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.

Coming Up on Viewpoints Show 18-32

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Maximizing Your Charity Donation’s Impact

Everyone has different causes that are close to their hearts. We talk to a philanthropy specialist about how we can donate to those causes and ensure that our contribution makes the biggest impact possible.

Overcoming The Fear of Speaking in Public

We’ve all been in the position at some time in another where we have to give a presentation at school or at work, and often times, it can make us incredibly nervous. We discuss this fear and tips for overcoming it and delivering the best speech possible.

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.

Culture Crash 18-31: TV Episode Bloat: Too much of a good thing

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

Since pretty much the dawn of the medium, a television show was either 30 minutes or 60 minutes long. With commercials, that put 30-minute shows at about 22 minutes of actual content and hour-long episodes somewhere in the 40 minute range. It wasn’t until the dawnspread of premium cable channels like HBO, and then the rise of streaming networks that this model was really disrupted.

Episodes now run anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes, and there doesn’t have to be any consistency from one week to the next. For example, most episodes of Mindhunter on Netflix run between 45 and 60 minutes, but episode 6 was randomly only 34 minutes long. That kind of variance I like, making an episode shorter is better in my mind than adding 20 minutes of lower quality scenes to fill the episode out.

But what happens when a show goes the other way? The season two finale of HBO’s Westworld ran 90 minutes instead of its more typical 60 minutes. It felt way too long. And I like the show! But a TV episode doesn’t need to be a movie, and 60 minutes is already a long haul for an episode.

Even on a smaller scale, episode bloat is a real issue. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a comedy series written by Tina Fey, had a stellar first season that was originally supposed to premiere on NBC. After some shuffling, the show was left to Netflix. In its subsequent seasons, the writers have had the flexibility of knowing it would run on a streaming platform. There are no advertisements to accommodate, no network schedule they have to fit into. In season two, the episodes almost all ran a full 30 minutes instead of the tighter 22 minute format of season one. A couple episodes even ran as long as 35 minutes. It was during this bloated season that I stopped watching. Season one of Kimmy Schmidt benefitted from its shorter run-time. The episodes were punchier, the jokes came faster. With an additional 10 to 15 minutes of content, the show dragged.

Obviously, expectations play a huge part in this phenomenon. With an hour-long show like Mindhunter, the occasional 34 minute episode feels like a breeze. With a half-hour comedy, that same 34 minute length felt like an eternity. But it also makes sense. We live in “peak TV.” There are more options now than ever. If you set my expectations at 22 or 23 minutes and then take up an additional 10 minutes, I lose my patience.

What I’m getting at is this: If you want to impress me in 2018, make an episode or two that runs shorter, not longer. The best thing a creator of a show can do is value my time and cut to the chase a little quicker. There are plenty of other seasons of television I want to get to, and I can’t do that when your episodes never end.

I’m Evan Rook.

Coming Up on Viewpoints Show 18-31

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The Shocking Truth of Who We Really Are

Have you ever lied on a survey or a social media post? Researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz says that almost all of us do. He researched the data of big websites like Google and Facebook to discover that what people say or post about themselves often seems contradictory to what their internet searches reveal about their interests or beliefs.

Racial Diversity in Opera

Opera is a beloved art form, but its racial history is as flawed as the rest of our culture. We talk to Naomi Andre, a professor at the University of Michigan, about the history of race in opera and how this traditional art form is hopefully getting with the times.

Culture Crash: TV Episode Bloat: Too much of a good thing

Streaming networks have opened up the length an episode of television can run. Gone are the days when writers needed to accommodate advertisements. But episodes that run long often present a new slate of problems – namely, staying interesting.

Culture Crash 18-30: The Life of Funnyman Robin Williams

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

Robin Williams has been gone four years now, but a new HBO documentary is keeping his story alive.aims to tell the story of the beloved funnyman.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is HBO’s latest original documentary and explores the late comedian’s rise in comedy clubs and into his reign as one of the world’s biggest superstars.

As someone who grew up watching his movies- Jumanji, Mrs. Doubtfire and of course, Aladdin were favorites of mine as a child, while Good Will Hunting was one of the first movies for adults that I remember really enjoying-the documentary taught me much about his early years. I always knew he was an energetic, zany comedian, but seeing clips from the 70s demonstrated it in a way I had never seen before.

The film also sheds a touching light on his friendship with Billy Crystal, and gives us glimpses of the man Williams was when the cameras were shut off.

One thing I loved about the film was that director Marina Zenovich let Williams speak for himself. She never narrates the action, instead opting to use interviews Robin Williams gave in his life, along with interviews with his friends and family, to tell the story. The result is a shockingly personal documentary that reminds you why we all loved Robin Williams so much, and why his career means so much to people around the world.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is available to stream on HBO Go. Resources for people struggling with suicidal thoughts are always available by calling 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-TALK.

I’m Evan Rook.

Coming Up on Viewpoints Show 18-30

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Serious Play: Using tactical performance as protest

We all love a good theater performance. But are theater and performance good strategies to affect social change? Our guest thinks so. He’s a performer, writer and educator who uses serious play and theater to help change people’s minds and change society for the better.

The Power of Picture Books

Picture books can teach children valuable lessons that will stick with them for life. Our guests discuss the importance of producing books about social issues like race, gender, and disability. And how as a combination of text and images picture books have an advantage when it comes to depicting diversity.

Culture Crash: The Life of Funnyman Robin Williams

A new documentary from HBO, Come Inside My Mind, explores the life of actor Robin Williams as told by his friends and family. The documentary is cleverly narrated by the actor himself using audio from earlier interviews.

Culture Crash 18-29: Bo Burnham’s Brilliant New Film, Eighth Grade

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

2014 had Boyhood, last year had Lady Bird, and this year has Bo Burnham’s new film, Eighth Grade.

Coming of age stories can be truly phenomenal, but sometimes they can come off a bit idealistic. It’s a complaint I have with John Hughes movies. I can’t remember a time growing up when the nerd, the princess, the jock, the basket case and the criminal sat in a circle pouring their hearts out. I know that’s part of those movie’s charm, and they’re classics for a reason, but if you prefer your coming of age movies with a realistic edge, Eighth Grade is in your lane.

The film tells the story of Kayla, an eighth grade outsider with a YouTube channel and a penchant for making you cringe and breaking your heart at the same time. Writer/director Bo Burnham has said he wanted to make a movie that reflects the reality of current eighth graders and not the reality of his time in middle school, and it appears the work paid off. This is a story of smartphones and webcams, of teens who wear earbuds at the dinner table. But of course some things never change, so it’s also about going to a pool party you’re dreading attending, feeling like no one likes you, and longing to be just a few years older.

The movie is funny, and also scary at times. There are several sequences that make the audience uncomfortable- the theater I was in was full of actual squirming and people yelling at the screen. I can see those moments taking certain audience members out of the movie. But it reflects the reality of youth, for better or worse.

Bo Burnham is a former YouTuber himself and, at 27, already has a catalogue of comedy specials on Netflix. Now, he’s turned his attention to directing and, like Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig before him, has hit it out of the park on his first outing. Eighth Grade is in theaters now.

I’m Evan Rook.