Culture Crash 19-11: Do we all have the cultural taste of our 15 year-old selves?

CC 19-11

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

There’s an anecdote from a 2015 Hollywood Reporter profile on Lorne Michaels, the famed producer of Saturday Night Live, that has always stuck with me. Michaels has been the man in charge of SNL since its inception back in 1975, which means he’s overseen the iconic series through generations of new writers and performers and he’s heard time and again that his show just ain’t what it used to be. Michaels has seen this cycle often enough and in regards to so many different casts that he has reached a simple conclusion: Everyone says the show peaked when they were in high school.

One high school senior’s favorite cast is a disappointment to a bunch of 20-somethings.

This is a tale as old as time. Older generations lament younger generations’ taste in everything. Famously, this is true of music. Older generations despised the music of Elvis, then the Rolling Stones, and now, I guess, Kanye West. In fact, in a similar vein to Michael’s anecdotal discovery, data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes in his book Everybody Lies that Spotify data suggests our favorite music is what we grew up with. Specifically, he says women’s musical taste is formed between 11 and 14, while men’s taste is formed between 13 and 16. Stephens-Davidowitz says for instance, that “Creep” by Radiohead, is the 164th most popular song among men on the cusp of 40, but it doesn’t even rank in the top 300 of men nearing 30 or 50.

We like what we liked in high school. 

And I can add to the phenomenon: My favorite movie is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I’ve often said nothing will ever top the experience I had of going to the theater at midnight when I was 15 years old, tagging along with my brother and watching the comic book crime epic unfold and… it turns out, I’m probably right. It’s not necessarily because it’s the best movie of all-time, but it mattered to me the most when my receptors were at their height.

I appreciate new music and new books and new music, and I flock to see new movies. I often love them. Maybe I’ll even watch some Saturday Night Live highlights. But for me, those things all peaked in the late 2000s. For you, they probably peaked when you were 15. And of course, this is all fine. But let’s get along about it. People can like different things, and we should probably try to keep these things in mind and cut younger generations some slack when they say anew movie or a new song is their favorite ever. It’s just human nature.

For links to the Hollywood Reporter profile (on Lorne Michaels) and to purchase Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book (Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are) head to our site Viewpointsonline.net.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-10: Netflix’s Russian Doll

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

Streaming TV services like Netflix and Hulu have revolutionized the medium, in part, simply by expanding access. Hundreds more scripted shows are being made right now than ever have before, and this has meant more diverse writers and creators. But Netflix, in particular, is responsible for another revolutionary idea: dropping entire seasons of shows all at once. It’s become something of a signature for the company, which encourages binge-watching entire seasons of shows like Stranger Things and Ozark in a day or a weekend. With that, many creators have started to say it feels like they’re making a 10-hour movie instead of a TV show.

And that line of thinking has been a little controversial. The problem with that thinking is that, of course, it isn’t a 10-hour movie, it’s a TV show. Critic Alan Sepinwall frequently notes that the nature of TV is episodic. Even if you encourage binge-watching, some viewers will go one episode at a time and each episode needs to be entertaining in its own right.

Well, Netflix may have finally answered the bell and delivered a show that truly feels like an actual extended-length film. It’s called Russian Doll, and it comprises of eight episodes that are each roughly 23 minutes in length. This makes the entire season a little over three hours long, which makes it actually feasible for a lot of people to watch it all in one sitting. And that might be the ideal watching situation.

Russian Doll is similar to Groundhog Day or Happy Death Day, in that it focuses on someone stuck in the same moment. Star Natasha Leon plays Nadia, who keeps dying and being reborn into the same moment at her birthday party.

Russian Doll is a bit of an enigma. It’s sort of like NBC’s The Good Place in its mysterious structure and the central theme of what we can accomplish when we all help each other.

Toward the beginning of the season, I was a bit confused, unsure what exactly I was watching. But around episode 3 or 4, the story really kicks in and it sprints through the finish line. 

It is like a long movie, and it works well all at once. It also works well split in half or sure, episodically.

Russian Doll is now streaming on Netflix.

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Culture Crash 19-08: Television Shows Creating “Expanded Universes” of Their Own

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

We live in an era of expanded universes. We have Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe, and so, so many others. Multiple shows and movies all connecting into one timeline has been an incredibly successful business model, especially for blockbuster movies.

But now TV shows are starting to spin their own sort of inter-connected universes, as well. One such show is the cult favorite Veronica Mars. Originally a UPN show, Veronica Mars ran two seasons before UPN and WB joined together to form The CW, where the show aired its third and seemingly final season. Season 3 ended in 2007 and the series went dormant until a 2013 Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to convince Warner Brothers to fund a movie version. In 2014, Veronica Mars the movie was released and then, emboldened by the show’s cult following, creator Rob Thomas and writer Jennifer Graham wrote two novels continuing Veronica’s story. Since then, there has been a meta-web spinoff and now, Hulu is producing another season of the show. From there, who knows? Maybe Hulu will be the end, and maybe Veronica will live to see another day. At a minimum, Veronica Mars will be a series that spanned four seasons of TV across three networks, plus a feature film and two novels. That’s not too shabby.

The other show creating a universe for itself is Breaking Bad. The show famously picked up fans over its initial run on AMC by streaming on Netflix. Breaking Bad’s first season never broke 1.5 million viewers, but by the time the show ended its run, it was regularly drawing about 5 million viewers, with the finale attracting 10 million. After its finale, Vince Gilligan expanded the story of Breaking Bad into a spin-off prequel series about the origins of everyone’s favorite shady lawyer, Saul Goodman. Now, Gilligan and co. are creating a Breaking Bad sequel movie, which will reportedly follow the story of Jessie Pinkman for debut on Netflix.

We live in an age of streaming TV and on-demand movies. It has never been more lucrative to continue an existing franchise, and I don’t expect Veronica Mars or Breaking Bad to be the last shows to try to keep spinning new yarns across various formats and media. Expanded universes aren’t just for comic books anymore.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-07: The Academy’s Unforced Errors

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

As you may have heard, this year’s Oscars have been a disaster since the word “go.” Over the past few months, the Academy has announced a Best Popular Film award, that Kevin Hart would be the host, and that only two of the nominees for Best Song would be performing. All three of those ideas stirred up controversy and all three have been reversed. Best Popular Film has been shelved for discussion another year, this year’s awards show will not have a host, and all the Best Song nominees will perform.

So, problems fixed, right? Well, not so fast, because the Academy is committing another unforced error. Higher-ups at the Oscars have begun insisting certain awards will be announced during commercial breaks and occur off-air to trim the show’s runtime, and I guess to skip on giving hard-working craftspeople their shining moments.

Awards are, of course, arbitrary. Ranking art is a personal endeavor, so calling someone the Best Actress or Best Director of a certain year is relatively insignificant. What many of us who love awards shows like the Oscars are attached to is the celebration of an art form we cherish. I disagree with the winners more often than not, but I like seeing the craft celebrated; I like having a list of things worth checking out, and I like getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the editors, screenwriters, and costume artists who make the movies we all go see. To steal these moments from those artists is to ignore the greater purpose of the show in the first place.

It’s not supposed to be about stargazing celebrity obsession. I mean, okay, of course, it is. But it isn’t just that, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should also be a celebration of filmmaking. To eliminate so-called “lesser” awards so Lady Gaga or Christian Bale can have more time to shine is a shame. The Oscars air once a year. I wish the Academy would let that show serve to honor as many people as possible and not just the famous ones in the fancy tuxes.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-05: On Ethan Hawke and Oscar Snubs

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

Every year when the Oscar nominations come out, there is a wave of backlash in regards to the people and the films that were snubbed. This year, one of those notable snubs was actor Ethan Hawke for his work in First Reformed. It would have been his fifth Oscar nomination and his third as an actor since he has two as a screenwriter, but it also really felt like it could have been his first Oscars win.

Now, First Reformed isn’t my favorite movie. It was good, it challenged me and made me think. But it just didn’t all click with me the way it has for others. What is definitely true, though, is that Ethan Hawke was great in that film. It’s frustrating to me, and others, that his work with this wholly original character is overshadowed by so many impersonations and imitations. What Christian Bale and Rami Malek did in embodying Dick Cheney and Freddie Mercury is impressive, but it still boils down to just being really good copy-cats. There is something magical about an actor you love becoming a new person you’ve never laid eyes on before, as they do in original fictional films. And for that, I do think Ethan Hawke was deserving of a nomination, if not an outright win.

But there’s something deeper at play, too. We feel for Ethan Hawke because we like Ethan Hawke. He’s been a working film actor for 34 years and he’s been in the spotlight since 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Through his subsequent roles in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and Boyhood, as well his work in other films like Gattaca, Training Day, Reality Bites, and countless others, Ethan Hawke has earned our affection.

It’s in Hawke’s collaborations with Richard Linklater that I and so many others really opened up a space in our hearts for Ethan Hawke, because he’s charming and honest, and because it really feels like he’s playing versions of himself. Hawke’s character in the Before movies went through a divorce right as Hawke was dealing with his own public divorce. Hawke’s character in Boyhood tells stories just like Hawke does on late-night programs. And he lights up the screen with Hawke’s natural combination of charisma and charm with philosophical meanderings and good comedic timing.

So yeah, many of us were hoping Ethan Hawke would win his first Oscar for First Reformed. Instead, he’s a notable snub. And that stinks, but to cheer ourselves up we have his whole catalog of great films to look back on. And his work in First Reformed didn’t go anywhere, it still exists. Awards don’t limit our capacity to like the things that we like.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-04: A New Future for Comic Book Movies

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

The comic book movie landscape appears to be transforming. It’s no secret that comic book movies absolutely dominate at the box office; Last year, the top-grossing movie in the US was Black Panther, while number two was Avengers: Infinity War. And, at the global box office, those two were also the frontrunners, their places were just flipped. 2018 additionally saw smash successes in Aquaman, Venom, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

And it’s that last one that may show us the comic book movie’s way forward. Spider-Verse was released in December and has made over $300 million worldwide. The movie is groundbreaking and fun and truly something unique in a field that can often feel too cookie-cutter. But here’s something a little odd about the movie: it was released right between 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and the forthcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home… but it has nothing to do with either of them. Spider-Man now has two full-fledged film franchises running simultaneously, one of which is populated itself with many different Spider-heroes.

And Spidey isn’t alone! This year will see WB and DC release Joker, which will star Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s nemesis, the Joker… but is not related to Heath Leger’s iconic turn in The Dark Knight or Jared Leto’s less beloved take on the character in Suicide Squad. And, oh yeah, the character has also appeared in The Lego Batman Movie franchise and the DCEU’s own line of animated films which don’t intersect.

Now, maybe we should have seen this coming. After all, comic books themselves often have overlapping timelines and unrelated storylines running concurrently. But following the success of the MCU’s Avengers films, it seemed that comic movies had settled into this TV-like expansive universe storytelling. But now, the demand for comic book movies has exceeded the bounds of just one continuity at a time. More of these movies are coming, so many more coming. And of course, that might mean a glut of more middling blockbusters. But if these new franchises are all given the consideration and care that Spider-Verse got, well then that’s not a bad thing at all. So, here’s to hoping.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-03: Movies to Look Forward to in 2019

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

With a new year always comes new things to look forward to, so let’s take a look at some of the movies people are anticipating the most in 2019. As a warning, there are a lot of them.

Of course, superhero tentpoles aren’t going anywhere. Marvel will release Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home. While DC will release Shazam! And a cinematic universe-adjacent take on Batman’s archnemesis called Joker. Not to be outdone, the X-Men label will put out two films in 2019, Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants.

But it’s not all superhero movies, even if it feels that way. 2019 will also see Netflix release Velvet Buzzsaw, which will couple Jake Gyllenhaal back up with director Dan Gilroy after their last team-up, Nightcrawler, thrilled audiences. Director Richard Linklater will be back this year with an adaptation of the hit novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, starring Cate Blanchett. The Toy Story franchise will see a fourth installment hit theaters in June, Quentin Tarantino will debut his 1969-Manson-Family-era film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Al Pachino in July. Ang Lee returns with Gemini Man, a sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch’s adaptation comes out in October, starring Sarah Paulson, Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, and Jeffrey Wright.

Is that all? No, not even close. Additionally, Stephen King fans will once again fill the theaters for Pet Sematary, coming in April, and IT: Chapter 2, which will conclude the Losers Club’s tale in September. And, buckle up: 2019 will mark the theatrical return of Downton Abbey, a re-imagination of The Addams Family, a reboot of Charlie’s Angels, and an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. There will be a new Godzilla movie, a new Men in Black movie, and even a live-action/animation hybrid version of Sonic the Hedgehog. None of this is to even mention that Frozen 2 and Star Wars: Episode 9 will be released during 2019’s holiday season.

Phew! That’s a lot, and what’s crazy is there are still so many other titles coming out this year. For example, I can’t wait for the new James Grey sci-fi movie, Ad Astra. For years, experts have lamented the death of moviegoing and yet, 2018 marked the highest grossing movie year of all time. Clearly, with this 2019 slate of releases, the movie industry is looking to outdo itself once again.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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