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The Pop Culture That Made Me Happy Last Month: June 2018

June 2018 will always be the month I got to finally say this: I talked, face to face, with a director after the exclusive premiere of his new movie.

In all the years I’ve been doing this site, I’ve never been able to say that. But thanks to Denver Comic Con and the generosity of Wolfman’s Got Nards director André Gower, it’s finally true. Denver Comic Con was the site of Wolfman’s Got Nards’ convention debut (it had already played a couple of film festivals), and I was lucky enough to be in the crowd to witness Gower’s delightful love letter back to all the fans, new and old, who turned the 1987 Shane Black/Fred Dekker horror flick Monster Squad into a cult classic. After the post-screening Q&A was cut-off by event organizers, Gower invited everyone in the crowd to carry on the conversation in the hallway outside the room. So, I followed and waited my turn to talk to him.

What I’ll remember the most is the look he gave me when I cited Best Worst Movie, Back in Time, and Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary and said something along the lines of “the world isn’t exactly hurting for fan documentaries these days.” I was building up to a compliment, to ultimately explain how I thought his documentary rose about the fray and was unique in its own way. However, before I got to that point he flinched as if thinking, “Wow, the balls on this guy.”

Note to self: Should there be a next time for this kind of thing, maybe write the questions down first and read them out loud to see how tactful they actually sound.

Thankfully, Gower graciously took the compliment I offered.

And that’s the coolest pop culture thing I experienced in June. Relatedly, the clear highlight of the month was my trip to Denver Comic Con, where I got to see David Tennant and Billie Piper in person, discovered just how thoroughly female-leaning Supernatural fandom is (I mean, I kind of already knew, but now I really know), learned about the making of the Yoda puppet from one of the original Lucasfilm engineers/puppeteers, sat in on Hitchcock and 2001: A Space Odyssey retrospectives, and barely managed to avoid being trampled by the 115,000 people in attendance. OK, that last part wasn’t super amazing, but the rest of the convention was.

While in Denver, I managed to catch a screening of the wonderful Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? which, while great, is not actually my movie of the month. Wolfman’s Got Nards isn’t either. No, that honor falls to First Reformed, Paul Schrader’s criminally underseen masterpiece starring Ethan Hawke as a priest who does way more than simply lose his faith. But, dangit, I’m getting ahead of myself

Here’s everything I liked last month:


  • Adrift– “It’s like Titanic meets Cast Away meets All Is Lost, and I loved it, corny third act twist and all.”
  • Upgrade – “Upgrade will at one point or another remind you of Robocop, The Crow, Blade Runner, Death Wish, Her and various other movies, yet never distractingly so. Written and directed by Saw and Insidious scribe Leigh Whannell, Upgrade blends together so many familiar elements into something refreshing and new, the type of kickass action sci-fi that appeals to the 14-year-old in all of us.”
  • Hereditary – “An uncommonly unsettling family drama that happens to eventually remember it’s a horror movie and puts Toni Collette through the emotional ringer, transfixing us in the process.”
  • First Reformed – More so than anything else I saw last month, First Reformed has stuck with me. While it initially struck me as an effectively subdued character study the full emotional impact didn’t hit me until much later. I keep flashing back to one especially sobering scene which sees Ethan Hawke’s boss giving him the tough love treatment. Part of Hawke’s self-radicalization and despair, the boss argues, is because he doesn’t actually live in the real world. With such a minimal congregation and far too much free time on his hands, he’s a priest who’s allowed himself to view the world in abstract terms instead of hands-on personal ones. He’s never had to concern himself with the commerce side of running a church nor has he done nearly enough to actually engage with the community. See the opening of this article for a hint on why that might resonate with me right now.
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – “This movie is an empathy machine released into an age of perpetual outrage. What a revolutionary concept, this whole ‘just be nice and accepting’ thing Fred Rogers did.”
  • Wolfman’s Got Nards – “An obvious must-see for Monster Squad fans but also a sneakily effective bit of filmmaking about the joy we take from the pop culture we embrace.”
  • Incredibles 2 – “Mr. Mom as a silver age superhero movie with a mildly meta-commentary on the social contract between citizen and hero. Or, you know, just a super fun movie featuring a scene-stealing cute baby.”


  • Westworld

  • The Staircase – “The Staircase doesn’t solve a murder mystery, but it masterfully showcases one family’s journey through tragedy and subsequent separation. Any commentary about Southern prejudice or the justice system is ultimately secondary to the far more powerful imagery of weeping daughters who just want their dad back and outraged sisters who just want justice for their sister.”
  • GLOW – Awww, the joy of watching a good show turn into a great one. “GLOW’s evolution into becoming the new Orange is the New Black is complete. What began as an enjoyably flawed story about two white girls has turned into a richly rewarding ensemble story about a diverse group of women finding sisterhood together while fighting against the constraints put on them by men. Plus, it’s still so much fun watching them work out their drama through kitschy 80s wrestling.”
  • Supernatural– I stopped watching Supernatural halfway through season 12. I was repeatedly told season 13, which is now on Netflix, was a vast improvement and perhaps even one of the better things the show has ever done. Pish-posh. No show in its 13th season can, what, find new creative legs? Nope. Not happening. Not without a significant change to the cast or premise or somet….[Two days later] OMG, I just binged season 13, and it’s amazing! So many thoughts. So many things to say. Can’t do it all here in an article like this. Will have more on this later this week.


MOVIES| The First Purge

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • Whitney
  • Eighth Grade
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout
  • Teen Titans Go to the Movies
  • Three Identical Strangers

TV | Sharp Objects (7/8)

  • Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (7/16)
  • Trial & Error: Season 2 (7/19)
  • Wynonna Earp: Season 3 (7/20)
  • Killjoys: Season 5 (7/20)
  • Castle Rock (7/25)

What about you? What were your favorite movies and TV shows last month? What can’t you wait to see in July? Let me know in the comments.


  1. This list feels embarrassing because it’s not even all the movies I watched this month, but I’m a teacher and summer is my prime movie-watching season. Since I have two young children, I don’t get out and see a lot of new stuff. My main interest in June was seeing a few classics I had missed.

    The Unknown (1927)
    Lon Chaney plays an armless knife-thrower in a carnival whose partner-in-crime is a little person (played by John George, a recognizable, but often uncredited, character actor). Chaney falls in love with a young Joan Crawford, another carnival performer. Directed by Tod Browning of Freaks (1932) and Dracula (1931) fame. I had wanted to see this for a long time and it was worth it. I’m excited to see more Browning and I’m hoping to check out Crawford’s last, I believe, film role in Trog (1970).

    Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
    I watched this with the kids. Depression-era “Let’s put on a show!” movie with Busby Berkeley-directed musical numbers, including one for the song that is more famous than the film: “The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re in the Money).” Also features a young Billy Barty!

    Brute Force (1947)
    I’ve been on a Jules Dassin kick lately and watching Thieves’ Highway (1949) will finish out his post-war noir set. Brute Force is based on an actual prison riot. Dassin manages large casts well, giving many of the leads depth or at least making them memorable.

    Pather Panchali (1955)
    Influenced by Italian neorealism, Satyajit Ray’s first feature felt like watching Kurosawa’s classics for the first time even though Ray used amateur actors and had a low budget. I thought it was beautiful, like Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), which is also one of the few criticisms I’ve heard leveled at the film: that it’s somehow Indian cinema for white people. I’ve also read that it glorifies poverty, but I didn’t get that. I felt like it was more about class, family, and community and the difficulties of these relationships. Also features an early score by Ravi Shankar.

    Rififi (1955)
    A Dassin heist film that again shows his talents of using an ensemble.

    Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
    I feel like this could easily be adapted to the YouTube or Twitter age. Burt Lancaster is a well-established, stop-at-nothing gossip journalist that makes and breaks careers. Tony Curtis plays a press agent willing to do anything to get a slice of the cake. Great performances of quiet cunning and vulgar desperation.

    Night and the City (1959)
    More Dassin and a kind of companion to Sweet Smell of Success, a blasted American Dream.

    The Fugitive Kind (1960)
    A cleaner film version of the Tennessee Williams play which is notorious for some behind-the-scenes problems, including Brando becoming BRANDO. Still worth seeing for his supposed half-hearted performance (he is completely unrealistic as a Leadbelly-obsessed, snakeskin-jacketed acoustic musician–the original story is a version of the Orpheus myth) and Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward are frightful joys.

    Amarcord (1973)
    Might be my favorite Fellini movie along with 8 1/2 (1963). Feels like it heavily influenced Radio Days (1987). A bildungsroman of sorts.

    “Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking” (1990)
    Les Blank worked with and influenced Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, and likely influenced Gummo (1997). I’m looking forward to watching more of his films this month. He made several short-form docs about cajun and creole life and several about food, including “Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers” (1980). I grew up on the Gulf Coast and worked in mom-and-pop restaurants, so this film was a time traveling experience for me.

    Paddington (2014)
    I kept hearing about how good the sequel was, so I watched this with the kids. Way more fun than I thought it would be.

    Moonlight (2016)
    Still processing, but I loved the score, the storytelling, and the combination of realism and non-realism.

    Coco (2017)
    I love Day of the Dead art and Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite artists, so it was nice to see both here. This was a fun watch with the kids. Reminded me of Beetlejuice (1988).

    1. Well, now I’m the one embarrassed, talking about mainstream stuff like Incredibles 2 and Adrift as well as B-movie fun like Upgrade when you’re out there catching up on the classics. Honestly, though, more and more people I know are doing just exactly that, skipping the current films either due to disinterest or being too busy with life and instead scouring Netflix, FilmStruck, Amazon Prime, HBO Now or various other apps for old classics to watch. I do a little bit of that myself. For example, I’ve been watching a lot of Cronenberg this year since he’s a director who had always been in my blind spot, outside of The Fly of course.

      But on to your list:

      I’ve always heard of The Unknown due to its Todd Browning connection, but I’ve never seen it. I don’t think I even knew Lon Cheney was in it. The Trog, which you referenced, will presumably be of a far lesser quality considering Crawford’s somewhat sad last act playing the B-Movie circuit. From what I’ve seen of it there’s a definite lovable Corman quality to it.

      Gold Diggers of ’33 – Heard of it, never seen it. Didn’t know what it was actually about. Usually can’t go wrong with Busby Berkley stuff, though.

      Brute Force – Actually, first I’ve heard of this one. Sounds interesting.

      Pather Panchali – Panchali and the two Apu follow-ups – Aparajito and Apur Sansar are all-time classics. I actually watched those in a film class in college. I’ve heard some of the criticisms you cited about Panchali, but I come down with you on interpreting it as being “more about class, family, and community and the difficulties of these relationships.”

      “Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
      I feel like this could easily be adapted to the YouTube or Twitter age.”

      It’s been years since I’ve seen that one. I never thought of it for the YouTube/Twitter age, but now that you point it out you’re absolutely right.

      Rififi and Night and the City – First I’ve heard of either, actually. I mentioned Cronenberg being in my blind spot. Ditto for Dassin. I know him more as that one American who was blacklisted and went to France for work than I do for his actual films.

      The Fugitive Kind – Another one I know for reputation but not for having seen it. The Brando stuff always kept me away. Encouraging to hear it’s still watchable even with his supposedly half-hearted performance.

      Amarcord – 8 1/2 is pretty tough to beat, obviously, but Amarcord is at least in the same conversation. Good point about it being a likely precursor to Allen’s Radio Days.

      ““Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking” – Totally new to me.

      Paddington – The sequel is indeed better, but both films are delightful. I think of the franchise as weaponized whimsy.

      Moonlight – I’m still shocked this won Best Picture, not because it was undeserving, more that La La Land was so clearly the more obvious choice in terms of what the Academy more typically goes for. Sadly, though, Moonlight will likely be remembered more in history for its unwitting role in one of the biggest screwups in Oscar history – i.e., Faye Dunaway reading the wrong Best Picture winner – than it will for its actual merits as a film, mostly because even today I feel like hardly anyone has actually seen it.

      Coco – I get the Beetlejuice connection, for sure. I watched this with my niece and nephew, who had wildly different reactions. The niece found it terrifying because to her 5-year-old eyes the skeletons were horrifying. The 10-year-old nephew, however, adored it. Personally, it actually made me cry. I took my elderly step-father, who had recently lost an aunt and uncle who had lived into their 90s, and he also cried, but in a cathartic kind of way. I’m still surprised Frida was so prominent in the film. It feels so random, yet so right.

      1. Awesome response! Thanks!

        I wish I could keep up with new work, especially horror films, but it just isn’t always possible with my “hideous” progeny.

        Speaking of which, Cronenberg! I was maybe eight when I saw either Scanners or The Brood and have been obsessed with his films ever since, though eXistenZ is where it falls off a little for me. I really love the early body horror films (especially Videodrome) and Naked Lunch.

        I wrote about The Brood earlier this year if you’ve watched that one:

        I have another on Rabid that I should finish.

        If you’re a Chaney fan than The Unknown is worth it for that. I am indeed hoping that Trog has a lovable Corman quality because it looks like little else could save it.

        I agree, the Berkeley films are special.

        I’m just getting into Dassin myself. I had only seen Naked City, which I like, but may be my least favorite so far.

        I hope to finish the Apu Trilogy soon.

        I’m a big Fulci fan and wrote about Cat in the Brain as a version of 8½.

        (Don’t feel like you need to read those. Check them out if they interest you.)

        I love the food docs, but Blank is more known for his Herzog connection. He directed Burden of Dreams, about the making of Fitzcarraldo, and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, which is about exactly that. You may have seen those.

        All that stuff, hype and backlash, etc., kept me from Moonlight. I was pleasantly surprised how good it was.

        Now that I have kids, I cry at most of the new Pixar or Disney movies, though my four year old and I both laughed out loud when the bell falls and crushes a character. My six year old was horrified.

        I enjoy the website and I love The Monster Squad. Hoping to see that doc soon!

    1. “10 is and will always be “my doctor””

      It’s weird. Everyone’s “my doctor” is usually supposed to be the first Doctor they saw. For me, that’s Eccleston, and I loved him. Yet, when the 50th anniversary came and Eccleston didn’t participate I wasn’t all that heartbroken. I expected it to go down like that, really. Now, if Tennant had backed out, oh, there would have been hell to pay. He’s just so…adorable. I don’t mean that in any kind of sexual way. It’s more that every aspect of his character seemed like it was giving the viewer’s soul a warm hug….unless he got really mad or someone threatened Rose. Then, damn, dude was scary.

      “good luck next time a director let’s you speak”

      Thank you. I do hope there is indeed a next time.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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