The Pop Culture Things I’m Grateful For

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being angry all the time. I want to be positive. I’ve talked a lot of shit about stuff on this website (mostly the DCEU) but I do actually enjoy stuff. I like quite a lot of stuff. I’m not some bitter, pop culture hater. I talk about this stuff because I love it. I admonish DC out of love. They can be better. I know they can. I try and write about the problems to highlight continuing bad trends in writing that hopefully, future writers avoid. This week, however, I’m not going to flagellate the sinners of pop culture. Time to reward the good.

(By no means a comprehensive list, just a collection of stuff I love. I do have to thank my partner Zoe for actually introducing me to half the stuff on this list, my tastes would be kind of boring without her.)

 

Movies

What We Do in the Shadows – Recently, when introducing a friend to this movie I described it as “a movie where nothing seems to happen until the movie ends and then you realise, yeah, something did happen”. What We Do in the Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary about vampires. Apparently, this is by at least some of the same people as Flight of the Conchords. So. if you liked that, this will be right up your alley.

The movie concerns three vampires who live in a share house is suburban Wellington. It’s exactly what that sounds like. It looks at and parodies every single vampire trope. It’s a movie that anyone can enjoy but have references to Dracula, Nosferatu, and other vampire fare. The movie has this kitschy charm to it and it’s worth the watch one night with friends.

Probably the best comparison would be to the Thor short that was released after Civil War except, you know, with vampires instead of a Norse God.

The film was directed by Jemaine Clement (who recently played Tamatoa in Moana) and Taika Waititi (the director behind Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and this year’s Thor Ragnarok).

Kingsman The Secret Service – This was a movie that I was sceptical going into. It didn’t help that it was being released in January and the title is a little misleading. It’s essentially a James Bond movie, some might call it a parody and it has elements of parody but it also stands as a decent evolution of the James Bond movies. Kingsman is kind of modern Bond’s cousin. The two share a visual similarity but Kingsman got more of its personality from Roger Moore, and perhaps Pierce Brosnan’s, Bond whereas Craig’s Bond is more Timothy Dalton (Not to dismiss the Craig era, Skyfall is fantastic).

Anyway, when it comes to Kingsman there is one scene that totally flips the movie on its head: The Church scene. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it but when it gets there, you’ll know. When I saw the film I went to the bathroom just prior to this scene so for me, it came the fuck out of nowhere, and was all the more enthralling for it. Kingsman features some of the cleanest, sharpest action scenes in recent memory. Firth is fantastic in this, as is up-and-comer Edgerton.

This is directed by Matthew Vaughn (the mind behind X-Men First Class, my personal favourite X-Men) and is a must watch.

 

The Book of Life – The Book of Life is what would happen if The Princess Bride and The Three Amigos had a baby. It’s not a perfect movie but it is a good movie. In some ways, it’s a very familiar story. Two boys in love with the same girl. The way it makes itself unique is in the vibrant land it creates. Its greatest strength is simply that it’s a good story, told well.

The movie features some excellent music and some stunning landscapes. The movie features an entertaining climax, an enthralling second act, and each of its characters feels vibrant and realised.

 

The Jungle Book (2016) – Honestly, you might have seen this one. I have vague memories of the original Jungle Book, which is an admittedly flawed movie. Many of the things that I would consider glaring flaws in the original animated film seem to be addressed here somewhat. The presence of the villains is felt throughout this film, even if they’re not always present. Idris Elba does a wonderful turn as Shere Khan, and it’s amazing how much of Christopher Walken’s unique mannerisms can be seen in King Louie.

It’s worth mentioning some noteworthy scenes. There’s the artistic rendering of Mowgli’s past as told by Ka, and there’s the Temple scene with King Louie. The first for its magnificent visuals and the latter for its sense of weight and suspense.

The Jungle Book is an excellent modern update to the admittedly decent prior film.

 

The Nice Guys – Few do the buddy cop formula better than Shane Black. If you watched Iron Man 3 and enjoyed the back and forth between Tony and Rhodey, then this movie should be right up your alley. It stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe playing two Private Investigators in 1970s Los Angeles, a city of smog and sleaze. I’ve often criticised the casting of Russell Crowe in 2012’s Les Misérables, but this is an excellent example of good casting, gone right.

Crowe plays muscle-for-hire Jack Healy, who is reeling from his recent divorce. Gosling plays human mess Holland March, whose wife recently died. Both men are somewhat fuck-ups and their back-and-forth is excellent as they investigate the case of a missing girl. This film is set in gorgeous and tacky 1970s locales. Also, worth noting is March’s daughter who accompanies the two and is somewhat of a highlight of the film.

There’s some weirdness that doesn’t 100% translate but it’s a darn good film.

 

Kubo and the Two Strings – This shit right here. This is some good shit. The movie is all stop motion which is already impressive and gives the film an excellent visual style, on top of that it has an excellent story and some excellent voice acting. Like the rest of Laika’s library, it has the potential to become a true classic. It has some excellent humour, but even more so, it’s drama and emotional moments play so well.

Kubo is told by his mother that he mustn’t stay out after dark or his grandfather will find him, his grandfather who took his eye. One day he stays out too late and his world changes forever. He must go on a quest to retrieve his father’s armour and defeat his grandfather.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. This film is awe-inspiring.

 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – An oldie but a goodie. My personal favourite of the period known as the Disney Renaissance. It’s a bit of an oddball film, which honestly would be improved immensely without the gargoyles, or at least with them being more figments of Quasimodo’s imagination. The highlights of the film are Tony Jay’s Judge Claude Frollo, and Kevin Kline’s Phoebus. Frollo is constructed perfectly as a sneering puritan of a villain, who reveals a deep hypocrisy in one of the best numbers of the film: Hellfire. Phoebus has the rapscallion charm that encompasses so many of Kevin Kline’s roles.

The film contains some awesome imagery, and excellent music, which often gets overlooked in the Disney pantheon due to its dark tone. If you only watched this when you were younger, it’s worth a revisit.

 

TV Shows

Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl – I lumped these into the same category because they all overlap a bit. However, I’m going to talk about them individually.

Arrow is flawed but largely enjoyable. What initially seemed to be a shallow Batman rip-off has its own flavour to it. Season 1 isn’t great by any metric but if you can stomach the first season’s somewhat standard affair then it improves from there. The flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island help give the show an always consistently decent B-plot. If you can sort of let your brain go for a bit, it’s genuinely enjoyable television.

Flash is perhaps the best of these TV series, or maybe it just contains my favourite elements. Super speed, time travel, among other things. Flash seems to take most of its inspirations from the Silver Age Flash, with a hint of Bronze Age drama. Flash keeps itself interesting by having a rather loose villain arc and a monster of the week that can feel painfully self-aware at times. It comes with the same caveat as Arrow, forget your brain and enjoy. Not because these series are particularly bad or full of plot holes, but rather because they’re a bit ridiculous. They are what they are and that gives them a lot of cred that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Legends of Tomorrow  is kind of what current Doctor Who should be. It’s a team show about a team who travels through time and tries to save the timeline. Now I’m not suggesting that the Doctor gets a team of superheroes or even that it enter the superhero genre (side-eyes most recent Christmas special). Instead, the charm of Legends is that each episode tackles a specific setting and hits the nail on the head with that time period. 1942, the Old West, Shogun-era Japan. Each is handled with a daft love of the media about that time period, and a reminder that history is full of racism and sexism. It balances its idealisation with a social realness that feels more realised with its diverse cast.

If you read my Not My Superman 2 article, then you already know my thoughts on Supergirl. Basically, I’m a massive geek who loves all that fantastically dumb but enjoyable Superman mythos. Supergirl scratches the itch of just being a really good adaptation of the Superman story and making it unique by using Supergirl. It also has the added benefit of the main characters discussing the importance symbolic potential of the Superman family and the added pressures that Kara faces as being a female superhero, having to work twice as hard to get the same recognition.

Best viewing order is the one presented above. Arrow, Flash, Legends, Supergirl.

 

Agents of Shield (Season 2) – I’ve highlighted Season 2 here for a reason. I haven’t watched Season 4 yet, and I generally disliked Season 3. MovieBob explains it best . Anyway, Season 2 of Agents of Shield is really, really good and is a hidden gem in your Marvel universe watching.

Kyle Maclachlan is interesting in this season, the rebuilding of Shield following Cap 2 is really interesting, the Inhumans plotline is really interesting. Season 2 is a collection of really interesting plot stuff that’s worth watching through Season 1 for. It’s harder to recommend but Season 1 is solid monster-of-the-week fare. Season 3 is ok, kind of, if you focus on the interesting stuff. Agents of Shield is mixed, but Season 2 is the real jewel in its crown.

 

Jessica Jones – Jessica Jones is by far the best TV show on this list. The Netflix series is a tour-de-force in terms of narrative. Jessica Jones is a private investigator with super strength haunted by her former abuser. David Tennant does an excellent job of being thoroughly menacing, helped by the excellent staging and writing. Tennant’s character The Purple Man is oppressively present throughout the narrative, even if he’s not physically present. The show had me genuinely questioning how they were going to defeat The Purple Man. Chuck in an excellent supporting cast of Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker, and Carrie-Anne Moss’ Jeri Hogarth, and you’ve got some riveting television that will keep you captivated start to end.

 

Elementary – Fuck BBC’s Sherlock. Look, I’m not a fan of that self-fellating collection of images that Steven Moffat calls a show. Elementary, Elementary is my jam.

You might think that moving Sherlock Holmes to America just seems wrong but the show makes it genuinely interesting. First, Lucy Liu’s Watson is a genuinely new take on a tried and true character. Her role in the show gives the show a far greater capacity for empathy and emotion. The somewhat co-dependent lives of Watson and Holmes are made believable by the friendly chemistry of Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes and Liu’s Watson.

The show does an genuinely good job at showing the recovery of the previously drug-addled Holmes as he seeks to regain control of his life. On top of this is an enjoyable US crime drama. Elementary gets the shaft for not being as slick as BBC’s Sherlock but it contains multitudes more emotional depth and nuanced characters. It’s more than just a change of scenery.

 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – All the shows I love tend to have lacklustre starts. Maybe that’s why others can’t get into them. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hilarious. I hate to be the person that just says it’s hilarious without offering much else but it’s hard to explain B99. Largely all the characters fall into broad archetypes, the most familiar being Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta, loose-cannon star cop.

Peralta’s character, however, holds this fantastic nugget inside of it. He refuses to lead an adult lifestyle and loves all the action movie tropes. He serves as the perfect foil to the “cop work is mostly paperwork” reality of the situation. In the end, this makes this more of an office comedy with occasional hilarious arrest scenes. The interplay between the characters is so well done and each character is so well drawn that it makes for excellent watching.

 

So that was my list of stuff I like. Hopefully, you enjoyed the list and found something that you’d be interested in checking out. There’s some genuinely great stuff here. If I ever write a series of pieces about stuff I hate again (maybe when Justice League comes out this year) I’ll return to this format and see what else I can dig up.

Like this? I have a Patreon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s