Culture Crash 18-46: Filling the Thanksgiving movie void with Stuck in Love

Culture Crash Logo

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

In the build-up to Halloween, many of us get in the spooky mood by watching horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street or, naturally, Halloween. Before Christmas, seasonal cheer leads people to dig out their old copies of It’s a Wonderful Life or Elf. But there aren’t many Thanksgiving movies.

Of course, you can watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but that’s only 30 minutes long. So what can be done to fill the void? Let me propose that you give the movie Stuck in Love a try. Before I get too deep into this, fair warning: the movie is sitting at a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, but don’t let a formula tell you how to spend your holiday season.

The movie was directed by Josh Boone, who went on to direct The Fault in Our Stars and is currently making an X-Men movie, The New Mutants, so clearly there was something studios saw in the guy, even if critics didn’t click with his debut.

Stuck in Love is a melodrama slash romcom that follows a family over the course of a year, beginning and ending on Thanksgiving. It features young love, family strife, and several winning performances by Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Nat Wolff, Logan Lerman, and Kristen Bell. It’s in the same vein as Parenthood or This Is Us and, while it is dramatic, it culminates in a finale that celebrates the enduring love of a family, despite their many differences.

It’s not horrifying, like a Halloween movie, or bright and cheerful, like a Christmas movie, it’s dramatic and emotional which seems perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Stuck In Love is available to rent on Amazon Prime or in the Google Play store.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-45: Dave Eggers and his boundary-pushing writing

Culture Crash Logo

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

Back in 2000, author Dave Eggers became a cult hero with his memoir titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In it, he chronicled the death of both his parents and his role stewarding his younger brother in their absence.

Eggers is also the co-founder of McSweeney’s, a non-profit publisher that is known for its literary fiction quarterly journal, and has written an interesting collection of fiction and non-fiction in the ensuing years. In 2005, he was named a Time Magazine Most Influential Person. His 2012 novel A Hologram for the King was a finalist for the National Book Award and his myriad other books have been shortlisted and won prizes across the country.

Throughout his career, Eggers has pushed the boundaries of writing, and no book better illustrates his desire to innovate than his 2014 novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? It’s a book that consists only of dialogue. Each line is introduced with a single dash, and while it sounds complicated, the form actually makes it very straight-forward and easy to follow. It’s a revenge fantasy ethical debate featuring an unreliable main character who keeps kidnapping people.

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is a fascinating and challenging book. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but it’s a provocative quick-read and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Coming from an author with a pedigree like Eggers, it’s definitely worth reading and discussing.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-44: Serial, the podcast that captivated America, returns for its most important season yet

Culture Crash Logo

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

Back in 2014, the podcast Serial stormed into our culture with its in-depth look at a 1999 murder of a high school student in Baltimore. The podcast revolutionized the form and brought podcasting to the forefront. The first season dominated the iTunes charts, was satirized on Saturday Night Live, and even won a Peabody Award.

Its second season, about Bowe Bergdahl, a US sergeant who went AWOL during the War in Afghanistan, similarly dominated the charts but didn’t reach the heights of season one. Frankly, its unlikely any podcast ever will. The first season of Serial was lightning in a bottle.

But now comes season three, and while it continues to be unlikely anything will ever match the popularity of season one, this third season is even more important. While seasons one and two told the stories of specific, extraordinary cases, season three sets its sights on the mundane. This time, the team at This American Life and Serial took on telling the story of criminal justice in Cleveland over the course of a year. The reporters follow little cases: a bar fight, a drug bust, individuals who break parole. It tells the story of a fractured system: a system where the community doesn’t trust the police. A system where prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges alike are overtaxed and overly reliant on plea deals. A system that determines years of people’s lives, and could affect any of us at any time.

Season three of Serial isn’t as flashy as season one. There isn’t quite as much intrigue week to week. But it is examining the daily workings of criminal justice in America, and shedding light on problems that have been accepted for far too long. It’s investigative reporting at its best, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

You can find episodes of Serial at https://serialpodcast.org/

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-43: Netflix’s Binge-worthy Horror Drama, The Haunting of Hill House

Culture Crash Logo

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

It’s the week of Halloween, which means it’s the time of year to get a little spooked. Luckily, Netflix has your back.

Earlier this month, Netflix released The Haunting of Hill House, a 10-episode horror series loosely based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. The series follows the Crain family; two parents and five children, over the course of multiple timelines. We watch their time spent decades earlier in the Hill House, a creepy old mansion they moved into in an effort to flip the house, and we watch them in the present day. We know from the onset that whatever happened back in that mansion, it wasn’t good, and it still haunts them even now. 

It’s a scary show, and there are moments of pure horror, but mostly, it builds a lot of suspense. It’s also a well-done family drama. It features sibling rivalry, mental illness, drug addiction- it’s like This Is Us crossed with…The Shining.

Where many horror shows can feel like they exist just to gross us out with gore, this show feels created with a purpose. It will suck you in, thrill you, and haunt you. Perfect for a Halloween-week binge-watch.

The Haunting of Hill House is available to stream on Netflix now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-42: The Old Man & the Gun Allows Robert Redford to Age Gracefully

Culture Crash Logo

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

Movies with bank heists tend to be action-packed movies full of chase sequences and maybe a dramatic shoot-out. What bank robbery films tend not to be are quiet meditations on aging. But that’s exactly what director David Lowery’s latest film, The Old Man and the Gun set out to be.

The Old Man and the Gun gained some press over the last few months because star Robert Redford announced it would be his final film performance. If that holds true remains to be seen, but if it is, it’s a fitting send-off. Redford stars as an aging bank robber, based on the real-life criminal Forrest Tucker. In the film, Tucker is a gentleman stick-em-up artist, a man who wields a gun at banks before complimenting the tellers, calming their fears, and walking out with a bag of cash. The film also follows his budding romance with Jewel, a similarly-aged woman who is not a bank robber, played by Sissy Spacek.

The Old Man and the Gun features several robbery scenes, but never becomes an action film. The music score is relaxing and the film itself is shot on an old filmstock that makes it look like it came from the 70s.

Lowery is probably not a director most audiences know: he’s responsible for the live-action version of Pete’s Dragon as well as the indie darlings Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story. At this point in his career, Lowery’s signature move is being incredibly patient. He lets shots linger a longer than most other directors would and allows silence to hold moments together. These two simple strategies make his movies feel warmer, more lived it. It’s a style I love and one that many people would probably describe as boring. Maybe so, but it works here, and it allows Redford and Spacek both the opportunity to display their incredible acting talents, even late in their careers. Spacek turns in a wonderful performance, but ultimately the movie is most interested in giving Redford a graceful send-off far from the worlds of comic books movies or crime thrillers.

The Old Man and the Gun won’t be a box office juggernaut, but it is incredibly charming, and a must-see for lifelong fans of Robert Redford.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-41: Better Call Saul’s unique pacing and why it works so well

Culture Crash Logo

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

Television is a medium that heavily relies on shock. Over the years, cliffhangers have come to define TV. A season, or even an episode, almost always ends on a twist or a reveal designed to set up anticipation for the future.

One of the traditional ways that TV shows have kept these shock-and-awe moments coming is by moving things along quickly. As soon as some incredible act of deceit takes place, the show starts speeding toward that next signpost.

That’s where Better Call Saul, AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off, differentiates itself. That show often moves at a glacial pace. It’s a law show with no case of the week format. It’s a show about drug cartels that focuses on the politics of the cartels much more than actual drug deals.

The nature of Better Call Saul is that it’s a prequel series to doom. We don’t want the flawed but lovable protagonist Jimmy McGill to become the scumbag we know we will become, Saul Goodman. As a result, Better Call Saul has a fanbase that revels in the slow, meticulous pace that sounds to outsiders like it would be boring. The faster the show moves, the quicker we’ll lose the characters to the madness that is Breaking Bad.

Most shows have no interest in slowing down, and for good reason. Audiences generally want to see the big moments, and don’t care much for the mundane ones. Better Call Saul has found a way to flip that dynamic on its head and still keep audiences totally engaged. It’s a daring experiment gone completely right.

The first three seasons of Better Call Saul are available to stream on Netflix. Season four is available on-demand through AMC.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-40: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and the difficulty of classifying art

Culture Crash Logo

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

Sometimes, classifying art in one specific genre can be tricky. Look at Star Wars. It’s a space opera, sure. But what does that mean? It was built to be a Western. And sci-fi. With some fantasy aspects? And who is the intended audience? Is it for kids? Teenagers? Adults? All of the above? That can be the difficulty in classification.  

So it is with Hank Green’s novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. His brother is responsible for the young adult hits Looking for Alaska, The Fault In Our Stars, and Paper Towns, so many people are rushing to call Hank Green’s book YA as well. And the cover certainly makes it look like a YA book. But it’s not actually about teenagers. It’s about a 20-something woman with a career to think about. In fact, none of the main characters are under the age of 20.

The term YA can be limiting. Many people look down on that designation, which is itself an arbitrary reason to eliminate something from your radar because, in essence, all PG-13 movies are for young adults and adults still go see Jurassic Park movies and Marvel movies.

Ultimately, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing falls into that group… as do John Green’s books for that matter. They’re PG-13 stories that are appropriate for young adults and also just wonderful stories that everyone can embrace. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing tells one woman’s story as she is thrust in the center of an international affair. It tackles the issues of social media, of civic duty and tolerance, and it’s a fun story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s sort of a sci-fi adventure dramedy. Give it a chance, it’s good!

Hank Green’s book An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is available now.

I’m Evan Rook.