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 18-42: 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 18-39: 2018 Fall Films

Culture Crash Logo

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

Now that summer is behind us, it’s time for fall movies to take over.

Of course, there are some big ones coming, most notably Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindewald, the next installment in JK Rowling’s wizarding world. But there is a lot of excitement for some non-franchise films as well.

Typically, the day Oscar nominations are announced is a day when the majority of the public shrugs their shoulders and says ‘I’ve never heard of these movies.’ But each year presents a new opportunity to get out ahead of those confused hours, and if you want to have a good sense of the awards season to come, these are the titles to keep your eyes peeled for.

This week will see the release of the eagerly anticipated Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born. The movie has been earning rave reviews from film festivals and its release is coupled with a steady Oscar buzz.

A movie I’m particularly excited for is Widows, a thriller directed by Steve McQueen, co-written with Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn. The movie has one of the most exciting casts in years, headed by Viola Davis. Widows tells the story of an armed robbery gone bad–one where all four robbers are killed in the attempt… and their widows attempts to finish the job in their stead.

Other movies set to dominate conversation over the next few months include If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’s next film, an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel; First Man, Damien Chazelle’s retelling of Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon; Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller’s biographical film about Lee Israel, a writer who resorted to forgery, starring Melissa McCarthy, and Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s passion project set in 1970s Mexico City.

This is the time of year cinephiles look forward to: the time when big swings come from exciting directors and we get to bask in all of its glory.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-36: American Animals

Culture Crash Logo


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

American Animals is a film that tells the true story of four college kids who stole millions of dollars in rare books from a library in broad daylight. I first saw the trailer in March and it has been on my radar ever since. I was intrigued to see a stylish heist movie starring some exciting up and comers like American Horror Story’s Evan Peters and Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan.

When I finally got around to seeing the film, it was every bit the heist movie I expected. What I did not expect was that it was interspersed with interviews the filmmakers conducted with the actual criminals telling their own story. Instead of re-enacting an event discussed in a documentary to give it cinematic flair, director Bart Layton documented the reality of his cinema to give it credibility.

The result is a perfectly 2018 movie. It serves as a cautionary tale about the ignorance of youth, a heist movie and, in part, a true-crime documentary. The film has been well-received by critics and serves up some incredible tense and cringe-worthy robbery scenes. In addition to all that, the movie’s cast is truly phenomenal. It’s the kind of young cast that we may look back on one day and remark and how incredible it was to get them in a movie together so early in their careers. It’s certainly a movie worth seeking out.

American Animals is available to buy and rent on Vudu and iTunes now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-33: The Academy’s ‘Best Popular Film’ Snafu

Culture Crash Logo


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

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced their latest idea for improving the Oscars relevancy and ratings. This month, The Academy sent out a tweet that read in part, quote, “a new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.” This is nothing new- in 2009, after the backlash they suffered from failing to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture- the Academy expanded the category to 10 nominees. This worked for a while- Avatar and Inception were both nominated, but ultimately, things reverted back to the mean and big budget films went back to being excluded.

So now, this. An attempt to create an Oscar for popular films. The reaction was swift- the award would be an insult. An also-ran. Perhaps most baffling is the strange insinuation that a popular film can’t win Best Picture, Titanic was popular, Forrest Gump was popular. Not to mention Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Rocky and so many of the award’s winners over the years.

To ignore that history and imply that a popular film operates on a different scale than true film is a sham designed to draw more eyeballs to the ceremony. The only reason a second award would be necessary is because the Academy itself is out of touch. In 2008, The Dark Knight didn’t need a Best Popular Film category to merit a win. The outrage was because it was dismissed for being popular in spite of its quality- honestly, when’s the last time you marveled at the achievement of Frost/Nixon, The Reader or even the winner from that ceremony, Slumdog Millionaire?

Winning an award made to pander to the masses won’t feel as good as truly being recognized for your achievement. The onus is on the Academy to actually recognize the best achievement in film and not hedge their bets with new awards.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 18-13: Spoilers in Trailers

Culture Crash Logo


Movies trailers are celebrated in the internet age with a passion. Studios hype up the release of new trailers days in advance and many fans post videos reacting to the trailers instantly after they’re released.

But other fans are hesitant to even watch the trailers in the first place, because they’re so afraid of catching spoilers.

It’s not a new problem, back in 1994, the movie Speed had a trailer that totally gave away the ending and, yes, people complained.

But the problem has matured in the current era of YouTube and internet message boards. Trailers are dissected and anaylzed to such a degree that people can pick up on even the smallest details.

What does that mean? It means weeks before The Avengers: Infinity War is even released, fans are predicting which characters die by comparing the cinematography to certain comics where characters died on the page. It means fans complaining back in 2016 that the Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer spoiled the main villian and the would-be surprising reveal of Wonder Woman.

While some fans love predicting the movie’s beats, other fans can’t stand it.

Some trailers have tried to subvert this effect. Last year’s It Comes At Night trailer intentionally misled fans into thinking it was an entirely different kind of movie which, again, came to mixed results. Some people loved the misdirection while others called it false advertising and lamented buying their ticket in the first place.

Movie trailers are obviously not going anywhere anytime soon. The bigger tentpole movies mean even more dollars on the line and bigger incentive for movie studios to hype up their movies.

But fans complaining about trailer spoilers isn’t going anywhere, either and it’s a tough balance to strike.

I’ve tried to mitigate the trailer-spoiler problem by avoiding trailers for the movies I can’t wait to see. But inevitably, the hype machine gets to me and I can’t help myself. In that case, I have no one but myself to blame. Such is life as a movie fan in the age of the internet.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 18-11: Adapting a Book into a Movie: Annihilation

Culture Crash Logo


Adapting a book into a movie can be tricky. The Lord of the Rings movies were praised for how faithful they were, but Peter Jackson’s subsequent Hobbit trilogy was criticized for stretching its source material too thin. The Harry Potter movies are beloved, but can never quite capture the magic of the books, in part because of the condensing that needed to take place to turn long books into palatable movies.

But few adaptations go the route of Annihilation, a sci-fi adventure/horror movie currently in theaters. The movie was written and directed by Alex Garland and is based on the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.

Garland has gone on the record explaining that he wrote the script after having read the source book one time and didn’t bother to try to adapt it page-by-page. And readers of the book can understand that decision- Annihilation is an ethereal stream-of-consciousness type of book that may defy adaptation.

So the end result is a movie and book experience that are wildly individual experiences. The basic architecture remains the same- an inexplicable force of nature is consuming a swampy area and a group of explorers head in to discover what is happening, and why. But the characters motivations, decisions, and even the nature of the land they are exploring are fundamentally different things.

The debate has been raging about how successful the movie version is, and ultimately, it depends on what you want from an adaptation. For me, the movie actually elevates the material, Garland has given us new backstories, and tweaked the story to examine the nature of change and human nature. The movie gives audience a lot to think about…and it gives us this cool new musical cue:

Sometimes, we just want to see a beloved story play out exactly as we imagined. But with Annihilation, an abstract story that defies easy explanation, a departure from the source material feels just right.
Annihilation the book is available online and in stores now, Annihilation the movie is currently in theaters.

I’m Evan Rook.