Movie Review – Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman (1985)
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff

Some pieces of art are monolithic in that you know some things about them even if you don’t actively seek them out. They just made such an impact on the culture and became interwoven into our language and our contemporary understanding. I can’t point to exactly when I first knew of Death of a Salesman, but one of my earlier memories was it being referenced in Seinfeld. In an episode, Jerry says George reminds him of Biff Loman from the play. I was a teenager and had never read the play, so I can’t say I ever fully comprehended that one. It made the play stick out to me, though, as it must be important, at a minimum, to understand some aspect of the “discourse.” But time flowed on, and I never sat down to experience Death of a Salesman until now.

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TV Review – Lucky Hank Season One

Lucky Hank Season One (AMC)
Written by Paul Lieberstein, Aaron Zelman, Adam Barr, Emma Barrie, Jean Kyoung Frazier, Jasmine Pierce, and Taylor Brogan
Directed by Peter Farrelly, Dan Attias, Jude Weng, and Nicole Holofcener

I went into Lucky Hank with moderately high expectations. I have been a big fan of Bob Odenkirk for decades and loved his time as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul. I picked up the novel that the show is based on, Straight Man by Richard Russo, and it has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far. However, when I reached the season finale of Lucky Hank, I had one feeling prominent at the front of my mind: relief that it was over and I was never watching any more of this show. That doesn’t mean the show is horrible, but it does not fit my sensibilities. Instead, we got a single-camera dramedy sitcom hybrid with Lucky Hank, complete with spots where we are intended to laugh with the laugh track absent. 

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Movie Review – Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Sidney Lumet

There are some pieces of art that, when you finally experience them, you know you’ve seen or read, or heard something that will resonate through centuries. I had never read a word of Eugene O’Neill, but I knew a bit about him and that he’d written this play and The Iceman Cometh, among others. I could have told you this was about a family of four people. That was where my knowledge stopped. I knew this would have to be a part of this series on film adaptations of American theater, and now I understand why it had to be. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is among the best I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about the entire scale of art in general. This movie connected with me in a way a lot of contemporary cinema fails to over & over again. I credit that to the bravery of O’Neill in writing genuinely human characters. Everyone is a villain here, everyone is a hero, and everyone’s a victim, and in this way, it mirrors all our lives. 

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PopCult Podcast – Scream 6/How To Blow Up a Pipeline

Young people these days get up to all sorts of crazy things. Some kids in NYC are going to school & trying to avoid attacks from a serial killer. Then you have these kids in Texas blowing up a damn oil pipeline. Zoomers, amirite?

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Movie Review – A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Written by Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Daniel Petrie

The history of Black people in America is a roller coaster of emotions. That’s being said by someone who can only speak about it from an outside perspective. I’m white, so I know I’ll never fully comprehend what it means to be Black in that nation. I can say that the popular perception of the struggle for Civil Rights is entirely out of whack, at least in the white circles I lived & worked inside of in Tennessee. There’s this penchant to view these things as the “ancient past” when the brutality to hold onto segregation happened during my parents & grandparents’ lifetimes. There’s an anxiety in the white mind that leads to statements like “stop living in the past,” never mind the Southern obsession with the Confederacy, and wanting to cherish its insipid ideology. The telling of the past that doesn’t seek to soothe & fantasize about history is what people bristle at. It’s simply the truth; horrible things happened in the past, and a thread running through reality connects to the present day.

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Movie Review – Picnic

Picnic (1955)
Written by William Inge and Daniel Taradash
Directed by Joshua Logan

We come to the first movie in the American Theater on Film series that doesn’t work. I wondered why I didn’t hear as much about Picnic as other entries in this series I’m doing, and now it makes sense. Picnic is attempting something ambitious, it is one of the better movies in the series for cinematic visuals, but its core ideas are muddled and clunkily handled. There are cinematographic moments here that are absolutely stunning, and that’s what makes it sting so badly that the story itself is not well done. It should not surprise me that Picnic looks so good as it was the fantastic James Wong Howe behind the camera, one of the all-time great cinematographers. Does that man know how to light and frame a scene!

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Movie Review – 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (1957)
Written by Reginald Rose
Directed by Sidney Lumet

What is justice? Any direct education I was ever given in America never taught me the answer. That was found in observation, reading, and listening. American institutions spend much time telling people what to believe justice is. They do it through copaganda like Law & Order, CSI, and the other generic procedurals that get vomited up on television every year. My perennial punching bag Aaron Sorkin spent a lot of time musing over law & justice in his work too. But what we see on the screen in this regard rarely reflects what is happening in real-time all around us. And, as much as I love 12 Angry Men as a piece of art, it doesn’t show us anything close to the truth about how the justice system operates in America. What it does instead is to provide an impressionistic breakdown of the ideologies that keep America from being a place where freedom actually exists.

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Movie Review – A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Written by Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan, and Oscar Saul
Directed by Elia Kazan

Things are terrible in the States and getting worse. Every day there’s another story about someone making an honest mistake and getting shot, typically being killed. People are like snarling dogs, mistrustful of others, and ready to snap at anyone who gets too close. I would argue things have always been pretty bad, and it’s just that more people are awake & aware of the situation now. Despite the American media’s vociferous attempts to lay on the myths & the fairy tales, American society has often been cruel in a downward direction. Tennessee Williams captured this mundane inhumanity in his incredible stage play, adapted here by himself & others. It’s the story of people caught up in pain and unable to connect with each other meaningfully.

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Movie Review – The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes (1941)
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by William Wyler

The art of performance was born from the theater. People got up in front of a crowd and acted out stories. There were no screens. It was often by the light of a fire. Or, in more developed regions, an amphitheater. When the film first became a popular trend among “the kids,” there were many adaptions of stageplays. They weren’t shot with much emphasis on style as the aesthetics of the film medium were being figured out at the time. However, after several decades movies became their own way of telling stories, with the elements of cinematography and editing helping to shape things. 

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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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