Winter 2023 Digest

The State of the Blog 2023
Most Anticipated Films of 2023
[Patron Pick] The Menu – Bekah
[Patron Pick] The Wonder – Matt
[Patron Pick] Eternal Summer – Bekah
[Patron Pick] Hard Eight – Matt
Book Update – Jan/Feb

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PopCult on Patreon

PopCult Reviews is place to take deep dive into media & culture from a Left perspective. This isn’t content coming from a lofty, complicated, academic point of view but accessible reviews and analysis. We’re here to celebrate the good stuff and put a critical lens to the media that has saturated culture. Patreon is the best way to show your support for the work we do here. More details are below.

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Movie Review – Midnight Run

Midnight Run (1988)
Written by George Gallo
Directed by Martin Brest

The 1980s was a decade rife with mismatched buddy comedies. 48 Hours paired the perpetually crotchety Nick Nolte against Eddie Murphy. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles centers on the tension between two traveling workers and their conflicts while trying to get home. Twins goes all-in on the drastic difference in visual appearance and personality of its leads. Lethal Weapon was an ur-text for the genre, the archetypal mismatched pair. Midnight Run has always seemed to have an outsized & loyal cult fanbase from what I can tell, and I have always wondered what the big deal was. It looks like any other buddy comedy to me. I had never seen this movie from beginning to end, so this viewing was my chance to try and understand the hype. 

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PopCult Podcast – Ali: Fear That Eats the Soul/Far From Heaven

Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows wasn’t considered exceptional at the time of its release but successive generations of filmmakers certainly knew what a fantastic picture it was.

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Solo Tabletop RPG Review – Ironsworn Part One

Ironsworn (Tomkin Press) Part One
Designed & Written by Sean Tomkins
You can download Ironsworn for FREE here.

I’ve written previously about the types of games that fall under the solo banner. However, when most people think of tabletop roleplaying, they immediately think of Dungeons & Dragons. It makes sense due to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s acting as some of the best marketing the game could ask for. So, when most people imagine RPGs, they think of people sitting around a table rolling dice to do skill checks and fight monsters in a dungeon. That can be tricky with solo tabletop because of the crucial role a Dungeon Master or Game Master plays in that scenario. However, designer Sean Tomkins has cracked that code with his incredible Ironsworn system. To accomplish this feat, he borrowed heavily from a game system not as many people are familiar with.

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TV Review – The Best of Star Trek Part Four

The Enterprise Incident (S03E02)
Original air date: September 27, 1968
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas

The paradox of making good television: You need to make the episodes as high quality to attract viewers, but you have to make sure you can cut costs at the drop of a hat when the studio executives demand it, but if you lose viewers as a result, you will need to make more cuts as advertisers go, but if you can’t do that your show gets moved around the schedule which means you lose more viewers because they cannot find you. This curse plagued Star Trek going into its third season, relegated to the “death slot” of 10 pm Eastern on Fridays. As a result, Season Three has fewer great episodes than Season Two, and even this season’s strongest episodes don’t match up. However, there are some worth watching.

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Comic Book Review – The Nice House on the Lake

The Nice House on the Lake (2023)
Reprints The Nice House on the Lake #1-12
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

The evocative painted covers of each issue of The Nice House on the Lake hint at a dark horror tale to be unfolded, its spotlighted character standing in a stark scene of the macabre. I wish I could tell you the interior matches this outside wrapping. I also wish I could say I enjoyed this as much as I did Tynion’s The Department of Truth. But honestly, I really disliked this comic a lot. Bloated with so many characters introduced so quickly, I almost immediately lost track of who was who besides maybe two or three of them. That wasn’t a great thing to happen when this is a survival story, and I’m supposed to care about who lives or dies. It also doesn’t help that right away, the book reveals itself as some sort of post-apocalyptic narrative, which was not the story I sat down to enjoy.

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Movie Review – The Five Devils

The Five Devils (2023)
Written & Directed by Léa Mysius

The Five Devils opens and concludes with a character looking directly into the camera at the audience. That makes sense because much of the film’s narrative centers on voyeurism. So it is appropriate that we are reminded through bookends that the characters within the film could look back at the audience. That first glimpse is followed by a little girl sitting up in bed, and this cut implies the girl was dreaming this moment, that the gaze was directed at her. As the film progresses, this same little girl becomes the one spying on the adults, trying to piece together the cryptic things they say in her presence to create a more significant meaning. She wants to understand who these grown-ups are and how she came into being. What she discovers is how fragile her existence is in the face of different choices that her parents could have made. And while this movie markets itself and even feels like a horror film through the start, it ends up not being that at all, which left me feeling unsatisfied.

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Movie Review – Withnail and I

Withnail and I (1987)
Written & Directed by Bruce Robinson

The world is falling down around their heads. That’s the pervasive feeling of this semi-autobiographical film about a pair of friends in London circa 1969. They aren’t wrong; we know this due to the gift of hindsight. The end of the sixties marked a headlong dive into austerity, the setting of the table that is now coming to fruition in the United Kingdom today under Tory rule. England post-WWII had been building a robust welfare state, with institutions like the National Health Service becoming admired throughout the Western world. However, the forces of greed constantly scan the landscape and see every opportunity to rape & pillage, to ensure their survival and luxury at the expense of the working poor. Bruce Robinson understood that the hedonism of the sixties was in many ways a distraction from the coming bleakness, a practice the establishment took people’s eyes off the reforms that began post-War. And so Withnail and I is a mournful, often funny, elegy on a time of such promise that has rotted on the vine.

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Patron Pick – The Spongebob Squarepants Movie

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004)
Written by Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Stephen Hillenburg, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer, and Paul Tibbitt
Directed by Stephen Hillenburg

I was a bit beyond its target audience when Spongebob Squarepants appeared on the scene. In 1999, I finished my senior year and started college. I won’t say I didn’t continue watching cartoons, we certainly did in college, but our viewing was focused more on things from our childhoods out of nostalgia or the now very cringingly edgy animated fare of Family Guy or Adult Swim (though AS did have some fantastic shows in those early years). Spongebob was undoubtedly a phenomenon I was aware of, but it just didn’t interest me enough to watch it. Growing up, cable television was something we watched at our grandparents’ house as we didn’t have it at home. So when I had my chance, I was more curious about things like The Sci-Fi Channel or Comedy Central. We had cable access in college, but I discovered Tech Tv, which was much more helpful. Many years later, I would finally watch a few episodes of Spongebob and definitely get it. He is the Pee-Wee Herman of the 21st Century.

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Movie Review – A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Written by John Cleese & Charles Crichton
Directed by Charles Crichton

While I haven’t ever really been over the moon for Monty Python, I have been a fan of A Fish Called Wanda since I saw it for the first time decades ago. It’s an almost pitch-perfect modern screwball comedy, mixing the romantic comedy and noir elements you might expect. The film is also an excellent satire on the differences between British and American demeanors. The characters are painted quite broadly, but it’s from that aspect that the comedy emerges. Situations are contrived and full of double crosses & betrayals, which gives the film its darkness. This is a comedy where an assassin is actively trying to kill an old lady throughout the picture, and someone gets crushed by a steamroller as a punchline.

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