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.
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 Daytrippers (1996) Written & Directed by Greg Mottola
The American independent film had its heyday in the 1990s. There are dozens of names & faces I will always associate with this period. There’s a certain tone & style that feels like it only existed in that decade and vanished after bleeding over just a bit into the 2000s and hasn’t returned since. The advent of digital cameras did a lot to change how low-budget films feel for better & worse. I can understand the convenience and affordability that digital brought filmmakers; however, there is a texture to shooting on film that you lose. I have yet to see any sort of filter that can restore it. The Daytrippers is one of those movies where you can feel the low budget, but that in no way diminishes the picture; it enhances it and gives the whole thing a sense of personality.
Angels in America (2003) Written by Tony Kushner Directed by Mike Nichols
Theater & queerness have always gone together. With my American Theater on Film series wrapping up to make room for our Pride film run coming in June, this is a perfect transition. Airing as a mini-series on HBO in 2003, Angels in America was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. It’s a story primarily about being a gay man amid the rise of Ronald Reagan & the Christian conservative movement, all while AIDS is ravaging the LGBTQ community. It’s an epic play, premiering in parts with Part I debuting in 1991, followed by Part II in 1992. Altogether it’s six hours which is quite bold for a theater piece. Yet, the AIDS crisis was deserving of such a dense, heavy piece. How could it not be?
The Vigilant nears its first destination on its first shortened FTL jump. Kei Becker searches the ship’s supplies for anything that might help Rozhan Kane’s damaged eyes but comes up short. Kane weakly assures Kei that he will be okay; they will reach Lyra and find sanctuary there. Astrid is watching the sensors as they get closer to ending the jump while Jorruns is trying to brainstorm ways to keep the engines running a little longer. Kei notices those two keeping their distance from each other, with Astrid not attempting to hide her dislike of Essence-using laborers from the Trade Enclave. In better times, Kei might address this tension, but now, people seem to focus on their tasks, and more significant threats are happening.
The first of six episodes for a Patron exclusive podcast is now live on our Patreon. It’s Double Down, a series where Seth & Ariana check out six movies that critics Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert gave thumbs down to, but are not obscure films. Our first film is The Basketball Diaries starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The Master Plan of Doctor Doom (2017) Reprints Fantastic Four #19-32, Annual #1-2 Written by Stan Lee Art by Jack Kirby
This collection continues laying the foundation of what the Marvel Universe would become. When Fantastic Four #19 was published in July of 1963, what did the rest of the Marvel Comics Universe look like? Amazing Spider-Man #5 just dropped, which pits him against Doctor Doom. Strange Tales spotlights the solo adventures of the Human Torch, with Doctor Strange making his debut as a back-up feature. Tales of Suspense is just a few issues into its Iron Man run, and he’s facing off against the Crimson Dynamo. Journey Into Mystery is about the ongoing adventures of The Mighty Thor. Nick Fury’s World War II-era stories are being told in his comic. Tales to Astonish continues its run of Ant-Man & The Wasp. The Avengers and The X-Men had their first issue debuts in July 1963. Beyond that, Marvel is still publishing plenty of romance and Western books from Millie the Model to Patsy Walker, The Rawhide Kid and The Two-Gun Kid. Captain America is still on ice somewhere in the Arctic Circle. In this next phase of Marvel, the cohesive shared universe begins to become a thing, and the Fantastic Four binds it all together.
Netflix Presents the Characters One Season, Eight Episodes
I’ve been surprised that Netflix never followed up on this one. It was an eight-episode anthology series, with each entry spotlighting the particular comedic sensibilities of a performer. Tim Robinson’s episode led to the greenlighting of I Think You Should Leave. It also focused on other great comedy writers/performers like Paul Downs, Kate Berlant, and John Early. Robinson & Early’s episodes are my two favorites out of the batch. Of course, with most shows of this kind, your mileage will vary from episode to episode based on your taste.
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 Bekah Lindstrom.
Kicking & Screaming (2005) Written by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick Directed by Jimmy Miller
I’ve wondered a lot over the last decade, was Will Ferrell ever actually good? Or was he just benefitting from other people’s strong writing when we thought he was. I have managed to avoid some of his more toxic recent movies; a Patron may choose one in the coming months now that I’ve typed that out. Like almost everyone, I first saw Ferrell on Saturday Night Live when the big mid-90s reboot happened. It suddenly felt like the quality of SNL has improved. I’ve revisited those episodes since, and they were not as good as I thought then. Ferrell was a definite stand-out, so it didn’t surprise anyone when he transitioned to movies. Night at the Roxbury never crossed my radar, so Anchorman was where I first saw him on the big screen. Looking back, I think I liked Adam McKay’s writing, not necessarily Ferrell’s performances.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Written by David Mamet Directed by James Foley
Capitalism. What a nightmare. We don’t talk enough about avarice in America. That frenzied, hateful greed fuels some people’s minds & souls. They can never find fulfillment in contentment, being happy and appreciative of what they have, spurred on by institutions that depend on this hunger to never be satiated. Playwright David Mamet does an incredible job of depicting this inhumanity in Glengarry Glen Ross. His characters are trapped on a broken hamster wheel, given expectations they cannot possibly meet, and punished for trying to find a loophole in the system to avoid the inevitable outcome. Unemployment is not an accidental byproduct of capitalism but an intended outcome. It makes people live in terror that they will fall to the bottom of the ladder, and they learn to treat everyone else around them with hatred as they see them as competitors for the same crumbs.
M. Butterfly (1993) Written by David Henry Hwang Directed by David Cronenberg
In 1986, France was caught up in a scandal involving one of their diplomats in China. Bernard Boursicot has been engaged in an affair with Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. Shi was a male singer who performed primarily in female roles, and Boursicot insisted that he believed Shi was a woman the whole time. This seems incredulous as both men admitted to having sex together numerous times. Furthermore, Boursicot claimed that Shi could retract his testicles and shape his genitals to resemble female anatomy. However, the French diplomat engaged in same-sex intercourse while in boarding school as a teenager. Only after graduation did Boursicot choose to be with women, as he claimed he thought homosexuality was a rite of passage among the youths at his school.
The Glass Menagerie (1987) Written by Tennessee Williams Directed by Paul Newman
“Write what you know” is some advice often given to writers struggling to know where to start. Tennessee Williams was an artist who often practiced this, sometimes literally but also metaphorically. In the case of The Glass Menagerie, it was a very personal play that touched on his relationship with his mother and sister. He kept coming back to it in different forms until he found the way that worked, even writing a screenplay (The Gentleman Caller) that would be repurposed for the play. The result is a moving story of a family displaced from the American South struggling to find their way in an increasingly cold, cruel world.