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"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

This is Stephen King's best opening line. It's one of the best opening lines in literature. However, it is *not *the opening line in the trailer for *The Dark Tower *that dropped this morning. That trailer instead opens with Idris Elba slinging guns, cuts to a shadowy Matthew McConaughey, then to New York, then back to Idris. This, Constant Viewer, is not the movie version of a Stephen King series—such a thing could open in no other way but with the man in black fleeing across the desert—but a very self-conscious adaptation, and you and I (and other fans) are going to have to learn to live with that. Reluctantly.

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If you have not read the eight-book, 1.3 million-word series that forms the basis for The Dark Tower, then here is a short version of the plot: In an entropic world full of killer lobsters and magic and almost-remembered technology, a gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Elba) is on a difficult journey to a dark tower to save the world. The long version is, well, longer: It involves not only Deschain following a bad guy called The Man in Black (aka The Walkin' Dude, aka Randall Flagg) across the desert, a psychic boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a woman in a wheelchair with dissociative identity disorder named Odetta/Detta who has tactical sex with a demon and uses the sieve of Eratosthenes to find prime numbers, a heroin addict named Eddie who fights a gun battle naked and defeats an insane train named Blaine with dad jokes. There’s also a place in New York called the Dixie Pig where cannibal vampire things eat people, and a place in Mid-World called Calla Bryn Sturgis that’s patrolled by robot wolves. And Oy, a smart, lovable, loyal, toddler-version-of-a-talking-animal who looks like a slinky raccoon and whose eyes are rimmed with gold and if you have read the entire series and your throat doesn’t lump up at the story of Oy, then you might as well just make a reservation at the Dixie Pig and let them eat your heart because you aren't using it anyway.


Basically, we're talking about a lot of nested tales and back-storied characters, and some exuberant world-building that combines Old West and Middle-Ages themes with some Lord of the Rings-ish stuff, and some ley line business and a trip to see the Wizard of Oz. The inspiration for the series is actually Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” which prefigures T.S. Eliot’s "The Wasteland," which is (almost) the title of one of the books, so there’s plenty of literary fan-fiction and high-fiving for the high-minded.

The series also spills into our own personal but fictional world (or some version thereof) then—curiouser and curiouser!—there are also doorways into actual real-world events that happened to the author of the made-up world in question who then inserts himself into the fantasy narrative of the book he is writing, which, by the way, also tendrils out into other worlds HE has built (as he is famous for doing) like The Stand and ‘Salem’s Lot. (I see you there, Pennywise, at moment 1:30 in the trailer.) Which is to say, it’s a complicated series. One without what you’d call a Hollywood ending.

So you can’t really expect the movie adaptation to capture it all. Some wise parts of the internet have made their peace with that—and, maybe to its credit, the movie doesn't try. It seems instead to promise a more Manichean struggle between good and evil, one punctuated with a trip to the Dixie Pig and some humor wrung from Roland's first encounter with our world. (Maybe we might get a little tooter-fish sandwich action going, too?)

Speaking of guns, the bullet juggling in the trailer is fantastic—the mid-air drop-swipe! the belt riffle! The Lifesaver, where you flick them out of your palm with your thumb!—and I'd watch the movie just for lizard-brain-stirring gun lore: “I do not aim with my hand … I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand… I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun … I kill with my heart.” But what the movie does not promise is the band-of-brothers ka-tet that (to me) made the books so interesting. No Eddie Dean. No Detta+Odetta = Susannah. Crucially, no sign of the beloved Oy.

I mean, I get it. Adaptations have to be different than the original material, and that alone doesn’t make them bad. I thought Arrival was more perfect on paper, but the movie was still fun, and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptation was genius. (My family is listening to The Fellowship of the Ring on Audible right now and let me just say that we are closing in on hour 10 and I am getting awful tired of Tom Bombadil.)

When a world is this huge and multi-dimensional, there's no hope of cramming it into a 2-hour movie. But I fear the spirit of the books may be lost. One of my favorite parts of the series is when the ka-tet gets captured by Blaine the bonkers AI-gone-AWOL train, which then forces them into a riddle contest (shades of Gollum and Bilbo in the passageway under the mountain). Roland and Jake know plenty of good riddles, but it's Eddie who defeats Blaine by letting his mind rest and sprawl and free-associate gnostically, linking different parts of his brain together—not looking straight at the problem, not focusing on the direct combat with the loco-motive, but rather going soft and thinking around corners to arrive upon the sorts of jokes that might perplex a computer.

Eddie adapts the Gunslinger's creed to his purposes: "Because I shoot with my mind," he thinks in the book. "My mind. God help me to shoot this overblown calculator with my mind. Help me shoot it from around the corner." I've always loved that scene because it’s a way of thinking that can get you out of a rut—it could get a lot of us out of some of the ruts we’re in, actually, if only people would do it more.

I’m willing to use the books as a reference point to watch the movie, just as King used Childe Roland as a reference point to write his series. I mean, he created a multiverse that suggests worlds upon worlds overlapping, intersecting, kissing up against each other and tearing themselves apart. Why shouldn’t whatever is in the movie be canonical enough to stand up to scrutiny? But the sorts of binary struggles promised in the trailer aren’t really what our particular world needs right now, and they’re not the Kingish themes that stand up well on screen. Some of the most successful adaptations of his books are the movies based on two stories in Different Seasons, the novellas that became Stand By Me and Shawshank. Those books and films are about relationships between people, personal journeys, and thinking yourself around a corner, through the wall, and straight out of prison. Apocalyptic shoot-outs between cowboy knights and creepy monster-things are fun enough to watch, but there are other worlds than these—and we need to find them.

A few years ago, Peter Shapiro needed a not-so-small favor from Robert Plant. Shapiro, 44, has been putting on concerts for more than 20 years—everything from intimate late-night Roots gigs to 2015's Deadhead extravaganza Fare Thee Well—and few situations drive him into a state of room-pacing, hair-futzing excitement like a last-minute booking. So when Shapiro noticed that Plant had an opening in his tour schedule, he wondered: What would it take to get the former Led Zeppelin frontman, who easily fills 3,000-seat theaters, to agree to play a last-minute, late-night show at a bowling alley in Brooklyn?

"B.B. King once told me, 'If you really want something, you bring cash,'" says Shapiro. So he showed up for his meeting with Plant carrying a brown bag stuffed with $50,000 in bills. That was the deposit. Weeks later, Plant took the stage just after midnight at Shapiro’s long-running Brooklyn Bowl venue, where he performed Zeppelin classics like "Black Dog" and "Going to California" for a crowd of about 800.

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"It’s in the spirit of what we do: Fuck, let's put it together," Shapiro says on a late-fall afternoon in his midtown Manhattan office, where he oversees a live-show mini-empire—which includes three Brooklyn Bowl venues, along with the regal Capitol Theatre in nearby Westchester County—as well as his latest venture, an ambitious concert-chronicling website called The room is crowded with reminders of his decades-long music career: A poster commemorating Wetlands Preserve, the famed downtown-New York City venue Shapiro owned in the late '90s and early '00s; a ticket from a screening of the concert film U2 3D, which Shapiro co-produced; a photo of Questlove walking through a plane hangar in Las Vegas, where in 2014 the Roots helped open up a West Coast incarnation of Brooklyn Bowl. There’s also a framed a setlist from the multi-night, multi-city Fare Thee Well shows, which drew hundreds of thousands of Deadheads from around the world.

The space’s most vibrant attraction, though, is Shapiro himself, whose dusty voice, near-collar-length hair, prolific profanity, and sly smile reminds you of a mischievous eighth-grader you might spot smoking behind the gym. Today, Shapiro's dressed in dark jeans and a blue dress shirt, and he never quite stops moving—waving his phone around wildly mid-call, twirling a drumstick, bounding unexpectedly from one corner of the room to the next. "He appears and vanishes—that's kind of his modus operandi," says Blues Traveler’s John Popper, who’s known Shapiro since at least the early ‘90s. "And you don’t know how long he’s been there, or if he’s still around. He's kind of like Batman in that regard."

Popper, like many of Shapiro's friends and observers, compares him to Bill Graham, the legendary concert promoter who reshaped the live-music industry in the '60s with San Francisco's zeitgeist-divining Fillmore venues. But whereas Graham was a highly visible pop-culture power-broker—chronicled in the pages of Rolling Stone, sought out by TV producers as a rock-n-roll explainer—Shapiro's career has largely been defined by the fan-immersing, artist-pleasing events and spaces he's overseen since he took over Wetlands in the mid-’90s and turned it into a late-night paradise for jam bands, ska acts, and the backpack-rap cognoscenti. The first Brooklyn Bowl would follow more than a decade later, quickly becoming a location for surprise drop-in gigs by the likes of Guns N' Roses and Kanye West (Bowls in London and Las Vegas were next). And, in 2012, Shapiro revived the Capitol, a long-dormant former rock palace, with a multi-night opening stint from Bob Dylan.

Each space has earned a reputation for well-oiled spontaneity—the kind of anything-can-happen-here ethos that’s made live music a crucial source of cultural momentum (and revenue) in the post-Napster record industry. "Peter doesn't have the word 'no' in his vocabulary," says Questlove, a longtime Brooklyn Bowl performer and friend. "I've given him 11th-hour surprises, like, 'How about a practice Usher show?,' or 'Can we organize a quickie Elvis Costello performance?' Anyone else would have riddled me with bullets for taking such a grand idea and tossing it to him with seconds left to spare. [But] with him it's always, 'Oh man, I can't wait to get to it.' And it's always magic." is Shapiro’s attempt to teleport some of that kinetic live-show power to the web. Launched last year, the site is an ever-growing concert database that includes everything from this month's Chance the Rapper shows to, say, a 1960 Beatles gig in Hamburg, with many gigs documented via user-supplied photos and anecdotes. The goal is to build a single destination for concert lovers, who Shapiro says are often spread far across the web—either lingering on artist-specific sites like Little Monsters or, or sharing everything via a decentralized stream of social media updates. "You go to a concert and post something about it on Facebook, and good luck finding it a year later," he says. "Besides, your whole life is on that site. You may not wanna geek out on being a fucking Slayer-head if you work at Chase bank. People have a separate identity for that."

But the biggest obstacle for Fans is convincing users to pledge allegiance to yet another community-minded music site. So far, Shapiro says, the site's growth has been encouraging; last month's traffic was the site's biggest yet. "We're not saying it's big, but we're seeing growth," he says. "And we're very much using my little world [of businesses] to lead it." The last decade has seen the heralded arrival (and subsequent flame-out) of endeavors like, Twitter Music, and Whatever the Hell Justin Timberlake Is Doing With MySpace. For the last 20 years, Shapiro's been able to cajole artists and audience members to follow him wherever he goes, from basements to bowling alleys; can he get them to stick around with him online, long after the music's stopped?

Bringing the Club Experience to the Web

Shapiro's Manhattan office is just a few blocks away from the site of his first-ever concert: A 1985 Madonna show at Madison Square Garden, which he attended when he was 12 years old, tagging along with his older brother. ("I remember all the moms dressed up in black lace with their daughters," he says. "And I remember a funny smoke in the air a little bit.")

Born and raised in New York City, Shapiro spent his teen years checking out shows and putting together a public-access TV show about sports. Back then, his music tastes tilted more toward the likes of Jane’s Addiction and My Bloody Valentine; his awareness of the jam-band scene didn’t start until a few years later, when he was a sophomore at Northwestern University. “Like any college in America," he says, "there was a culture of people playing hacky sack, throwing a Frisbee, smoking something, and hanging out."

In 1992, he caught his first Grateful Dead and Phish shows within just months of each other; the performances made him a convert to the jam-band scene, and inspired him to spend his summer working on a Dead documentary, And Miles to Go Before I Sleep: On Tour with the Grateful Dead Summer 1993. More film work followed, eventually bringing Shapiro to the attention of Larry Bloch, the founder of Wetlands Preserve, a downtown Manhattan nightclub known for its late hours, dodgy sightlines, and eclectic roster. Groups like Pearl Jam and Oasis played their first New York City gigs at Wetlands, and Dave Matthews was a semi-regular in his pre-breakout days. But by 1996, Bloch wanted someone to take over the club, offering the gig to to the then-23-year-old Shapiro. "Jerry Garcia had died [the year before]," Shapiro says. "Larry told me, 'There are a lot of people in their twenties who are into this music and this culture, and the whole thing's gonna splinter.'"

For the next six years, until the club’s closing in 2001, Shapiro retained Wetlands' casual vibe, while also booking more elaborate live shows, such as a weekly Roots residency from 1997 to 2001. ("Many a legendary night at that venue," Questlove recalls. "A lot of historical performances and confrontations took place—not to mention, key songs also got created.") Shapiro maintained Bloch’s commitment to community, hosting meetings for local non-profits, while also solidifying the the venue's party-friendly atmosphere. "My favorite part of Wetlands was the basement, where the was music piped in, there were pillows everywhere, and you could just hang out and smoke pot," remembers Popper. "That felt like home to me."

After high rents shut down Wetlands in 2001, Shapiro spent the next few years pondering his next move, finally settling upon Brooklyn Bowl, a concert-venue-slash-bowling-alley that opened in Williamsburg in 2009, at the site of an century-old ironworks foundry. Unlike Wetlands, Shapiro's new venue had sightlines that allowed you to actually see the band—not to mention an upscale menu and open lanes. But it shared Wetlands' come-one-come-all ethos, and was soon attracting acts like Adele and Paul Simon, despite holding fewer than 1,000 people. "The back of the security shirts at Brooklyn Bowl say 'Welcome,'" notes Shapiro. "Lots of little shit like that makes a fucking difference. People can feel it." Adds Tom Bailey, a longtime concert-industry veteran who now serves as general manager of the Capitol: "Bill Graham used to famously walk around the venue, taste the hot dogs, and say, 'The mustard’s a little off tonight.' He looked at every single part of the entire experience. And something Shapiro thinks about a lot: 'How’s the vibe? Is something mucking it up?'"

Both Wetlands and Brooklyn Bowl required Shapiro to stay late into the night, overseeing the informal after-parties (and occasional after-after-parties). He can’t always pull those kinds of hours anymore—he has multiple venues to run, and two young kids at home—but Fans is partly an attempt to recapture that don’t-stop-the-show spirit. "You’re turned on when you’re at a concert," he says. "And you’re with people you know. Where do you go afterwards to keep that going?"

Turning Deadheads to Webheads

In some ways, Fans is the sleek continuation of a Deadhead-turned-webhead tradition that goes back to at least 1985, with the arrival of The WELL, a virtual community that soon become a gathering place for Jerry fans. It was followed in the ’90s by tape-trader sites like Live Music Archive—which quickly accumulated concert recordings by the Grateful Dead and other jam-band acts—and other Web 1.0 projects archiving everything from lyrics to set lists to guitar tablature. With the possible exception of scientists and porn enthusiasts, no group helped colonize the early internet as thoroughly, and as eagerly, as the Deadheads and their ilk.

Nowadays, though, pretty much every high-visibility artist is treated to that same level of online hyper-adulation and heightened scrutiny: You can find entire Twitter accounts dedicated to Drake lyrics and Radiohead set lists; Instagram feeds that document classic punk covers; even a YouTube page that archives more than 30 videos related to the Jacksons’ 1984 "Victory" tour. And whereas recording live shows was once considered a legally iffy, socially frowned-upon transgression, major concert moments are now captured via Instagram or YouTube, and sometimes broadcast to the world mid-performance (even the Doobie Brothers, it seems, have softened their once-harsh anti-bootleg stance).

Shapiro hopes Fans will help users collect all of these memory-making bits of ephemera in one place, while also allowing them to document their future concert-going obsessions (he spent years assembling the site’s massive live-show database, which begins with a 1949 Jerry Lee Lewis gig at a car dealership). The idea is to eventually expand it into fields like sports, and—way down the line—possibly even the art scene. Before that can happen, though, Shapiro will likely have to bring in some outside help, and has started talks with possible partners. "Facebook still dominates," he says. "And then you have Pinterest, and Twitter, and Instagram—you have to break through that inertia of people automatically going to those sites. That's the hardest thing. I've realized I'm probably going to need help to bring it to a bigger level."

For now, Shapiro has a lot of patience; it's a requirement for surviving in the concert business, which is subject to all sorts of erratic demands and rhythms, and which still relies on bare-bones promotional hustle (Shapiro says that, even in 2017, the most valuable tool for a concert promoter is a steadily growing email list). And Fans has to compete with several other projects he has in the works, including the forthcoming March for Science, which he's producing in Washington, DC. Still, he waited a few nervous years before Brooklyn Bowl's Las Vegas venue really took off, and knows that launching a successful website isn't too different from launching a hit venue: "First," he says, "people have to come—and have a great time."

* * *

On an early-winter evening, Shapiro is relaxing with a cigarette and a glass of wine in a secluded hideaway within the Capitol Theater—a cozy space filled with comfortable seating, a decently stocked bar, and a monitor that allows him to watch the show in relative peace. He only travels to the theater for big shows, but when he's here, he'll sometimes hang out in this mini-bunker with some friends and maybe even a few performers, which is why he tries to keep its exact location a secret. A giant fish tank fills the room with light; it was installed by a Primus-loving tank-expert who, desperate for a ticket, struck a trade with the theater. "Look at this urchin," Shapiro says, eyeing a particularly bright specimen. "He’s like…turned on. Sick, right?"

Not far from where he sits, about 2,000 Bon Iver fans are gathering on the main floor of the Capitol, which briefly functioned as a rock palace in the '70s before being turned into a rentable event space. For its reopening in 2010, Shapiro and his team pulled out benches, reworked the acoustics, and upgraded the location's decor (including custom-made wallpaper featuring the likenesses of Janis Joplin, David Bowie, and other past performers). As the crowd files in, a giant dome on the roof is bathed in light, shifting colors almost imperceptibly, and the room fills with loud, humming pre-show instrumental music. Even without a single performer on stage, the place looks and sounds fantastic. "The guys who play here fuckin' love it," Shapiro says. "The air is different in a room where you’ve had Pink Floyd, Bowie, the Stones, Janis. And there’s not a lot of those rooms left."

Bon Iver's set begins, accompanied by a carefully synchronized, multi-screen light show. Shapiro spends a few minutes at the bar, a few minutes at his seat, and a lot of time pacing the room—checking the scene in the lobby and in the hallways, making sure everyone's enjoying the show. Ever since the election, Shapiro's been thinking about the role of live music—which, for all its changes over the years, remains a communal experience. "We need this, even if we don't realize it," he says, as the music plays. "It's kind of like the idea behind Fans—there's a room for people who who wanna be in a different space, who wanna escape reality." He turns around from the center of the Capitol floor and eyes the attendees, all of whom are happily bathed in sharp white light. For now, nothing can muck up Peter Shapiro's vibe.

It’s the classic space-flick premise: Life as we know it is threatened by an alien force, and there’s only one unrealistically attractive crew that can save us. This month brings two sequels from masters of the genre: James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. We binged on the directors’ previous sci-fi outings to prepare for the impending boss battles. Consider it a blaster class in filmmaking.

The Alien Thriller Plot Generator

Our hero, a


, and a ragtag group that includes a


discover larger forces are at play after


. But then the alien bad guy(s)


. Ultimately, our hero vanquishes the boss alien by


. Still, our survivor(s) shouldn’t rest easy. After all,



Alien, Ridley Scott (1979)

Slither, James Gunn (2006)

Prometheus, Scott (2012)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn (2014)

1Alien: tough-as-nails warrant officer

Slither: small-town school teacher

Prometheus: God-fearing archaeologist

Guardians of the Galaxy: mixtape-loving space adventurer

2Alien: secret

Slither: handsome
police chief

Prometheus: not-secret

Guardians of the Galaxy: psychotic, talking raccoon and
a sentient tree

3Alien: an alien bursts out of a crew member’s chest

Slither: an infected woman explodes, releasing hundreds of
alien slugs

Prometheus: a crew member
is killed trying to pet an alien
snake creature

Guardians of the Galaxy: it’s revealed
their stolen orb houses an all-powerful stone

4Alien: Alien: picks off the remaining crew members one by one

Slither: infect the remaining townspeople
one by one

Prometheus: pick off the remaining crew members one by one

Guardians of the Galaxy: steals the all-powerful stone
and tries to kill them all at once

5Alien: blasting it into deep space

Slither: shooting its propane-filled body

Prometheus: escaping,
letting its alien offspring finish the job (long story)

Guardians of the Galaxy: harnessing the power of the all-powerful stone

6Alien: there are plenty more alien eggs on that exomoon

Slither: in a postcredits sequence, a cat gets infected by alien remains

Prometheus: an alien spawn emerges from the
defeated extra­terrestrial’s body

Guardians of the Galaxy: $773 million in global box office won’t allow it

This article appears in the May issue. Subscribe now.

Truly understanding artificial intelligence is rare. AI doesn't think in concepts and images the way humans do. It has individual goals, like to preserve humankind as technology's caretakers, or to dismantle complex systems. And in the sci-fi thriller Void Star, things are further complicated by the fact that AI's "thoughts" are actually glyphs, or waves of data, that only make sense to people with special cranial implants connected to the net.

The elegant, if cerebral, examination of how both technology and humans process information is just one of many ideas explored in Void Star, out today. That’s no surprise, considering that author Zachary Mason has spent the past two decades working on problems of computational linguistics. In his day job in Silicon Valley, Mason helps machines get smarter—but on the side, he writes speculative fiction about what happens when the machines becomes incomprehensibly smart, imagining the role of AI in a world consumed by climate change and inequality.

Mason has always been fascinated by how the "brains" of computers work. “When I was seven, I remember lying in bed and thinking about how great it would be to teach a computer to talk,” he says. When he attended college at 14 (yes, 14, at Harvey Mudd College), he resolved to answer these questions. After getting a PhD in computer science and artificial intelligence, he tried to figure it out through machine learning. He worked on the recommender system at Amazon, and he now heads up R&D at Intellus Learning, an educational tech company that provides digital learning materials to institutions.

While Mason used his day job to tackle the present problems facing AI, he turned to fiction as a place to imagine its future. (Void Star gets its name from a term in computer language C++: “void*” refers to the unknown.)

The novel follows the stories of three people who have neural implants that allow them to access all their memories permanently: Irina, who translates glyphs for humans; Thales, a Brazilian political scion; and Akemi, an aspiring actress. All are being sought by a mysterious AI, which is in business with a megarich, 150-year-old tech magnate. The plot resists easy summation, filled as it is with memory-ghosts and other heady abstractions, but the novel grapples most urgently with the question of how people—and other AI—can engage with beings who process the world using indecipherable systems.

Fiction acts in some ways as a thought experiment for Mason, allowing him to unspool concerns about AI that he's uniquely qualified to process. He's conceived of a vision of AI that navigates between the poles of our expectations—neither subservient to humans, nor vindictive golem. “Imagine what it’s like to be an AI,” he says. “I wouldn’t expect an AI to work like a human being, to try to accumulate political or economic power.” Instead, the AI in Void Star engage with humanity only as byproducts affected by their actions, while they compute otherworldly questions of symbol manipulation and truth. (When Irina sees inside the mind of one of the most powerful AI, Mason writes, “she sees how subtly the quantum states of atoms can be entangled to wring the most computation out of every microgram of matter, sees how this material interacts with visible light.”)

Mason finds no tension in the fact that he works with AI today and imagines a future governed by them tomorrow. To him, the villains aren’t the AI: They’re the people who misuse AI to perpetuate very human aims. The AI aren’t greedy, or malicious—that would require human sentiment and desire—but the moral calculus of plutocrats can shift when utilizing the inhuman capabilities of AI. Mason didn’t write Void Star to criticize the motivation of the tech elite, but to point out where that motivation might lead. “I didn’t set out to critique Peter Thiel’s vision of a bold new tomorrow,” he says. “I just wanted to engage with what I saw, and with the world that seemed to be implicit in the present.”

Indeed, Mason’s near-future San Francisco (the year is never explicitly mentioned, but it seems to be early in the next century) is all the eerier for how it plays off our present-day preoccupations. Beyond the longevity-obsessed tech billionaire who commissions contractors and evolutionary biologists to design a house that will last him one million years, there are commuters who get dressed in drone cars, and ambitious young employees pretending to be autistic in order to get ahead at tech companies. While the extremely wealthy extend their multi-century lifespans with annual visits to the Mayo Clinic, a street fighter in the favelas learns how to read through a computer game that could be a Google employee's philanthropic side project.

Void Star is, if anything, a cautionary tale of what happens when the tech elite rely on AI to solve the world’s problems and ensure immortality. Couple that with Mason's decision to set his novel amidst a Silicon Valley ethos that feels both relatable and inevitable—and his ability to lyrically depict how AI, a bloodless technology, might conceive thought and language—and what emerges is a novel written with the syntactic precision you might expect from a linguist, a computer scientist, a mathematician. Or a person who is all three.

Samurai Jack, which ran for four seasons in the early 2000s under the tutelage of animator Genndy Tartakovsky, was always dark. After a duel with the demonic entity Aku in the premiere, Jack was sent through a time portal into the future where Aku had taken complete control of the planet, turning Earth into a wasteland just as eccentric and cruel as Aku himself. Then Jack, armed with nothing but his magic sword, had two goals: Fight injustice wherever he could, and get back to the past.

And yet, after four seasons, Jack never made it back—and over time, his heroic journey turned into a tragedy. Would he ever return to the past? Could he ever defeat Aku? Samurai Jack didn't answer those questions. But when this year's revival began airing on Adult Swim in March, it quickly became clear how seriously the fifth (and likely final) season of of the show was going to be about addressing them—and how in doing so it was going to become one of the best revivals on television.

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When viewers encounter the hero of Samurai Jack for the first time in the new reboot, he seems different. He's clad in futuristic armor, shooting guns atop a motorcycle. His sword is missing. He's wearing a mask, and when it's removed his once-youthful face is covered by a beard almost as wild as the new glint in his eyes. He's still a good guy, mind you, and he's still fighting the hordes of Aku. But it's gotten to him. He's on the brink of snapping—or worse. To explore that suffering, and to follow Jack as he struggles to find his way out of it, the new Samurai Jack does something the show has never done before: tell one season-long story.

During its initial run, Samurai Jack was an episodic show about a wandering samurai in a foreign land, blending Kurosawa pastiche with Tartakosvky's endlessly varying interests. Some episodes were moody fantasy, others were outlandish sci-fi. The style and tone could dance between any number of ideas and influences, from introducing Jack to a lifelong friend in the form of a swordsman from future Scotland to a full-episode riff on Frank Miller's 300. By moving away from that structure in favor of one serialized story told over 10 episodes, Samurai Jack is able to achieve something different, reframing itself in a manner that feels perfectly at home in the story-obsessed TV landscape of 2017. Basically, it's Fargo—but for Adult Swim.

The shift to long-form storytelling allows Tartakovsky to go deeper into his favorite influences and ideas, all the while taking a closer look at the psychology of a hero who has with occasional exceptions been a quiet cypher. It lets Jack's creator utilize all his best tricks—strange, angular designs and wildly imaginative fantasyscapes, kinetic and visually lush fight scenes, and a cinematic language characterized by a devotion to Miller's style of dense minimalism and the slow, lingering gazes of 1970s film auteurs. But thanks to the show's new story structure, these moments have newfound emotional resonance. New Samurai Jack is about fighting through moral exhaustion, about the toll time can take on hope and vision. And using all the leeway granted by its late-night timeslot, it can also dive into Jack's despair.

By going to its darkest places, Samurai Jack has managed to find its way back to the hopefulness of its early days. Now, all the pieces are in place for the series to focus singularly on its hero's quest for one last adventure.

Again, Samurai Jack is simple. Jack has two goals and only one real enemy. By zeroing-in on that simplicity and testing it in the crucible of longform storytelling, Tartakovsky and his fellow creators have managed to make excellent television that does justice to its predecessor. As the series wraps up, now is the perfect time to tune in. Samurai Jack has always been excellent, but now, more than ever, it's tempered its hero's quest to get back to the past with a renewed hope for the future.

Craig Palmer hasn't left his Manhattan apartment in four years, but on a recent afternoon, the 78-year-old made a transatlantic voyage—while seated upright in his bed. He visited Stonehenge, a favorite vacation site of his; the streets of London's Russell Square, near his old apartment; the stretch of Broadway where he lived and worked for so many years. A singer and actor for most of his career, Palmer was eager to poke his head backstage at the Triad, an Upper West Side nightclub he used to frequent. Back and forth the man moved his head, his eyes obscured by the Gear VR headset he wore.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, Jake Kahana kept a close eye on Palmer, guiding the trip via tablet. Show tunes played quietly in the distance, and car horns blared from a window outside. "This is awesome," Palmer said, tilting his head under the weight of the headset. "I get homesick for everything." The experience was among Palmer's first with VR, but that made it no less important. The bedridden man represents a population that Kahana fears has been forgotten by the VR industry: seniors.

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"Everyone talks about VR as a millennial thing," says Kahana, a New York-based designer and film director. "But the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population, and there really weren't that many people looking at how this could work for them." Kahana wanted to be one of those people, so he created BettVR With Age, a series of films designed to benefit seniors. The films, which he officially unveils today, are the result of more than 18 months of production, testing and focus groups. "They want entertainment," Kahana says. "I know this sounds silly, but seniors are just like us."

Kahana's idea for the project came about through his own struggles in communicating with his own grandmother. First they spoke on the phone, but transitioned to writing letters. When that became too difficult for her, he told her that he wished she could be in his living room in New York—a realization that inspired him Kahana, who worked as the creative director for the Clinton Foundation's Emmy­-nominated VR film Inside Impact: East Africa, to try and find a solution.

Despite precipitous growth in VR research over recent years, less exists around applications for the elderly. However, findings in other fields may hold a clue to VR's benefits. Researchers have learned that listening to music from the 1930s or 1940s can jog memories for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. At Stanford, researchers found that virtual reality simulations had a direct impact on how people behaved in the real world, even after they took off their headsets—in fact, as neuroscientists at UCLA discovered, the part of one's brain that responds to their VR surroundings is different than the part that responds to the real world, raising questions about the new ways in VR it could affect memory.

Given the dearth of literature, Kahana opted for field work. He spent close to six months visiting community centers like DOROT, a senior facility in Manhattan's Upper West Side, talking to seniors about what they might want from a VR experience. (Headsets and phones were donated by Samsung and software by Rendever, an MIT startup focused on bringing VR to the elderly.) His work with the Clinton Foundation had involved grandeur—sweeping vistas, the streets of Nairobi—and he expected that his new audience would also thrill to the possibility__. __Yet, the seniors he spoke with simply missed the everyday experiences they could no longer physically access: museums, concerts, tours. Despite being anxious about using a new technology, Kahana says, the seniors were above all excited. "They love to learn," he says. "They had these limitations, physical or otherwise, but they still wanted new experiences."

Kahana then set out to direct the 10 films that make up his series. In one, a pair of violinists play a cozy apartment concert for friends. In another, viewers experience a concert at an LA bar today where patrons and performers are still clad in World War II-era clothing. There's a tour and concert at the a Lower East Side museum; a peek into a dance rehearsal; a guided mediation and chorus. Hoping to avoid the motion sickness that can affect VR users, Kahana's shots are mostly from a stationary standpoint, surrounded by movement that isn't too jarring or sudden. They're simple, yet powerful in concept and execution, highlighting elements of a experience many take for granted while creating a sense of intimacy. The technology and films will be donated to DOROT to use for senior programming—and Kahana is already training nursing home staff how to use the headsets on their own.

New York to Amsterdam and Back

Back in Craig Palmer's apartment, a violin concert unfolded before his eyes. The sedentary lifestyle has been frustrating for Palmer—a sharp contrast to a decades-long career as a singer and performer on Broadway. Much of his days now are spent watching Chelsea FC soccer games and the news, or listening to a rotation of show tunes. Being in a wheelchair and unable to see the latest theatrical productions "is terrible," he said. "But you have to accept what you have."

After watching Kahana's films, Palmer asked if there was anything else he could see. Kahana launched Google Maps' VR app, and sent Kahana to Amsterdam. "I was on that canal," Palmer said, watching the boats and bicycles. "It doesn't smell!"

Next stop: London, a city where Palmer had lived off and on for years. "That place had the most horrible bacon you've ever had," Palmer said.

"I'm a vegetarian, Craig," Kahana said.

"Good! Then you won't have to taste it."

Kahana moved him across town to the Tate Modern. "Oh, is that the Thames?" Palmer asked. "I fell into that once. Accidentally, after a party."

After about 15 minutes, the experience ended; Kahana gently lifted the headset off of Palmer's head and asked the man how he felt. "It was awesome," Palmer said. "But it would be better if I had a scotch and a cigarette."

"Is there anything you want me to pass on to people who will be there?" Kahana asked of the launch party, tucking the headset back into his bag.

"Don't ever say 'pass on' to a senior," Palmer said.

There's slightly more than a month to go before Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes it to the multiplex, and Disney is reportedly already leaning on theater owners to toe the line in order to be able to show the movie. Does the studio's strict set of guidelines mean they know they've got a masterpiece on their hands? Or is it just a quest for box office domination? While you ponder those important questions, here's what else has been happening in the galaxy far, far away … but be warned, there are at least two potential spoilers ahead for those who seek to avoid such things.

Han Solo Is a New Man—Well, 80 Percent of Him Is, At Least

Source: Internet rumormongering

Probability of Accuracy: The odds are worryingly good.

The Real Deal: So, it turns out the reshoots on Solo: A Star Wars Story might have been just a little more extensive than people thought. Like, a lot more. According to a report on ScreenRant, citing the latest episode of The Resistance Broadcast, new director Ron Howard reshot around 80 percent of the movie after he was brought on board, a process that reportedly almost doubled the budget. That's the kind of reshoot that makes the last-minute Rogue One reshoots look like less of a big deal. Of course, Lucasfilm hasn't commented on this rumor, nor is the studio likely to, so perhaps this should merely be filed under "Who can ever tell?"—but, given the time the reshoots took, it's far from impossible. What is it about these Star Wars Story movies, anyway?


The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

Luke Skywalker Almost Didn't Appear In The Force Awakens

Source: The Last Jedi himself

Probability of Accuracy: As on-target as Luke's Death Star killshot.

The Real Deal: Did you know Luke Skywalker almost didn't appear in The Force Awakens? It's true; Mark Hamill said so himself. That's not to say that Lucasfilm didn't want Skywalker in the movies. Instead, Hamill wasn't sure he wanted to reprise his role. "I thought, why mess with it? The idea of catching lightning in a bottle twice was ridiculously remote," he told The New York Times. Nervous that audiences didn't really want to be disappointed by the sight of older versions of their heroes, he felt convinced that he wouldn't have to say no to J.J. Abrams because there was almost certainly no way Harrison Ford would return as Han Solo … and then he did, forcing Hamill's hand. "Can you imagine if I was the only one to say no? I'd be the most hated man in nerd-dom," the actor said. So, now you know: Harrison Ford is the man who saved Star Wars. Who'd've thought it?

Did Kylo Ren Just Spoil The Last Jedi?

Source: Adam Driver, either accidentally or dropping an amazing tease

Probability of Accuracy: Is this some Sith-inspired misdirection?

The Real Deal: Just how casual does Adam Driver get during interviews? Apparently pretty loose considering fans are freaking out over some beans the actor spilled in a recent chat with British GQ. (Read on at your own risk; you have been warned.) Talking about the different layers of his character, Driver said, "The person Kylo's pretending to be on the outside is not who he is. He's a vulnerable kid who doesn't know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he's playing a role. J.J. had that idea initially and I think [director] Rian [Johnson] took it to the next level." Pretty straightforward. But then Driver added, "You have, also, the hidden identity of this princess who's hiding who she really is so she can survive and Kylo Ren and her hiding behind these artifices." Is… Is that Rey he's talking about? Technically, it could be Leia, hiding behind her identity as a general, or perhaps a new character, but it definitely sounds like Rey. The question then becomes: Is this really something that Driver could accidentally let slip, or is this some kind of strange misdirect about Rey's parentage? (Also, if she is a princess, who are her parents? Outside of Leia, there aren't any other royals in the series…)

Did a New Poster Just Spoil The Last Jedi?

Source: A piece of artwork, of all things

Probability of Accuracy: Difficult to say, but it seems pretty likely, considering.

The Real Deal: How much faith do you put in a poster to be true to the movie it's advertising? That's a question many fans are pondering after a new international poster for The Last Jedi showed Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber, despite everything else leading up to the movie suggesting he had rejected the Force and the Jedi Order entirely. Will Luke end up having to go back to his old ways for some as-yet-unknown reason during the movie? Or is this a piece of artwork that knows exactly what fans want and isn't above manipulating them to ensure that they buy tickets? All will be revealed in a month and a half.

Why Chewbacca Likes Porgs So Much

Source: The man in charge of making aliens for the galaxy far, far away

Probability of Accuracy: If you can't trust the man who makes decisions about this kind of thing…

The Real Deal: Finally, something about The Last Jedi that isn't a potential spoiler.

By now you probably know that fans are very excited about the porg in the new trailer for The Last Jedi. But what you might not know is that Chewbacca is wild about him too—and with good reason. According to Neal Scanlan—the man in charge of the Creature Workshop for all Star Wars movies—the porgs were designed with Chewie in mind. "That porg [on the Millennium Falcon in the trailer] in particular shows some very Wookiee traits in the way he’s colored," he told Empire. "His patterning is very similar to Chewie’s." Scanlan also revealed that the Caretakers of the Jedi Temple on Ahch-To are related in some way to the porgs, and that the crystalline foxes briefly glimpsed in the latest trailer are a product of their environment. "The theory is they’ve fed off this planet for so long that their fur has become crystalline," Scanlan suggested. "They’ve taken on the very surface of the planet they live on." Pretty cool, huh?

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You’ve seen the iconic snapshot: Rihanna in midnight shades and a coat with a mustard-colored fur lapel, seated next to Lupita Nyong’o, waring poindexter frames and a modest crewneck sweater. You’ve also doubtless heard the story that arose after it: In 2014, the photo surfaced on Tumblr, along with a movie concept; three years later, Black Twitter brainstormed the digital pitch into a caper film; now, that film is reportedly in development at Netflix with Rihanna, Nyong’o, director Ava DuVernay, and screenwriter Issa Rae attached.

Fan-casting has long been routine among comic book and YA readers whenever popular titles are adapted, but the Rih-pita film’s genesis is so far singular: a Twitter-sourced idea grown from the ether, from story to casting. It might not be the last, though; over the intervening months, Black Twitter has embraced its power to “make it happen” in terms of filmmaking. The internet has since pushed for Tracee Ellis Ross to play Miss Frizzle in a live-action version of The Magic School Bus (a role that Ross gladly encouraged), as well as turned an Essence cover into a remake for the ages:

At their core, these Twitter-generated film concepts evince a desire for representation beyond Hollywood’s limited, predominantly white imagination. But while Black Twitter continues to be an unprecedented vehicle for creativity—and, increasingly, a reliable form of audience focus-testing for Hollywood—can a viral fancasting phenomenon like this realistically change the industry’s status quo?

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Social media campaigns aren’t likely to alter the system, but they can crack the code and, in small part, disrupt current power dynamics. “When you’re putting a project together, you’re ultimately putting it together for an audience to view,” says casting director Nancy Nayor (Proud Mary, Slender Man). “In the past, studios would make films and do this test-market research to see: do people like the story, do people like the characters, do people like the chemistry between the stars? But that was always after the fact. Now we have input from the future audience sooner than later. It’s not always going to dictate how projects are made, but if that input inspires a great combination of actors or stories, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Despite its insularity, Black Twitter is hugely influential as a driver of larger online humor and creativity. When ideas blow up, though, the individuals behind them remain uncompensated (black teen creatives in particular), instead settling for internet recognition (via retweets, essays, etc.) rather than monetary reward. In the past few years, copyright experts have had their hands full explaining this reality to lay users who rightfully wonder why no one is ponying up. “In the example of the proposed heist movie starring Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o, what was proposed was an idea—a genre of film and a casting choice,” says Dorna Mohaghegh, an intellectual property lawyer at firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz in New York. “It’s up to the studio, in this case Netflix, to engage a screenwriter and take that idea and flesh it out to create a protectable expression. The idea of doing a heist movie isn’t protectable. Heist movies are a genre and vary widely, from Ocean’s 11 to Baby Driver.”

IP law aside, exactly how an impromptu brainstorming session traveled from Twitter to Netflix remains unclear. Netflix allegedly acquired the project at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but there’s no official account of which party or parties brought the project to Netflix, or whether a creative at the company simply saw the idea online and pushed it along. When WIRED inquired, a Netflix representative would only state, via email, “We aren’t commenting on the status of that project.”

The project is only a draw with Rihanna and Nyong’o attached, of course, and that idea was only made possible by a photo, the virality of which only Twitter could create—through retweets. Still, if social media isn’t significant in terms of copyright—and if, in turn, movie producers have no obligation to it—then the Twitter users who helped the concept go viral likely won't get paid. “The credit will probably come through articles and online discussions about the origin of the project,” says casting agent Nayor. “But I wouldn’t say it makes sense to give it a screen credit. Every project comes together in miraculous ways. It’s amazing that anything actually gets made because there are so many turning points where a project could fall apart.”

A representative for Issa Rae confirmed to Vanity Fair that the users would receive some unspecified credit. New York-based writer Mikelle Street, the Twitter user who first got a verbal commitment from Ava DuVernay, says most of the individuals who fueled the idea on Twitter are in communication, and have agreed to notify each other if any party is contacted about credit. (None of them have been contacted, to Street’s knowledge.) “The idea that people are in a group, talking crazy, and they come up with a movie concept—that has happened before. It hasn’t happened before using these platforms,” he says. “Now you have a record that you did it first. We have a log that it started here. There’s always the argument that those things don’t do well at the box office and we’ve seen countless times that that’s patently untrue. If this does well, it will be another point for people who argue for black leads and black talent.”

But points aren't percentages. Even if it would be revolutionary for social media to play a major (and acknowledged) role in nominating an actor of color for a motion picture in development, Hollywood functions in such a closed loop that it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening. Copyrights and trademarks, in part, serve to make creators feel comfortable in their ownership—and explicitly guard against nebulous or crowdsourced ideas that might dilute intellectual ownership.

That may change in the future, given the hand-wringing over dwindling box-office performance in the streaming age. “Going viral has become a goal in and of itself," says Mohaghegh. "The question has shifted to figuring out how to credit an idea that has demonstrated its value through its popularity, but maybe hasn’t been developed to the point of warranting legal protection. It is in the interest of the entertainment industry to build goodwill with social media users so studios can continue to take advantage of great ideas with built-in buzz and fans, and social media users have an interest in seeing movie ideas that they are excited about become reality.” For now, creativity is the biggest currency—but compromise may soon join it.

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Comedy is a funny thing: A joke that makes one person howl with laughter can just as easily fall flat with whoever’s sitting next to them. But whether you prefer highbrow laughs to scatological humor (or vice versa), there are true genre gems that cater to all kinds of comedy connoisseurs. So which ones should you be watching right now? Here are the funniest films you can currently find on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh again.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

While future generations might find it strange that mid-‘80s audiences fell in love with a film about a bow-tied man-boy who meets an array of wild characters as he travels the country in search of his stolen bicycle, today the film remains a classic—both as a comedy and a road movie. PG-rated James Bond kind of stuff. It also birthed Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the brilliantly bizarre and creative Saturday morning series that premiered in 1986, and marked the feature directorial debut of Tim Burton, who would go on to turn outcasts into heroes with movies like Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Ed Wood (1994). If you’re jonesing for more Pee-wee, check out Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which Netflix premiered last year.

Where to stream it: Netflix

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeffrey Lebowski may not be a common name, but there are at least two of them in Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of Los Angeles—one of them a millionaire whose much younger wife (played by Tara Reid, which reminds you that this was the 1990s) gets kidnapped, the other one, well, The Dude. Jeff Bridges plays the White Russian-guzzling slacker—aka His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino (“if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing”)—who is enlisted to help the other Lebowski get to the bottom of his trophy wife’s disappearance. Though the movie was a major box office flop at the time of its release, it has since transcended the motion picture medium to become a pop culture institution, with an annual festival dedicated to all things Lebowski that attracts thousands of fans from around the world.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Step Brothers (2008)

In his one-and-a-half star review of Step Brothers, Roger Ebert wrote that the film "has a premise that might have produced a good time at the movies, but when I left, I felt a little unclean." With all due respect to Ebert: He’s wrong. Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are two 40-year-old layabouts who both still live at home with their respective parents, eating cereal and watching Cops. When Brennan’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale’s dad (Richard Jenkins) get married, it becomes one big dysfunctional family. Though there is a basic plot, the movie is really a showcase for the rapid-fire comedic chemistry between Ferrell and Reilly. One warning, though: You’ll never hear Montell Jordan in the same way again.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Decades before films like Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Star Worlds Episode XXXIVE=MC2: The Force Awakens the Last Jedi Who Went Rogue were tainting the definition of what a spoof movie is supposed to be, Mel Brooks was perfecting the parody equation with projects like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. In the latter, Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick “That’s Fronkensteen” Frankenstein, who is desperately trying to disassociate himself from his infamous family (he is the grandson of Victor Frankenstein). But when he’s forced to visit Transylvania after inheriting the family estate, he realizes that mad science just may be in the DNA. That Brooks released Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein just 10 months apart is a testament to both his prolificacy and versatility. Also: If you don’t laugh at Wilder and Peter Boyle (as the Monster) performing “Puttin’ on Ritz,” you need to check your pulse.

Where to stream it: Netflix

Best in Show (2000)

Christopher Guest may not have invented the mockumentary, but he is undoubtedly Hollywood’s foremost practitioner of the form. And he has a knack for choosing to focus on subjects that could never sustain a 90-minute runtime if they were anything but a parody. Case in point: Best in Show, a painfully accurate dive into the surreal world of show dogs and the people who love and judge them. The film features Guest’s regular ensemble of actors, including Eugene Levy, who co-wrote the film and plays the two-left-footed pet parent of a Norwich Terrier named Winky. Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Michael McKean, and Guest himself play fellow dog owners, though it might be Fred Willard who steals the movie with his never-ending “color” commentary on what he’s witnessing in the ring.

Where to stream it: Netflix

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Truth be told, there are probably two types of comedy fans: Those who love Will Ferrell movies and those who do not. Considering that this is the second Ferrell film on this list—though, more importantly, the second Ferrell/John C. Reilly joint—it’s obvious that we’re falling on the pro-Ferrell side. Much like Step Brothers, Talladega Nights paints Ferrell and Reilly in a Tom and Jerry kind of scenario, where they alternate between being best friends and mortal enemies. Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) has dreamt of being a racecar driver all his life, and finally gets the chance while working as part of the pit crew for Nascar superstar Terry Cheveaux (Adam McKay). Suddenly, Ricky Bobby becomes an overnight racing sensation and he and his best friend Cal Naughton Jr. (Reilly) bask in their newfound fame. But when a horrible accident ruins Ricky Bobby’s career, Cal decides it’s his turn to climb into the driver’s seat. For some reason, Reilly’s background as a dramatic actor makes his comedic roles even funnier, with their chemistry landing somewhere between Bogie and Bacall and Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Where to stream it: Amazon, Hulu

Clueless (1995)

Before a generation of youngsters actually began trying to keep up with the Kardashians, movie audiences were laughing at the vapidity of Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a shallow-but-well-meaning Beverly Hills teen who frequently puts the happiness of others before her own. A loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, the film—which was written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who also helmed 1982’s groundbreaking Fast Times at Ridgemont High—had a significant impact on mid-'90s culture, and proved that teen films weren't all dumb. (As if!)

Where to stream it: Amazon, Hulu

Hot Fuzz (2007)

The second film in what has become known as Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy is both a play on the uber-intense action films of the 1980s and 1990s, and a worthy addition to that catalog (despite its release date). Simon Pegg plays police constable Nicholas Angel, a member of London’s Metropolitan Police Service whose extreme dedication to the job makes his colleagues look bad. To neutralize his do-goodery (and save their reputations) they transfer him to the picturesque village of Sandford, where a missing swan is about as hardcore as the town gets. But when a couple of locals are murdered, Angel suspects that this storybook place has got some hidden secrets, and enlists the help of his bumbling, action-movie-loving partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) to get to the bottom of it—escaped swans be damned!

Where to stream it: Netflix

Superbad (2007)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg turned their semi-autobiographical script about an epic night in two high school best friends’ lives into one of the highest-grossing comedies of 2007. Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are on the brink of graduating from high school and going their separate ways for college. When Seth’s dream girl, Jules (Emma Stone), invites him to a party at her place, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes—and promises that he’ll bring some booze with him. When their friend Fogell, aka McLovin’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), tries to procure alcohol using the world’s worst fake ID, he finds himself in the middle of a liquor store robbery and becomes a key witness for police officers Michaels and Slater (Rogen and Bill Hader). Directed by Greg Mottola and produced by Judd Apatow, the movie has a few gross-out moments—but it’s more cringe-worthy for how realistically it represents the high school experience, which only becomes funny in hindsight.

Where to stream it: Amazon

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

In the more than 30 years since its release, many well-known musicians have gone on record to say that This Is Spinal Tap plays more like a real documentary than a fake one. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film set the standard for all mockumentaries that followed—including the work of Christopher Guest, who co-wrote the script and plays Nigel Tufnel, one part of the fictional British rock band the film follows on a never-ending series of mishaps and public embarrassments as they mount an American tour. The jokes are unforgettable, but part of what makes This Is Spinal Tap truly timeless is the music, which is pretty good if you just ignore the lyrics.

Where to stream it: Amazon, Netflix

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Sci-fi author Marie Lu sets her trilogies in shadowy realms, from a militarized police state (Legend) to a hunted secret society (The Young Elites). But as a former videogame designer for Disney Interactive Studios, Lu was conjuring up dark, fantastical worlds long before her books became best sellers. In Warcross, out this month, Lu embraces her gamer roots.

Marie Lu's Work

2011: LEGEND

Lu publishes her first dystopian young-adult novel. The trilogy sells 3 million copies.


The series follows Adelina Amouteru, a pandemic survivor with godlike superpowers.

2016: GEMINA

Lu illustrates the YA best seller, set in a space station at the edge of the galaxy.


Hacker-heroine Emika Chen battles dark forces in a dangerous videogame realm.

2018: BATMAN: Nightwalker

Lu unravels the superhero’s psyche in this YA spin on a DC Comics icon.

The novel is set in a global video­game controlled by a secretive tech CEO. Creating the immersive digital realm was a dream job for Lu, who infuses the Warcross universe with all the futuristic capabilities she longed for as a player. “I approached the writing process like a game studio with an infinite budget,” she says. Though the book takes inspiration from the insularity of Silicon Valley, Lu’s virtual world is low on bros—it features a ­rainbow-haired, ­Chinese American hacker-­heroine, as well as disabled and gay characters.

Next up, the hit-maker is finishing a novel exploring the life of teenage Batman, scheduled to be published by Random House next year. For Lu, whose belief in righteous resistance was formed while growing up in China (she was 4 at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests), the project was a chance to inhabit the conflicted mind of the Dark Knight. “I love that Bruce Wayne is this nuanced character who literally lives in the shadows,” she says. “Now I can actually say, ‘I’m Batman.’”

Who: Marie Lu, YA sci-fi writer

Favorite Game: Journey. “It’s this sweeping ode to the vast unknown. I played it through twice and cried
both times.”

Guilty Pleasure: Assassin’s Creed: Brother­hood. “It’s so deliciously fun. I love the Renais­sance Italy open world.”

Idol: Brian Jacques, the Redwall series. “I worshipped his work as a kid.”

Modern Hero: Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes series. “Everything good fantasy should be: cinematic and epic.”

This article appears in the September issue. Subscribe now.