Remember, remember...the 7th of November

A quick newsletter before I go on vacation

Happy Thursday, Happy Belated Halloween, Happy November, Happy Noirvember, etc. Welcome back to Jacob’s Letter, a free pop culture newsletter full of puns and badly-PhotoShopped dog photos. This week is full of a bunch of stuff I didn’t get to last week and won’t have time for this week because I am going on a long weekend trip with Taylor to celebrate our anniversary!

Nova as a young pup.

Coming up this week: More Martin Scorsese v. Marvel news (because that’s a dead horse we’re all still beating), My Chemical Romance and Rage Against the Machine are getting back together, and I share my thoughts on two of the best films I’ve seen this year. Plus, I’ve got a new movie trailer roundup for the holiday season. Check it out.

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Marvelous Marty doubles down

Staring Martin Scorsese GIF

Don’t worry, y’all, Martin Scorsese has clarified his comments on the Marvel Cinematic Universe after getting raked over the coals for saying they “weren’t cinema.”

In a new op-ed he penned for the New York Times, Scorsese gets at his deeper point, which is:

But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again. Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchisesmarket-researchedaudience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption…

So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever.

He also name-checks Paul Thomas Anderson, Claire Denis, Spike Lee, Ari Aster, Kathryn Bigelow and Wes Anderson as filmmakers who he likes and respects, so that’s gotta be amazing for them to hear from him.

Imagine coming after the man who made “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas” and “The Last Temptation of the Christ” and saying he doesn’t respect cinema. Come at the King, you best not miss.


Movie reviews: Avast, ye parasites

Ringing Hold On GIF by NEON

Two of the best films of 2019 are now in theaters. First, “Parasite,” from South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, is a riveting, suspenseful tale of class warfare between the haves and have-nots in South Korea, but really it could stand in for the wage gap anywhere in the world. Bong leaves no metaphorical rock unturned and gives this film everything he has. The way the camera moves from person to person based on who has the upper hand in any given situation is masterful, and Song Kang-ho delivers a knockout understated performance as a man who is willing to do anything for his family. If it’s playing in a theater near you, go check it out. When it comes out on digital/Blu-Ray, it would make a great double-feature with “Us.”

My rating: 5 rocks out of 5

Hanging Out Robert Pattinson GIF by TIFF

Next up: Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse.” Where “Parasite” was understated and pointed (for Bong, at least), this is broad, loud, grey slate of a picture.

“The Lighthouse” is the strangest, wildest, horniest movie I’ve seen in years. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star as two workers who are holed up together for four weeks tending to a lighthouse off the coast of Maine and slowly drive each other insane. Or do they?

Eggers (“The VVitch”) and his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke used old cameras to achieve the foggy, salty look of the frame, and utilize a near-square 1.91:1 aspect ratio to enhance the film’s feeling of claustrophobia and constraint. You can smell the saltwater and farts.

Yeah, Dafoe farts twice within the first five minutes of this film and says stuff like “May Neptune curse ye and may Poseidon strike ye dead!” (That moment is when I knew I liked this film, but your mileage may vary.) It’s a black comedy about how hell is other people, especially at work, but it’s also a horror film that doubles as an old seafarer’s legend about everything from regret to identity to toxic masculinity to generational communication to mermaids…maybe. I don’t know. See this in a theater as well if you have a chance. Go in blind to both films if you can manage it.

My rating: 4 farts out of 5


Reunited and it feels so good

My Chemical Romance Mcr GIF

Crank up the “Black Parade” album and get on your eyeliner, emo kids, because My Chemical Romance is back together!

…At least, for a few shows. The emo rock band announced last week that they would get together for one show in Los Angeles in December. Tickets for that show have sold out, but more shows have been announced in Australia, New Zealand and Japan for next year. Who knows, maybe this means another album is cooking?

Also getting back together: Rage Against The Machine. The anti-corporate rockers announced this week that they will be playing more shows and headlining Coachella 2020, possibly the most un-RATM festival in existence.


Islands in the Stream

Country Music Love GIF by Dolly Parton

“Islands in the Stream” is where I’ll discuss any and all happenings on the streaming front every week, since there’s so much of it now. While you’re here, read my deep dive for WFAA about how diverse the streaming landscape is becoming.

This week:


Trailer Park

Star Wars Christmas GIF

Holiday Movie Season is here, and it’s full of Oscar-bait and blockbusters galore. There’s no Marvel movies on the lineup, but there is a new “Star Wars” coming out, as well as two war movies, another Stephen King adaptation, and much, much more.

Check out my full Holiday Movie Preview here at jakeharrisblog.com.


Letter of Recommendation

TV: For those looking for a wholesome reality competition show, check out the “Great British Baking Show” for rap: “Rhythm and Flow” on Netflix. T.I., Chance the Rapper and Cardi B are the judges in a rap competition show where contestants must do challenges like shoot a music video or collaborate with a famous producer. The contestants all lift each other up, and even when Chance roasts a contestant, you can tell he’s not mad, just disappointed.

Hip Hop Netflix GIF by rhythmandflow

Podcast: Throughout American history, there have been moments that have always felt world-ending to those living through them— the Salem Witch trials, Prohibition, the discovery of Antarctica, the advent of social media, etc. The limited series fiction anthology podcast “Zero Hours” examines those three events and more in seven episodes, all out now.

In a time when everyone’s making the same “lol I won’t be alive in 50 years” jokes, this podcast is reassuring: People have been feeling like this at every stress point since the beginning of time. In its final episode, “Zero Hours is even hopeful about the future of humanity without ignoring the ways we are harming the planet now. You can listen to it here.

Homer Simpson GIF

Book: Taylor and I finally finished “Educated,” a fascinating memoir we started reading to each other about a year ago about a woman who was raised by doomsday prepper Mormon fundamentalists in Idaho and never attended school, yet made it to BYU, then Harvard, then Cambridge.

Reading this made me angry, terrified and proud all in the span of a few pages. It’s brutal and hard to read but impossible to put down. There's been a lot of discussion about whether the events in this memoir happened 100% as they're depicted. On that front, I agree with some of the skepticism, but this book isn't about that. It's about telling Tara Westover's version of the most traumatic and impactful events of her life, and anyone who has disagreed with a family member about an impactful memory can tell you, sometimes, everyone's right about what they remember.

Video Game: “Luigi’s Mansion 3” came out on the Nintendo Switch just in time for Halloween. You’d think Luigi would learn to stop going to haunted hotels, but then what fun would that be for me? This game is just as fun as the GameCube titles I remember playing as a kid.

Luigis Mansion 3 GIF

Friday News Dump

A list of online stuff I really liked this week:

  • We don’t talk enough about “Road to Perdition,” I say, but this beautiful longform about the film’s theme of family highlights everything I love about the film. (via Roxana Hadadi in Bright Wall/Dark Room)


That’s all, folks. If you liked what you saw here, click that subscribe button (promise I won’t send any annoying emails) and tell all your friends!

This newsletter is written by me and edited by my favorite person, Taylor Tompkins. Views expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of my employer, yadda yadda yadda.

If there’s anything you want to see covered in a future newsletter, let me know!

You can find me in other corners of the internet as well, if you so choose. There’s my personal website (which focuses on pop culture, faith and my journalism clips), a Twitter account and a Letterboxd account. Subscribe away.

See you next week,

Jake

This week's newsletter is on Thursday

But here's some cool stuff until then

Between birthdays, family visits, Halloween, Halloween parties, Sweeps Month™️, work and travel planning for the upcoming weekend, there’s too much to write and not enough time to do it. So this week’s newsletter will double as this week’s and next week’s, and it will drop on Thursday morning.

Until then, check out the following list of other Substack newsletters I follow for some more news:

I’ll be back on Thursday!

Exhibition game

Happy Tuesday. Welcome back to Jacob’s Letter, a free pop culture newsletter full of puns and badly-PhotoShopped dog photos.

Cozy Ope Fall. Photo by Taylor Tompkins.

No PhotoShop again this week, because I’ve been enjoying just showing regular photos. This week brought more fall weather to Dallas, which meant more time for Opal to curl up on the couch with some blankets.

This issue of the newsletter is late again (my weeks at work the last month have been very busy with breaking news and November sweeps month prep), but to make up for it, I’m going deep into the weeds about the Disney/Fox merger and what it means for moviegoers. I also added a new segment that’s all about the joy of simply going to the movies. Read on to find out more.

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Way down in the foxhole

20Th Century Fox GIF

In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark antitrust case United States v. Paramount Pictures that movie studios can’t own their own theaters and hold exclusivity rights on which theaters could show their films. So, for instance, Paramount couldn’t own its own chain of theaters and then refuse to show its movies at theaters it didn’t own, because this violated antitrust laws.

Before this decision, Paramount (and the whole studio system) operated as a de facto oligopoly, a haven of vertical integration. Afterward, the theater chain system evolved to what it is today, with distributors putting studios’ films into theaters on opening weekend, and later for repertory screenings like midnight shows.

In the 1980s, when VHS sales were on the rise, the Walt Disney Co. started the Disney Vault, a marketing ploy that had already been in effect with theater screenings of its films, but now spread to home video: A film would be made available for exhibition in theaters or owning on VHS for a short time window, then it would go back into the “vault” until it was released again. This attempt at forced consumption stuck; it’s a tactic that will reach its next phase this November when Disney+ rolls out and snatches most of the Disney catalog back to Disney and away from other platforms.

In 2018, Disney acquired the Murdoch family’s 20th Century Fox in a $73.1 billion deal. This deal also later gave Disney control of Fox Searchlight and all of 20th Century Fox’s back catalog — everything from “Avatar” to “The Simpsons” to “Miracle on 34th Street,” the latter of which has been rebranded as a “Disney” movie in the Disney+ rollout. They also got control of 60 percent of Hulu out of the deal, too. As a result of the deal, the number of major studios in Hollywood went from six to five, and the combined Disney and Fox assets made up an estimated 39% theatrical market share.

And now, to tie this whole thing together, a bombshell report from Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz this week confirmed what many in the industry long suspected: Now that Disney owns Fox films, it is now putting Fox films into the vault and denying theaters from showing them. There are exceptions, like with certain classic films or museum screenings or anniversaries, but for the most part, the Disney Vault is closed up tighter than Fort Knox.

One anecdote from the piece reads:

In the preceding few months, Neff had heard rumblings in his Google group of film programmers that Disney was about to start treating older Fox titles as they do older Disney titles — making them mostly unavailable to for-profit theaters. More and more film programmers and theater managers were reporting that they had suddenly and cryptically been told by their studio contacts that Fox’s back catalogue was no longer available to show. Some got calls informing them that an existing booking had been revoked.

The piece goes on to detail all the ways in which Disney is denying exhibitors and smaller theaters from showing 20th Century Fox films. After it was published, Seitz confirmed that Fathom Events’ 40th anniversary screening of “Alien” this year would be the last time Fathom could screen a 20th Century Fox film.

All of this means more than just not being able to see a midnight showing of “Alien” or “Fight Club.” It means lower revenue for college town theaters, repertory theaters and even chains like AMC or Alamo Drafthouse, who do special showings of older films for special events. Funnily enough, the one film Disney isn’t holding close to the vest is “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” probably because they know how much of a riot that would cause among theaters who routinely host midnight screenings of the film.

It also means a skewed view of film history. I know I talked last week about not getting onto people who don’t like to watch old films, but it’s nice to at least have the option to watch films from a variety of eras. Disney+ may have a huge catalog of films made before 1990, but they’re all Disney films. Competing streaming services like Netflix and HBO mainly focus on films made this millennium, and if you want to watch something older than that, you either need to own it or find it at a library or watch it at a repertory screening. Now, if you want to watch an older film, you’re going to have to go to Disney to do it. This hoarding of resources isn’t good for the moviegoing community at large.

What’s more, Disney claimed 40 percent of North American ticket sales last year. Right now, it has five movies of the top 10 box office for 2019, with financial stakes in one other through its ownership of Marvel. That number will only go up once the Fox merger dividends start to deliver and “Star Wars IX” comes out in December. Smaller theaters that used repertory screenings as a way to pay for exhibiting new indie films (often made by women or POC or minorities) might not be able to afford to showcase new talent if this vaulting of titles continues.

We’re headed back to the days of monopolies, at least in the movie studio world.

And on a broader scale: Get used to more franchises from other studios. The only other studios left to compete with Disney are Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and Columbia. The only way they can do that, now that Disney has bought up Fox Searchlight (the premier mid-budget, grown-up movie studio), is to create their own franchises that can compete with “Star Wars” and the MCU. There’s little room for anything but a sure investment now. Bring on the DCU and the “Fast and Furious” franchise and “Mission: Impossible” and more “Jumanji” films. Not that all of those are bad films, but it’s just repetitive to see the same franchises at the box office every summer solely because that’s the only viable option. (Reminder: See those smaller films while you can!)

There is a silver lining. All of this is combining to create a perfect storm to repeat history. Frustration with this type of big studio dominance in the ‘50s and ‘60s is what led to the New Hollywood of the 1970s. That era produced directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppolla and Brian de Palma and Paul Schraeder who created rebellious, thought-provoking films that are now considered classics. Now, as we approach a new decade, in a time when a more diverse group of voices are being heard in independent filmmaking, the films made in reaction to our current moment might be better than those made in the ‘70s.

One can dream, at least. And as Disney taught us, dreams and wishes come true.


Movie review: Read this newsletter or you’ll die in 7 days

Terrifying Elizabeth Lail GIF by Countdown Movie

I pitched a bunch of different movie reviews to my editor at Book & Film Globe earlier this month, and one of the only movies he went for was “Countdown,” a chain email and meme in film form about how kids these days just can’t get off their phones. I didn’t have as bad a time as I thought, but it’s still a bad movie. I am, however, proud of the review I wrote for it, so go read that over at Book & Film Globe…or else.

My rating: 2 outdated tropes out of 5


Memorable Movies: ‘The Little Stranger’ in Cork, Ireland

“Memorable Movies” is a new segment where I’ll talk about moviegoing experiences that have had an impact on me.

Last year, Taylor and I went on our honeymoon to Ireland. It was amazing and fantastic and we saw so many great sights: The Cliffs of Moher, the Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Guinness brewery, amazing countryside views. One of those great sights was a church in Cork that got turned into a movie theater. The Triskel Arts Center’s Christchurch theater is a restored 1700s Neo-classical Georgian Church. They host film festivals and other first-run movies there, and that’s where we saw “The Little Stranger” one night during our stay in Cork, a southern Ireland port town.

Christchurch Theater. Photo by me.

“The Little Stranger” is, on its surface, a ghost story about a haunted post-WWII English mansion. We had just toured the Muckross House, a 19th-century Irish manor, a few days before, and seeing much of the same architecture on screen added to the viewing. We were some of the only people in the theater for our screening.

Watching it while sitting in a pew that was probably older than America in a place where religious services used to be held gave the film an added weight, like I was watching something that was meant to be timeless. Granted, that could have been the tourism talking, but the line between sitting in a pew for church and sitting in a seat for a movie got blurred real quick. I had Martin Scorsese’s thoughts about being molded by the church and movies in my mind the whole time. The experience was a reminder of why I still go to theaters at a time when I could just fire up Netflix.

I don’t think I would have had the same reaction if the movie were bad. Far from a ghost story, “The Little Stranger” actually has a lot on its mind regarding PTSD, toxic masculinity, class warfare and rebuilding a country after a war. Timely stuff!

Anchored by a terrific and layered performance by Domhnall Gleeson, you’re rooting for the lead character one minute and loathing him the next. It was mismarketed upon release as a jump-scare haunted house movie when the end result is much more of a slow burn psychological thriller. I bought it on Blu-Ray when it came out, but I haven’t watched it again because I know it can’t top the experience of seeing it in Cork. If you’re ever in Ireland, you should check it out.


Jinks, Double Jinks

Beer Gulp GIF - Beer Gulp Thirsty GIFs

Fort Worth country artist Cody Jinks just made history. After releasing two new albums a week apart, on Oct. 11th and 18th, respectively, both albums went No. 1 in pure album sales on the Billboard country charts. And he didn’t have any support from a label.

Per Saving Country Music:

The Wanting by Cody Jinks sold an estimated 12,500 albums in physical sales and downloads, and received 2.5 million streams during the reporting period, good enough for equivalent numbers of 14,900 units—basically in line with what After the Fire did the week previous, besting all competition for #1 in pure album sales, putting him at #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart that factors in streaming, and #3 in pure album sales in all of music. Cody also comes in at #35 on the all genre Billboard 200.

What’s more, the music is great as well. Both albums highlight Jinks’ DIY attitude in different ways. “After the Fire” is introspective and somber, while “The Wanting” is a rambunctious look at duality. Taken together, they’re more than the sum of their parts, and as a whole, it’s a fascinating peek into the creative mindset of an independent country star who is only going up. What a time to be a country music fan.

More: Cody Jinks’ ‘Lifers’ is all about working toward what’s just over the horizon


Islands in the Stream

Country Music Love GIF by Dolly Parton

“Islands in the Stream” is where I’ll discuss any and all happenings on the streaming front every week, since there’s so much of it now. While you’re here, read my deep dive for WFAA about how diverse the streaming landscape is becoming.

This week:

  • Nothing is new under the sun. Earlier this week it was reported in the New York Times that Netflix is planning on acquiring the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. This development comes as the streaming service is premiering Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” its biggest awards play yet, at the Belasco Theater, a 1,015-seat Broadway theater on West 44th Street. Why are they doing this? Because most major movie theater chains won’t show Netflix’s films. All of this has shades of the Paramount Case. Theater exclusivity isn’t quite what Netflix is doing, but it is deeply fascinating to see the new streaming era plumb us right back into the same problems.

  • Speaking of Netflix, if you’ve ever wanted to watch Netflix at 0.5x, 0.75x, 1x, 1.25x or 1.5x the speed of a regular stream, you’re in luck. The service is testing a new variable speed option for those who just have so much to watch that they can’t watch at regular speed. This isn’t watching a movie, this is consuming #content, which I’m sure will end well.

  • If the new streaming landscape isn’t expensive enough, it’s also paralyzing viewers with too many choices, NBC News reports. Viewers in the 18- to 34-year-old range are spending as much as nine minutes trying to decide what to watch. Maybe cable really was the right answer.


Trailer Park

Want more trailer news for all the movies coming out this September and October? I have just the thing: Read my fall movie season preview here at jakeharrisblog.com.

“The Grudge”

The January release date doesn’t bode well for this. But it looks fairly new enough, and John Cho demonstrated with “Searching” that he can elevate an otherwise shaky premise. Plus it’s got that Sam Raimi pedigree. But nothing could match the cultural juggernaut of the first American remake of this material. Everyone in my middle school was scaring each other with that Grudge noise when it first came out.

“Bloodshot”

Now that that whole Spider-Man/Sony spat with Marvel is over (for now, at least), it looks like Sony is just getting ready to unleash all the franchises it owns. If this leans into the absurdity of its premise — a soldier dies, is brought back to life by scientists and is then memory-wiped after each new mission he completes — Vin Diesel can make this work. The “xXx” films work the best when Diesel plays Xander Cage like he knows how crazy he is. This looks like it insists upon itself a bit much with the over-acting and the slowed-down Johnny Cash cover, but that shot of Diesel’s face reconstructing itself looks really cool.

“Antlers”

If all trailers were shot like this, I wouldn’t complain. No voiceover, no dialogue, no mini-trailer beforehand. Just visuals and music. I have no idea what this is about (wendigos, maybe?) but I’m intrigued. I love Guillermo del Toro’s work, but Scott Cooper’s a bit hit-or-miss for me. I love “Crazy Heart” but “Black Mass” and “Out of the Furnace” felt conflicted and excessive. Maybe del Toro’s influence will win out on this one.


Letter of Recommendation

Music: Kesha is back with “Raising Hell,” a new song that’s a combination of her Ke$ha persona and the more vulnerable side she showed with 2017’s “Rainbow.” I can’t get it out of my head, and the music video reminds me a lot of “Goodbye Earl.”

Podcast: The new season of “You Must Remember This” premiered last week. It’s about the history of Disney’s “Song of the South” and how it dovetailed with the American Civil Rights Movement. At a time when Disney’s legacy is being evaluated with more scrutiny, the subject is more timely than ever. You can listen to it here.

Remember GIF

TV: There’s a review forthcoming on this as well (ETA: You can read it here), but I’m enjoying season 2 of “Castle Rock” on Hulu much more than season 1, and I liked that one more than most. Season 2 focuses on “Misery,” and ditches the inside-baseball Stephen King references for more of a character study of Annie Wilkes (a fantastic Lizzy Caplan). The show soars as a result.

Stephen King Horror GIF by HULU

WFAA Pick: For work this spooky season, I wrote a handy guide for eight kid-friendly movies to watch at Halloween. Check it out here.

Maggie Gyllenhaal Animation GIF

Friday News Dump

A list of online stuff I really liked this week:


That’s all, folks. If you liked what you saw here, click that subscribe button (promise I won’t send any annoying emails) and tell all your friends!

This newsletter is written by me and edited by my favorite person, Taylor Tompkins. Views expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of my employer, yadda yadda yadda.

If there’s anything you want to see covered in a future newsletter, let me know!

You can find me in other corners of the internet as well, if you so choose. There’s my personal website (which focuses on pop culture, faith and my journalism clips), a Twitter account and a Letterboxd account. Subscribe away.

See you next week,

Jake

Sky talkin'

A brief analysis of a highly anticipated trailer

I know why you opened this email. I’ll just let the trailer do the talking before I do:

First off, a tip of the hat to Disney, who probably goosed their ratings for “Monday Night Football” on a blowout Patriots win by making rabid “Star Wars” fans sit through a half of football before being able to watch this live.

Second, this final trailer for “Star Wars: Episode IX — Rise of Skywalker” looks a lot better than the teaser trailer released in April. Aesthetically, it looks like a good marriage between “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” instead of the explicit “Force Awakens” callback from the teaser. That’s appropriate since the whole theme of this trailer (and, presumably, the movie) is about various factions from the series coming together to defeat evil.

Analyzing a “Star Wars” trailer is always a fool’s errand, especially when J.J. Abrams is involved. The man ain’t revealing anything until the time is right.

But it’s always fun to speculate.

‘People keep telling me they know me. No one does.’

For some reason, the intro music with the chimes reminds me of Christmas and the holidays. That has nothing to do with anything, it just made me feel all warm and fuzzy and anticipatory. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s the point.)

Here we see Rey (Daisey Ridley) coming to the end of her quest to fight for what’s right and to find out who she is. On the way, she has guidance from multiple voices through the Force — first with Luke Skywalker, then what sounds like Finn’s (John Boyega) voice (over a shot of Rose Tico! She’s back, ya jerks!), then Kylo Ren (Adam Diver), then evil, apparently eternal baddie Chancellor Palpatine AKA The Evil Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), then Luke again, and then…in a goosebump moment, Leia.

Throw in some cool lightsaber action, more Millennium Falcon, a touching moment from C-3PO (of all people), John Williams’ rousing score, a wild shot of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian riding a tauntaun, a teasing Reylo moment and some ship ruins, and you’ve got yourself a final “Star Wars” trailer that gives away nothing but hits all the right nostalgic notes (seriously, that Threepio bit almost made me tear up at work. Almost. Then Carrie Fisher’s voice popped up and it was all over).

I’m really, really, really hoping the film’s subtitle is referring to a new classification of Jedi after the events of “Last Jedi,” where Luke found a way to channel both sides of the Force into something transcendent — no longer a binary good/bad, but something else entirely. A Skywalker Jedi.

Or it could be referring to the fact that Rey is Kylo’s long-lost sister and therefore both are baby Skywalkers, and we take this myth full circle. It’s J.J. Abrams, so both are equally possible!

But I already got my ticket to see it, so it worked, I guess. And at this point, you already know if you’re going to see this movie or not.

What did y’all think? Sound off in the comments.

episode ix the rise of skywalker GIF

Weathering the storm

Happy Monday (and also, Happy Back To The Future Day.) Welcome back to Jacob’s Letter, a free pop culture newsletter full of puns and badly-PhotoShopped dog photos.

This week again features no PhotoShop, just a joyous photo of Nova enjoying some cool weather last year.

Zoom zoom zoom

Fall weather has indeed arrived in Dallas, with a cold front bringing thunderstorms and tornadoes to Dallas Sunday night.

We’re OK, and our neighborhood wasn’t hit with anything more than some wind and lots of rain, but many people are displaced and several businesses are destroyed. Click here to learn more about storm damage in the area and how to help. Weather for North Texas this year has been particularly bad, and this was just the latest in a long line of storms that have made life hard for a lot of people.

Anyway, we still have a newsletter this week because my form of recreation is writing this after covering storms for 12 hours, so read more for thoughts on Shea Serrano’s new book, new streaming news and some more pop culture recommendations.

(Also, have you subscribed to this newsletter yet? Click this button to get started):

Old Movies (And Other Things)

classic film comedy GIF

In this week’s latest Dumb Online Controversy:

Earlier this month, author, podcaster, national treasure, Big Red and barbacoa connoisseur and favorite son of San Antonio, Shea Serrano, released his third book with illustrator Arturo Torres called “Movies (And Other Things).” It is a very conversationally-written book containing questions and topics one might discuss if you were just sitting around passing the time talking about movies. Questions like, “Who’s the better Tough Guy Movie dog owner?” and “Were the ‘Jurassic Park’ raptors just misunderstood?” Fun stuff. I’m halfway through my copy already.

(But don’t get deceived — The casual writing style Serrano employs is his greatest asset. It makes it easier for him to make larger points about diversity or injustice in America, or heartfelt anecdotes about his family. Reading his writing is like taking part in a conversation, and that’s hard to pull off. Anyway, moving on.)

In an interview for Esquire while promoting the book, Serrano said the following:

I’m not really an Old Movie Guy, and you chose to focus only on movies from the ‘80s—and really the ‘90s—on. Are you like me in that you don’t see a ton of appeal in movies older than that?

I'm with you on that. I watch old movies and I'm like, "No, thanks." They're not fun. It's clear they were still trying to figure out how to do things. Some of them, of course, were undeniable, like a Jaws or Star Wars or Indiana Jones. You watch those and you go, "Oh, I see in this the bones of what eventually became whatever action franchise.” Or Alien. [But mostly], they’re just not that fun to watch.

When I was working on the “Heist” chapter, I was reading best lists of heist movies. One that kept appearing on the list was this movie called Rififi. It's in black and white. Everybody talks about how great it was. They do this really cool trick in there where there's a long stretch of just straight-up silence while they try to break into wherever. I get it. That part was cool, and I imagine, at the time, it was really fun. But you watch it today, and it's just not that great.

Do you think people just get accustomed to a certain [technical] level of moviemaking?

Yeah. The same thing happened when I was researching for the basketball book, and everybody just fawned over the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from the early '80s. I was a baby at the time, but I went back and rewatched it. If you watch a four-minute stretch of any of those games, they're not that great. I'm just like, if I drop a LeBron James in on this game, you all are all f—ing getting murdered.This is crazy.

And then the internet blew up with hatred that someone might possibly have an opinion that he likes movies from one era over another, and Film Twitter did what Film Twitter does and raked him over the coals for it for 48 hours before they moved on to getting mad that another 1970s director hates Marvel films.

Anyway, Serrano comes by it honestly — he admits his tastes in the intro to his book, and he never proclaimed to be the arbiter of film history. The book is just about having fun talking about movies. And he never said he had never seen an old movie, just that he didn’t care for them, so he didn’t write about them.

Film criticism is one of the only mediums where people get visibly upset if you admit you have a blind spot (“What! You haven't seen that?! Go see it now!”). (Note: I have been this person. I am trying to do better.) In my experience, nobody really cares if you admit you don't like older music, or older books. But mention you’ve never seen, or don’t like, “Pulp Fiction” or something, and it’s a blight on your credibility.

That attitude of having to know everything that came before you is gatekeeping, and it’s an attitude employed by older stalwarts of any industry to keep younger (and more diverse) voices out. Nobody was born knowing everything, and everyone has their own tastes. I like old movies, but I’m just now getting to a point where I appreciate them, and some of them make you realize every era had its trash movies and its great movies. Just because one dude says he doesn't watch movies that are more than 30 years old doesn't impune on your right to enjoy them.

Some of this could be because film is one of the youngest entertainment mediums we have, yet its history is already in danger because of streaming services only showing movies from about 1975 onward. But nobody’s stopping you from going to your library to find the classics or looking up old movies if you really want to watch something from the ‘40s.

In conclusion, watch what you want, and encourage more people to get into writing about what they like.


Islands in the Stream

Country Music Love GIF by Dolly Parton

“Islands in the Stream” is a new segment where I’ll discuss any and all happenings on the streaming front every week, since there’s so much of it now. While you’re here, read my deep dive for WFAA about how diverse the streaming landscape is becoming.

This week:

  • Netflix released some (self-reported) data from its third quarter earnings call. Highlights include the third season of “Stranger Things” pulling in the most viewers of any Netflix show ever, with 64 million member households watching the show. It had previously stated that 40.7 million accounts watched the show in the first four days of its season 3 debut, a record.

    Other numbers of note: The limited, ripped-from-the-headlines series “Unbelievable” was watched by 32 million member households in its first 28 days, while “Tall Girl,” a YA drama about the pains of being…a tall girl, was viewed by 41 million households in the first 28 days.

    It’s important to note that these numbers aren’t independently verifiable because Netflix only releases numbers when it wants to, and a “view” just means that one account watched just 70 percent of one episode of a show. Even still, those numbers are pretty big. Read the full report here.

  • Last week I recommended “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” a Studio Ghibli film. Studio Ghibli films have long been distributed by Disney in America, but none of the studio’s films were on the massive Disney+ library list released last week. At first, I thought that was because Ghibli has famously declined to stream its films anywhere. But this week, in an unpredicted move, HBO Max announced that it would stream the entire Ghibli catalog (including those originally distributed in the States by Disney) upon its launch next year.

  • AMC is starting to compete with streaming by launching its own VOD service. AMC Theatres On Demand launched last Tuesday, and it offers about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs, like the iTunes store or Amazon Prime. Studios like Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have already inked deals to get their movies on the new service. Price points are between $3 to $5.99 to rent and $9.99 to $19.99 to buy, and people can earn AMC Stubs points when they use the service.

    I was wondering when something like this would happen ever since I interviewed some folks from a Calif. startup a few years ago that wanted to put same-day theatrical release films in people’s homes. That still may happen in the future. What a time that would be.

    More: California startup XCINEX is betting on moviegoers staying at home


Trailer Park

Want more trailer news for all the movies coming out this September and October? I have just the thing: Read my fall movie season preview here at jakeharrisblog.com.

Before we get into the two trailers I want to talk about, I’m trying something different this week. Stay tuned for later tonight, when I’ll have another newsletter about the most anticipated trailer of the year…the final spot for “Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker.” It’ll air on ESPN (not ABC as I previously wrote…that shows you how long it’s been since I’ve regularly watched MNF) during halftime of tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

“The Outsider”

“The Outsider,” Stephen King’s last novel, seemed destined for a film or TV adaptation from the get-go. Its themes of duality, truth and fake news are very of-the-times, and the writing is King at his most accessible. This trailer for the HBO limited series debuts some inspired casting choices (namely, Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo as two detectives) and looks creepy without being too scary.

More: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ the light’s winning — barely

“Bombshell”

Give the makeup team an Oscar already. Director Jay Roach has a track record with handling political and controversial material, like with “Trumbo,” “All the Way,” “Recount” and “Game Change.” This boasts a strong cast and a lot of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, and I hope the finished product is written and directed as well as it’s acted. This could potentially be 2019’s “Vice” — a politically charged, well-acted movie with great makeup effects that gets mixed reviews.

On another note, I still can’t tell if scoring this trailer to Billie Elish’s “bad guy” is inspired or way too on-the-nose.


Letter of Recommendation

Movie: If you, like me, are in the mood to just shut off your brain and enjoy a monster movie that is exactly as advertised: Get thee to your local Redbox and rent “Crawl,” a taut, sub-90-minute thrill ride about a woman who must get her injured dad out of his flooded Florida home during a Category 5 hurricane. The only problem? They must evade two alligators that have posted up in the house and want to kill them.

Roger Ebert always said that you should judge a movie based on its merits and whether or not it succeeds at doing what it set out to do. So instead of comparing something like “Citizen Kane” to “Jaws,” you can accept that both are great movies doing very different things. In that regard, “Crawl” is a five-star monster movie masterpiece.

Look Search GIF by The Crawl Movie

Music: I found the latest album from “Monster Rally” this week on Spotify while I was looking for some good music to have on in the background while I work. From what I can tell, it’s a one-man band made up of a guy who takes old surf-rock and psychedelic instrumental music and remixes it with hip-hop beats. So, basically, my aloha shirt aesthetic set to music.

It’s very soothing and makes me feel like I’m on my own private island even when I’m working on breaking news.

Podcast: Comedian Pete Holmes always broaches a lot of different topics on his “You Made It Weird” podcast. The recent one he did with 21st-century Stoic ambassador Ryan Holiday touches on everything from writing to comedy to religion to being present in everyday life. A great conversation. You can listen to it here.


Friday News Dump

A list of online stuff I really liked this week:

  • David Harbour as Grouch is the gritty reboot you didn’t know you needed:

  • And this tweet made me cackle so hard I watched it on a loop for a minute straight:


That’s all, folks. If you liked what you saw here, click that subscribe button (promise I won’t send any annoying emails) and tell all your friends!

This newsletter is written by me and edited by my favorite person, Taylor Tompkins. Views expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of my employer, yadda yadda yadda.

If there’s anything you want to see covered in a future newsletter, let me know!

You can find me in other corners of the internet as well, if you so choose. There’s my personal website (which focuses on pop culture, faith and my journalism clips), a Twitter account and a Letterboxd account. Subscribe away.

See you next week,

Jake

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