Category Archives: podcasts

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Star Trek: Lower Decks

It’s been nine months since last I joined a PCHH panel, and they’ve been dog months. In that span I’ve bought myself a pricey new microphone, had knee surgery, run zero point zero miles, and watched in impotent rage as a global pandemic has slain hundreds of thousands of Americans who might still be with us had responsible adults been in charge when the plague hit. Police officers murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, millions took to the streets (I was still too weak to do that back in May and June) to protest police violence against persons of color, and my beloved hometown of Washington, DC was invaded by the U.S. military.

Dog months. And all without the outlets of running or boxing, the strategies I have relied upon to exorcize corrosive feelings since I was a kid. (OK, I never tried to box until I was 27, but I’ve been a runner since I was 14.) I got a bicycle at the end of June, and the increasingly long rides to which I’ve been treating myself have helped.

Anyway, Pop Culture Happy Hour! And a new Star Trek series, which is both animated and fluid-rich (blood, bile… alien vomit).


Lower Decks is set in the Next Generation era, aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, a California-class vessel. The first shuttlecraft we see parked in its shuttle bay is the Joshua Tree, a naked play for my affection. The shuttle Yosemite gets more airtime in the early episodes.

I was delighted to dissect the show with Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Petra Mayer. You can hear the episode here if the embedded player above isn’t working.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and What’s Making Us Happy

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. (Lacey Terrell)

I sure hope my friends Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, Jess Reedy, and Emmanuel Johnson aren’t suffering today from the head cold that audibly ailed me on Monday during the recording of today’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Our subject is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the Tom Hanks-IS-Fred Rogers movie directed by Marielle (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) Heller, loosely fashioned after Tom Junod’s 1998 profile of Rogers for Esquire magazine. As I say in the show, this movie’s depiction of the life of a magazine journalist reflects the circa 1998 expectations on which I based career choices that I have, over the last 20 years, had more than one occasion to lament.





Thanks to all of them for allowing me once again to plug my yulemix. You can hear the show right here or via whatever podfeeder brings you your NPR.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Goldfinch and What’s Making Us Happy

Finn Wolfhard and Oakes Fegley do Vegas like the Rat Pack. (Warner Bros.)

Today’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a special one for me because Jess Reedy summoned me to huddle with Barry Hardymon, Katie Pressley, and host Stephen Thompson on The Goldfinch John Crowley’s new film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt that remains far afield of my usual bailiwicks of fisticuffs and rocketships. Plus I get to shout out Meow Wolf, perhaps the highlight of my visit to New Mexico last week.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Brad and Leo, movie stars. (Sony)

Our Pop Culture Happy Hour dissection of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth picture gave me the opportunity to be on a panel with Monica Castillo, a fellow Eugene O’Neill National Critics Institute fellow and someone with whom I’d not previously had the pleasure of speaking, though we have friends and colleagues in common. A fun episode. After some deliberation, we elected to avoid any in-depth discussion of the ending of the film.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Spider-Man: Far From Home and What’s Making Us Happy

Tom Holland gets some enhanced screening from Giada Benedetti. (Columbia)

Host Linda Holmes is off promoting her already New York Times-bestselling debut novel Evvie Drake Starts Over this month, so Glen and Stephen handled the hosting chores on PCHH this episode, with Mallory Yu and me in chairs three and four to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home. It is the eighth movie by volume with the proper noun “Spider-Man” in the title since 2002. (For more important data analysis, see my NPR review of the movie.)

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and What’s Making Us Happy


Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman face off against Johnny Utah (center).

What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.

While recommending Brian Raftery’s Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, I happened to name one of my most be-loathed movies from that year, the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, while omitting the names of my most beloved: Rushmore, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, and so on. Raftery did not include John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair in his book about 1999’s most notable and groundbreaking movies, probably because a remake of a 30-year-old thriller isn’t groundbreaking, and the movie did not have a substantial cultural impact.

But it was was the last good movie McTiernan made, I’m sorry to say, and I saw it in the theater that summer along with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Notting Hill, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and all the rest, and I have revisited it on several occasions since.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Shazam! and What’s Making Us Happy

Jack Dylan Grazer and Zachary Levi in an enthusiastically punctuated superhero comedy.

I had a nice time joining the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew this week to discuss Shazam!, a lighter, brighter DC Comics movie that is also… a nice time. Doubtless I got invited on this episode because of the profile I wrote for the Ventura County Reporter waaaaaay back in January 2003 of Shazam! star Zachary Levi, a Local Boy Made Good for whom God has opened many doors, such as co-starring with Bob Newhart and the modern rhythm-and-blues singer Sisqo (“The Thong Song,” peak position No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100). He admires men of integrity like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Three, friends.

Shazam! is the polar opposite of The Shield, the early-aughts post-Sopranos, pre-Breaking Bad cop show I’m currently revisiting, which is what’s making me happy this week and shall be for many weeks to come, because I bought the big doorstop blu-ray set with all 88 episodes.

You can listen to the episode here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Glass and What’s Making Us Happy

Acting Just Right, Acting Too Much, Not Acting Enough (Jessica Kourkounis/Universal)

I am chuffed to be back on the iHeartRadio Podcast Award-nominated Pop Culture Happy Hour this week to discuss Glass, fallen auteur M. Night Shyamalan’s joint sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split. It isn’t very good, but the movie has an anachronistic quality that’s sort of… sweet. While it’s made explicitly clear—every damn thing in this movie is explained and re-re-re-explained—that Glass is set 19 years after Unbreakable, Shyamalan acts as though superhero comics haven’t become Hollywood’s No. 1 source of grist during the back half of that period. (In the years since Unbreakable, we’ve seen three different A-list actors play The Incredible Hulk, for chrissakes.)

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A goodly portion of those films have featured Samuel L. Jackson, who, to be fair, looks like he’s having at least as much fun sitting in a wheelchair staring into the middle distance in Glass as he does when he’s cashing another check as Nick Fury. After his brief return to acting in both Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson’s Looper back in 2012, I’d hoped maybe Bruce Willis would deign to open his eyes again, but no such luck. And the movie’s top-billed star continues to perform his solo show Scares Ahoy with James McAvoy.

You can listen to the episode here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Christmas Songs, Our Favorites and The, Watchacallit. Best.

I’d say it was the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode for which I’ve been training my entire life, except we just did the Die Hard episode. Anyway, I was glad to be part of the elite panel of holiday song-pickers summoned to the National Public Radio today to argue which Christmas song is the Muhammad Ali Greatest of All Time yulejam, and which one is our individual favorite at this particular moment. The stakes in the latter instance are lower, but that only complicates the emotional work of choosing, because the shackles of convention are all the way off!

It says something about the company I was in—PCHH regular Stephen Thompson, plus two very smart NPR Music staffers, Lyndsey McKenna and Marissa Lorusso—that my selections were somehow the most uptempo of the lot. (They’re all lovely people, whose affection for mopey holiday songs is one I very much share. Click on “Musics of Christmas,” above, for years and years of evidence.)

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Never Say Die Hard

We had to do a Pop Culture Happy Hour discussion of Die Hard because it’s holiday time and because the beloved classic turned 30, uh, back in July and because we just had to. I thought I was being punk’d when I got the invitation but I’m so glad it was real. This was the awkward Christmas Eve holiday party/attempted spousal reconciliation I’ve been waiting to be invited to since I was 11 years old. Yippie kai yay, podcast lovers. (My punishingly long Die Hard Dossier is here.)

Pop Culture Happy Hour: First Man and What’s Making Us Happy

Film Title: First Man

I was delighted as always to join my pals Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour to discuss the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man—a movie that, like the new A Star Is Born, I appreciate more the more I think about it. Somehow we managed to avoid re-litigating the great La La Land controversy during this conversation. (My bomb-throwing position: It’s good!) When I used the word Weldonian in the studio, Glen nearly tore his rotator cuff making the “cut” gesture, but cooler, more hirsute heads—those of producers Jessica Reedy and Vincent Acovino—prevailed. You can hear the episode here.
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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Mission: Impossible — Fallout, and What’s Making Us Happy

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Sure, he’s a weird guy. But Tom Cruise is the greatest onscreen runner since that horse that Eadweard Muybridge photographed in 1872 to prove that all four hooves of a galloping stallion leave the ground.

Here’s our Pop Culture Happy Hour on the triumph that is Mission: Impossible — Fallout.  Any Cruiselike zealotry in my voice is purely intentional. To watch a two-star action movie with Linda Holmes is a five-star experience. To watch a five-star action movie with her is an M:I-6 star experience.

 

 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Skyscraper and What’s Making Us Happy (which is, for me, Blindspotting)

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I had a lovely time dissecting the laughably derivative, greenscreeny pleasures of Skyscraper with Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson and fellow friend-of-the-show Margaret H. Willison. This movie wants to be Die Hard, and it isn’t even as good as Johnson’s own Central Intelligence or Rampage.  It’s maybe on par with San Andreas.
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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Ant-Man and The Wasp

nullI saw a review headline earlier today proclaiming Ant-Man and The Wasp “the perfect summer movie.” I could easily name 20 perfect movies released during the summer going back to Jaws, released the summer before I was, but the phrase “a perfect summer” movie almost invariably refers to movies that aren’t very good.

Ant-Man and The Wasp isn’t Not Good. It is, as my pal and editor and occasional (today!) Pop Culture Happy Hour panel-mate Glen Weldon observed in his review, fine.

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Notes on Dinosaur Camp: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, reviewed and discussed on Pop Culture Happy Hour.

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Here’s my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. That link will also take you to where you can hear Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon discuss the movie and its place in the Jurassic-iad with me in the fourth chair.

I regret that it never occurred to me to refer to this film as Jurassic 5 even though “Sum of Us” is an all-timer shadowboxing jam. I also regret that none of us, not even Thompson, thought to mention the moment in Jurassic 5 when it seems like Ted Levine from The Silence of the Lambs is about to start singing “See My Vest.” You’ll know the one I mean.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s me on The Original Cast!

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Funny thing: Patrick Flynn lives in Bethesda, Maryland, a short public-transit trip across the northwest border of Washington, DC, where I live. We know many of the same people because we’re both involved in theatre; him as a playwright, me as a critic. And yet our paths never crossed until he heard me on James Bonding last fall, which Matt Gourley and Matt Mira record weekly at Gourley’s beautiful home in Pasadena, all the way on the other side of country.
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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Deadpool 2

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It was my happy task to join Daisy Rosario, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon for a sadly Linda Holmes-free PCHH dissecting Deadpool 2, a movie that in my view succeeds utterly in being the meaningless and mercilessly self-trolling thing it sets out to be. To paraphrase the critic Homer Simpson, writing in Cahiers du Cinéma: I prefer to watch John Wick.

Your mileage may vary!

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Zazie Beetz and Ryan Reynolds want to touch the light, the heat they see in your eyes. (Fox)

Furry Road: Isle of Dogs, reviewed.

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It’s no shocker that I loved Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion adventure of Isle of Dogs. It’s a mild shocker that I didn’t cry watching it. Either time! My NPR review is hereUPDATE: I’m on the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode where we hash over some of charges of insensitivity and cultural appropriate that a few critics have levied against the movie, too. That’s on the same page as the review, but you can hear below, too.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Annihilation! (emphasis mine)

ANNIHILATIONHere is a joke you will not hear on today’s episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, wherein I join old friends Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson and new friend Daisy Rosario to dissect (heh) Annihilation, the new thriller from Ex Machina writer/director Alex Garland starring Natalie Portman and involving lots of cool but hella gross body horror stuff:
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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Black Mirror Season 4, discussed.

BlackMirror_S4_MetalHead_00317_V1

I’m on today’s episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, weighing in on the new season of Netflix’s cautionary-tale tech anthology Black Mirror. One thing I should’ve said had there been time is just how much the open format of the show contributes to its ability to build tension. Two of my favorites among the six new episodes are “U.S.S. Callister,” which runs a nearly feature-length 76 minutes, and “Metalhead,” which clocks in at around 40 minutes—not even long enough to fill a network hour.

Anyway, I was happy as always to join Linda and Glen, and especially glad to get to speak with Brittany Luse, whom I had not met previously. You can hear the episode here, or on whatever smart device you’ve got. Or both. I mean, we’re all cuffed to our digital appendages now, despite the warnings of Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. Continue reading