Culture Crash 18-37: Fall Sports

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Fall is upon on. September is underway and with it comes the apex of the sports calendar. Last weekend, the NFL season kicked off and all month, the MLB’s pennant races and Wild Card hunts are shaking out. Then will come the MLB playoffs and the dawn of new seasons in both the NBA and NHL. Plenty of sports intrigue abounds this time of year- Four divisions in baseball are coming down to the wire, Jimmy Garoppolo has taken over at quarterback in San Francisco for a massive contract with very little in the way of experience, and you may have heard LeBron James is taking his talents to LA.

Those who don’t love sports may roll their eyes, but sports are one of our most inexhaustible sources of drama. An MLB pennant race or Playoff series can grow close and players will make or break their destinies–an error can doom a player to eternal shame. Just ask Bill Buckner. Or a clutch home run can cement your place in history. Just ask Kirk Gibson.

On the football side, The NFL will dominate TV ratings into February, even if they are falling year-to-year. Sunday Night Football truly is an event people gather to watch and over the next few months, controversial calls, big-time catches, and game-ending interceptions will dominate headlines on a Monday morning.

An essential ingredient in the drama of sports is just how elusive victory can be. Every season, only one team ends up champion. As a sports fan, you realize that more often than not, your team will lose- even for the frontrunners. But that glimmer of hope that this year could be the year keeps us fans hooked.

Personally, I’m hoping Kris Bryant can return to form after an injury-plagued 2018 campaign and Khalil Mack can be a difference maker for my Bears. Across the country, many others have wishes of their own. Autumn means plenty of things- pumpkin spiced lattes, apple-picking, and trick-or-treating- but as the days grow shorter and our sweatshirts get more and more use, many of us will also pass our evenings and weekends watching sports. Here’s to hoping this fall provides sports-lovers with a worthwhile ride.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-36: American Animals

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

American Animals is a film that tells the true story of four college kids who stole millions of dollars in rare books from a library in broad daylight. I first saw the trailer in March and it has been on my radar ever since. I was intrigued to see a stylish heist movie starring some exciting up and comers like American Horror Story’s Evan Peters and Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan.

When I finally got around to seeing the film, it was every bit the heist movie I expected. What I did not expect was that it was interspersed with interviews the filmmakers conducted with the actual criminals telling their own story. Instead of re-enacting an event discussed in a documentary to give it cinematic flair, director Bart Layton documented the reality of his cinema to give it credibility.

The result is a perfectly 2018 movie. It serves as a cautionary tale about the ignorance of youth, a heist movie and, in part, a true-crime documentary. The film has been well-received by critics and serves up some incredible tense and cringe-worthy robbery scenes. In addition to all that, the movie’s cast is truly phenomenal. It’s the kind of young cast that we may look back on one day and remark and how incredible it was to get them in a movie together so early in their careers. It’s certainly a movie worth seeking out.

American Animals is available to buy and rent on Vudu and iTunes now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-35: TV Revivals

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

In recent years, you’ve probably noticed a boom in TV revivals- old series brought back for new episodes. Fans of Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, Will and Grace, and more have all been gifted with new seasons and with reboots of Murphy Brown, Veronica Mars, and others in the works, this isn’t a trend that seems to be going anywhere.

Unfortunately, though, after a lot of hype, most revivals seem to fall flat. Gilmore Girls, NBC’s Heroes and even 24 have all made revivals that disappointed much of their core audience.

Probably the best example of a revival that worked- one that fans and critics alike raved over- was last year’s Twin Peaks revival on Showtime. That event series was deemed by many to be one of the best shows of 2017. And its success is largely because David Lynch and the Twin Peaks writing staff didn’t try to recreate the original show. They didn’t use old moments as a crutch, they didn’t give into fan-service, they just continued the story in the modern age. They struck a similar tone and ran with it.

Doing the opposite- giving in to fan service, can be an attractive temptation. Writers and creators can often feel lucky to have the opportunity to make more of their old project, and simply want to tie things up with a nice, neat bow. Everyone looks older, the will they or won’t they couples get back together, and they sign off. Hopefully, though, the Twin Peaks revival gave TV writers a new template- to give their characters new questions to answer and new struggles to grapple with. That can make our revival boom worth all the hype.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-34: The Joys of ‘Junk Food TV’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

When people talk about television, there’s generally a skew toward prestige TV. We discuss the achievements of Breaking Bad, LOST and Orange is the New Black, we marveled at the talent of Sterling K. Brown and Elisabeth Moss… and deservedly so! Those shows and actors are incredible and they have entertained many of us for hours on end with their high concepts and thoughtfulness. But there’s another brand of TV that’s easy to overlook, what I call junk food TV. In this comparison, those prestige shows are your nice dinners out: they’re prepared with care by professionals. This junk food TV is what you reach for when you just need something easy and fast and delicious.

For me, it’s MTV’s The Challenge. I’ve watched it for years- I know the running resentments and simmering dramas. I enjoy the athletic challenges, the backstabbing of the votes. It’s pure entertainment. For others, this is the role that Riverdale, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or heck, even Family Feud hold.

Lately, my wife has come home and decompressed from hectic days by watching Nailed It on Netflix. Nailed It is a show where home bakers try imitating complicated recipes made by professionals, who make decadent desserts look easy. They typically fail spectacularly, and everyone has fun laughing and commiserating with each other. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable.

Not every day can be a day when I feel up to the emotional weight of watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale or The Leftovers. Sometimes, I need to relax by flipping on The Challenge and watching 30-somethings try to race across platforms 20 feet over water and then vote their friends into elimination challenges. That’s just the way it is.

Junk food TV rarely wins awards or gets celebrated, but sometimes it’s what allows us to relax on a Tuesday night, and that’s worth appreciating.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-33: The Academy’s ‘Best Popular Film’ Snafu

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced their latest idea for improving the Oscars relevancy and ratings. This month, The Academy sent out a tweet that read in part, quote, “a new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.” This is nothing new- in 2009, after the backlash they suffered from failing to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture- the Academy expanded the category to 10 nominees. This worked for a while- Avatar and Inception were both nominated, but ultimately, things reverted back to the mean and big budget films went back to being excluded.

So now, this. An attempt to create an Oscar for popular films. The reaction was swift- the award would be an insult. An also-ran. Perhaps most baffling is the strange insinuation that a popular film can’t win Best Picture, Titanic was popular, Forrest Gump was popular. Not to mention Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Rocky and so many of the award’s winners over the years.

To ignore that history and imply that a popular film operates on a different scale than true film is a sham designed to draw more eyeballs to the ceremony. The only reason a second award would be necessary is because the Academy itself is out of touch. In 2008, The Dark Knight didn’t need a Best Popular Film category to merit a win. The outrage was because it was dismissed for being popular in spite of its quality- honestly, when’s the last time you marveled at the achievement of Frost/Nixon, The Reader or even the winner from that ceremony, Slumdog Millionaire?

Winning an award made to pander to the masses won’t feel as good as truly being recognized for your achievement. The onus is on the Academy to actually recognize the best achievement in film and not hedge their bets with new awards.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 18-32: Blindspotting

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Every year has it’s most anticipated movies- this year just saw the release of Mission Impossible-Fallout, and still has Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, and the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. But every year also has its surprise gems. And one of those for 2018 is in theaters now, and it’s called Blindspotting.

Blindspotting was written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, two real-life childhood friends who originally wrote the movie years ago. After Diggs rose to national prominence, winning a Tony award for his turn as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton on Broadway and Casal gained fame with his poetry, the two friends finally got to make their long-in-gestation film.passion project a reality.

The movie weaves rap, a visceral dream sequence, and intimate knowledge of Oakland and the Bay Area to tell the story of gentrification in American cities, recidivism, and the disturbing trend of black men being killed by police. Diggs and Casal also star in the film- Diggs plays a black man who was recently released from prison, while Casal plays his white friend, who is always by his side.

For a movie that only runs 95 minutes long, Blindspotting packs a lot in. The movie explores the racial dynamics of their friendship and their city, and how imprisonment and national headlines can affect friends and families in America’s urban centers.

Blindspotting is a drama and a comedy, and both are strengths. When the mood is light, the movie clicks as a buddy-comedy of two movers in the Bay Area, but when it takes its turns, it can be shocking and disturbing, showing how quickly things can go terribly wrong.

Blindspotting was not a movie on my radar when the year began. It wasn’t really on my radar until it was playing at the theater down the street from my house and I randomly decided to kill a couple of hours by going to see it. But that decision was a good one, and when all is said and done, Blindspotting will certainly rank among my favorite films of the year.

I’m Evan Rook.

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Culture Crash: Blindspotting

One of this year’s gems at the cinema is in theaters now. It’s called Blindspotting, and it explores racial dynamics and gentrification in American cities.