Culture Crash 19-02: True Detective

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

Tonight marks the long-awaited, sometimes excitedly and sometimes with dread, but long-awaited, return of True Detective. The TV phenomenon of 2014 and possibly the biggest letdown of 2015 is back for its third season, and the early reviews suggest this should be more like the incredible first season and not like the dud of a season two.

Still gone is season one directing wonder Cary Fukanaga, but back is writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto, who has been attached to the show all along. This time he’s sharing the directorial duties with Jeremy Saulnier, the acclaimed director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, and Daniel Sackheim, an Emmy nominee with credits on Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Ozark, and many other shows and movies. Even in his writing, Pizzolatto has sought some help from Graham Gordy and TV legend David Milch, who both co-write separate episodes of season 3.

Back on season 2, Pizzolatto faced a tough turnaround time, scrambling to make a second season that debuted just over a year after the first season finished. The end product seemed rushed, poorly plotted, and was generally hard to follow, even compared to the labyrinth first season. This time, Pizzolatto and co. have had more than three years to write a new season, that can hopefully recapture the old magic.

This go-around will be headed by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and takes place over three time periods in the Ozarks. The details are being mostly withheld, but it appears it will once again delve into a complex investigation of deeply macabre and disturbing crimes.

True Detective was a marquee hit for HBO back in 2014, and despite its stumble in 2015, it still represents a huge name-brand show for a network that will see its biggest hit, Game of Thrones, come to an end this summer. This is a show that matters for a network that still carries weight. For tonight, and the next seven Sunday’s, all eyes will be on HBO and True Detective. Let’s hope it rights this ship and enthralls us once again.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-01: Minding the Gap

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

The year 2018 gave us a lot to love at the movies. Some of the highlights for me were Eighth Grade, Roma, A Quiet Place, and Blindspotting. Each of those films thrilled, entertained, and moved me. But to me, the best film of the year was Bing Liu’s incredibly personal documentary, Minding the Gap. It’s a film I saw back in August but it stuck with me more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

Minding the Gap tells the story of Liu himself, and of his closest friends from his childhood in Rockford, Illinois. Each came from something of a broken home and turned to skateboarding and each other for an escape from their personal demons. What begins as a movie about kids skateboarding and hanging out becomes a searing look at childhood trauma, the bonds of friendship, and what effect our families can have on us, even as we age into adulthood.

Liu documents each of his subjects with the compassion of a true friend, but he’s not afraid to let his friends do and say bad things on camera, and allow the audience to judge their character for themselves. In a time when people like to make sweeping, grandiose statements about how our country got to this specific place politically, economically, and morally, Minding the Gap opts to focus instead on one specific group of friends– a group of kids who were beaten and neglected and ignored, and take a look at how and why they became the people they have become.

Minding the Gap is available in some theaters, but it’s available to watch everywhere on Hulu, and it’s worth the price of a month’s subscription on its own.

2018 was a rich year for cinema, but in my estimation, nothing topped Minding the Gap.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-51: Roma

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

A new movie recently popped up on your Netflix homepage. It’s called Roma, and it’s director Alfonso Cuarón’s passion project. You may know of Cuarón from Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, or even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In Roma, he tells the story of Cleo, a young maid in Mexico City during 1970 and 1971. She and her fellow maid, Adela, live with a family and end up being the people most responsible for keeping the home together. They cook, clean, they even help put the kids to bed.

Cuarón has been forthcoming about the fact that the movie was inspired by his own childhood. It’s even dedicated to his family maid, Libo. One of my favorite things about Cuarón is how Cuarón filters his memories through Cleo’s experiences. When the Corpus Christi massacre starts taking place outside the window of a shop Cleo is in, the camera doesn’t shift to show this moment in history. It stays with her, and we follow her back into the world through the chaos. 

Roma is a Best Picture contender and a Best Director contender, but even more important, it’s a masterpiece. You truly get to know and care for Cleo. You understand her struggle. And further, the film is technically brilliant, with beautiful cinematography and featuring such realistic sound design that I actually turned around in the theater on two different occasions, thinking someone was making noise inside the room, when in fact, it was coming through the speakers. It’s a movie that is well-served to be seen in theaters, but if that’s not an option near you, then that’s where that Netflix subscription comes in handy. Roma is now streaming– Just make sure to eliminate distractions and let yourself be swept up in the story. It’s a trip into the past that is worth taking.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-50: A look ahead at the movies set to dominate awards season

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

Awards season is officially upon us. The Golden Globes have already announced their nominees, which are as questionable as always. Year-end lists are being finalized, and Oscar buzz is reaching a roar for some contenders. But now is also the time when many of these movies are being released in the first place. So, here’s a guide of what to keep an eye out for to get ahead of the nominee pool.

A Star Is Born and First Man are two contenders that have already spent some time in theaters. While First Man has begun to fade a bit and failed to generate much interest from the Hollywood Foreign Press, it did grab a nom for Claire Foy. And, it would be a minor shock if she and Ryan Gosling were both shut out of the actor races at the Oscars, while the film is still strongly in the mix for Best Picture. Of course, A Star Is Born may be the centerpiece of this year’s field- with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga poised to each receive multiple nominations. Cooper for acting, writing, and directing; And Gaga for acting and songwriting.

Beyond those, Barry Jenkins has released his follow-up to Moonlight with If Beale Street Could Talk. A wonderful adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, the film expertly uses lighting and cinematography to celebrate black love… and to tell the heart-wrenching and familiar tale of a corrupt criminal justice system. The Favourite is another strong contender this year. Its trio of actresses- Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz have garnered a lot of attention for their roles in this comedic take on the royal period piece that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. And Netflix’s big swing this year comes in the form of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, a Spanish-language film that is inspired by Cuaron’s own childhood in Mexico City. Roma is in a limited number of theaters and is now streaming on Netflix.

Of course, there are other contenders as well. BlacKkKlansman and Eighth Grade are streaming on-demand. Black Panther is on Netflix. Adam McKay’s Vice will be released on Christmas, and other contenders like Widows, Can You Ever Forgive Me, and Green Book are all in theaters now.

It’s a busy time of year for all of us- and especially for the film community. The options are out there, and the time to stay in the loop for nomination season is now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-49: The disappointing Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

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

Last month, JK Rowling’s Wizarding World saw its latest installment, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald be met with a low score on Rotten Tomatoes and countless disappointed Harry Potter fans across the globe.

Count me among them. Not since 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film totally bungled its source material has a Wizarding World installment felt so misguided. Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t quite as bad as Half-Blood Prince, but it is poorly paced and difficult to follow, even for those who have spent their entire childhoods learning the universe forward and backward.

Again, the keys to the kingdom were handed over to director David Yates, who has now made six installments of the Wizarding World’s film series. And again, Yates proved he isn’t really up to the task. Fantastic Beasts 2 is divided in too many directions, it introduces characters and then forgets them, fails to flesh out the details of the prison break scene, which is the film’s only great set piece, and lingers for too long on characters we struggle to understand fully acting in ways we can’t make sense of in scenes that are poorly staged. Yates seems uninterested in doing anything but filming the script, adding none of the flair or subtleties that Alfonso Cuaron brought to the Prisoner of Azkaban adaptation. In all, Crimes of Grindelwald manages to make a story about magic pretty boring. And that’s before I even get to the final twist in Crimes of Grindelwald, which I won’t spoil, but is either an outright lie, which would be a poor way to end a film, or a new detail that not only fails to pass a logic test, but retroactively diminishes the ending of the Harry Potter saga.

I get no joy out of disliking this movie. I went to the theater expecting to leave exhilarated and excited for more. After all, for over 11 years now, we fans have been clamoring for more of the Potter universe. I still dream of a new novel that covers the story of the original Order of the Phoenix. But we only want more because we expect stories of a similar high quality to the original series. Stories much, much better than the one we got in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Three more Fantastic Beasts movies are on their way, and us lifelong fans will surely be seeing them, despite our new hesitations. Hopefully, the filmmakers find a way to conjure up some new magic, and fast.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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

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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. 

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

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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.