Our Pop Culture Happy Hour dissection of Quentin Tarantino's ninth picture gave me the opportunity to be on a panel with Monica Castillo, a fellow Eugene O'Neill National Critics Institute fellow and someone with whom I'd not previously had the pleasure of speaking, though we have friends and colleagues in common. A fun episode. After some deliberation, we elected to avoid any in-depth discussion of the ending of the film.
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Host Linda Holmes is off promoting her already New York Times-bestselling debut novel Evvie Drake Starts Over this month, so Glen and Stephen handled the hosting chores on PCHH this episode, with Mallory Yu and me in chairs three and four to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home, the eighth movie with the proper noun “Spider-Man” in the title since 2002. (For more important data analysis, see my NPR review of the movie.)
We recorded this episode first thing in the morning on one of the most heavily-scheduled days of my adult life. Fortunately, my energy peaked early that day, which is rare. I'm sure the wise and kind Jess Reedy was doing me a favor and protecting NPR when she sensibly excised my rant about how much money I lost on my first car, a Ford Taurus, when its engine exploded in the middle of the night and the beginning of a snowstorm as my brother and I were on our way to catch a plane to my grandpa's funeral. Attentive listeners will easily pick out where in the episode that would have gone were Jess not so good at her job.
I also shamelessly plugged my Washington Post piece from Tuesday about 1970’s Honor America Day and its soundtrack album, Proudly They Came… to Honor America.
What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.
While recommending Brian Raftery’s Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, I happened to name one of my most be-loathed movies from that year, the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, while omitting the names of my most beloved: Rushmore, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, and so on. Raftery did not include John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair in his book about 1999’s most notable and groundbreaking movies, probably because a remake of a 30-year-old thriller isn’t groundbreaking, and the movie did not have a substantial cultural impact.
But it was was the last good movie McTiernan made, I’m sorry to say, and I saw it in the theater that summer along with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Notting Hill, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and all the rest, and I have revisited it on several occasions since.
I had a nice time joining the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew this week to discuss Shazam!, a lighter, brighter DC Comics movie that is also… a nice time. Doubtless I got invited on this episode because of the profile I wrote for the Ventura County Reporter waaaaaay back in January 2003 of Shazam! star Zachary Levi, a Local Boy Made Good for whom God has opened many doors, such as co-starring with Bob Newhart and the modern rhythm-and-blues singer Sisqo ("The Thong Song," peak position No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100). He admires men of integrity like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Three, friends.
Shazam! is the polar opposite of The Shield, the early-aughts post-Sopranos, pre-Breaking Bad cop show I’m currently revisiting, which is what’s making me happy this week and shall be for many weeks to come, because I bought the big doorstop blu-ray set with all 88 episodes.
I’d say it was the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode for which I’ve been training my entire life, except we just did the Die Hard episode. Anyway, I was glad to be part of the elite panel of holiday song-pickers summoned to the National Public Radio today to argue which Christmas song is the Muhammad Ali Greatest of All Time yulejam, and which one is our individual favorite at this particular moment. The stakes in the latter instance are lower, but that only complicates the emotional work of choosing, because the shackles of convention are all the way off!
It says something about the company I was in—PCHH regular Stephen Thompson, plus two very smart NPR Music staffers, Lyndsey McKenna and Marissa Lorusso—that my selections were somehow the most uptempo of the lot. (They’re all lovely people, whose affection for mopey holiday songs is one I very much share. Click on “Christmas Mixtapes,” above, for years and years of evidence.)
Had this episode been recorded at an earlier or later hour of the day, I might’ve stanned for James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” or “Christmas Love” by Rotary Connection or The Killers' "Great Big Sled" or even the ‘87 U2 version of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” But I chose to stump for the lead track off Blue Wave Christmas, the latest ineffable installment in my generally somewhat effable Yuletunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series. (See here, you.) There’s no promotion like self-promotion. Ebeneezer Scrooge had to learn that the hard way. I don’t know what that means, but if you say it out loud with the inflections in the right places, it sounds like it means something.
FURTHER READING: Since Marissa chose “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as her all-timer, perhaps you’d like to revisit my five-year-old Slate piece trying to puzzle out why this song, from 1994, is the most recent entry to be admitted to the perennial holiday songbook. Or my six-year-old Washington Post story about sad-sack seasonal sounds.
It had been too long since I got to appear on a PCHH panel with the great Gene Demby from Code Switch, so I was very happy to find myself sitting beside him for this episode dissecting Creed II, which frustrated each of us in different ways. You can hear the episode below; my review of the movie is here.
I was delighted as always to join my pals Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour to discuss the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man—a movie that, like the new A Star Is Born, I appreciate more the more I think about it. Somehow we managed to avoid re-litigating the great La La Land controversy during this conversation. (My bomb-throwing position: It's good!) When I used the word Weldonian in the studio, Glen nearly tore his rotator cuff making the "cut" gesture, but cooler, more hirsute heads—those of producers Jessica Reedy and Vincent Acovino—prevailed.
During the "What's Making Us Happy" segment I endorse Alec Nevala-Lee's new history Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, of which I'll have a review appearing in the Dallas Morning News shortly. It happens that Nevala-Lee wrote a thoughtful post about First Man and the silly flap among people who haven't seen the movie over the fact that it doesn't depict the planting of the American flag on the lunar surface. I'm glad to share it.
Sure, he's a weird guy. But Tom Cruise is the greatest onscreen runner since that horse that Eadweard Muybridge photographed in 1872 to prove that all four hooves of a galloping stallion leave the ground.
Here's our Pop Culture Happy Hour on the triumph that is Mission: Impossible — Fallout. Any Cruiselike zealotry in my voice is purely intentional. To watch a two-star action movie with Linda Holmes is a five-star experience. To watch a five-star action movie with her is an M:I-6 star experience.