Why Judge Holden is One of Literature’s Greatest Villains

Great piece on a great character.

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In the long list of literary villains, Judge Holden, from Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel Blood Meridian, is among the most memorable. In this post derived from his article in our Postgraduate English journal, Ronan Hatfull explains how Judge Holden embodies the best (or worst) of antiheroes from literary and cinematic tradition.

At the start of your article, you quote a critic who suggests that ‘McCarthy’s diabolic Judge has the demerit of earning a place at the table with literature’s most mischievous malefactors’. For people not familiar with the novel, who is Judge Holden and what’s so bad about him?

Judge Holden is the principal antagonist of Blood Meridian. One of the most frightening things about him is his physical appearance: he is bald, well over six-foot and hairless.

Although few of his crimes are ever directly witnessed by characters in the novel, McCarthy heavily alludes to Holden being a paedophile…

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Us (2019) Film: Hands Across America Event Illicits a Strong Time & Place

Hands Across America was a benefit event and publicity campaign staged on Sunday, May 25, 1986 in which approximately 6.5 million people held hands in a human chain for fifteen minutes along a path across the contiguous United States.

Director Jordan Peele uses the time period of 1986 to show a younger version of the main character. Peele utilizes the famous Hands Across America event to bring us into the urgency of the moment.

It’s an oft-used but very solid screenwriting nugget to help flesh out and bring to life a scene: use some sort of promotional material from the recent past, such as when – for example – modern day films sneak in Bush-Cheney campaign posters in the background of shots in order to illicit a certain emotional response or bring up memories of said event.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” did this well, utilizing a myriad of tools (including but not limited to presidential campaign lawn signs) to re-orient us into a particular time and place, a much-needed tool given the fact that the story moves through many years (decades) of time.

We remember really impactful presidential campaigns (if we were alive and self-aware enough to consciously live through and experience it). Every audience member isn’t going to have the same response to these tokens as the person sitting beside them but if the filmmaker picks a bold and memorable cultural artifact we should at least be able to recognize it and be able to identify where/when it was born into existence in relation to our lives.

It seems like an easy and super obvious storytelling trick to orient the audience to a time and place, but so often it is ignored, misused or underused as an effective filmmaking tool (especially in horror films). Too many movies go the dull and easy route, simply slapping white text across the bottom of the frame and labeling a time as 1976 or Twelve Years Earlier, as easy to pull off as just simply listing ingredients on the side of a soup can. Try harder…

The President Has Discovered iMovie

I don’t know who put this little clip together for the president, but if Donald Trump is using photoshop to attack his political enemies, it seems we’ve come to the first rough stop of what will surely be a brutal 2020 election campaign. He’s a conspiracy theorist AND a lover of memes? Jesus.

Bernie Sanders: The Issues Candidate

Bernie Sanders the candidate never really impressed me in the sort of transcendent manner that he did for some and I’d admit that I wish I wasn’t so callous to the point that I’m almost a little jealous that people around my age (24) could fall so totally and completely in love with a political figure such as Sanders.

It seemed to me that his appeal in 2016 was his straight forward, issue-centric exploration of American political ideas/ideals. He enthusiastically repeated himself on the campaign trail (Sanders famously likes to write every word that he speaks aloud, apparently), illustrating his economic or tax-related concepts with the practiced clarity of an old preacher.

A vote for Bernie is a vote for a refreshingly different political standard of anti-personality, pro-thought governing…literally the exact opposite standard of Donald J. Trump.

The problem is that Trump has now – in 2019 – taken America by the throat and dragged us back eight steps.

Do we want to risk going back 8 more steps and falling down a dark well with murky anti-democratic water to maybe never return from…to try and pull America’s weak-limbed body back up to where it had comfortably sat during Obama’s eight year presidency? (my metaphor is falling apart – i know – only spider-man could take 8 steps back down the interior of a concrete well).

Or do we want to crawl forward two steps at a time with a comforting sense of consistency and certainty? Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will crawl for you (maybe even in a funny zombie-like manner). They will fall back on moderate principles and enact practical systems that will most likely feel more like a 1960’s center-leaning Republican than anything.

But then what if this sort of heightened level of hyper political self-consciousness that I’m doing here (and many \, many other political analysts/commentators do) is adding onto an ever-growing pile of stinky, nasty cynicism that’s continuing to dirty up and stain political conversations in America?

Everybody has an opinion from their armchair, and everybody has an opinion of what other people’s armchair opinions may be. America is jam-packed with a bunch of rip-off, Nate Silver minions with average intelligence and quick triggers, scurrying around and slapping red solo cups (ideas) out of people’s hands, particularly the many groups of fervent and very young Bernie supporters.

Are they outspoken and often very wrong about hot button issues, such as when recently a USC student filmed herself passionately screaming at a pregnant Chelsea Clinton for her ‘perceived’ islamophobic comments two weeks prior? Yes.

But for each of these boisterous supporters, there are ten more that are interested solely in Bernie’s ideas for a more equitable political and economic climate in America, such as my dad – Terry – and his longtime friend, Pat (who I was partly named after – my middle name is Patrick).

The both of them wanted/want Bernie for all the right reasons – taxing the wealthy, reversing/easing the harmful symptoms of climate change, etc.

But it’s just not practically feasible to try to elect a candidate based solely on their ideas alone – and don’t think for a second that I don’t realize how unfortunate and depressing such a statement is for the state of politics in America.

Sanders’ unique wielding of grassroots politics, utilizing small donations from supporters to fund his campaign reveals a lot about the potential for a truly Democratic election process.

Sanders’ supporters have a really truly huge online presence, turning an election year sideways, fading the line between supporter and political aide. A journalist bashing other Dem candidates while at the same time not disclosing that he’s working for (or in the midst of a test trial to eventually work for said candidate…sure, whatever) a rival candidate is unethical and doesn’t speak volumes of Bernie actually backing up all of his big talk in regards to gender/race related representation.

“Journalist” David Sirota is white, male…very similar to the race/sex of nearly 80% ofthe staff working for Bernie in his 2016 campaign, though he seems to have taken the criticism to heart, bringing much more diversity to his 2020 team (that in itself is an important signal, not at all coming off as a false PR note: it’s refreshing to see a candidate accept faults and then actually put in the effort to correct them).

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A campaign aide masquerading as a journalist (such as Sirota has been doing) doesn’t set a great early tone for Bernie’s ever-growing campaign team. Apparently Sanders had sent out a mass email to his supporters before entering the young 2020 race, calmly denouncing any form of harassment and asking for the utmost of civility.

But hiring an attack dog such as Sirota as a senior communications official doesn’t exactly ring of empathy or non-division, which are as far way from most campaign offices that you’d have to buy a plane ticket in order to reach them.

For me, the problem with Bernie Sanders really does’t involve Sanders himself all that much: I simply can’t get the memory of his predominantly millennial-aged, crybaby supporters rioting at the 2016 Democratic National Committee, refusing to get behind Hillary Clinton. They were one of many factors that caused the worst and most unorthodox Republican candidate in decades to get elected (despite famously not even winning the popular vote).

Bernie has made himself into a noteworthy figure in modern American history, but based on his actions and impact on the 2016 presidential election, not on the 2020 election.

At the risk of sounding overly cruel (I’ll take it): if there’s anything that could sum up Bernie’s 2020 run, it’s the story that came out a week ago alleging that 77-year old presidential candidate had cut himself on the glass of a shower door and had to receive 6 stitches.

The passion of the Sanders campaign and its supporters doesn’t come around every four years, a very unheard of and uncommon form of passion (cutting your head on a sliding glass door whilst exiting the shower? Very rare, I’d think).

Messy, very unlikely, hard to explain how it could happen or if he needs more help traversing this new ground. Bernie will always be a provocative conversation starter but  if we’re being realistic…he won’t be stationed and parked outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, anytime soon.

 

The Last Jedi: Dissecting “Toxic Masculinity”

“The Last Jedi” has its defenders and supporters, but it has a lot more built-in messages than both of the two groups may realize. It’s certainly a movie that rewards repeat viewings.

The film is oozing with tons of admiration for filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, constructed in a familiar mold and used by Rian Johnson to propel the characters into engaging, even suspenseful, action. It shows us a series of situations with multiple different characters simultaneously, constantly cutting back-and-forth in the middle of an inconclusive sequence.

We see Kylo as a general, Rey as a trainee, Finn as an adventurer, and Luke as a very doubtful/dejected man having cast himself out in isolation. The anxieties and concerns that Luke feels are very real, perhaps too real for a Disney flick in which the primary concern is identifying which scene will suddenly break out into rainbow-colored saber duels.

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Poe Dameron is a cocky, surefire pilot with nothing to really lose. We don’t know for sure if he has a family but it does seem very apparent and obvious that he’s likely a bachelor. He’s Han Solo on steroids: passionate and motivated but very reckless. His desire to complete a mission, even if it would be more strategically advantageous to pull out and recalibrate, often puts the well-being of his fellow comrades at risk.

Jonathan McIntosh sums up the problem with Poe concisely and smartly here, so i’ll hand him the mic:

The character of Poe Dameron has a lot to do with both the subtle philosophical goals of the film as well as the pompous, overly hateful reaction that overflowed across the internet following the release of “The Last Jedi”.

I Don’t Understand the Love for Henry Cavill’s Superman

I’ve seen a lot of passionate people on Twitter grieving the loss of Henry Cavill’s superman role. The Hollywood Reporter released a fresh scoop detailing how Warner Bros. is allegedly releasing Cavill from his contract. It’s honestly not very surprising.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/henry-cavill-as-superman-warner-bros-dc-universe-shake-up-1142306

On top of the Mustache-gate debacle featured in Justice League, DC just simply took Cavill for granted. They thought he had a debt to them for building up his career in a major way with “Man of Steel” and that they could do no wrong. They mistakenly thought he was a team player, a DC-Lifer in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. is for Marvel.

The reality is that Cavill wasn’t that great as superman because the movies both weren’t very good and even, oddly, chose to use him as an uninspiring, emotionally void supporting character. “Man of Steel” was a subpar movie, poorly directed and slam-packed with so much corporate advertising that it felt sleazy and desperate.

The premise that Cavill has the “potential” to be a great superman if he were used properly is unknowable. He’s a stiff American Eagle model with the jawline of a God but the personality of an Olympic announcer. He says all of his lines clearly but there isn’t any real passion or character-building behind it.

It’s as if Henry Cavill had been built by James Lipton in a film factory that produces A.I. performers. The dialogue is written in a stilted and boorish manner, sure, but the choice in actor didn’t help, either. Let’s give our comic book characters personalities again, even if it means returning the diaper.

Why not give him a Kansas-style accent? Make him espouse American values, even if it’s slightly at odds with his morality or short term decisions/choices. The most engaging thing about superheroes is their imperfectness. The whole intrigue, at least for me, is the concept of ‘what would you do if you were suddenly granted god-like powers?’

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People have always claimed that fame reveals or amplifies a person’s true identity. Multiply that by ten or a hundred if that individual not only instantly became world famous, but also had the power and ability to spite his enemies with no recourse?

That’s an interesting dilemma and the angst surrounding such an issue was not believably brought out or portrayed by Henry Cavill. He looked contemplative and thoughtful when he was supposed to feel hesitant and broken. Neither the character nor the actor ever truly understood the magnificent impact of their powers.

 

Ready Player One (2018): Out With The 80s Nostalgia, In With The Internet

“Ready Player One” wasn’t only directed by wizened whiz-director, Steven Spielberg; it also featured an organic creative process by way of the original author, Ernest Cline, who wrote the screenplay adaption of his beloved sci-fi adventure, along with veteran scribe Zak Penn. It appears that Cline was forced to make some compromises during his journey of bringing “Ready Player One” to the big screen.

The music in the film doesn’t reflect the obsessive admiration that the character of Halliday, the super-wealthy creator of the oasis, had expressed as his favorite band, specifically the group Rush. They didn’t use this important artifact or interest of Holliday’s to advance the hunt.

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Ernest Cline may have helped buffer or subdue any fan feelings of the film being a poor adaption of the sci-fi novel. By co-writing the film with Penn, Cline takes responsibility for sculpting a script that he feels best encompasses the novel’s overall story, filled with cultural nods spanning back 50 or so years.

The mind-blowing exploration of living and speaking while acting scenes out as the host of a fictional movie character was an exciting part of the book that i would’ve liked to have been able to experience on the big screen. In particular, the book puts a lot of emphasis on Matthew Broderick’s character from the 80s classic film, WarGames, though it never ended up coming to fruition.

Whether or not it’s omission was due to technical limitations or the desire for more narrative clarity, it’s certainly a loss. It was an aspect of the book that was excitingly thought-provoking. There was some pretty high quality CGI effects  used in creating a much younger Kurt Douglass for “Ant-man”; one would imagine that the “Ready Player One” producers could’ve given it a shot.

But, alas, they stuck to a formula that works fine for mainstream audiences but yet doesn’t challenge the industry in either a technical manner or through their patterned, oft-repeated modes of storytelling. All in all, the movie is a fairly flaccid semi-analysis of the modern digital landscape.

I read an excellent analysis of “Ready Player One” that dissects the repeated attitudes regarding young internet entrepreneurs and their desire to remain perpetually innocent, despite the fact that their companies are quickly becoming massive social and economic powerhouses. Very similar to the character traits of Holliday, who Mark Rylance plays as a hesitant, socially awkward, and very isolated human being tracking back to his childhood.

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The attitude of creating something and then falling back on the nostalgia of working cheaply in compact family garages to build scrappy computers and change the world. But then once they’ve effectively altered the world forever, they fall back on their innocent intent to help the world and spread their honest, beloved creation, which, in this case, is the oasis.

It could also apply to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and many other young tech millionaires/billionaires. Simply because a tech prodigy didn’t intend to harm others with their software, apps, or other inventions, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t help create a balance and a safer environment for all of us to browse the internet without the constant fear or concern over the safety of our personal privacy and data.

The characters are well played with strong gusto and energy, particularly the young group of enthusiastic gunters. The Parzival-Art3mis relationship had an emotional impact and appeared to be molded by genuine emotion, but their will always be complaints regarding the appearance of Art3mis in particular.

We meet Parzival early on – he’s the protagonist, the tourist for the film’s ample universe. But in the novel, Art3mis had shielded her actual appearance from him in fear of not being physically attractive enough in reality.

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Other than a benign-looking birthmark on her face, she didn’t have any shocking or standout characteristics. It wasn’t a catfish story at all. The actress playing Art3mis, Olivia Cooke, is very, very pretty by all measures. But a blockbuster sci-fi film can’t really linger off into subversiveness and truly tackle some of the most complicated issues (?) of the modern internet world. It was just a regular old love story and I didn’t not like it.

The big bad, played by the deliciously sinister Ben Mendelsohn, who has acted the part of a scummy business man or greedy opportunist to great success in his last few films (particularly as Orson Krennic in “Rogue One”). He’s the unskilled partner out of the trio of former friends: Halliday, Morrow, and Sorrento.

Sorrento was never respected for his mental capabilities, often only serving up coffee and running errands for the busy minds behind the project – Morrow and, mostly, Holliday. He wants to reign in all of the clues and gain the fortune that his “friend” so devilishly left him out of. He maniacally chases after his goal for boundless power and fortune. It’s very entertaining to watch him chew up each scene he’s involved in.

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Nolan Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn, a prototypical go-getter, a perpetually stumped and grumpy-eyed quasi villain seeking the fame and fortune of his deceased quasi mentor, James Holliday.

The final battle is thrilling and entertaining in its scope and spectacle, but it doesn’t quiet reach the frantic heights that the novel set as the standard. The cultural nods are more modern and less related to the character of Holliday and his interests. As a character, Holliday is pretty one-dimensional. A lonely kid turned into a socially-awkward programmer and inventor. His story, the story of his childhood interests and his passions – that was the story of the book. Chasing after the empty memories and gems of Holliday’s past life.

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Not exactly a culturally iconic character for Holliday, who grew up worshipping the 80s, bit-model arcades, movies, and a specific sort of rock music.

“Ready Player One” was, essentially, an entertaining and diverting adventure through the spectacularly realized world of the oasis. it’s not the same cultural artifact that the book is – it doesn’t explore or expand on any of the very original, unique remixes of past stories and games.

It takes the basic story and accepts that its limitations are one of the best qualities about it, allowing director Steven Spielberg to sculpt the narrative by his own means. The adventure is enough, even if the journey itself doesn’t hit as many clever cultural speed-bumps as a fan of the novel may have hoped for.

Ready Player One articles that I enjoyed: 

https://www.polygon.com/2018/4/3/17192508/ready-player-one-oasis-virtual-world

https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/19/17250892/ready-player-one-book-facebook-internet-dystopia