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. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-48: Watching Sports with a Second Screen

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

It used to be that when you were watching sports, you were only watching with the people in the same room as you. Maybe your family gathered around to watch Sunday Night Baseball, maybe you went to a friend’s Super Bowl party. Either way, you discussed the matchups amongst yourself, relying on the person next to you to pick up on any subtleties you missed.

Now, sports have become the gold-standard for entertainment that demands a second-screen. Watching a game is aided immensely by having your phone or a tablet at your fingertips. You can look up in-game stats, you can track scores of other games, or you can look through your Twitter timeline to share in the agony or ecstasy of your team’s failures and successes with a host of other fans and analysts in real time.

No longer do you have to sit at home and watch a game independently. Now, you’re at a bustling sports bar for every game, and the entire internet is sitting alongside you. The NBA Finals, World Series, and Super Bowl all completely take over the social media world, dominating the trending charts with hashtags and relevant players and coaches names. Within minutes of last year’s NBA Finals Game 1 ending, already the internet was full of memes making fun of the moment LeBron James yelled at JR Smith for not knowing the score in a crucial situation down the stretch.

It’s not all memes, though. The internet can also truly illuminate what’s happening on your TV screen. Have a question about a particular penalty or play? You can submit it to your local newspaper’s beat writer and occasionally get a response. Think Drew Brees looks slightly off in the third quarter? You can make that observation on Twitter and see if others agree or disagree with your assertion.

Management and coaching staffs have analytics guys crunching numbers to decide who starts and who sits. Now, us fans have social media, where we can parse through that same information to second-guess our teams every step of the way. Gone are the days when you have to watch a live event in the dark. Now, QB ratings, field goal percentages, and trade rumors are constantly just a click away, and as soon as the game your watching is over you can trust that social media has all the highlights you need to see from the other games you missed.  

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-43: 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. 

Culture Crash 18-41: Better Call Saul’s unique pacing and why it works so well

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

Television is a medium that heavily relies on shock. Over the years, cliffhangers have come to define TV. A season, or even an episode, almost always ends on a twist or a reveal designed to set up anticipation for the future.

One of the traditional ways that TV shows have kept these shock-and-awe moments coming is by moving things along quickly. As soon as some incredible act of deceit takes place, the show starts speeding toward that next signpost.

That’s where Better Call Saul, AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off, differentiates itself. That show often moves at a glacial pace. It’s a law show with no case of the week format. It’s a show about drug cartels that focuses on the politics of the cartels much more than actual drug deals.

The nature of Better Call Saul is that it’s a prequel series to doom. We don’t want the flawed but lovable protagonist Jimmy McGill to become the scumbag we know we will become, Saul Goodman. As a result, Better Call Saul has a fanbase that revels in the slow, meticulous pace that sounds to outsiders like it would be boring. The faster the show moves, the quicker we’ll lose the characters to the madness that is Breaking Bad.

Most shows have no interest in slowing down, and for good reason. Audiences generally want to see the big moments, and don’t care much for the mundane ones. Better Call Saul has found a way to flip that dynamic on its head and still keep audiences totally engaged. It’s a daring experiment gone completely right.

The first three seasons of Better Call Saul are available to stream on Netflix. Season four is available on-demand through AMC.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-38: The funny and philosophical TV comedy, The Good Place

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

Two years ago, NBC debuted a strange new comedy show called The Good Place. It was written by Michael Schur, a writer on The Office and the creator of Parks & Recreation, so people were willing to get it a change… but it’s logline was pretty out-there. It’s a half-hour comedy about people who died in the afterlife and, specifically, about Eleanor Shellstrop, a bad person who made it to heaven the good place thanks to a clerical error.

Usually, sitcoms and comedies are much simpler: A group of friends living in New York. A workplace comedy about a paper company or a superstore. Simpler is better, because each episode can take on a whole new identity. What The Good Place did was different. It was a comedy telling one story instead of endless stories. It’s serialized, every episode needs to be seen in order and, by the way, it’s phenomenal.

Sure, it’s a very high concept show about the afterlife and philosophy and, poignantly, what we owe to each other as human beings. It dives into what thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard and Plato thought about the universe, but it also never loses sight of its mission to entertain. The show began as a vehicle for Ted Danson and Kristen Bell and has evolved into a true ensemble, and now truly allows castmembers William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Darcy Carden and Manny Jacinto to shine.

I don’t want to say too much, because the show is a rollercoaster ride with surprises and fun world-building that will translate better on the screen. Seasons one and two of The Good Place are now streaming on Netflix. Season three premieres Thursday night, that’s September 27, on NBC.

You’ll have a blast, learn actual philosophy, and suddenly enter an inside joke with millions on the internet whenever you watch a Jacksonville Jaguars game. That will make sense, I promise.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-34: The Joys of ‘Junk Food TV’

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

When people talk about television, there’s generally a skew toward prestige TV. We discuss the achievements of Breaking Bad, LOST and Orange is the New Black, we marveled at the talent of Sterling K. Brown and Elisabeth Moss… and deservedly so! Those shows and actors are incredible and they have entertained many of us for hours on end with their high concepts and thoughtfulness. But there’s another brand of TV that’s easy to overlook, what I call junk food TV. In this comparison, those prestige shows are your nice dinners out: they’re prepared with care by professionals. This junk food TV is what you reach for when you just need something easy and fast and delicious.

For me, it’s MTV’s The Challenge. I’ve watched it for years- I know the running resentments and simmering dramas. I enjoy the athletic challenges, the backstabbing of the votes. It’s pure entertainment. For others, this is the role that Riverdale, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or heck, even Family Feud hold.

Lately, my wife has come home and decompressed from hectic days by watching Nailed It on Netflix. Nailed It is a show where home bakers try imitating complicated recipes made by professionals, who make decadent desserts look easy. They typically fail spectacularly, and everyone has fun laughing and commiserating with each other. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable.

Not every day can be a day when I feel up to the emotional weight of watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale or The Leftovers. Sometimes, I need to relax by flipping on The Challenge and watching 30-somethings try to race across platforms 20 feet over water and then vote their friends into elimination challenges. That’s just the way it is.

Junk food TV rarely wins awards or gets celebrated, but sometimes it’s what allows us to relax on a Tuesday night, and that’s worth appreciating.

I’m Evan Rook.