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.
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.
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.)
What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.
While recommending Brian Raftery’sBest. 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.
Inspired by Avengers: Endgame, the 182-minute grand finale of the Marvel cinematic saga, I crunched some numbers and examined how blockbusters—especially ones not encumbered by Endgame’s hefty narrative obligations, with so many characters and storylines to pay off—are expanding at a much faster rate than is the human lifespan. I am solely responsible for the math in the piece, and the jokes.
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.
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.)
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’sMoonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson’sLooper 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.
It had been too long since I got to appear on a PCHH panel with the great Gene Demby from Code Switch, so I was very happy to find myself sitting beside him for this episode dissecting Creed II, which frustrated each of us in different ways. You can hear the episode here; my review of the movie is here.
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.)
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. Continue reading →
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.
I 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 summergoing 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.
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 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.
You may have read in the New York Timesthat Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon and I gave a “sparsely attended” talk about the origins and legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the National Air and Space Museum on Saturday night. An official talk. Inside the museum. We weren’t just accosting passersby on Independence Ave. and bloviating at them or anything like that. Heaven forfend!
The event was a Yuri’s Night party hosted by the website/nightlife concern Brightest Young Things. There were bars, DJs, silent discos, and lots of people in costume.
Ready Player One was showing in the Lockheed-Martin IMAX theater right after Glen and I finished, so I thought it would be thematically sympatico with that film for me to challenge our audience, sparse or otherwise, with some low-stakes nerd trivia pertinent to 2001. Those who answered one of these questions correctly after raising their hands and being called upon—this is not ‘Nam, there are rules—won a free copy of the September 2016 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian (where I was then and still remain employed as an editor) featuring my cover story on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. The cover should have said Warp Corps, and I apologize again for the fact that it does not. I lost that fight. It’s been two goddamn years and I’m still not over it.
Over at my day job yesterday I got a sneak peak of a unique exhibit opening at the National Air and Space Museum on Sunday: an installation by artist Simon Birch that reconstructs the mysterious Louis XVI-era bedroom from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey at 1:1 scale. Because yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, I wrote a piece about it. I drew heavily from Michael Benson’s new making-of book Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, which I’ve already plugged on Pop Culture Happy Hour but which I’m glad to plug again here.
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 here. UPDATE: 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.
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 →
Any debate over whether Blade Runner 2049, a 35-years-later sequel to the cultiest cult film in the history of movies, has general-interest appeal should be put to rest by virtue of the fact that Stephen Thompson—the host of the three-way discussion of the film the comprises today’s Pop Culture Happy Hour—liked it, too! Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon and I are this movie’s core constituency. But when the Kung Fu Panda-loving Mr. Thompson gives his approval to an intense, nearly-three-hour dystopian future flick, you know it’s got some moves.
You can listen in here, where the episode is posted along with my review from last week. I had to write it just a couple of hours after I saw Blade Runner 2049, but I think the piece stands up. I’m seeing the movie again tomorrow night at the National Air and Space Museum. I’m looking forward to spending another 163 minutes with a new stone classic.
I dropped by NPR HQ to talk about Steven Soderbergh’s return to features, Logan Lucky, with screenwriter and author Danielle Henderson and regular Pop Culture Happy Hour panelists Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon. When we recorded this discussion, I’d taken the opportunity to see the movie a second time after filing my review, and my opinion on it had evolved a little. Anyway, you can find the episode here.
I wish I could put my finger on why it read to me as condescending in a Coenesque way the first time but not the second. I love the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. But the ones Logan Lucky most recalled for me, Raising Arizona and Fargo, are not among my favorites.