PopCult Podcast – Desperado/The Day of the Beast

One is the story of a mysterious man carrying guns in his guitar case & out for revenge. The other is the tale of a Spanish priest attempting to get into the Devil’s good graces on the night the Antichrist is to be born.

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Book Update – March/April 2023

A Short Film About Disappointment by Joshua Mattson

Here’s the premise: Film critic Noah Body writes and uploads his reviews on a widely ignored content aggregator in the near future. He is a wannabe director who is forced to watch the worst movies knowing zero people are reading his work. Noah starts including details of his complicated & spite-filled personal life in these reviews. Through eighty movie reviews, we follow Body’s life and how it falls apart around him. That sounds really good, right? It’s a shame that this book is a nearly unreadable piece of crap. I loved the premise, but the final product was a brutal slog. One of the most significant issues is that the chapters aren’t movie reviews. The main character is not fun to read. I love having unreliable narrators or a challenging protagonist, but Body is just pretentious in a way that I derived no humor from. I checked on Goodreads, and this one has a lot of people listing it as DNF (Did Not Finish). I certainly felt like dropping it pretty early on. If I could give this review a title, it would be “A Long Book That Led to Disappointment.”

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Comic Book Review – Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow (2022)
Reprints Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #1-8
Written by Tom King
Art by Bilquis Evely

On November 1, 2022, filmmaker James Gunn and producer David Zaslav were made the co-heads of DC Films. In March, they announced the opening slate of projects, a mix of animated series, live-action series, and movies that would be a heavy reboot of the previous DC Extended Universe pictures. Many comic arcs were cited as the inspiration for these projects; one was Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, which will be made into a feature film. This is part of a ten-year plan, so don’t expect to watch this movie anytime soon; it has a tentative release date of sometime in 2027. Quite ambitious, given the forecast for the climate’s ongoing collapse. If you are a regular reader of PopCult, then you know I am not a fan of Tom King. I find his neoliberal perspective one of the worst I’ve encountered in the funny books, making much of his work unenjoyable for me. However, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt as I sat down to tackle this book.

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TV Review – The Last of Us Season One

The Last of Us Season One (HBO)
Written by Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann
Directed by Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann, Peter Hoar, Jeremy Webb, Jasmila Žbanić, Liza Johnson, and Ali Abbasi

Media has conditioned us to think the “end of the world” will be explosively catastrophic. Think of the movies of Roland Emmerich or the Skynet awakening of James Cameron’s Terminator films. The reality is collapse is a rolling event; it begins in the corners of the developing world and inches its way toward the imperial core. This could take place over any amount of time, but it is guaranteed that all civilizations collapse at some point. The Biblical story of Noah’s flood, an event that also pops up in various other cultures, was probably just a localized flood that devastated the region. Over time it was exaggerated, and details were added. If the collapse hasn’t reached you yet, when it does, you might not even notice it. When you take in the weight of it all, you may wish for some big explosive moment instead of the dull, soul-crushing march that lies before you.

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Patron Pick – Where the Crawdads Sing

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.

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)
Written by Lucy Alibar
Directed Olivia Newman

I know this movie is not made for people like me. However, it was a Patron request, and I honor those. If you loved the book and/or adore the film, you probably will not like my review. One of the best things I can say about my experience watching this movie is, “Thank god for the ability to speed up playback.” I successfully turned this two-hour-plus viewing into just over 90 minutes which I think is the sweet spot for this type of movie. I argue that most movies should clock in around 90; if they go over that, they must justify taking up more people’s time. This is nowhere close to being the worst movie I have ever seen, but that would have at least made it fun to watch. Unfortunately, it is a flat, passionless, inauthentic drivel like most American movies. It is not offensive but doesn’t make you feel anything. It manipulates rather than attempts to draw up some truth about the human experience through its story. Also, I see an absence of truth in advertising because not once do we get to see the singing crawdads.

A dead body is found in the marshlands of North Carolina circa 1969. It is local sports hero Chase Andrews (Harris Dickson), and the blame is placed on Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a reclusive swamp lady. Through extensive flashbacks, we learn Kya’s life story, from being raised by a drunken & violent father (Garret Dillahunt) to her romance with Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith). Eventually, Tate leaves for college, which Kya doesn’t have access to due to her economic class. In Tate’s absence, she begins a relationship with Chase. But that is complicated with Tate returning after a long period of absence. Oh, the love triangle. Kya also embarks on a career as a nature illustrator, using her artistic gift to sketch and draw the lovely things she sees in the swamp around her. We also get a courtroom drama as the flashbacks share the spotlight with present-day goings on.

In the vein of The Notebook, this is pure melodrama. It’s not the kind I particularly like. If I watch a film in this genre, I would prefer things like Douglas Sirk’s movies or Todd Haynes’ takes on melodramas. The relationships in the picture don’t feel genuine; they are very much of the contrived Hollywood type that often distorts & presents a twisted version of how real romance & love work. As escapist fare, I think this will satisfy the audience looking for this sort of thing. I think the story is very much in the line of Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, and the other films & stories that follow the “diamond in the rough” trope. There’s a murder mystery added on to help differentiate it. The reveal at the end about the circumstances around Chase’s death was pretty good, but for me, it didn’t make up for the overall tone & quality of the picture.

Having recently revisited some Tennessee Williams stories via my May series titled “The American Theater on Film, Volume One,” I realized how lacking in genuine passion this story was. The romance feels cookie cutter, and neither male character ever felt like someone you could see a real girl falling for beyond just as a side fuck. The “artsy” young women I’ve known acknowledge the surface-level beauty of dudes like Tate & Chase and may even call them up when they are horny. But ultimately, they are looking for some depth to go along with the exterior beauty. 

There’s such an inauthenticity in how these characters are presented. We are constantly reminded that Kya is a “dirty swamp rat” in the same way She’s All That was desperate for us to believe Rachel Leigh Cook was a dog. It is a suspension of disbelief that is such a big ask it becomes comical. In many ways, this is up there with the dreck Marvel puts out in that almost every person that appears on screen is insanely gorgeous when I know, having grown up in the South, most people do not look like this. How refreshing would it have been to cast people that look real? It would have added so much more to the narrative. But that is not why this was made into a movie. It was made for audiences to swoon over the “beautiful” people on screen. This movie didn’t invent this but man, is it boring to keep seeing it churned out year after year. 

If you are an adult who has ever, let’s say, read a book, watched a television show, or seen another movie, then nothing about this plot will surprise you. It’s like a copy/paste of every melodrama made with little effort to spice it up. The male leads look interchangeable. The characters are all hetero. There are two mandatory kindly Black people whose entire purpose is to help Kya feel better about herself. 

I think there is a real heart-wrenching story deep in the fluff that could have made a compelling movie. However, this focuses on nothing but the fluff. It’s part of a massive genre of disposable films being made in America. If you ever look at the weekly dump of streaming cinema, you’ll find an avalanche of pictures. They are a form of money laundering for a whole host of criminal organizations, both domestic and international. This is nowhere near the worst; it had a theatrical release. But you will forget it almost as soon as the end credits roll. The romance is undercooked and thus dull to watch. The camera does occasionally give us a beautiful shot of nature. If young people find some enjoyment in the movie, that’s fine. It’s not offensive. It’s just a big disappointing yawn. 

Movie Review – Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas (1984)
Written by L. M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard
Directed by Wim Wenders

By the time 1984 rolled around, New German Cinema as a formal movement was over. The directors (still with us) were still making movies, and many still are. Rainer Werner Fassbinder died from an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates in 1982, the same year this new wave of cinema is said to have ended. Germany was just five years away from reunifying its West & East fragments. The country’s fate was now tied even more closely with the rest of the continent and America. Wim Wenders’ work has always held a fascination with that link between nations, and Paris, Texas, eschews Germany to focus entirely on America. Wenders recontextualizes the Western genre, placing it in modern-day Texas and exploring the return of a “stranger” from out of the wilderness. The story is steeped in the mystery of a blazing romance that burned up everyone involved.

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Movie Review – Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Written & Directed by Werner Herzog

After seeing seven of Werner Herzog’s feature films, I can confidently say I’m still not sure I “get” him. That makes him all the more fascinating because I can’t say I’ve had this experience with too many other directors. Having watched a few Fassbinder films lately, I understand the core themes on a basic level, but there is still plenty more to unpack. Wim Wenders is the most straightforward to me. Herzog, though. This guy is wild. He is fascinated with man’s ongoing struggles with nature, but I’m always unsure of his perspective. Is he someone who sees man as having too much hubris against an opponent who will obliterate him? Or does he see humanity’s domination of nature as a necessary feat for the species to progress? I lean toward the former more than the latter, but it can be hard to pin this guy down. Herzog does have a sort of hybrid admiration-disgust for insanely ambitious people.

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Movie Review – Beau Is Afraid

Beau Is Afraid (2023)
Written & Directed by Ari Aster

I’ve begun to feel like much of American culture & media is just a falsehood lately. For me, it’s been a combination of sitting back and soaking in the strangeness of social interaction in that culture, embracing my autism, and taking psychedelics. Everything feels chaotic in a very contrived, artificial way. We know that nothing about man-made societies is unintentionally chaotic; there are lots of moving parts behind the scenes. So, who benefits from the chaos? That seems easy to answer: the capital class, the owners, the managerial class. Chaos keeps people disoriented, unable to form bonds, and thus unable to achieve solidarity. Each person comes to feel isolated, terrified and atomized. Individuals are standing in the middle of their own personal hurricanes. This is the entire tone of Ari Aster’s latest picture, Beau Is Afraid.

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Patron Pick – Memories of Murder

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.

Memories of Murder (2003)
Written by Bong Joon-ho & Shim Sung-bo
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

The serial killer phenomenon has been around for a long time but only occurred in South Korea for the first time in the mid-1980s. In 1996, Korean playwright Kim Kwang-rim wrote Come to See Me, loosely based on these first killings where 10 women & girls had their lives taken by the same person. Director Bong Joon-ho co-wrote the film adaptation, which touches on the actual events but dramatizes most of its elements. This would be Bong’s more prominent debut after writing & directing the indie feature Barking Dogs Never Bite three years prior. The film would be released in the heart of what film historians now call New Korean Cinema, an explosion of movies from South Korea that exhibited filmmakers with incredible technical skills but also nuanced, complex writing & characterization. While a director like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Decision to Leave) is known for gorgeously choreographed stylized violence, Bong is a director whose trademark (at least in my opinion) is his blend of horrific story beats and weirdly comforting dark comedy. It’s a delicate balance, but his movies always seem to pull it off.

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Movie Review – Christiane F.

Christiane F. (1981)
Written by Herman Weigel
Directed by Uli Edel

“Scared Straight” is a subgenre of exploitation cinema focused on discouraging the youth from engaging in certain activities. A movie like Reefer Madness falls into this category, an ignorant to the point of farce examination of smoking weed. You could even throw something like America’s Most Wanted into this mix too. I can remember the way homosexual men were portrayed on that show was always in the context of being child molesters. Needless to say, scared straight media rarely presents a solid foundation of facts, instead opting for reactionary panic. In America, the book Go Ask Alice was published as the “real diary” of a teenage girl who succumbed to drug addiction. It’s much less well-known now, but when it came out in 1971, it fueled a lot of parents’ and teenagers’ minds with horror movie-level fears about drugs. That isn’t to say movies about the dangers of drugs are all bad. In the same way, not all drugs are harmful to you. I’m highly progressive in my views on drugs and their use, but there is one drug that scares me; maybe I’ve just been successfully brainwashed, or maybe not. The one that I would never touch is heroin.

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