Culture Crash 19-09: Audiobooks

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

How do you pass the time on your commutes? Do you tune into the radio? Put on a podcast? Or maybe you listen to an audiobook?

Audiobooks are undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now, and their newfound portability is a main reason why. For a long time, listening to an audiobook meant shelling out big bucks or sitting on a library wait list to obtain a huge, unruly set of tapes or disks. You’d put them in, one after the other, and listen to books on tape for long car rides or an arduous flight.

But now, audiobooks can be the most convenient way to read- or at least, consume- a book. Gone are those days of cassette after cassette, now audiobooks can be purchased from Amazon’s Audible service or, most likely, borrowed for free through your library subscription via a web app like OverDrive. Once you’ve gotten your audiobook, you can save it right to your phone and click play whenever it’s convenient.

Personally, I love driving to the sounds of a good book and experiencing an old favorite through new eyes or being able to easily tear through a good thriller.

One big question in the mind’s of many an audiobook listener is which works best for them: are they listeners who want to get the biggest bang for their buck on a mammoth of a book, or to zip through some shorter books on your commute. For example, you can really invest weeks worth of commutes on nearly 48 hours of listening to Stephen King’s The Stand or 21 hours of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Or, you could pick up some shorter like Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which clocks in under 9 hours and can easily be finished in just one week’s commuting time.

Much like reading a real book, I find that different seasons and moods predispose me to different audiobooks. Do I want a funny, light memoir like Amy Poehler’s or a dark, scary horror novel? It always just depends.

Regardless of your inclination, it might be worth it to try listening to an audiobook when riding the train or driving in heavy traffic. It might just make your commutes feel more productive. And if you’re looking for a recommendation to get you started, Bryan Cranston’s narration of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War classic The Things They Carried is one of my favorites.

Get help with finding audiobooks from OverDrive.com.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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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 19-06: Missing Gems in the Deluge of ‘Peak TV’

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

Vulture reported that 495 scripted television shows were broadcast and streamed for the first time in 2018. That’s up from the 216 series that aired less than a decade ago, back in 2010.

With such a boom in the sheer volume of the medium, thanks largely to the growth of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video… it can be easy to lose track of everything you’ve been meaning to watch.

Case in point for me is the Showtime limited series, Escape at Dannemora. The show began airing just a few months back in November, but in TV time, that’s eons ago. Anyway, I meant to watch the show when it was coming out but forgot all about it until the show began hitting the awards circuit. Patricia Arquette specifically has won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Award for her turn in the series, and that was what finally reminded me to give the show a try.

Boy, am I glad I did. Escape at Dannemora is based on a real 2015 prison break in upstate New York and stars Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro as two prison inmates, and Patricia Arquette as a prison employee who becomes tangled up in their web. All seven episodes of the series were directed by Ben Stiller, but make no mistake: this show is a dramatic thriller, not a whimsical comedy. It’s really good and now streaming on Showtime’s various web apps.

But Escape at Dannemora isn’t the only shows I missed in the waterfall of TV content.

High on my to-watch list are AMC’s The Little Drummer Girl, based on the John le Carre novel of the same name and Netflix’s Bodyguard, which is a hugely successful political thriller that originally aired on BBC One. Of course, at some point I may need some comedic relief, in which case I’ll turn to, maybe Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Netflix’s American Vandal, two shows I’ve started but have not finished.

The reservoir of TV content is very, very deep. Sometimes, that can be daunting. And sometimes, that can mean stumbling back on something that dominated the zeitgeist for a few fleeting moments several months ago, and having a blast discovering those things for yourself.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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

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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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