The unyielding onslaught of pop culture, life, work, and concerning politics leaves us so little time to stop and take a breath, but today I say no more! This is me flipping the finger at April and shouting, “Hey, where did March go?”
Here’s the pop culture, new and old, that made me happy last month:
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – The first of Spielberg’s 3 tone poem sci-fi efforts in the first half of the 2000s, A.I. is somehow both cool to the touch and heartbreaking. I’d never seen it before, but I now rank it in my Spielberg Top 10.
- American Fable – I was not entirely enamored with Anne Hamilton’s directorial debut the first time I saw it, but some of the film’s more poet imagery has really stuck with me. My main beef is ultimately I don’t think the lead actress looks young and innocent enough to come upon a stranger trapped in the family farm’s silo and grow to believe he’s someone capable of granting her wishes. However, there is a lovely and haunting quality to the film I underestimated on first viewing.
- Children of Men – So. Much. Steadicam!
- Love Simon – This first-of-its-kind gay coming out comedy isn’t everything it could have been, but it’s good enough.
- The Director and the Jedi – The feature-length making-of doc on The Last Jedi Blu-Ray captures the beginnings of what would later become a controversial point during the film’s marketing, specifically that Mark Hamill doesn’t agree with what Rian Johnson did with Luke Skywalker in the movie. Watching them negotiate through that during the shoot is fascinating. There are, of course, also absolute geek-out moments, like when Hamill is overcome with emotion when he happens upon Frank Oz puppeting Yoda for the first time since 1983.
- The Strangers: Prey at Night – In another month’s time I will have likely forgotten all about the specifics of the movie, but I won’t soon forget the joy of seeing Prey at Night with a big and hilariously responsive late night crowd on opening weekend. There’s no better way to see a slasher movie.
- Veronica– Veronica is certainly worthy of praise, if not quite “scariest movie of all time” hyperbole, but what sticks out to me more are the debates and conversations I had with other people about the various way you can interpret the movie. Is there a Nightmare on Elm Street 2-level gay subtext? Is Veronica seeing memories of her more innocent years, her friends, or total strangers when she looks with envy across the way at a girl and her family and their more carefree life?
- Videodrome – Outside of Cronenberg’s The Fly, his signature body horror is not usually my bag, but watching Videodrome for the first time showed me what a fool I’d been.
- Barry – Bill Hader’s new HBO series is a bit like a version of Get Shorty where the mobster is a hitman and the movie producer he meets is just a self-serious acting coach (Henry Winkler). Except it’s so much better than that description would lead you to believe. Hader’s titular Barry is a hitman who hates his job even though he’s good at it, and he suddenly decides he wants to be an actor even though he’s terrible at it. With Stephen Root in tow as Barry’s uncle/boss and Sarah Goldberg and The Good Place’s D’arcy Jarden aka Janet filling out Barry’s acting class, the ensemble is promising, and the comedy pitch black and often quite unpredictable.
- Roseanne – Look past the revival’s Trump-centric first episode and focus more on the second episode and you’ll see that it’s the same old Roseanne. The terrible final season is forgotten, and we’ve returned right back to golden era where the social commentary and slice-of-lower-middle-class life is delivered via one killer punchline after another. Now if only the real Roseanne would just stop tweeting crazy shit all the time.
- Santa Clarita Diet – I was one of those “Timothy Olyphant is totally miscast” critics of Santa Clarita’s first season. I’m over it now. His zaniness in the second season won me over, and even if the series still does basically hit the same metaphorical jokes about marriage and suburban living over and over again I’m cool with it when it’s making me laugh so hard, especially as its up the gore factor considerably. Spoiler: Nathan Fillion’s asshole character who was killed off in the first season comes back as an emotionally needy disembodied head, and it’s exactly as amazing as you’d expect.
- The Magicians – The third season comes to a close this week, and I shall miss this increasingly unpredictable SyFy series. Thankfully, a fourth season is already in the works, but in a short time, The Magicians has become one of the most experimental, progressive, and irresistibly fun genre shows on all of TV.
- Tabula Rasa – It’s not the show I wanted it to be, but the dread-filled early episodes and clever narrative structure switching back and forth between an amnesiac’s mysterious past and confused present make for a rewarding binge.
- Wild Wild Country – This docu-series about an Oregon cult from the 80s touches on so many hot-button topics that it feels almost like the directors used some kind of advanced computer algorithm to find the perfect, most zeitgeisty subject material possible. Their refusal to take a side between the religious zealots and their don’t-tread-on-me neighbors ensures you’ll be debating this one with friends for days.
- We Hate Movies – March is always listeners’ request month for the four movie riffers over at We Hate Movies, but this March’s selection of mockable movies – The Jerky Boys, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Tarzan the Ape Man and I Know Who Killed Me – beat the guys into submission. Having to sit down, watch, and come up with jokes about some of the all-time worst movies any of them had ever seen will do that to you. But they made do. Their impression of I Know Who Killed Me-era Lindsay Lohan beginning to sound like the constantly-smoking, raspy-voiced lunch lady from The Simpsons still gets me.
- The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Hollywood – I read Fritz’s book with a certain amount of envy. Much of his analysis of the ills affecting the film industry aligns with many of the things I’ve been arguing for years. However, he synthesizes it all into a clear understandable argument, using Sony’s hacked emails as a starting point for his larger thesis that the rise of Netflix, death of DVD, and explosion of China has forever changed the film industry. Through his interviews with many industry personalities, some of whom spoke on the record, others not, you get the picture of an industry where even studio heads miss the old days of making movies, not brands, and one of the greatest hopes for the future of non-blockbuster film rests either in the bottomless pockets of billionaire heirs (Megan and David Ellison) or at tech companies which can afford to operate at a loss since they treat movies like loss leaders. Doesn’t sound very sustainable. If you didn’t think this already, you definitely come away convinced that it’s only a matter of time before Amazon, Apple, Netflix, or one of the tech companies gobbles up at least one of the mini-major studios. Heck, Netflix is already buying Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.
- Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films by Molly Haskell – This 2017 release in the Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series, Steven Spielberg is one legendary film critic’s systematic re-assessment of the man’s career. What makes it notable is Haskell begins the book mixed in her opinion on Spielberg’s filmography. Moreover, she’s not always the right gender since, as Elizabeth Banks once pointed out, Spielberg generally makes movies about men. So, his stories don’t always resonate with her as much. Hearing a woman’s perspective on his oeuvre proves to be fascinating, particularly in her take on the parts of A.I. which she argues partially reflect a mother’s inherent fear of her own child.
MOST MEMORABLE POP CULTURE OF THE MONTH
All the Steven Spielberg Nostalgia. Even if Ready Player One isn’t quite among his best the film still sparked renewed interest in all things Spielberg, and I got sucked into it, writing reviews of Something Evil, Always, A.I., and, of course, Ready Player One.
WHAT I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO IN APRIL
In theaters: John Krasinski’s buzzy horror film A Quiet Place, Blumhouse’s junky B-movie Truth or Dare, and a little something called Avengers: Infinity War.
On TV: The return of Legion and Westworld, Finally getting around to The Terror and Evil Dead: Season 3, HBO’s Andre the Giant documentary.
Streaming: 6 Balloons, Orbiter 9, Come Sunday, Lost in Space, Mercury 13
What about you? What did you really dig last month? Or was it kind of a dry period for you in terms of goods things to watch/listen to/read? Let me know in the comments.