The Art and Musings of Felix Quinonez Jr.

Can You Enjoy a Movie You Don’t Fully Understand?

 Stills from  The Fountain, Inception,  and  The Tree of Life

Stills from The Fountain, Inception, and The Tree of Life

Felix Quinonez Jr. 

We all experience movies in our own ways. There’s certainly no right way to enjoy a film. Still, most people would agree that the story is a very important cinematic element. But is it possible to enjoy a movie if you don’t really understand the story?

Some movies don’t offer clear-cut stories that get neatly wrapped up in a bow. They are instead thought provoking and make you work for the payoff. Often times, they require a second viewing. But in order for us to commit ourselves to re-watching something, we have to enjoy it at least somewhat. Except, how can we enjoy something we don’t really understand?

We all have certain movies that we enjoy even if we don’t fully grasp what they’re trying to say. We enjoy them even if we can’t fully articulate what it is about them that we love. For me, Shane Carruth’s work is a perfect example of this. Although I love both of his directorial efforts, Primer and Upstream Color I can’t necessarily say that I fully “get” them.

Primer, which was made for a mere $7,000 is one of the most complex time travel moves ever made. It’s a cerebral puzzle that all but requires multiple viewings. It’s almost painfully short on exposition and littered with scientific jargon. The movie does not hold the audiences’ hands but even at its most confusing it’s at least equally captivating.

 Poster for  Primer

Poster for Primer

The movie is about two friends, Abe (David Sullivan) and Aaron, (Shane Carruth) who inadvertently make a time machine. The two had been working on experiments in Aaron’s garage when they realized that one of their creations had an unexpected side effect. The machine was intended to be used reduce an object’s weight but it instead created a sort of A- to- B time loop for the objects inside. The objects could travel from point A, when the machine was turned on to point B when it was turned back. But more importantly it could go back from point B to point A.

Abe modifies the machine to allow a person to fit inside of it. They initially plan to use it to make money on the stock market. But predictably enough, it doesn’t take long for things to go wrong. And before you know it there are multiple timelines and doubles involved.

One of the most refreshing things about the Primer is the time traveling elements of it. The movie’s time traveling has an almost “workman” like approach to it that isn’t usually seen in movies. But that makes sense because usually when people discover things, they are the more basic version of it. They are only refined over time and gradually. In Primer time travel is discovered in a character’s garage and by accident. Because of this it makes perfect sense that the movie essentially uses the 1.0 version of time travel.

The machine can take the passenger back in time but only to the time it was turned on at. They turn the machine at 9am and then they hide away somewhere private for 6 hours to be away from the world. They also use this time to read up on the stock market to see what stocks to invest in. At 3pm they go into the machine for 6 hours and come out back at 9 am.

It’s a very refreshing version of a time machine. And its somewhat rudimentary function works to make the movie more grounded. The dialogue is another great asset of the movie. So often movies are afraid that audiences will be confused so they have characters speak expository lines to explain things to the viewers. And it usually feels very contrived.

But in Primer the characters speak in a more organic way. People who could conceivably create a time machine wouldn’t stop to explain things to each other. So it might be confusing but it’s also more natural. It feels less like you’re watching a movie then witnessing a genuine moment of genius happening.

The movie trusts that audiences will be intrigued enough to watch it a second time to better understand it. And those that do will be rewarded for their patience. Watching Primer a second time is almost like seeing a completely different movie.

His second movie Upstream Color didn’t generate as much buzz as Primer but it was no less intriguing. The movie is about a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is kidnapped and drugged by a mysterious thief. He forces her to ingest a larva that contains a potent mind control substance. While under his control, she is persuaded to sell her house and transfer all of the funds to him.

 Poster for  Upstream Color

Poster for Upstream Color

When she comes to, she has no memory of what happens and is understandably shaken. At this point, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) who may have also been the victim of a similar experience. They slowly become close and start a relationship as they attempt to rebuild their lives and get to the bottom of this traumatic event. And as they get closer, their lives and memories begin to inexplicably blend together

But that’s obviously only scratching the surface of the movie’s story. Upstream Color tells a love story that is fractured and confusing but also captivating. It doesn’t so much feel like watching a movie but more like being trapped in someone else’s dream.

And like primer, it is almost impossible to fully grasp in one sitting. But not being able to understand these movies is also part of their appeal. They both draw you in but always leave the payoff slightly out of reach. Sometimes it even feels like scenes cut away too early leaving you scratching your head. It forces you to rewind or watch the movie again to see if you missed something.

And both movies are loaded with style, emotion and great performances. But Shane Carruth is hardly the first director whose work leaves audiences scratching their heads. And there is clearly a demand for thoughtful movies that make the viewer work for the payoff. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, was the rare cerebral movie that was also a huge blockbuster. It grossed over $800 million worldwide. And movies like The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick, attract audiences and have gotten plenty of awards recognition. And while The Fountain, directed by Darren Aronofsky, didn’t captivate audiences or critics, it still has its fans.

Viewers can enjoy the big picture of the story even if it’s hard to fully grasp all the details. And they are intriguing enough to make you come back to them to try to unravel the whole thing.

These movies make you feel like you are in a maze that you can’t help but enjoy getting lost in. You want to navigate its mystery because they are entertaining enough that it makes the effort worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Years Ago Interpol Released Turn on the Bright Lights and Helped Ignite the NYC Rock Revival

 Turn on the Bright Lights album cover

Turn on the Bright Lights album cover

Felix Quinonez Jr.

15 years ago, no one could have known that Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol’s debut album, would help define, not only the New York City rock revival scene but also a period in time. When you’re in the moment it’s impossible to see the whole picture or know what it will eventually mean. And that was the case when Turn on the Bright Lights came out in 2002.

The album was the culmination of five years worth of work. And although they put all of their time and effort into that, they had no way of knowing if it would connect with anybody. Their biggest aspiration at the time was that they hoped they could quit their day jobs.

But the album was released to critical acclaim and would go on to become one of the most influential albums of its decade. It was a beloved debut that defined the era and influenced many other bands.

In the time since then, the band’s luster has since diminished. The cool mysterious air around them slowly dissipated. They are no longer critical darlings or sell as many albums as they once did. Many would argue that they haven’t necessarily lived up to the promise of their debut album.

Another argument could be the fact that the musical landscape has change a lot since 2002. And because they are so closely associated with the early 2000s NYC indie rock scene, many aren’t interested in them anymore. To some, Interpol is a relic from a bygone era. But even their most adamant detractors would have a hard time denying the quality and impact of Turn on the Bright Lights

I’d love to say, I was there from the beginning, that I had the album the day it came out, on first printing no less. I’d love to say that I saw them playing sometime in 1998 during the shows that they were still hammering out their sound. That I had a drink with Paul Banks and the guys, that I knew they’d make it big one day. It’d great to have a story of the times I saw them in a dingy empty bar in the lower east side,

 The Black EP album cover

The Black EP album cover

But the fact was that I was just a teenager. And I lived in Long Island, which technically isn’t too far away from the Manhattan and Brooklyn bars that Interpol spent their early days building their reputation and garnering a following. But in other ways it was a world away.

And I had only really discovered music a few years earlier. I mean I always knew of music, we all do. But we also all have that moment in our lives when music stops being a thing that our parents or older siblings play in the background. One day we all discover the first band or artist that makes us realize that THIS is what all the fuss is about and we get music.

So by the time Turn on the Bright Lights I had only been listening to music for a few years. Needless to say I was not up on all the indie NYC buzz bands. I was still carving out my own musical identity and preferences. Defining myself by the music I was discovering.

At the time, the bands I listened to could have made for a nice starter pack of any teenager not interested in the growing hip hop/R&B trend. The bands I listened to included Nirvana, Radiohead, STP, and GNR, basically bands whose coolness had already been established.

So I wasn’t really on the cutting edge of music. And even though the buzz around the indie rock bands must have been deafening in the boroughs, that noise didn’t necessarily reach Long Island until 2001 when The Strokes became the “next big thing” At that point everybody was obsessed with them. Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, actually famously stated, “The Strokes could save rock n’ roll.” (Whatever that means.)

But to me, there was something, almost phony about The Strokes. For some reason their music didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a contrarian. (I don’t watch Game of Thrones.) But they were all over MTV and it felt like everyone was telling me I was SUPPOSED to love The Strokes, so of course I didn’t. I eventually came around but that’s another story.

As for Interpol I first really became aware of them with the release of their second album Antics. And like the Strokes before them, it now felt like they were being pushed on me. The Slow Hands music video was inescapable and people wouldn’t shut up about them, the same way they wouldn’t shut up about the Strokes a couple of years earlier. And to be honest, Paul Banks’ voice didn’t really do it for me at first.

 Still from the  Slow Hands  music video off Antics 

Still from the Slow Hands music video off Antics 

But three years later (in 2007) I moved to NYC to attend Hunter College. And by then the buzz around them had dimmed. I was aware of their new album, Our Love to Admire, but didn’t really hear anything from it.

But like most of the best things in life my discovery and love for Interpol happened unexpectedly. It was college, it was the city, it was a party. I was walking into a friend’s apartment, or maybe it was a friend of a friend. Who can remember these things? It was crowded; I was looking for someone I knew. And suddenly the opening to Untitled, kicked in.

It was playing loud but not so loud that people couldn’t talk over it. The chiming, guitars entranced me. The slowly building atmosphere filled up the room and suddenly it was like no one was there. And the vague lyrics came in slowly and piece by piece.

Surprise, sometimes/

Will come around

Surprise, sometimes/

Will come around

The lyrics were pieces of a puzzle slowly falling into place, revealing its meaning.

I will surprise you sometime.

I'll come around

Until the whole picture was made clear.

Oh, I will surprise you sometime.

I'll come around when you're down...

It was one of those vague lines that didn’t mean anything but could also mean everything. And it was a microcosm of the album. Synecdoche…A part that represents the whole. It was a mission statement. It was the best thing I had heard. It was the only thing I ever wanted to hear again. It was all there, Beauty, youth, longing…the meaning of life, of love whatever you wanted it to be.

And that’s what makes the album so great. It was the distinct work of four guys but it was also something that was malleable. Listeners could shape it to mean something different to them and connect to it, perhaps in a way that the band never intended it or knew it could.

Then that beautiful outro just plays, no words needed. Until it slowly and beautifully leaves you…standing there in awe that you had the privilege to hear…to feel such beauty.

Suddenly the friend I was looking for tapped me on the shoulder or said hey, or…well whatever, he was there. And all I could say was,

Who’s this band?

After thinking about it for a second that seemed to last forever, he nonchalantly responded,

Oh…that was Interpol.

Interpol. I had heard of them before, I had heard a couple of their songs. But this was the first time I HEARD them. But unfortunately it was playing off of someone’s Mix CD and the next song was…who cares it wasn’t Interpol.

 Still from the  Obstacle 1  music video off Turn on the Bright Lights

Still from the Obstacle 1 music video off Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights came out in 2002 but Interpol had playing shows since 1998. Lead Guitarist Daniel Kessler was the one who put things in motion in 1997 while attending NYU. Like most bands, Interpol is made up of individuals with their own personalities who bring their own contributions to the table.

If there was a leader of the band, it might be Daniel Kessler, the lead guitarist and songwriter, who used his own experience in the industry to help shape Interpol in the beginning. He is the one who got the ball rolling. Lead singer, guitarist Paul Banks adds the often-quotable lyrics to the band’s music and is a very important part of Interpol’s guitar sound. Drummer Sam Fogarino, who replaced original drummer, Greg Drudy, is key to the band’s sound and the other members credit his arrival to the band as a new beginning. And lastly Bassist Carlos Dengler’s local celebrity status and unique style played a big role in giving the band an air of mystery. And his musical contributions to the band’s sound can’t be overstated.

The task to assemble band members wasn’t an easy one for Kessler but he was up to the challenge. He was more interested in finding people with similar sensibilities as opposed to finding the most technically gifted musicians. Paul Banks and Carlos Dengler were already open to the idea of being in a band and they liked the music Daniel Kessler had made at that point. When Carlos Dengler was approached, it was just Daniel and the original drummer Greg Drudy.

As they started playing, they began to hammer out their process where Kessler would kick things off and the other guys would contribute after. Needless to say, they didn’t become a band overnight. And at one point as they were struggling to figure out their sound, Paul Banks, who wasn’t even the singer yet, almost left the band.

Kessler didn’t want to lose Banks and suggested he try singing. And as soon as Carlos and Daniel heard him sing, it became clear that the band and its sound were taking shape. Another pivotal moment was when Sam Fogarino became their new drummer.

Sam Fogarino was an acquaintance that, at the time worked in retail. Although they all say that Greg was a great drummer they also agree that Fogarino took the band to the next level. Daniel Kessler has said in the past that when Sam joined Interpol was reborn and became a much better band. Sam Fogarino described Greg as a capable drummer but stated, “He lacked the swagger that Dan was really looking for.” When Sam started playing with the band, Dengler said that he was really giddy.

In April 2001, the band travelled to the UK for a small tour and to record a session with BBC radio personality John Peel who had heard their demo tape. Although it was a small tour it still gave the band a feeling of validation that they were on the right track. And after the tour ended, they recorded with John Peel.

 Interpol early promotional image

Interpol early promotional image

Although they were staying on people’s floors, there was also a great sense of accomplishment for the band. And Dengler has stated that during that tour, it was the first time he signed an autograph. They also did get to record in the same room where Zeppelin and Bowie did so that was a big moment for them. And even though the session didn’t get broadcast right away, the recordings did get circulated to different labels and one of them wound up at Matador records.

While speaking with Pitchfork media, Chris Lombardi, co-owner of Matador records recalled meeting with the band the first time. He said he felt like was meeting “four businessmen who happened to be in the business of making music and who were very serious about their art. He had already heard their demo and was very interested in working wit the band.

A couple of weeks later, their manager announced that Matador was interested in signing a two-record deal with the band. Paul Banks’ first reaction was to ask if he could quit his job.

In the fall of 2001, the band headed to Connecticut to record at Peter Katis’ home studio. The result was Turn on the Bright Lights. It’s almost disappointing to find out that one of the most “NYC” records of all time was actually recorded in Connecticut, of all places. But being away from all of the NYC distractions was the only way the band could actually get work done. The band would sleep in the house and record in the studio in the attic. Sam Fogarino was the only one with a driver’s license and was always in charge with getting alcohol for the band.

He was done with his parts pretty early on in the process and wound up doing a lot of cooking and making trips to the liquor store. Daniel Kessler remembers that they barely left the house. In and oral history of the album from Pitchfork, Peter Katis described the band as “super ready.” and added that, “it was really more of a question of trying to get a really cool, good, solid, overall sound.”

But like with most bands, they had some tension at times. Fogarino and Dengler clashed a few times during the recording process. Aside from that a lot of time was spent trying to work around the limited budget and the band’s limited experience.

And on August 20, 2002, Matador released Turn on the Bright Lights. The album received very a positive critical reception but sales began very slowly. And soon after the album’s release the band started blowing up. Their US tour sold out at almost all the stops. In the past, the band had stated that during the tour they felt like people greeted them like warriors returning home after winning a war.

But one of the things people bring up about Interpol almost as much as their music is their style. Paul Banks has said that, “We take the look seriously, and I think every band should. To phone-in any facet of the artistic idea is contrary to my overall philosophy.” Chris Lombardi added, “That's how they rolled, and it wasn't a bad look-- it's not like they were wearing clown suits. They were well-behaved gentleman, which was refreshing.”

And their attention to detail even extended to the album artwork. The now iconic album cover was designed by Sean McCabe. It was a photo from his personal location. The picture was taken inside a theatre in London while he was waiting for the movie to start. But it also fits the album perfectly as it is dark, a bit abstract and very stylish.

But something colossal happened before they got a chance to record that would greatly impact their album, their career, the music landscape and the world at large. On September 11, 2001 the twin towers attacks occurred. So although the songs were all written before 9/11, the attacks changed how people reacted to these songs and they added more meaning to the songs, the album, and the band.

 Still from the  Obstacle 1  music video off Turn on the Bright Lights

Still from the Obstacle 1 music video off Turn on the Bright Lights

Carlos Dengler, who saw one of the towers go down from his 7th street apartment, remembered thinking, “how could anything go on?” Tragedy has a way of reframing the way we see things. And when it’s something on such a large scale as 9/11, it can make everything else seem trivial by comparison.

Sam Fogarino thought that they would all just shake hands and go their own way. He remembered, For a few short weeks in New York, everybody was your best friend. Everybody had your back. Everybody held the door for each other. And then you realize life has to move on. And lo and behold, everybody got back to it. You can't hold that city down.” And Dengler added that, “Things went on. Shows continued. Music continued.”

Before 9/11 there was a general feeling that NYC had lost some of its cachet. It was no longer the cultural epicenter of the country. Seattle had become the mecca for bands. But afterwards there was a cultural shift back to NYC. The whole country rallied around the city and NYC had no choice but to pick itself up. Its residents had to look within and remind themselves and the world what it means to be a New Yorker. And bands like Interpol helped the city find its voice again. And together, the city came back stronger.

Because of all this, it’s kind of surprising that Turn on the Bright Lights was only a modest commercial success. It peaked at number 158 on the Billboard album charts. And although Interpol got a lot of attention it wasn’t at the same level as the strokes. Besides, their distorted vocals, ambiguous lyrics, and dark moody atmosphere wasn’t for everyone so they attracted a narrower audience. However this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it lent the band a level of mystery that became a big part of their identity, especially in the beginning.

Turn on the Bright Lights captured what the city became after 9/11. It was a darker, often times scary place. It was filled with smoke and covered in shadows. It was real and tough and Interpol captured the emotional truth of the city during that time. The album provided so much specificity that even people who had never been here could see NYC if they closed their eyes when they listened to the album.

And it also captured the feeling of being in the city. The album’s dark atmosphere was like the sonic equivalent of the smoky bars all new Yorkers wind up at some point, where strangers promise to name their first born after you, if you just let them bum a cigarette. It captures what it feels like to be that age, the brief magic of youth that’s gone before you know it. But the album was also drenched in a sort of existential longing that anyone living in or around NYC could relate to in the new post 9/11 world we were all violently shoved into.

Turn on the Bright Lights was New York City incarnate. It was the feeling you get in an overcrowded subway car. It’s the moment you’re about to go out and the night is full of promise and anything is possible. It’s the lonely ride back home when you’ve had too much to drink and realized you blew your chances with the object of your affection. It’s all the shitty things that can and often do happen in the city. It’s every time you’ve had your heart and spirit broken living in this city. But it’s also every time the city takes your breath away and makes you realize that you can never leave this place behind. It’s reminder that it’s a beautiful thing to be alive, to be young and to be young and alive in New York City. But in a more universal way, it’s about navigating the strange and often wonderful path of youth into adult life.

With Everything Now, Arcade Fire Have Made Some of Their Best Work...But Also Some of Their Worst

 Everything Now promotional picture.

Everything Now promotional picture.

Felix Quinonez Jr.

Ambition is a tricky thing for any band. It’s a tightrope that they have to precariously navigate. Not having enough of it causes fans to lose interest and turn away. But bands that are too ambitious often alienate and lose listeners as well.

And Arcade Fire’s ambitious new album, Everything Now has proven to be very divisive for fans and critics alike. Their experimentation hasn’t been as warmly received as on their past records. But for those that have been paying attention, the album is a natural progression from Reflektor.

And honestly, the last thing we need is another band playing it safe. Arcade Fire is wiling to take chances when sticking to what works might be a more popular, lucrative alternative. And even if they didn’t deliver a great songs, that would be commendable. But fortunately for us, they did.

When their first album Funeral came out, in 2004, many were quick to label them the natural successors to u2. That album was anthemic and universally loved. It dealt with heavy themes like loss and grieving. It’s also the one most people refer to when they talk about Arcade Fire’s “natural” sound. It’s the one they wish the band would go back to when they complain about the band’s experimentations with dance music.

But if you look back at their career, experimentation has always been part of their style. Neon Bible, released in 2007, was at the time seen as a big departure from their sound and it, predictably, divided fans.

 Still from  Scenes from the Suburbs  directed by Spike Jonze

Still from Scenes from the Suburbs directed by Spike Jonze

Three years later, they followed that up with The Suburbs. While many people wasted no time, referring to The Suburbs as a “return to form” it would be crazy and lazy to call it Funeral pt. 2. It was however their moment to shine. The album received widespread acclaim and many referred to it as their “masterpiece.” It eventually won the Grammy for album of the year and catapulted the band into the stratosphere.

But it also left them in a tricky situation for their follow up album, Reflektor, released in 2013. They could either stay on course or switch things up. They chose the latter and the result is a change that is reminiscent of the transformation that u2 underwent with Achtung Baby. And although it initially received great reviews, it also divided fans. And it hasn’t had an enduring impact like their earlier albums.

And with Everything Now, the band has doubled down on the dance music elements and the result is a bold, beautiful and ultimately moving, if uneven album. It’s grandiose and heartfelt. But it’s an album that requires some patience. Not all the songs grab you immediately and there are a couple that might leave you scratching your head. But the album grows on you and eventually it reveals the beauty of the songs.

 Everything Now album cover

Everything Now album cover

Musically the album is adventurous and eclectic. If they were testing the dance music waters on Reflektor, here they have jumped in all the way. And like Reflektor, which featured LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Everything Now also has some big name producers. Thomas Bangalter (half of Daft Punk), Steve Mackey (Pulp’s bassist), and Markus Dravs (a longtime Arcade Fire collaborator) are all producers on the album.

A lot has been said about the album’s short running time. And it is definitely shorter than Reflektor and The Suburbs but it’s right around the same length of their first two albums. And it’s even longer than Neon Bible.

The album opens with the short Everything­_Now (continued). It’s a reworked snippet of the title track that, while entertaining, doesn’t really paint a clear picture of the album that follows. It does however perfectly segue into the title track.

As it has already been, repeatedly, pointed out, Everything Now, the first single does sound like Abba but it also sounds like…Arcade Fire. More importantly it’s an infectious, breezy song that has plenty of emotional weight beneath its pretty surface. It might, initially, seem like a slight song but its shiny veneer belies the heavy themes of disillusionment and alienation that it deals with.

 Still from the  Everything Now  music video

Still from the Everything Now music video

Signs of Life follows and continues the dance party vibes. The song is immediately catchy and memorable. A lot of derision was aimed at this song because of Win Butler’s subpar rapping. But he doesn’t actually rap so the insults are silly. The song is energetic and fun, employing horns, handclaps, and even police sirens to great effect. And it keeps the momentum going.

But the mood abruptly changes with Creature Comfort. The song is about the disconnect that is, ironically, a result of being constantly connected through social media. The lyrics are dark but powerful and moving. In one of the record’s most poignant lines, Win Butler sings about a girl who Came so close/ Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.” It’s heavy stuff but also affirming in that it acknowledges the fact that real tragedy is often overlooked while we obsess on minor details.

It’s a deeply touching song and a great way to end a nearly flawless first act. Unfortunately the album takes an almost bafflingly odd turn. Peter Pan isn’t a bad song per se but it’s undeniably a filler track. And while Chemistry fuses Jamaican ska rhythm and a catchy pop chorus it never rises above simple pastiche. They’re both enjoyable enough that you don’t have to skip them but they’re also completely forgettable, especially since they follow a succession of three songs that could easily fit on any “best of” compilation.

And things don’t really get any better with Infinite Content and Infinite_Content. They’re the same song done in two different styles. The first part is an upbeat energetic, almost punk song. It calls to mind Month of May off The Suburbs. And the second part is a laid back acoustic, almost country song.

But it’s also a cheap gimmick that was probably more clever in theory than execution. And the lyrics…well, they’re not impressive. However they’re short and harmless enough but having four filler tracks in a row is definitely disappointing. Things do pick up immediately after that and the album has another uninterrupted stretch of great songs.

 Still from the  Electric Blue  music video

Still from the Electric Blue music video

Electric Blue is one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever done. It is a standout track with a wonderful, moving vocal performance by Regine Chassagne. Good God Damn follows and is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. It’s a tight, catchy funk song. Put Your Money on Me is also a very catchy song that stays with you. It has very strong vocals and it calls back to Abba. We don’t deserve love follows and is the album’s centerpiece. The song is moving and powerful. It easily fits among the band’s best work.

And the album closes with Everything Now (continued). In a neat trick, the album ends the way it started. Like its opening counterpart this is a reworked snippet from the title track. So that if you play the album on repeat, the ending syncs up with the beginning to create an infinite loop.

It’s hard to say how this album will be remembered. It has too many great songs to overlook and at least four of them are simply amazing. (Everything Now, Creature Comfort, Electric Blue, We Don’t Deserve Love) But there’s also an undeniably weak stretch that brings down the rest of the album as a body of work. Those four songs (Peter Pan, Chemistry, Infinite Content, and Infinite_Content) feel like an island onto themselves. Quality wise, they feel completely separate from the rest of the album.

Even the best albums have at least one weak track but four is a lot. And the fact that the weak songs on Everything Now come one after another seems to make it worse. Also, when you take out the two refrains, the album really only has 11 songs so four is a big portion of that.

In the end it seems that the album’s concept got away from them. And that’s too bad because regardless of the concept, the quality of the songs is still the most important part. Maybe if the band remembered that some of these songs would have ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s hard to believe that Infinite Content and its counterpart would have made it on the album if not for the concept.

Everything Now is definitely not the misfire people want it to be. It has enough great songs tot make the album worth buying. A few of them might even be called their best but unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that it also has songs that are definitely their worst. And that very shoddy section keeps Everything Now from reaching the heights of their previous albums.

But all bands have a weak album in their discography. And up until now Arcade Fire was basically batting 1000. In fact picking their best album is a very hard thing to do and has led to many disagreements among fans. But at least the band made it easy for us to all agree that Everything Now is their worst. But to be clear, the worst Arcade Fire is still pretty damn great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is Hollywood Obsessed With World War II?

 From Saving Private Ryan, Directed by Steven Spielberg

From Saving Private Ryan, Directed by Steven Spielberg

Felix Quinonez Jr.

It’s been over 70 years since World War II ended but on the screen, the fight goes on and on…and on. It’s no secret that American viewers love war movies but among all the military conflicts, World War II stands apart from the rest. It seems to be the one war that filmmakers and audiences are always ready to embrace.

Like most countries, The United States of America was born out of war. Our History is often defined by the wars we fight. And we frequently talk about different time periods in relation to the wars they are most close to. (Post WWI, during the Vietnam War, etc.)

We have been in wars or involved in military conflicts almost constantly, even now. Wars are always a tragic thing; there is really no such thing as a “good” war.  As John Steinbeck described it, “All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.”

The loss of human life is always tragic. And by design, wars can’t happen or end without death. It’s especially tragic that so many of those killed are soldiers so young they’ve barely had to chance to really experience life. So many of them died and will continue to die for what are often nothing but abstract, stubborn ideals. Or even worse, complete fabrications that hide the real motivations. Many soldiers are sent to their deaths to defend a country that they’ve barely had the chance to see outside of their small hometowns.

 A scene from Saving Private Ryan at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

A scene from Saving Private Ryan at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

But why does World War II stand out among all wars? It was by no means the only large-scale war the US was involved in. World War I was dubbed the war to end all wars and was one of the largest conflicts in history. It had wide ranging and long lasting impacts on the world. And there were other wars that lasted longer than World War II.

And the attacks on 9/11 happened not only on mainland American soil but at one of our major cities. Almost 3,000 people were killed, over 6,000 were injured and billions of dollars worth of damage was caused.

9/11 had a huge and long lasting impact on this country. And yet unlike Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack that resulted in the US entering World War II, there are no Hollywood movies that lionize the events. And the movies that do deal with 9/11 are usually somber, often controversial and don’t attract a lot of audiences. Needless to say there is no Michael Bay directed “9/11 meets Titanic” summer blockbuster.

But there is something different about World War II. There’s no doubt that it was a huge war and that its impact is still felt today but why is it so popular on the big screen? While other wars make us want to look away, moviegoers very often embrace World War II movies. So, why is it so popular with Hollywood and audiences?

A lot of that has to do with the war itself. World War II was the last war to really unite us as a country. Since then, just about every military conflict and War the US has been involved in has inspired just as much protest as support. But in World War II, there was a clear delineation between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys. The term “good vs. evil” was something that was easily applied. And the impact of the war on the US is something that greatly impacts how we look back on it.

The fact that most of the fighting happened away from us plays a pivotal role in how we remember World War II and why many refer to it as the “good war” It also helped bring the nation out of the great depression.

But during the war, the soldiers had to live with the possibility that they might never come home again. Death was a constant presence. And because of this, many came home with a new appreciation for life.

They wasted no time getting married and starting families. This led to what is referred to as the “baby boom.” Having missed out on so much because of the war, the soldiers were eager to make up for lost time. They bought homes and went to college.

They have been often referred to as “the greatest generation” not only because they helped win the war but because they helped the country’s economy reach new heights in the late 40s and 50s. Having defeated the Axis Powers, there was a general sense of optimism in the country. There was a belief that there was nothing Americans couldn’t do. And the economy thrived as well.

In the eyes of the world, America had emerged as, not only a leader but also a global superpower. During the war, Over 60 million people were killed, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion) But America’s losses were minor in comparison to the other Allies and to the Axis powers. And unlike most of Europe, The US didn’t need any rebuilding and was the only nation that had the atomic bomb.

The global economy suffered heavily from the war but the nations involved were impacted differently. In stark contrast to many of the other countries, the US emerged with a very healthy economy. By 1950 its gross domestic product per person was much higher than that of any of the other powers.

Between 1945 and 1949 the United States was the most powerful nation in the world. And its dominance was unlike any other seen in history before. That's what World War II did for America.

Another big reason why World War II is the war we have no problem revisiting is because as, Stephen Ambrose, one of America's most respected historians, explains it, World War II gave birth to “the American spirit.”

Only 20 years had passed since World War I was dubbed “the war to end all wars.” But that certainly didn’t turn out to be the case. And Because of that, many people believed that the US should stay out of the war.

And as Ambrose pointed out, about 40 % of the American people were against entering the war. That is, until December 7th 1941. But after Pearl Harbor, public opinion about the war changed drastically. December 8th, 1941 had more enlistments than any other day in American history.

Because the war was no longer something happening overseas that could be ignored, Americans faced a common enemy and suddenly local problems didn’t seem so important.

Ambrose explained that, “World War II "strengthened us as a country "We were much more committed to the idea of country, rather than region. People didn't speak of themselves any more as being, 'Well, I'm a rebel, I'm from Mississippi.' 'I'm a Yankee, I'm from Wisconsin.' [It was], 'I'm an American.' That would always spring first to their lips."

 The Omaha Beach Scene from Saving Private Ryan

The Omaha Beach Scene from Saving Private Ryan

And another reason why they make for such effective movies is the simple fact that Hollywood loves to tell large stories with big themes and in broad strokes. And the sheer scope of the war allows for that. The war can be used to tell stories about the “triumph of the human spirit” that movies like The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, embody.

The atrocities of World War II are so inhumane and shocking that they allow filmmakers to show the darker side of humanity in a way that screams “serious film!” without exaggerating or resorting to sensationalism. And the scale of human suffering works well with “Prestige storytelling.”

There is an almost unanimous agreement about the war. And it invites reductive story telling that eschews nuance in favor of simple truths. Movies like Saving Private Ryan propagate the belief and branding of World War II as “the good war.” That’s not to say that Saving Private Ryan isn’t an incredibly well done film. Most people would agree that its many merits outweigh any of its flaws.

But it and many other World War II movies depict American involvement as perhaps more crucial than it really was. They portray Americans as the heroes that stepped in and saved the day in a way that is very appealing to American audiences and critics alike. Most people talk about the realism of Saving Private Ryan but overlook the fact that it’s patriotic in such an uncritical way that the movie borders on propaganda. And if that movie was about any other war, more people would have called it out for the jingoism it, at times, resembles.

And audiences are so used to seeing World War II on the big screen that few people even think twice about the fact that Inglorious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino, essentially turned one of the most heinous events in human history into a comedy. Again, that’s not a comment on the quality of the movie. But the audience reaction is very telling. It shows that audiences have become, if not desensitized, at least comfortable enough with World War II that it can be used as entertainment. 

 Poster of Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Poster of Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino

But ultimately, the fact that World War II is the war everyone can agree on gives these movies a bit of a pass. Filmmakers can approach a project with a sort of safety net that comes from knowing that these movies are usually viewed through a less critical lens than movies about other wars.

 

 

 

 

 

When Hollywood Couldn't Get Superman Off the Ground, It Was a Job for Smallville

 Felix Quinonez Jr.

 Smallville opening title

Smallville opening title

It’s been quite a while since the movies were able to get the Man of Steel right. But for 10 years, we were lucky enough to have Smallville, one of the best additions to the Superman mythology to ever hit the big or all screen.

These days comic book TV shows are a dime a dozen. And the movies dominate the box office regularly. It seems that every year there are more comic book adaptations crowding cinemas. And they are so prevalent that it hardly seems necessary to actually read comic books.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact when Smallville premiered on October 16, 2001, the show was seen as a big gamble. This was only a year after X-Men kicked off the cinematic comic book adaptation craze we are currently in. There weren’t really any live action comic book properties on TV. And the CW hadn’t yet crafted their expert formula for handling DC characters, in fact there wasn’t even a CW yet.

Smallville was developed by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. The series had a very interesting premise and revolved around a very bold rule, "no flights, no tights." In fact at test screenings, no mention was made that the show was about Superman and some viewers were very surprised when they realized they were watching a show about the Man of Steel.

  Smallville  season 4 promo

Smallville season 4 promo

The show took place in the titular small town and was set during Clark's (Tome Welling) teenage years as he developed his powers and navigated the halls of high school sans red cape. At the time, it seemed almost certain that the show was doomed from the start. After all, who wants to see a Superman show about Clark Kent?

The answer turned out to be: a lot of people. The show premiered to record-breaking numbers and over its 10-year run it would become the longest running comic book based TV series. It also won awards ranging from Emmys to Teen Choice Awards.

Although Smallville had a revisionist take on the character, it still managed to be very faithful to the source material and fans embraced it. It also provided a fresh take on the story and created its own mythology. 

The show began in Smallville in 1989, where we meet a young Martha and Jonathan Kent. (Annette O’ Toole and John Schneider) It seems to be just an ordinary day in the small town until a massive meteor shower strikes the town. This was of course no regular meteor shower; it was the arrival of the alien that would grow up to be Superman; Kal-El. That he arrived during a meteor shower might not seem like a significant detail at first glance but that goes on to play a major role in the series. The meteor shower was a very big event that would go on to shape the destiny of Smallville and connect the lives of some of the major characters in the show.

 Still from the  Smallville  pilot

Still from the Smallville pilot

It was also a showcase for one of the show’s biggest strengths, its willingness to take chances. But unfortunately that’s something that it’s never really gotten a lot of credit for. Instead many people were happy to write it off without ever watching the show. Instead of being a slave to what came before it, Smallville was daring enough to make changes and create its own take on the Superman Legend. 

This willingness of the show to forge its own path instead of treading down the roads we have seen countless of times before is plainly evident in its handling of Kal-El's arrival. As stated before, the meteor shower is a very significant part of the show. One of the main characters whose life was forever impacted by this event is Lex Luthor. Although various other actors portrayed young versions of the character during the series, Michael Rosenbaum, expertly, gave the principal portrayal.

Lex, in town with his father, was wandering through a cornfield when the meteors struck. He was close to the place of impact and was very lucky to survive. Unfortunately, because the meteors have a very strange form of radiation, it caused him to lose all of his hair. This was not only a cool new way to explain his trademark look but it also sparked his obsession with that meteor shower and Clark. And it made him an outcast as the other kids made fun of his appearance. This persistent alienation, no doubt, played a role in shaping the person he would become.

Lex would of course become Superman's greatest adversary but in Smallville, he was at one point a really good friend of Clark. For a lot of people, myself included this seemed like a very odd aspect of the show.

It wasn’t the first Superman story that depicted them meeting in Smallville at a younger age. But the more popular, “real” depiction has them meeting in Metropolis and immediately becoming rivals.

And for some, Smallville’s version seemed like too much of a departure from the mythos. And because of that, they didn’t watch the show. But in the end, Clark and Lex’s relationship proved to be one of the show’s greatest strengths.

A lot of people assumed that because Clark was in High School, he would meet Lex there. To many, this seemed ridiculous because, why would a billionaire attend a public school? The answer was; he didn’t. Lex was actually relegated to Smallville by his father to run a local fertilizer plant.

And the show handled his first meeting with Clark with a very exciting set piece. After losing control of his car, Lex drives off a bridge and hits Clark, who was walking. Clark is, of course, unharmed but sees that Lex is trapped in his car. Unwilling to let him die, Clark jumps in and saves Lex, tying their fates together.

One of Lex's defining traits has always been his obsession with Superman and it was great to see that in Smallville. After Clark pulled him out of the water he had to lie to Lex to protect his secret. After all if any mere mortal had been hit head on by a speeding Porsche, he would not live to talk about it. Clark told him that he saw Lex's car go off the bridge, from a safe distance, and dove in after him. But Lex knows that he didn't imagine hitting Clark and this sparks his desire to unravel the secret of Clark Kent.

This was not only a great way to set up a complex relationship between the two of them but it also fits in perfectly with the rest of the Superman mythology. At times you can’t help but feel that if Clark had just trusted Lex, then maybe their friendship wouldn’t have dissolved. Because of this, watching them together feels like a natural precursor to what would become a great rivalry between the two of them in the future.

In the later seasons, Clark would go on to wonder if Lex ever truly wanted to be friends or if it was all a scheme to learn his secret. Although it's not a very farfetched theory, Lex did spend hours trying to learn everything about Clark. But I do believe that Lex really wanted to be friends, it was just his nature to obsess over learning what really happened the day they met. He did after all barely escape death and he does remember hitting Clark with his car. 

But during the first three seasons, the two of them were really good friends and you could tell that Lex really cared for Clark. He looked up to him and longed to have the family that Clark had. It was because of this that Lex always tried to win over Clark's parents, especially his father. Unfortunately, Jonathan's mind was made up about Lex already.

It was always a bit disappointing that Jonathan, who is usually so kind, would treat Lex the way he did. Unfortunately Jonathan couldn’t see past the Luthor name and decided that Lex was as bad as his father, Lionel Luthor. (John Glover)

Because of one of Lionel’s past business deals, many people in the town lost their jobs and Jonathan Kent hasn’t forgotten about this. He still hesitates to trust any Luthor. This was just another great way the show tied the characters together in an organic way.

But Jonathan Kent’s uneasiness towards Lex served as great foreshadowing. Watching Jonathan repeatedly shoot down Lex's attempts to gain approval was especially disheartening because, as the viewer, we know what the future holds for Lex.

There were so many times that you can’t help but think, “If only Jonathan had been nicer to Lex..." These moments can be seen as turning points or dramatic events that ultimately set Lex on his path and sealed his fate. As Lex would explain to Lana, in season two, "In life, the road to darkness is a journey, not a light switch."

It felt as if the show was pulling back the curtain to reveal Lex’s secret origins. And it provided us with a new understanding of the character. It's kind of ironic that Lex's father was the reason Jonathan never gave him a chance and it was Jonathan's rejection that would help mold Lex into Clark's greatest enemy. Ahh, the sins of the father. That was one of the central themes of Smallville.

 Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang, Tom Welling as Clark Kent, and Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor from  Smallville

Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang, Tom Welling as Clark Kent, and Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor from Smallville

And one can’t overstate just how great Michael Rosenbaum was as the character. He gave a dynamic, rounded and multi layered performance that no other Lex has been able to touch, on the small or big screen. It’s absolutely no surprise why he became one of the breakouts of the show. And it’s no easy feat to make the viewer care about and sympathize with someone they know will become the hero’s greatest enemy. It also helped that he and Tom Welling had great chemistry.

Another character whose life was greatly affected by the meteor shower is Lana Lang. (Kristin Kreuk) We first meet her on that fateful day of the meteor shower. Her parents were killed during the disaster and it left her an orphan, like Clark. Her world was ripped away that day. But because a picture of her crying became an iconic representation of the events, it was also impossible for her to ever fully move on.

By establishing a deep connection between Lana and one of the show’s biggest events it became instantly clear that she was a very important part of Smallville. And to the show’s credit, it understood that they needed to make Lana more than an object of Clark’s affection.

And it did so by revealing a lot about her past and who she was. That might seem obvious but so often we only get to see the female love interest from the male protagonist’s point of view so it becomes harder to see her as a full person. But Smallville developed Lana, and the rest of the supporting cast, just as much as its hero.

And the meteor shower also tied her and Clark together. They were bonded by a common life changing loss. This loss made them understand each other in a way that no one else could. They both longed to learn more about the parents they never knew and their shared grief showed them that they weren't alone. 

 It also played a role in their relationship. It was a reason why it was tough for Clark to be completely honest and open with her and it drove a wedge between them.

It’s a very common story element in the superhero genre that the hero can’t tell his girlfriend his secret. And so often, as the viewer you find yourself wishing he’d just tell her already but here there is an added element to the drama that makes it more resonant. Clark knows how much Lana misses her parents and the hole in her life the loss has left. And because it was the meteor shower that killed her parents, he blames himself and his hesitancy to tell her carries more weight.

And their relationship is one of the biggest parts of the show, especially in the first three seasons. From the very first episode, it's clear that Clark has a strong infatuation for Lana. This is nothing new of course –especially if you know anything about the Superman lore—because how many times have shows or movies depicted a nerdy guy falling for a popular cheerleader?

But usually it's depicted as the guy falling for the girl just because she's pretty. No signs are given that he even knows anything about her and they barely ever interact. But Smallville builds a real relationship between the two that grows very slowly from the seed that was planted on the day of the meteor shower. 

Their Relationship felt real and natural. It never seems as if they liked each other simply because the script called for it. One of the most important things about how the relationship between Lana and Clark was developed is that we get to see it slowly happen.

At first they don't talk much but when they do, it's clear that they understand each other. When Clark first finds out about his origins, he's understandably shaken. He runs off without thinking and winds up at a graveyard...where he finds Lana.

At first Clark is too wrapped up in his own problems to wonder what Lana is doing out there. When she asks if he’s ok, he points out that he’s alone at a graveyard, does it seem like he’s ok? But she’s quick to point out that she’s there too.

It turns out that she was there visiting her parents’ grave. And in a very sweet scene she introduces him to her parents. But more importantly the scene establishes the loneliness they feel and the bond they share. She's able to console Clark because she knows what he's going through.

It was moments like this that made you care about their relationship. Whenever one of them felt all alone, as if no one could understand them, the other would be there for support. This is what made their connection seem real and why as a viewer it was hard not to cheer for them even when things moved slowly between them. 

And the performances were great. Tom Welling Kristen Kreuk had palpable chemistry. It felt like you actually knew them and couldn’t help but feel invested in their relationship. And you found yourself feeling genuinely happy when things going good for them. On the other hand, it was also sad when things weren’t going well and you found yourself hoping that they would work it out.

Each time, you hope that they’ll finally get it right. So when she finally does leave, it is a heartbreaking moment. The scene with their last kiss is not only emotional and bittersweet but it ties back to the first episode. This is done when Lana reminds Clark of something he said to her on the graveyard scene in the show's pilot.

But Smallville wasn't all about Clark and Lana, there was much more to the show and other characters that defined it. A lot of times in shows or movies, we only get to know a couple of characters and never learn anything about the supporting cast beneath the surface. Even though the show's star is obviously Clark, one of the breakout characters was actually created for the show, Chloe Sullivan. (Allison Mack)

 Tom Welling as Clark Kent and Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan from  Smallville

Tom Welling as Clark Kent and Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan from Smallville

Chloe is a character we've seen plenty of times before; the best friend who longingly pines for the protagonist. Unfortunately, the main character is love with someone else. But the best friend is usually a guy so it was great to have the tables turned for once. It was also really cool just how well developed her character was. Above all else, Chloe was a great friend. She was extremely loyal and protective of all her friends; especially Clark. She was often the heart of the show.

Even if it was always obvious they wouldn’t end up together, it was still sweet when they were, sort of, a couple for a few episodes. Unfortunately that ended abruptly when Clark ditched her at a dance to save Lana. No one is suggesting that he should have let Lana die so he could get to second base with Chloe but it would have been nice if their time as a couple lasted a little longer.

But Chloe did other things beside pine for Clark, she also had a great curiosity and the drive of a budding would be reporter. It was this ambition that often sparked a lot of the adventures that occurred in the show. And her curiosity often put her in danger and forced Clark to use his powers to save her. For all of Superman's powers, one of his greatest feats has to be his ability to keep his identity a secret. This is a large part of Smallville and it is even harder for Clark because he's still a teenager and brash...and has no costume.

And having an aspiring reporter, as a best friend obviously didn’t make that any easier. Chloe was very inquisitive so it made sense that she would notice that Clark had a secret. What's more, it would be unrealistic, if she didn't at one point discover what he was hiding.

And in season 4, she did just that. Alicia, Clark's obsessed girlfriend, stages a car crash to reveal his powers to Chloe. She figured that if Clark’s secret was exposed, he wouldn’t have to hide who he really is and they could finally be together. The shot of Clark Catching an out of control car in midair, as Chloe watches was not only a thrilling set piece, but a great visual callback to the cover image of Action Comics # 1, Superman’s first appearance.

Although it was a very exciting and emotionally resonant scene it was also a cause for concern. Would this change the relationship between Chloe and Clark, or worse would she be written off the show?

Luckily Chloe got to stay but their relationship did change...in a good way. It was cool to see Clark open up to Chloe...even more than he could with Lana. It also gave him a sidekick of sorts. And it made Chloe an even more likable character because beneath her concern and loyalty to Clark there was also a hint of pride and happiness that she was the one who knew his secret. 

And although he didn’t last as long as other characters, Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) was Clark’s other best friend. He is the king of character that has to grow on you but eventually you can’t help but like the guy. He was a perfect foil to Clark and the two of them had great chemistry. Their relationship was very real, both when they were getting along and fighting. It really seemed like watching two best friends that are practically brothers. Pete also helped bring a nice balance to the group and provided a lot of the laughs. 

Unfortunately, Pete often felt like he was in the shadow of Clark. Sometimes a rivalry arose and Pete felt resentment because he was in the shadow of Clark who had super powers. But in spite of any jealousy or problems, they always had each other’s backs.

And he was the first one to learn about Clark's secret and although his reaction wasn't as noble as Chloe's, it was still genuine. The fact that he knew Clark’s secret put Pete in danger and provided material for some great episodes early on. And despite the fact that it often nearly got him killed, like a best friend, Pete always kept Clark’s secret.

Although it was sad to Pete go, at least it was handled well. After almost being killed for Clark's secret, he decides to move away with his mom when his parents separate. The only sad part was that after leaving, the show treated Pete as if he never existed.

No one ever talks about the fact that they miss him. In fact he was almost completely forgotten until season seven when he shows up for an episode, with powers of his own. Although it was an entertaining episode, it was also a bit of a missed opportunity. It skipped the potential for emotional resonance altogether. Instead it was just a weightless if amusing episode.

 The iconic Kent Barn

The iconic Kent Barn

But aside from great friends, Clark also had very supportive parents. It should definitely be mentioned that Annette O’Toole’s casting as Martha Kent was genius. O’Toole played Lana Lang in Superman 3 so it was a real treat to have her here as well.

During her audition, the creators were impressed with her knowledge of the Superman lore. And when she told them that she played Lana Lang in Superman 3, they decided she had to be on the show.

It's always been very clear that the Kents were a big influence in Clark's life but it was really cool to really see an in depth look at how they shaped the boy who would grow up to be the Man of Steel. Martha and Jonathan were portrayed pretty much perfectly. Martha was as loving and caring, as you'd expect her to be. But she was also a very strong character and you could tell that she was the driving force behind many of the family's achievements. And she wasn’t afraid to put her foot down with Jonathan when he was being stubborn about something. In the later seasons she became even more independent and strong willed. And her foray into politics felt natural.

Jonathan may not have been on the show as long as Martha but he had just as big of an impact on the show and Clark. Their close relationship was established from the very first episode. It was completely realistic and it was true to the comics. There were so many great moments between the two of them. When he passed away in season five, it was a genuinely heartbreaking moment.

Although Smallville brought in a lot of characters, Lois Lane (Erica Durance) was probably one of the most controversial. Lois is so closely tied to Metropolis, that it seemed more than a little odd to rewrite their story to have them meet in Smallville.

At least the show came up with a good reason to have her in Smallville. It turns out that, in the show, Lois and Chloe are cousins. And because Chloe went missing after the season three finale, Lois came into town to find her.

But even so, Lois’ introduction to the show was a bit rocky. For a while it seemed as if the writers weren’t exactly sure of how to use her. But in hindsight, at the time, the show was in a bit of a transitional phase. Because the show is about Clark’s formative years before becoming Superman, it should have, ideally, only lasted a few seasons to really stay true to its premise.

And Lois’ arrival marked a new era for the show. That was the point where Smallville essentially rebooted itself. It was no longer simply a prologue to Superman’s life but the show became its own thing altogether. And it gave Smallville more freedom to go in its own direction,

  Smallville  season 8 promo

Smallville season 8 promo

It did however take some time for Lois to find her place in the show. Erica Durance was great from the beginning. She was strong willed, independent and funny. But because the show was so set against making her and Clark couple right away, the writers went too far in the other direction. Their relationship was way more antagonistic than it needed to be.

Slowly but surely, the two warmed up to each other and began the relationship everyone already knew was coming. And eventually they did make a great couple. In hindsight, it could be that the writers were simply playing the long game. Because after such a rough start, seeing them finally fall for each other felt like an even bigger payoff than if they had fallen for each other at first sight.

No doubt, emboldened by Lois’ successful introduction, the writers began bringing in other DC comics characters. One of the most popular ones was Oliver Queen AKA Green Arrow. (Justin Hartley) Before becoming Green Arrow, Hartley almost became Aquaman. Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar helped develop an Aquaman show for the CW that would have starred Justin Hartley as the titular character. A pilot was even shot but it was never picked up.

Gough and Millar were very impressed with Hartley’s performance so they cast him in Smallville as the emerald archer. Green Arrow was originally only slated for a multi episode arc in season six but because he was so well received, he was brought back and eventually became a series regular.

Initially, Green Arrow and Clark often found themselves at odd because of their differences in fighting crime but soon they came to respect one another. And eventually they became very close friends.

Hartley gave a very charming performance that really sold the playboy side of Oliver Queen but he was equally effective as the no nonsense vigilante. The show did a wonderful job of slowly revealing his origins and developing the character as he gradually became a more integral part of the cast. In season nine, he had one of the best story arcs. After being guilt ridden for killing Lex, he decides to give up being a hero and hits rock bottom. He slowly has to find his way back to redemption.

Another way the show took liberties was in making Oliver and Lois a couple. Admittedly that might sound a bit odd but Erica Durance and Justin Hartley had such great chemistry together that they made for a really good on screen couple. In fact, an argument could be made for them being the best couple on the show. (But that probably deserves its own post.)

  Smallville  season 1 promo

Smallville season 1 promo

But any discussion about the characters on Smallville wouldn’t be complete without Clark. One of the most popular—and unfounded—criticism directed at the show came from people who most likely never saw an entire episode. Many mockingly referred to the show as Dawson’s Creek with Clark Kent. A lot of people didn’t think the character was meant to be in a show like Smallville and they made up their minds about the show before really giving it a chance.

Because the character is so iconic, he means a lot of different things to different people. And they all have an idea of what the character should be and expect any portrayal to match that idea.

This means that a show or movie has to be really careful in how they depict him. And Smallville did a wonderful job with Clark. The show portrayed him as the brave hero and small town farm boy we expect him to be. But it still managed to be adventurous and show new sides to him. They made the character fresh again but stayed true to his roots. It felt like learning something new about someone you’ve known for a really long time. 

Although the first season relied on the "freak of the week" story line a little too much. Each episode revolved around a meteor-infected villain and it got a little bit repetitive. But even then, the show was always entertaining and there were some genuinely great episodes.

One of the early stand out episodes, titled "stray," was about a young boy named Ryan who could read minds. It was very moving and sad. It foreshadowed just how great Smallville would be once it found its footing. In the episode Ryan is used by his stepparents as a tool to commit crimes. It was really moving to see Clark and Ryan bond. And it was great to see Ryan obtain some happiness, even if it was only temporary.       

Another one of the show’s great strengths was its willingness to embrace the character's rich mythology, even the elements that might seem silly or outdated. It’s hard to imagine the current dark and brooding, cinematic, incarnation embracing the different colored kryptonites and their varying effects on Superman. But Smallville did just that, to great effect. After the “traditional” green Kryptonite, the show introduced the red Kryptonite, which removes Clark’s inhibitions. And seeing him cut loose with Chloe and Pete, who were also acting out of character, was great. 

Smallville had a great way of putting a new spin on things that we knew about the characters to make them seem fresh. Comic book stories often work great as metaphors and the show used Clark’s developing power as a great stand-in for his puberty. The episode when he began developing his heat vision was another early stand out. The power began uncontrollably manifesting itself whenever he became…excited. And his new substitute teacher had that effect on Clark. It was an entertaining and fresh take on his origins and touched on the fact that when you’re a teenager, you sometimes feel like you’re different or so misunderstood that you might as well be from another planet.

Throughout the whole series, the writers dug into the huge treasure chest of Superman stories. And they brought on a lot of characters. Some were iconic others were obscure. One of the fan favorite guest stars was the show's version of Impulse as Bart Allen. (Kyle Gallner) He was just perfect, funny, smart, clever, and kind of a dick. It’s understandable but still kind of a bummer that he never became a series regular. It was also great that in his first appearance the show included a little nod the character's comic book origins. Clark was looking through Bart's fake ids and read the names out loud; Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West.

And other DC characters that made appearances are Bizarro, Doomsday, Black Canary, Brainiac, Martian Manhunter, Zod, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Supergirl, Krypto/Shelby, Aquaman, Cyborg, Zatana, Dr. Fate, the legion of superheroes, Booster Gold, and many others. I really don't feel like even trying to name them all and searching online seems like cheating. And the show brought together a group of comic book heroes before Joss Whedons’ The Avengers with great episodes like Justice and Absolute Justice.

 From the episode,  Justice

From the episode, Justice

But of course all good things have to come to an end and after 10 seasons, Smallville finally came to its conclusion on May 13, 2011. The finale was a two-hour special that saw Clark finally embrace his destiny to become the Man of Steel. The first hour focused more on the Clark/Lois wedding and the second hour was the big daddy of conclusions in which we finally got to see the "no flights, no tights" rule broken. 

Unfortunately, as is usually the case, the series finale was a bit divisive. Many people have said that because we already know that Lois and Clark would end up together there was no need to focus on it so much. What's worse, some people saw the couple's hesitation and doubts in the first hour as attempts, on the show’s part, to fabricate suspense. But another way to look at it would be that the show was raising the stakes and reminding the viewers of the personal investments Clark had.

And if you think about it, everyone knew Clark was going to become Superman but it was still incredibly awesome to watch it happen. After all, that’s what Smallville was about; the journey not the destination. 

The main focus of the finale’s first hour was the couple’s impending nuptial and the uncertainty surrounding it. The idea that someone might have cold feet before their wedding is nothing new but the reasoning for Lois’ trepidation was great. It's not because she was having doubts about spending the rest of her life with Clark, it was because she knew his destiny and that the world would need him. She didn't want to be the one holding him back. If you think about it, that's kind of a good argument, but Clark was able to convince her otherwise. He gave her a very nice speech that really got to the heart of the character.

It was great that he told her that she wouldn't be standing in his way, that she would be standing beside him and that she wasn't his weakness but his greatest strength. Watching them get married was so great that it made it possible to forgive all of the times that Lois was annoying. And it also reminded us that it couldn't have happened any other way. Clark also had some doubts because he wouldn't be able to forgive himself if he ever put Lois in danger but they worked through that too. 

But behind all of the wedding plans there were some sinister things going on. Oliver was under control of Darkseid and was trying to sabotage the happy nuptials. He replaced the wedding ring with one made of gold kryptonite. This was just another example of the show not being afraid to embrace the geeky stuff about the Superman mythology. The plan was to take away Clark's powers so Darkseid wouldn't have any opposition. Fortunately, Chloe was able to spot this and she saved the day. 

 Michael Rosenbaum as Lex and Tom Welling, as Clark, reunited in the series finale

Michael Rosenbaum as Lex and Tom Welling, as Clark, reunited in the series finale

The second hour was the more action packed of the two. It also reunited the two major families of the show. On one hand we had the Luthors and on the other, were the Kents. Lionel was killed by Tess (Cassidy Freeman) who was then killed by Lex. It was really good to have Lex back. It's been said plenty of times that a hero is only as good as his villain and Lex was a big part of why the show so great.

Although the "magical mind erase" plot device had been done ad nauseam, the show handled it well. Before Lex killed Tess, she erased his memory of everything that had happened up until that point, which of course includes learning Clark's secret.

This makes perfect sense because Smallville is ending but the Superman story is just starting. This means that Lex is going to be Clark's nemesis and it would be ridiculous for him to know his secret. The Kent's family reunion was a lot more heartwarming. Martha explained to Clark that just because he's embracing the future, it doesn't mean he has to forget the past.

And bringing back Jonathan Kent, at least in spirit, was a great move. Watching Jonathan hand Clark the iconic suit was undeniably moving. And seeing Clark really fly for the first time was an incredibly satisfying moment. It was especially great that as he flew away you could tell he was changing into the costume at super speed. 

 John Schneider as Jonathan Kent hands Clark the Superman suit in the series finale. (AKA, all the feels...ALL of them!)

John Schneider as Jonathan Kent hands Clark the Superman suit in the series finale. (AKA, all the feels...ALL of them!)

What followed was really just icing on the awesome cake that Smallville was for ten years. Superman got to the business of kicking Darkseid's ass but not before saving the plane that Lois was on. This was probably one of the best moments. It was great to see him rescue the plane and look into the window to smile at Lois. It's a good thing she didn't have a seat in one the middle aisles, right?

This scene was definitely reminiscent of Superman Returns. And when I say that, it's a complete compliment, I loved that movie. But afterwards he got rid of Darkseid and broke his hold on the people by inspiring them. This was a really great way to defeat Darkseid. Because that's what Superman does, he saves people and shows them the good inside. But yes, it’s true; Darkseid was defeated a bit too easily but, that doesn’t mean he was destroyed. It just meant he lost one battle and if the show kept going, he would have no doubt returned to challenge the Man of Steel again.

But one of the finale’s highlights was the fact that they brought Lex back. And even though he didn’t play a huge role, there was one particular scene between him and Clark in the Luthor mansion that set up what would become their infamous rivalry. And after being away for a couple of years, Michael Rosenbaum perfectly slid back into the role that he made his own.

And seeing Tom Welling finally wearing the suit was what fans had been waiting for this whole time. And although it was short, it didn’t disappoint. Seeing Clark change into his Superman suit on the roof of the Daily Planet as the John Williams score plays, was simply perfect. The show couldn't have ended any other way. 

It’s impossible that anybody could have predicted Smallville would last for 10 seasons but fortunately for us, it did. The show kept the Superman legend on screen while the big screen attempts kept stalling. It was definitely a worthy entry in the rich history of Superman. And it showed us a new side of a character we all love.       

Up until Smallville what happened before Clark became Superman was usually just a footnote but the show managed to change that. It provided a fresh take that also managed to fit into the mythology. (with a few tweaks) For many people this was the introduction to Superman, a very awesome one at that. For ten years Smallville taught us new things about Superman and created a whole new chapter filled with exciting, entertaining and moving stories. And for that reason we will, “Always hold on to Smallville.”