Culture Crash 18-36: American Animals

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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

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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

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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

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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.

17-13 Segment 1: The Career and Politics of Charlton Heston

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You may know Charlton Heston from Ben Hur, The Planet of the Apes, or The Ten Commandments. But biographer Marc Eliot tells us about Heston’s other side. He was a soldier, a liberal, and a conservative in his 84 years. He walked with Dr. King and became president of the NRA. Eliot discusses how his politics impacted his career and his legacy.

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16-12 Segment 1: Everyone’s a Critic! Why it’s important that you should be

 

You’ve no doubt heard the line “everyone’s a critic!” Our guest is one and thinks we should all be critics of the films, fine art, literature and other pleasures we indulge in. He will talk about why it’s good to be a discerning viewer of the arts, how to be a better critic, how criticism makes us see things in a different light and how it helps us become better at choosing those things in life that bring us beauty and pleasure.

Host: Gary Price. Guest: A.O. Scott, movie critic for the New York Times, author of the book, Better Living Through Criticism: How to think about art, pleasure, beauty and truth

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