Taking a break

For the past five years, I’ve been recording one second of video every single day, then assembling them to create a video representing that year of my life. I typically put these videos together after each birthday but I was a bit late this year. When I finally got around to it recently (see above), I made a startling realization: I’d been sick five times in 2017. I’ve written before about my recent illnesses but it wasn’t until watching the 1Second video that I realized how bad things had gotten.

I got a physical and a blood test and it doesn’t appear as though I have any serious diseases. But I’ve really run myself ragged this year and I need some time to step back and re-assess my priorities in life.

Thus, I’m going to be taking a two month break from the Slashfilmcast. For the first time in my life in over a decade, I won’t be running any podcasts. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my full-time job, my relationships, and my family.

I’m also planning on unplugging more — in some senses, at least. Starting later this month, I’ve committed to deleting Twitter from my phone for awhile and spending more time writing/blogging and reading. (That said, I will probably still auto-post some blog posts and Periscopes on there.) I realize I’m incredibly blessed and privileged to even have the option of doing any of this, and I am grateful to those in my life who have supported these decisions and made them possible.

I hope to return and join the podcast again for our Last Jedi review in December. At that point, I’ll know a lot more about the shape of things. In the meantime, we have a huge list of awesome Slashfilmcast guest co-hosts that listeners have been suggesting to us via email. I look forward to hearing new, exciting voices on the podcast. I look forward to learning how to relax a little bit more. And I look forward to slowing down the pace of things, for just a little while.

My problems with ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen. Director Dennis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a film that is chock full of spectacular shots and breathtaking tableaus.

But for all that the film does to try to explore the nature of man’s relationship to technology, I was still left cold at the end. I didn’t leave the movie with chills (as I did when I saw the original Blade Runner earlier this week), nor with exuberant joy (as I did when I watched a blockbuster like, say, Spider-Man: Homecoming). I wanted to love it…but I didn’t. I try to grapple with my feelings about in this Periscope broadcast.

As I reflected more about the movie this morning, I wanted to quickly jot down some of my issues with the film. MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM FOLLOW: 

  • Freysa: I don’t think it’s a good sign when your film only gives a proper introduction to a seemingly major character when you are 2 hours and 20 minutes into a 2 hour and 45 minute long film. It reeks of either attempted serialization (i.e. crazy stuff we might see in the NEXT Blade Runner that will probably never come), or just plain bad storytelling. On that note…
  • Skins vs. Humans: At the end of the film, Freysa makes a big pitch to Joe: Come join our robot uprising. My response to this: Who gives a crap? The movie has done virtually nothing to establish the conflict between replicants and humans. While Blade Runners still exist and retire replicants with some regularity (memorably so in the opening scene of the film), we see virtually zero indication in populated areas that the human/replicant relationship is fraught with tension (exception: Other cops hate on Ryan Gosling’s character at the beginning of the film, and he has graffiti are on his door). How many replicants are even left? Do all humans hate them? Are there any replicant sympathizers? What level of danger does an uprising hold? None of these parameters are established in the film. As a result, I just couldn’t find it in myself to care about the stakes.
  • The very last shot: One of the things that makes the original Blade Runner so effective is the fact that we are on Deckard’s journey with him. We see virtually everything from his perspective. That’s why I think the last shot of that film is so great: Deckard has come full circle and realized some truth about his situation. Blade Runner 2049 tries to shift that focus onto Ryan Gosling’s character, Joe. And while the shot of him dying on the steps as snow falls on him is gorgeous, the last shot of Deckard and his child kind of left me in a weird place. Deckard himself doesn’t even appear until 2/3rds of the way through this film, but when he does show up, his journey seemingly supplants that of Joe. While I think many will love that last shot, I just didn’t like how it didn’t match the emotional arc of the majority of the film.

I know some people love this movie (see: Matt Singer’s review). I think it’s awesome that the writer/director tried to take the story in totally different directions than the first film. That said, a day later, I still don’t think I connected with it as well as I wanted to and I’m still trying to figure out why.

Watch SNL’s ‘Papyrus’ sketch about ‘Avatar’

Last night, SNL aired a sketch about a deranged individual who was obsessed with the papyrus font in James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s a fairly amusing short film that derives its strength from being ultra-niche in its focus.

For months, a debate has raged on the /Filmcast about whether or not Avatar is still culturally relevant. The film is the most successful movie of all time yet left seemingly zero cultural footprint. One of the vaguely defined barometers of cultural relevance? Being featured prominently in an SNL sketch.

Looks like Avatar defenders just got another arrow in their quivers…

The summer my body almost shut down

A post shared by David Chen (@davechensky) on

“How do you have enough time to do everything?”

More than any other question, this is the one people have asked me the most over the past decade or so. When I was a younger man in my twenties, I overflowed with energy. I’d jog, bike, work, stay up till late at night using Lynda.com tutorials to teach myself how to use editing programs and take classes to learn the principles of photography. Even recently, I managed to direct The Primary Instinct while holding down a full time job.

Now I’m a bit older, and I find I don’t have quite the same amount of energy for getting things done. Nevertheless, life is for living! This summer, I still felt i could pack my days full of work and movie screenings and podcasts and still come out the other side better for it.

That principle was put to the test when my body almost shut down as a result of a series of illnesses. To be fair, this has been a stressful summer. I started a new, exciting full-time job at a large company. I hosted three podcasts simultaneously, two of which had pretty significant audience (i.e. over 100K listeners). I moved out of my apartment that I’d been living in for five years. I was going at life at a non-stop rate — at least, as non-stop as someone in my line of work can get.

Typically, I get sick once a year or so. I often come down with the flu during winter. It’s usually pretty debilitating, and it takes me out of commission for a few days, but its impact is quite limited and I move on with my life.

I was stunned when in mid-July, during the dead heat of summer, I seemingly contracted the flu again after getting it just a few months prior. After a brutal week of recovery, I felt things were better. I was lucid and felt good enough to go into work, even as I still coughed violently and felt generally miserable. The fact that Seattle was inundated by smog from wildfires significantly aggravated my condition and further slowed my recovery.

Roughly three weeks afterwards in early August, I was at work and waiting for my ride home one afternoon when suddenly I felt dizzy and cold. I barely made it out of the car and into bed. The flu-like symptoms returned with a vengeance, incapacitating me for several more days. It was time to see a doctor.

My primary care provider told me that he thought I contracted a sinus infection while I had the flu, and just never beat it. He prescribed me steroids, antibiotics, decongestants, and a few other things to get me back on my feet. Within two weeks, things were back to normal, even though I did get temporarily worried that the sinus infection had not been extinguished.

I thought that was the end of it, but three weeks after that in September, I went into work one morning and started feeling chills and aches and pains all over. It was like the flu, but much worse — a sort of illness I had rarely experienced in my life. A couple of hours later, I could barely move. My co-workers told me I was pale. I was confined to bed once more.

I went into see the doctor the next day, who told me that I likely had viral gastroenteritis (i.e. a stomach virus). One thing he said that will stick with me: “Sometimes, something like stress is all it takes to breach the immune system. Once that happens, the results can be all-encompassing.” There was no prescription for viral gastroenteritis, other than getting rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking it easy on the stomach in terms of foods.

It’s now late September and I feel a lot better. I hope I’m out of the woods now, but I’m not going to count on that quite yet.

I realize that everyone has their own health struggles, and that overall, I’ve been pretty lucky for most of my life to not have to struggle with chronic conditions that are debilitating or life-altering. That said, 2017 has been the worst health “year” of my life. I’ve never had so many illnesses in such a short period of time, nor have they felt quite so agonizing.

I’m grateful to everyone who has done things to take care of me and express concern for me during this challenging time. These events have really made me re-asses my life goals and my capacity to accomplish them. If I’m to take any lessons from this summer, they’d be the following:

  • If you keep pushing the limits of your body and mind from a stress perspective, there may come a time when it can no longer take it.
  • Online connections and friendships are wonderful but when you get sick, it’s only the people who you know “in real life” who will be able to help you.
  • Whatever enjoyment you get out of the productive activities in your life, it’s not worth it if there there are significant negative health implications as a result.
  • People aren’t grateful enough for the ability to eat and pass food normally.

Take care of yourselves, folks.

A brief review of Apple Airpods

I’ve been using Apple Airpods for the past week or so and I really enjoy them. I primarily got them so I could listen to podcasts while falling asleep without disturbing those around me. It can be difficult to do this with corded headphones, but the Airpods fit that extremely specific need very well.

Beyond that, here are a few pros and cons for the product.

Pros

  • The way they connect with iOS devices (using Apple’s proprietary W1 chip) is incredibly smooth. My bluetooth devices probably have about a 70-80% success rate when it comes to connecting seamlessly. Airpods have closer to a 90-95% success rate in this regard. To quote Steve Jobs, “it just works.”
  • Every component of Airpods feels like it was designed to delight you. The way the bluetooth connection just happens. The fun menus and their animations. The fact that you can program the Airpods to respond to touch commands, not to mention the fact that by default, they pause your music when you remove one of them from your ear. I’m a big fan of the whole product experience.
  • The case looks like a container of dental floss but inside it hides a battery that can charge the Airpods for up to 24 hours. The case can also give the Airpods 3 hours of battery life with only 15 minutes of charging. This effectively means that, even though the Airpods themselves only have 4-5 hours of battery life, I’ve never found the battery life to be a problem.
  • Apparently, the Airpods are extremely durable. In this absolutely insane video, the folks at EverythingApplePro put the Airpods through an increasingly outlandish series of punishing tests. The Airpods came out the other side working fine. Very impressive.
  • The sound is pretty good — better than Apple’s default earpods. However, there is no noise mitigation of outside sounds, so Airpods aren’t great to use in a vehicle or in transit.

Cons

  • At $160, they are very expensive for headphones that are only slightly above-average in terms of sound quality. You aren’t paying that price for the audio — you’re paying it for the convenience (side note: the ship time for these things is still several weeks. Crazy that you still can’t go into an Apple store and buy them easily).
  • Maybe one day these things will become fashionable, but for now, I do not find them stylish. I find them to be anti-style. I can’t help but feeling like I look like a doofus when I’m wearing them. I’m fortunate to work at a company where people don’t really care what you look like, but I still feel self-conscious every time I put them in.
  • I’ve never had an Airpod fall out of my ears, but they do have a very specific shape and if your ear isn’t suited to it then you are pretty much SOL. I have found that the Airpods get loose with even mild jostling, such as if I’m going on a jog or even just briskly walking across the street. Losing one of these in public would be a nightmare, so I find that I’m very nervous when I use them outdoors. Indoor usage is probably safest.

Overall, Airpods feel like the full realization of Apple’s utopian wireless future. I just wish Apple would license out their W1 tech so that all types of headphones and devices could enjoy this level of connectivity.

Pivoting to video isn’t going well

Heidi Moore, writing for CJR:

Many publishers’ pivots to video are ill-considered, and thus they have deployed minimal investment in resources, studio space, equipment, or salaries. This won’t help video grow. Videos that lack personality, style, voice, or visual interest don’t attract many viewers.

The video that does work online—and drives the thirst among publishers—is about food, lifestyle, and animals, according to a study of 100 million Facebook videos. The addictive, bright, fast food-preparation videos done by BuzzFeed’s Tasty are the industry standard. Business Insider also makes snappy, shareable videos that focus heavily on food and lifestyle, and successfully appear on several platforms at once.

When news outlets attempt video, however, it’s just as likely to be a disheveled reporter against an off-white wall, talking at the camera—informative, perhaps, but not well-considered for the medium. The proof that most publishers are getting the pivot to video wrong is how terrible the video user experience is for viewers. If video were comparable to text-based digital journalism, visually most of it is right around the Geocities, circa 1999, with intrusive ads and ugly text.

“Pivoting to video” was never about user needs or desires. It was a desperate ploy to go where the ad money was. For publications like Mic, the pivot is apparently going very poorly.

 

‘mother!’ review

This week on the Slashfilmcast, we are joined by Andy Signore, one of the Emmy-nominated hosts behind Screen Junkies, one of my favorite YouTube channels in existence. I watch Screen Junkies pretty religiously, and have been inspired by them in many of my online pursuits.

For months, we’ve tried to get Andy on my show (and me onto his, Movie Fights). Last night, we finally succeeded. I’m also happy with how this review turned out. If you’re interested in a pretty intense discussion about mother!, then check out our episode.

Halo Top’s brilliant new commercial

Halo Top has released a new ad online and it’s really something. Directed by Mike Diva and released on his YouTube channel, it’s creepy and unsettling and generally provokes a bunch of emotions I wouldn’t think you’d want associated with an awesome ice cream brand.

In an interview with AdWeek, Diva explains how the ad came together:

I guess the CEO has been a fan of my stuff for a while. He basically just said to me, “We already have enough commercials that explain why Halo Top is awesome. We just want something in your style that just grabs people’s attention.” I came back and pitched my idea in person. It’s one of those things where I felt like, if I just sent it to him over email, I would sound like a crazy person. I had to get in front of this dude and illustrate why it’s going to be funny. On paper, it just reads like it’s super dark, you know? I downloaded a text-to-speech app and kind of acted it out, and played the robot parts on my phone, so he would understand why it’s funny for the robot to say “Eat the ice cream” a bunch of times.

There’s also this later in the interview:

A lot of people are drawing comparisons to Kubrick and saying it’s a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it’s a direct homage. I actually didn’t want that at all. I had reservations about shooting in the 14th Factory Space Odyssey set. I didn’t want people to associate it with Space Odyssey just because there’s a robot in it. We yanked out all the furniture and redressed the entire room to make it look as different as possible. But of course, we still ended up getting a lot of those comparisons.

To quote Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”

Why I’m getting an iPhone 8 Plus and not an iPhone X

I’m typically a fan of buying the newest/latest/best, so I was psyched to see Apple’s presentation of its newest suite of smartphones this past week. Going in, there was much chatter about an “iPhone X” that would feature a larger screen than the iPhone 7, but in a smaller body than the iPhone 7 Plus.

As usual, Apple delivered in a big way when it came to sparking online conversation about its products. But for the first time in awhile, I struggled with the decision on whether to go in for its top-of-the-line phone (you can read feature comparisons here and here, and a neat MKBHD video here). After a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided to go with the iPhone 8 Plus. Here are some reasons why.

Most of the specs for the two phones are the same

The processors. The rear-facing camera. The wireless charging. They’re all identical in both phones. For me, the primary differences are the front-facing camera (which supports Face  ID and animoji in the iPhone X), the iPhone X’s OLED screen, and the fact that the iPhone X screen is taller by a few pixels. Additionally, I believe the iPhone X’s secondary telephoto lens has a slightly better aperture than that of the iPhone 8 Plus. If these sound like compelling upgrades to you, then the iPhone X is definitely the phone for you. But for me, they weren’t enough to justify the additional $200+ on the price tag.

On that note…

Think of the compromises

The iPhone X completely re-imagines the paradigm of how users interact with their smartphones. Face ID replaces Touch ID as how people unlock their phones. There is no more home button — instead, everything is driven by new gestures.

I have no doubt that Face ID will one day be the new standard by which all forms of biometric authentication are measured. I also think that one day it’s likely we will look at phones like the iPhone 8 and wonder how we ever dealt with a barbaric, massive bezel “chin” like that, whose only purpose was to house a home button in the center. But for now, those features feel purposeful and useful to me.

Due to screen size, one-handed operation would be too challenging with the iPhone X for me. The iPhone X requires you to swipe down from the top right for control center. Right now, I can unlock my iPhone before I even look at it, and/or swipe up from the bottom to quickly get to control center. These are actions I perform dozens of times a day without thinking about them, and I simply won’t be able to do those things with the iPhone X.

The iPhone 8 Plus still has better battery life

It’s supposed to last slightly longer than the iPhone X at a couple of primary tasks. Since battery life is one of the most important features for me in a smartphone, this almost swung the decision single-handedly.

The Notch

Maybe one day “The Notch” will be like vertical video — something we used to hate but is no so ubiquitous that most people don’t give a crap anywhere. For now though, it looks pretty terrible.

A festival of F Cinemascores

mother! debuted in theaters this weekend and it’s not only looking like it’ll be a lackluster box office opening, but the film has also received an “F” Cinemascore, indicating that general audiences did not connect well with the film.

Scott Tobias wrote a piece at The Dissolve (RIP) awhile ago tackling this very issue and proposing the concept of a film festival made up of only films that receive the F Cinemascore:

To me, what these cases reveal about CinemaScore is that it isn’t a metric of merit, but a barometer of comfort, with satisfaction on one end and estrangement on the other. But estranging qualities are qualities nonetheless, even if they break from expectation. The romantic comedies of Gerard Butler may be dull, deplorable, or some combination of the two, but they aren’t going to alienate people who unaccountably enjoy the romantic comedies of Gerard Butler. But when Killing Them Softly, a crime thriller starring Brad Pitt, forgoes action in favor of commentary on the 2008 financial crisis and election-year politics, it’s roundly rejected for the crime of cutting against the grain.

Movies with an F Cinemascore, if they’re not outright terrible, are usually at least interesting.

Thanks to Matt Singer for reminding me about this article.

Thoughts on Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’

I wrote up a piece at Slashfilm about my thoughts on mother!:

A poet and his wife live in a peaceful, idyllic home, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. While the woman is happy, the man begins welcoming strangers into their home and sharing his belongings, until the cost to his wife becomes unspeakably high.

This is the plot of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! which can be interpreted in many ways, but seems most obviously to be an allegory about the creation of the world, as told in the Christian Bible. I found the movie to be provocative, bold, and original, even as its basic conceit began to wear on me during the course of its two-hour runtime. This is a movie that will polarize people and cause some to walk out of theaters.  It’s also unlike most things we’ll see in at the mulitplex this year and for that, I’m grateful.

Also worth reading: Julie Miller’s excellent, in-depth exploration of some of the symbolism in the film.

Halo Top ice cream helped keep me sane this year

Ronald D. White, writing for The LA Times, on the rise of Halo Top ice cream:

With a $20 ice cream maker and a hunger for a more healthful indulgence, Los Angeles lawyer Justin Woolverton concocted a dessert that quickly developed a cult-like following. A few years later, his line of light ice cream, called Halo Top, has exploded into surprising market dominance. Halo Top recently bested stalwarts Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs for the top sales spot in its niche — grocery store ice cream pints. “I thought, ‘This is really good. I’ll bet others will like it, too,’” Woolverton said, recalling the trial-and-error breakthrough made in his kitchen.

Halo Top’s appeal is simple: a no-shame pint of low-sugar, high-protein ice cream with just 240 to 360 calories for the entire carton. Vanilla, at the low end, compares with 1,000 calories for a Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s pint. The gold foil that seals each Halo Top carton instructs “Save the bowl” or “Stop when you hit the bottom” — a nod to the way many fans consume the product.

I started a low-carb diet earlier this year and a consistent source of frustration was finding snacks that satisfied my sweet tooth without totally blowing up my diet. Halo Top fit that bill perfectly.

It’s an awesome, guilt-free treat, (especially if you don’t end up finishing the whole carton!). They deserve all the success they are getting and I hope to see Halo Tops in every grocery store soon.

You won’t need to re-buy all your iTunes HD movies

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple is now selling and renting digital 4K movies via iTunes, in addition to its HD and SD resolution versions. The addition of 4K content, which you can stream as well as download, is mainly designed to support the new Apple TV, which supports 4K HDR output for the first time. Plus, if you bought HD versions of titles for which 4K HDR is available, Apple is automatically upgrading them for free.

This is a key piece of Apple’s incentive puzzle for getting users to upgrade to a new Apple TV, as it means there will be a strong content pool that users can access right away. Apple will also be able to take advantage of 4K streaming content provided via Netflix, which has offered both 4K and HDR streaming on other platforms for a while now, and Amazon Prime Video, which is finally arriving on the platform as previously announced.

As someone who owns a ton of iTunes content, I couldn’t be more thrilled with this. This would be like Sony saying “FREE BLU-RAYS FOR EVERYONE!” when the HD transition first happened. It’s insane.

That said, it seems as though 4K-specific remasters that are released separately will not be included in this offer (e.g. the new Close Encounters of the Third Kind). We’ll see how things shake out when the new Apple TV launches, but I’m optimistic about the necessity of double dipping (or lack thereof).

Art is a flat circle

One of the greatest honors of my life is to be able to enjoy great art, then hear from people who helped create that art that I, in an EXTREMELY tiny and minor way, was somehow, weirdly, part of that creation process.

The other day I saw Hamilton at the Pantages and was blown away by the brilliance of its concept and execution. I mentioned this in a few blog posts. Shortly after, I got the below email from a listener named Ben.

May we all have small, invisible connections.

Hey Dave,

I saw on your site that you recently saw and were surprisingly moved by Hamilton.

I actually work in a costume shop that makes a lot of the pieces you saw on stage. Hamilton costumes in particular are among the most complicated and labor intense projects we produce. Today for example I spent eight hours just CUTTING one short jacket haha.

I’m telling you this because it was these demanding pieces that made me first start listening to podcasts about two years ago. The first pod I ever listened to was the /Filmcast, and I’ve been a Dave Chen loyalist ever since. Even when my brain turns to mush and my hands ache, I can always turn on a Cast of Kings, /Filmcast, or Gen Pop (RIP) and push through my work. You make the tedious tolerable, and you’ve helped me get through more giant dresses than I can count.

So really I just wanted to thank you for producing such great pods, encourage you to keep going, and maybe surprise you with your own small, invisible connection to a show you’ve come to love.
Cheers,

Ben from NYC

Inside the world’s largest collection of ‘Jerry Maguire’ VHS tapes

I missed this short film from Vice when it was first released in February, but am glad I finally found it. It’s a look inside the effort by Everything Is Terrible to not only amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, but also their desire to build a permanent pyramid in the Nevada dessert that will serve as a tribute to these “Jerry’s.”

On the one hand, there are probably better things for one to devote one’s time to than anything Maguire VHS-tape-related. On the other hand, this project gives me so much joy with its randomness that I kind of want these guys to succeed.

A podcast recap of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

The season (series?) finale of Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic works I’ve ever seen on television. Overall, I found this season to be inspiring and maddening in almost equal measure, but I was grateful for the unpredictable ride.

I was also glad to be able to recap the show with my frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson. Listen to our thoughts on the season below:

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Honest Trailer for ‘Kong: Skull Island’

I was stunned by this Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which features the participation of the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s rare to see a director be so blunt and relentless about criticizing his own film, but Vogt-Roberts deftly shows that he still has the self-awareness to recognize his own film’s weaknesses.

In retrospect, I now understand why most directors don’t do this kind of thing. With film being such a collaborative medium, there are many people who could interpret commentary like this as throwing them under a bus: screenwriters, actors, editors, (heck even the studio itself) etc. I’m sure Roberts is on good terms with all, but it just feels like the risk is large for misinterpretation.

That said, this is an extraordinary work of self-examination, taking place on the massive stage of an insanely popular YouTube channel. Kudos to Vogt-Roberts for putting the magnifying glass on himself.

Seeing ‘Hamilton’

Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton” debuted in New York years ago, but when I saw it at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles last night, I have to admit that it affected me in ways I could not have anticipated. The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, with people of color playing nearly all the central roles, takes on a special significance in our current times. Seeing people of color advocating and dying for the founding principles of this country — it was all very moving, especially in an age where the President and the majority of the white-dominated political party in power refuse to unequivocally denounce actual Nazis. 

This country always had greatness, but even at its founding, it’s greatness was predicated on a group of people who were willing to stand up for what was right, even when that meant deep sacrifice. I feel like history is again calling us to do the right thing, and not throw away our shot.

Anyway, “Hamilton” is an amazing experience and you should consider making major life sacrifices to see it.

The John Denver-aissance

On a recent episode of the Slashfilmcast, we discussed the odd fact that a ton of 2017 films happened to use John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Over at Vulture, Karen Han has written a piece that explores why:

Amy Abrams, one of the managers of Denver’s estate, confirmed in an interview with Vulture that there’s been an uptick in “meaningful feature film requests” for Denver’s music in the last few years, in part because those who loved Denver’s music as kids are now adults able make those requests. “John Denver’s songs were iconic to a generation, and have been passed down in the public consciousness,” said Abrams. “It also helps that a lot of directors, producers, actors, editors, and music supervisors grew up fans and are now in powerful positions to sync the music they love.”

Abrams also attributed the uptick to the estate’s partnership with Kobalt (they were brought on in 2014, replacing BMG, and also represent artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), in addition to making licensing a priority with their new team. To secure the rights to a Denver song, Abrams explained, the filmmakers must submit scene briefs. If they aren’t clear enough as to how the music will be used and further questions don’t clear the matter up, Denver’s children and their business managers are consulted as well. What’s most important, said Abrams, is that they remain in line with Denver’s ideals: He’s remembered as a philanthropist and humanitarian as much as he is a musician, and much of the content on his official web page is devoted to his messages of peace and compassion.

It’s a great song, but it really does feel like we’ve reached Peak Denver this year.

From ‘Ocean’s 11’ to ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Logan Lucky’: Why happy endings aren’t enough for heist films anymore

[This article contains SPOILERS for Baby Driver, Ocean’s 11, and Logan Lucky]

The ending of Steven Sodberbergh’s Ocean’s 11 is one of the most iconic heist movie endings of all time. Having successfully pulled off one of the most elaborate casino heists ever, Daniel Ocean’s associates stand at the Bellagio fountain and watch the water show together set to an orchestral version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” reflecting on the depth of their achievements. They go off on their own separate ways, presumably to enjoy the winnings they’ve obtained.

I thought about this ending a lot when I saw Logan Lucky yesterday, which is out in theaters almost 16 years after the release of Ocean’s 11. Both feature a male mastermind with a complicated love life who assembles a team of people to steal a huge sum of money from a large location with a complex security system. In both movies, the protagonists encounter events that are seemingly setbacks, but that we later learn were part of the plan all along. In other words, they’re both fairly conventional heist films.

With one major difference.

Just as Logan Lucky was hitting the 90-minute mark or so and wrapping up its main heist plot, the film introduces two new characters — FBI agents played by Hillary Swank and Macon Blair. For an additional 15-20 minutes, the film chronicles the FBI’s attempt to find who was responsible for the speedway heist. When the FBI ultimately fails, that’s when we get that happy ending we’ve been looking for: All the members of Logan’s crew drinking and enjoying life at the Duck Tape bar. The final shot of the film reveals Swank’s character is also at the bar, presumably having put all the pieces of the puzzle together and about to create some real trouble for the Logan brothers.

I found this ending to be curious. First of all, I thought Swank’s performance was an…interesting choice? She plays her investigative agent very much like a cartoon character, devoid of any emotion and unrelentingly stern.

But beyond that, it felt similar in a lot of ways to the ending of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In that movie, the protagonist Baby has seemingly escaped town with the love of his life, Debora, only to be apprehended by police at a roadblock. In a rapid fire montage that follows, we see the trial that occurs in the wake of the film’s events. Many of the side characters we’ve seen in the film testify on Baby’s behalf. He’s eventually released, presumably not too long after he was imprisoned, and he and Debora get the chance to drive off into the sunset.

Both Baby Driver and Logan Lucky feature something I don’t recall seeing too often at the end of heist films: a glimpse at how the legal process would play out in the wake of each film’s extraordinary events. Why complicate the film in this way? Why add on a few minutes of runtime (or in the case of Logan Lucky, what amounts to a rushed third act) simply to tell us something that viewers might not even care about? I have a few theories.

I believe that filmgoers in general have gotten too smart about how society actually functions. In a world of smartphones and ubiquitous surveillance, we know that one simply can’t create a ton of havoc in downtown Atlanta or steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Charlotte Speedway without either being caught or experiencing some form of consequences.

In both films, the function of the legal process basically allows us to feel good about the actions of the protagonists by communicating to us that these people got off (almost) scot-free. Yes, Baby had to serve time, and yes, Hillary Swank might be ready to re-open her investigation. But the crimes of the film have been largely resolved in the eyes of our country’s legal system.

Of course, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver aren’t the first movies to have people experience the consequences of their actions. Just look at the opening minute of this Ocean’s 12 teaser trailer:

The only other idea I’ll posit about why these movies ended this way is that, in our new interconnected age, perhaps society has gotten more communal. Actions no longer take place in a vacuum — everyone acutely understands how we’re all connected and how kindness can actually affect people in the longer term (just think of how the witness testimony in Baby Driver is all about the character’s good nature).

Maybe seeing someone abscond with millions of other people’s money with zero consequences — regardless of noble intentions, regardless of if the money is insured — is no longer something we can feel 100% good about. If that’s the case (BIG if), I actually think that’s a step in the right direction for us.