Clooney was the tiger, but I still found the shots of astronaut Sandra Bullock spinning wildly out of control and off into outer space completely terrifying. They made me deeply queasy, and even crazier were later shots of Bullock clinging to bits of space debris—old satellites and the like—while ducking out of the way of space trash that was shredding them apart. If nothing else, Gravity will remind us all why every noun is more exciting when “space” is stuck in front of it.
As a film person, I initially felt some burning sense of obligation to write about a late-’13 movie I'm dying to see. (Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation was my favorite of 2011, so naturally his new one, The Past, shoots to the top of that list.) But I’m going use a loophole in the language here to let myself off the hook and geek out instead about the upcoming work of art most likely to entertain me, and probably for weeks on end. I rarely make time in my life for videogames, mainly because they take even longer for me to complete than novels, but I will forego meals, sleep, and human contact to burn through Batman: Arkham Origins. The first two games in the Arkham series, Asylum and City, set the curve for comic-to-game adaptations: They’re graphically immersive, expertly plotted, thematically loyal additions to the Dark Knight canon. But more than that—and this is crucial, for a casual gamer like myself—they’re maddeningly, endlessly fun, with controls that feel almost instantly intuitive and gameplay fundamentals that are built to last. (I never, ever grew tired of silently clearing a room of armed guards, one man at a time.) Yes, the new game—a prequel set during the early days of the Bat’s crime-fighting crusade—was made by a different studio than its predecessors, and has also been characterized as a “troubled” production. But given that old developer Rocksteady has consulted new developer WB Montreal and handed them the keys to the gaming engine, I expect to lose myself to addiction yet again.