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Fall 2022 Digest

Features
Patron Pick – Funny Pages [Matt]
Patron Pick – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold [Bekah]
Patron Pick – House of Games [Matt]
Patron Pick – The War of the Roses [Bekah]
Book Update – Sept/Oct 2022

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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 – Decision to Leave

Decision to Leave (2022)
Written by Jeong Seo-kyeong & Park Chan-wook
Directed by Park Chan-wook

Part of me is surprised at the moderate reviews Decision to Leave has garnered from audiences. However, I can understand it if you focus entirely on the plot. This is an homage to Hitchcock that is very obvious from the start. The shadow of Vertigo looms large, and that’s not a bad thing. A good crime thriller is rare, and South Korea certainly knows how to make good movies. It’s a pairing that meshes perfectly. But yes, you’ll not be blown away by the story, at least on the surface. It’s still a tremendously compelling story. Where Decision to Leave blew me away was with the cinematography. Holy shit! Park Chan-wook is one of the greatest directors of all time, but you forget in between watching his movies. Then when you sit down and watch one, it doesn’t take long to be reminded you are in the hands of a genuine master of the form. There are shots in this movie that blew my fucking mind! Even a person simply driving from one location to another always looks interesting. The camera is always put in a spot you wouldn’t expect, and it always works.

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Movie Review – Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls (2006)
Written by Matt Corman, Chris Ord, and Don Rhymer
Directed by John Whitesell

Surviving Christmas is objectively the worst holiday film I have ever seen. However, Deck the Halls does not lag far behind. What redeems it only the slightest is Danny Devito. Without him, the movie would have been unwatchable. I try not to shit on directors too much; just like actors, movie-making is a job for them, and you often take work you aren’t excited about because it affords you opportunities down the road. However, John Whitesell has just cultivated a career of utter shit. Before directing this Christmas flick, Whitesell gave us such gems as Jamie Kennedy’s Malibu’s Most Wanted and Big Momma’s House 2. You’ll be happy to know that Whitesell was able to keep cranking ’em out and went on to direct Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. Unfortunately, we face this pedigree when sitting down to watch Deck the Halls.

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Patron Pick – Sweet Smell of Success

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.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Written by Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, and Alexander Mackendrick
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick

Possessing a title that drips with as much irony as grease seems to exude from its central character, Sweet Smell of Success is a bold reminder that America in the 1950s was not some picket fence, sunny side wonderland. It was the same festering sore before, and it remains a place where no one gets ahead because they have talent or have cultivated a skill. Nope, the only skill that counts is how well you can lie, cheat, and steal your way to the top. Success is defined as power, and you get that power with money. How do you get the money? Well, with power. See what a con job it is? Some gatekeepers sit on makeshift thrones, not in throne rooms but in nightclubs where they humor desperate politicians and desperate talent who want a kind word thrown their way in tomorrow’s paper. But what will they do for that bit of ego-boosting fluffery, hm? There seems to be no bottom.

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Comic Book Review – Catwoman: Lonely City

Catwoman: Lonely City (2022)
Reprints Catwoman: Lonely City #1-4
Written & Illustrated by Cliff Chiang

In 1986, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns mini-series reconceptualized Batman by telling an out-of-canon story. An aging Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman years earlier, but now Gotham City is falling into a deeper cesspool than ever before. Mutant gangs run rampant, and The Joker has resurfaced. Wayne must become Batman again, this time with Carrie Kelly by his side as Robin. The Dark Knight Returns, while ground-breaking & compelling, is a politically questionable book. Miller has always been reactionary to one degree or another, and TDKR is very much indicative of this mindset to not examine but react with emotion. Miller is a passionate guy, and that fervor has gotten him into much-deserved praise and trouble. He’s apologized, but the man is so entrenched in his mindset that it would be hard to pull him out. But 2022 is not 1986, and the reactionary Death Wish-driven media of that era just doesn’t fly these days (unless you’re a big Daily Wire fan, I suppose). Cliff Chiang is here to tell us another story of a future Gotham, which is far more coherent and sets up a conflict between the criminal and the authority leading us to question if those labels are being accurately applied.

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Movie Review – The Holiday

The Holiday (2006)
Written & Directed by Nancy Meyers

I don’t really enjoy much of Nora Ephron’s work. It’s just not my taste, but I acknowledge there are things I like. Despite knowing it is such a flawed picture, I have a soft spot for My Blue Heaven. Ephron’s closest contemporary is Nancy Meyers. Both women were gaining steam during the same period, and they made films targeted at women…well, white women. Where Ephron can be playful & inventive, even if it doesn’t always work (see Bewitched), Meyers consistently wallows in indulgent upper-middle-class fluff. I actually went into The Holiday with a moderate amount of open-mindedness. For years, I heard people defend the movie citing the Kate Winslet/Jack Black half of the picture as worthwhile. I like both those performers and decided to include this in my A Very 2000s Christmas series and was looking forward to them.

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TV Review – Star Wars: Andor Season 1

Andor Season 1 (Disney+)
Written by Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, Stephen Schiff, Beau Willimon
Directed by Toby Haynes, Susanna White, and Benjamin Caron

Humanity isn’t going to be saved by Star Wars. It was a global capitalist juggernaut consumed by an even larger one almost a decade ago. It’s a product that gets its label and trademark slapped on a host of garbage manufactured in squalor and then sold to grubby-handed man-children that are desperately clinging to the comfort of their youth because, and they are not wrong in this estimation, the world is broken. But the thing is, Star Wars can be used. It can be a tool. In the desire to overthrow oppressive power, we will have to use the materials made under the monolith to destroy it. That’s the beautiful irony, every day, the capitalist machine unknowingly builds the very thing that will kill it. We don’t know what it is or when that will happen, but it is inevitable. 

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Movie Review – The Family Stone

The Family Stone (2005)
Written & Directed by Thomas Bezucha

To say The Family Stone is the least bad movie out of the seven I have watched for this series would be accurate, but also not a sign that I enjoyed watching it. I just suffered the least amount during this one. Everything about the story would work better as part of a television series. You have a family dynamic with one person coming from outside, conflict arises, and we get a maudlin sitcom-ish happy ending. The movie is confusing in who this is trying to appeal to as it features incredibly unlikable characters (even the ones we are supposed to like) but then is also wall-to-wall unfunny when it attempts comedy yet also poor at its attempts for pathos. 

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Movie Review – Christmas With The Kranks

Christmas With The Kranks (2004)
Written by Chris Columbus
Directed by Joe Roth

There is an air of nastiness, spitefulness & meanness in the Christmas films of this era. It wasn’t just in the holiday pictures, but if you looked at comedies and action flicks of the period, you find the same simmering hatred of humanity just oozing out of every pore. It could be argued that Chris Columbus is one of the chief architects of this trend. His duology of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York seeded American holiday cinema with an air of cruelty. But cruelty has always been present in America, especially in our stories. Look at the deluge of racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc., et al., ad infinitum. Americans (and I am one of them) are mean people because of social conditioning under capitalism. Competition supersedes cooperation. Cruelty outweighs kindness.

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