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 May and shouting, “Hey, where did April go?”
Here’s the pop culture, new and old, that made me happy last month:
- A Quiet Place – More a suspense thriller than a straight horror movie, A Quiet Place uses silence and weaponizes it against us, demanding it of not just the characters but also audience members. If you get past the 20-minute mark and someone in your audience is still audibly chewing popcorn or some other food then that person just doesn’t get it.
- Avengers: Infinity War – The biggest, longest, most expensive set-up for Captain Marvel we ever could have imagined. What a delight to see all of our expectations and theories shattered and to be genuinely surprised.
- Blockers – A sex comedy from the female point of view? Why, it’s almost like if Hollywood gives women more work behind the scenes we’ll get new, reinvigorating takes on old ideas. That’s just crazy talk, right?
- E.T. – As a child of divorce, I have always been a sucker for films about parentless kids. It’s a huge reason why Terminator 2: Judgement Day remains one of my favorite blockbusters of all time. Get past the liquid metal, Linda Hamilton’s muscles, and James Cameron action and it’s really just a film about a boy and his robot, and in those stories, the robot is almost always a surrogate father figure. E.T. famously works on a similar level, yet I’d always remained cool to the film’s charms…until now. I sat my niece and nephew down to watch this together on Easter Sunday, and by the end, we were all crying, as the full weight of E.T. and Elliot’s goodbye finally hit me.
- Hellraiser – My first revisit of this horror classic in years, if not decades, revealed how well it still holds up.
- A History of Violence – My Cronenberg catch-up continued, jumping way ahead from Videodrome last month to History of Violence this month. I now see why Violence is considered one of Cronenberg’s best and most accessible. I just want to talk about the ending. What do you think happens next? Does Maria Bello forgive and accept Viggo Mortensen? Or are they heading straight for a divorce?
- I Am Not An Easy Man – There’s a certain familiarity to the plotting and messaging of this French-language Netflix Original which drops a male chauvinist into a world run by women, yet the amount of thought which went into inverting as many gender norms as possible is truly impressive. So many comedies have done the walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes plot to rehabilitate an ignorant protagonist, but I Am Not An Easy Man is among the best.
- Barry – Bill Hader’s new HBO series continues to impress and improve as each new episode peels back the layers on its central character and reveals a man who’s only just now stopping to examine his life. Plus, every acting choice Anthony Carrigan makes while playing the dim-witted, tech-loving, eternally optimistic Chechen mobster Hank seems to turn into comic gold.
- Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block – I finally finished the latest season of SyFy’s horror anthology series. In this new season, two sisters move to a new, beaten-down town, one for a social worker job, the other to escape her past drug abuse, and encounter a family of almost mystical cannibals led by Rutger Hauer. As per usual with Channel Zero, the horror leans more gorgeously grotesque ala Hannibal than shout-out loud scary, and before long you pick up on the heavy metaphors they’re throwing down. Butcher’s Block, turns out, is all about schizophrenia, a family history of mental illness, and the horror of losing control of your mind, and the way this is executed (along with a switch in protagonists halfway through) marks this as perhaps Channel Zero’s best season yet.
- Killing Eve – You’ve probably seen the headlines touting this BBC America spy thriller as one of the best new shows of the year. Those headlines are correct. I’ll have more thoughts on this one later.
- The Terror – AMC’s new horror survival series tackles a real historical mystery about lost British naval ships in the Northwest Passage and imagines, essentially, “What if they got stuck in the ice for years and were gradually picked off by some bear-like monster which only the natives could ever hope to control?” The series plays out in bursts of action followed by long stretches, if not entire episodes of talk, despair, and origin story flashbacks. That can make it frustrating if you come just for the thrills, but it ultimately makes for a more rewarding, well-rounded series. Special props to Jared Harris for his performance as the ship’s drunken captain.
- Westworld – I liked, but didn’t love Westworld’s first season. Combine the mystery box approach of J.J. Abrams with the signature Nolan family flair for non-linear storytelling and weariness about technology and you get a show that’s more mystery than drama. I just wasn’t in the mood for that level of analysis, Reddit forum theorizing, and thinkpiecing. I simply wanted to watch something and appreciate its grandeur. Now, it’s a couple of years later and season 2 is finally upon us and I have been sucked in just like everyone else, loving the new episodes and actually re-watching parts of the first season and appreciating how much better it plays when you already know the twists.
God of War – I don’t so much play video games anymore as I simply sit and watch my nephew play Fortnight on my PS4. But the stunning trailers for God of War caught my attention and when the game finally arrived the curiosity was overwhelming. As someone who smashed far too many buttons playing those first two God of War games on the PS2, I had to see what new direction the franchise had taken. What I got is something combining The Last of Us/Logan’s father-child story, The Witcher’s magic and world-building, and good old-fashioned God of War. It feels both entirely new and entirely familiar, and it at least distracted my nephew from Fortnight…for like an hour. After that, he was right back at it. Seriously, Fortnight is a monster that’s about to swallow all of our kids whole.
- Shock Waves – The world’s best horror movie podcast keeps on trucking. Their most recent episode features an interview with Platinum Dune’s Brad Fuller that is a must listen for any critics of his company’s Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes. He’s still defensive of his work but also surprisingly honest about the artistic pitfalls of having led such a commercially-driven career to this point. A Quiet Place is one of the first original ideas he’s ever produced.
- Pod Save America – A couple of former Obama staffers have a podcast. It’s immensely popular. They tour the country off of it and will be doing a series of HBO specials during the midterm elections. I’m only just now coming to them, though, and what a fool I’ve been to stay away. They have quickly become a political moral compass for me as well as a rage modulator, helping me see through the shit that truly does not matter and into the stuff that does.
- Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in the Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
- On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th by David Grove
- Plus, all of the Infinity War comics catch-up, especially (and most obviously) Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin as well as Jason Aaron’s more nuanced Thanos Rising
MOST MEMORABLE POP CULTURE OF THE MONTH
All the hype. All the theorizing over who was going to die. All the years upon years of mythology leading up to this. After all of that, we somehow ended up with a genuinely surprising film that, though imperfect and ultimately incomplete, ranks as the most stunning displays of cinematic spectacle ever recorded on film.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN MAY
In theaters: David Tennant as a bad guy in Bad Samaritan, Charlize Theron and Jason Reitman together again for Tully, Melissa McCarthy doing an unofficial Rodney Dangerfield remake with Life of the Party. Plus, obviously, Deadpool 2 and Solo.
On TV: Fahrenheit 451 on HBO
Streaming: The Rain, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, and Cargo on Netflix, Picnic at Hanging Rock on Amazon Prime
IRL: Texas Frightmare in Dallas. It’s supposedly one of the best horror conventions to go to, and this will be my first time. WMIF’s Julianne has been multiple times already. Our forces combined, surely we can at least hold our own during the convention’s horror trivia night (he says hoping he didn’t just jinx himself).
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.