Category Archives: Movies

Culture Challenged Podcast – The Return

After many many months of hibernation, Culture Challenged is back in 2017 with new content, new contributors, and new opinions. In addition to blog posts, commentary, and columns, Culture Challenged returns to the podcasting game (where have you gone “Hold on To Your Buffs”?) with the first edition of the Culture Challenged Podcast. David and new contributor (and life partner!) Ritza bring you their take on the 2017 Golden Globes Awards and why Atlanta is really the best show of the year.

Trailer Talk: Jurassic World

Our relationship with new iterations and evolutions of our premier pop cultural staples of childhood can face upward battles of acceptance. There is an inevitable increase of cynicism laced with an “it’s never going to be as good as the original” negativity, but we often forget that it was our wide-eyed wonderment and open-hearted imagination that allowed the youthful connection to be made in the first place. As my experience with the 3D rerelease a few years ago can attest, the world of Jurassic holds one of the most special places in my heart of fandom. Today’s first theatrical trailer unveiling (first sent to me by fellow brother of Isla Nublar nation, Nik Walker) for next summer’s franchise reboot, Jurassic World, brings me such an uninhibited joy. On June 12 of next year it will have been fourteen years since the last ill-advised and chaotic exploration (and mostly forgettable) of this Jurassic mega-franchise, and it feels like this fourth theatrical release is hatching at just the right time.

Here are some of my major takeaways in trailer chronological order:

  • Note to kids being sent on a trip by your parents: If your parents are David Wallace from The Office and Kitty from Arrested Development and they remind you to remember to “run” if something chases you, don’t go on the trip.

  • Universal’s opening logo animation has an emotional linkage to Jurassic Park and its subsidiaries in an MGM Wizard of Oz or 20th Century Fox Star Wars kind of way. Legendary Pictures makes me think of Christopher Nolan’s motion pictures. So far, so great.

  • Yes, the Jurassic World gates may be a bit too CGIed, but this is a much appreciated iconic allusion. If only the late Richard Attenborough could narrate a “Welcome to Jurassic World” voiceover and we would be in transcendent anticipation territory.

  • “The Park Is Open.” And what a park it is! Key features include: Disney Park crowds, Disney Park commercialism (Oakley apparently opened up a shop), Gallimimus safaris, a decked out Gyrosphere through Brachiosaurus fields, a monorail, and a water theater with sharks used as dino-Shamu bait and water-splashing used as a way to promote LifeProof cases for iPhones.

  • Nothing reduces potential fan anxiety more than the declaration that Jurassic World is “from executive producer Steven Spielberg.” In Sir Steven we trust.

  • “We have our first genetically modified hybrid.” Ok, Bryce Dallas Howard’s bangs. This is not going to end well.

  • It took 1:34 seconds to introduce Chris Pratt, but he was worth the wait (and the weight loss). Part Star-Lord, part Robert Muldoon action figure, all awesome, Pratt’s star couldn’t shine any brighter. Great casting, Universal team.

  • Setting the escalating theorized dinosaur chaos to a stripped down and tempo-deficient Jurassic Park Theme from the great John Williams is a little stroke of genius. Well played.

  • “Run!” Poor Bryce Dallas Howard and her bangs.

  • If the final images of Chris Pratt biking through a Endorian velociraptor speeder chase don’t mark June 12 on your calendar, I am not sure your capacity for cinematic awesomeness is up to standards.

5 Things You Need to Know: EDGE OF TOMORROW

As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…


1) My Edge of Tomorrow cinematic experience was easily the most fun I have had in a movie theater since the awestruck majesty of GravityComing on the heals of the depressing and disheartening redundancy of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, my continued movie theater patronage was at stake. Edge of Tomorrow was exhilarating with a purpose, expertly navigating an otherworldly premise (an ultimate reset button in a futuristic Groundhog Day scenario) with logic, consistency, and justifiable rules. Yes, it couldn’t happen, but at the same time, it all seemed to make sense (so, the anti-X-Men: Days of Future Past). Unabashedly humorous and intentionally staying away from a funereal mythology, Edge of Tomorrow reminded me of all that can be fun about an original action/science fiction picture and how more such highly original concepts (thank goodness for Christopher Nolan, Inception, and the overwhelming promise of Interstellar) should be made. Please.

2) It is no surprise that at the forefront of this temporary reversal of cinematic fortune is a performer who over the years has consistently been the reason to spend the extra dollars to see a movie in theaters: the man born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. At the youngest age 51 (52 next month) in recorded history, Tom Cruise remains ever the magnetic force of nature. His onscreen draw and appeal, imbedded in his fearless commitment to character and story, to passionate determination, to performing his own stunts, and to maintaining the illusion that he is taller than 5′ 5”, crackles and sparks with classic Tom Cruise luster in Edge of Tomorrow. He is having a great time and exuberantly invites the audience to ride shotgun on the ride.

3) As this movie’s female counterpoint to the scene-chewing dominance of a Tom Cruise performance, Emily Blunt fits into her role with an “I don’t really care what you think, so I am going to do what I want whenever I want” command. She pitch matches every Cruise energetic burst with a powered punch of her own. Their strategic and plotted co-dependence appreciatively stays largely out of “will they get together?” trope zone. The goal is to survive, save lives, destroy the alien insurrection, and then, if possible, save each other. Blunt is just as her name suggests without losing an iota of likability (she had this going for her in Looper as well).

4) Thank you to Edge of Tomorrow for recognizing that action humor has a place in a dystopian destruction movie. Despite my love of his work, the Nolan-nification of storytelling has largely yield worlds of morose melancholy. In Edge of Tomorrow, although the world is in the roughest of shape, the movie does not lose sight of how both the audience and the players within the story have to laugh a little at the challenging circumstances. Doug Liman’s editing and quick hitting cuts pop and spark moments of joyous levity that force an audible audience response usually in the form of laughter, if not a inhabited smile.

5) The Edge of Tomorrow is a movie that feels like both a relic of the golden era of the non-superhero summer action movie (this is a great thing by the way) and a fresh and perfectly executed piece of modern audience entertainment. It moves with a pulse, with a swagger, and with the confident smile that has marked much of the career of its top-billed movie star. It is a movie star’s movie and easily one of the best ways to be entertained this summer.

5 Things You Need to Know: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Actually, there is really only one thing you need to know: don’t see this poorly plotted, incongruous disaster.

Here are some of my additional takeaways while departing the theater:

  • If Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is the worst villain ever realized in a comic book movie (Try to make an argument to the contrary…just try), then Jamie Foxx’s Electro is the second worst villain ever realized in a comic book movie. What a conceptual embarrassment it was.

  • This movie is a complete waste of the beautiful Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone onscreen (and off!) chemistry and charisma, several strong scenes from Sally Field (I really like you), and a beautiful visual sensibility.

  • Dane DeHaan’s eyes can be scary to look at.

  • Paul Giamatti’s career (tough moment Hoke) has fallen a little off the deep end. He apparently wanted to play the catastrophe sometimes called the “Rhino.”

  • Speaking of tough moments, I am currently having one with cinema. For every Gravity or 12 Years a Slave, there are too many random Marvel sequels, big-budget CGI-fests in unnecessary 3D up-selling rip-offs, and stories that should never have been told. As TV has increasingly become more and more of my daily jam, spending time in a movie theater has unbalanced more toward the chore end of things (pleasure has become harder to come by). The result: I aim to be more judicious in my “in theaters” viewing (Oscar season will continue to be the exception) during the blockbuster months because there are apparently much better ways to spend my time.

5 Things You Need To Know: Summer Movie Edition Part I – NEIGHBORS, GODZILLA, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

With the summer movie semester well into the summer session, the time has finally come to comment on some of what I have seen. This edition will feature Neighbors, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…

NEIGHBORSRose Byrne and Seth Rogen

1) Although I hated Neighbors and most of my Neigbors viewing experience, I recognize its relative success as a modern, pushing-the-envelope comedic summer romp.

2) Zac Efron’s body and physical persona may be the closest thing I have ever seen on screen to a Greek God and he and the filmmakers seem to both know and celebrate this.

3) Ike Barinholtz has a brand of comedic timing on The Mindy Project that he brings to his supporting role in The Neighbors. As on The Mindy Project, he is both sometimes hilarious and sometimes far too many steps over the top.

4) I was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as an oddly-coupled set of new parents. They both were willing to go there – with each other, with other co-stars (particularly the surprisingly fantastic Efron), and with the hyperbole of the plotted circumstances.

5) Neighbors is a movie that delivers a full filling of disgusting raunch and was frequently too much out of control partying for me to take. If this kind of thing is your jam, Neighbors is an escapist escapade, but if you are at a place in your life in which you are ready to settle down with a spouse and kids, be warned.

GODZILLAElizabeth Olsen

1) Godzilla‘s relative CGI and monster reveal procrastination fuels its suspenseful success. Like summer blockbuster heavyweights like Jaws and Jurassic Park (both under the helm of Steven Spielberg the Magnificent), we earn the climactic curtain pull-back.

2) Bryan Cranston is good at acting – sure, see: Breaking Bad. But also, see: Godzilla.

3) Director Gareth Edwards has recently been attached to helm an “untitled Star Wars project.” With operation total secrecy expertly and indefinitely locked in the bag on everything Star Wars movies related, one secret did recently get out: a future Star Wars movie may be even luckier to have Gareth Edwards as its director than Gareth Edwards is lucky to be able to direct a Star Wars movie. If Godzilla’s promise is any indication, this is an outstanding choice.

4) I am not sure when it is going to come and Godzilla is certainly not it (this is by no means a bad thing – the character performance stakes are just a little lower in a movie about a fictionalized monster), but I have a strong premonition that Elizabeth Olsen is going to have an iconic film performance at some point in her career. She has something undeniably unique and compelling going on as an actor and with the right character/director/writer combination may have the talent to deliver something really special.

5) Godzilla is a movie that executes its mission (a summer escape, a chance to see cool looking monsters that destroy things, a platform for  Bryan Cranston to reinvent himself post Walter White) with a confidence, artistry, and intrigue not often reserved for the modern summer blockbuster. Although littered with characters built from traditional stock and a little darker (as in lighting and mood) than necessary, Godzilla entertains (and decimates property and other monsters in its path!) most responsibly.


1) My X-Men movie journey is very similar to my at-large X-Men journey. Throughout my life, X-Men has always been a franchise, a concept, and a group of action figures to play with that I enjoy and indulge in on extended breaks from Batman. Although they adequately fill the gaps during forced vacations from Gotham City, rarely do Professor Xavier’s crew of mutant super outcasts stand tall against Batman’s human awesomeness. With Batman and Robin and director Joel Schumacher defecating on Batman, the moviegoing experience, and human decency in 1997the X-Men had been handed their cinematic window to makes some dents in Batman’s armored nipples. Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was a passable franchise welcoming (this does not include anything to do with the mistreatment of Halle Berry’s Storm character nor the CGI budget limitations that make its production value seem much closer to a movie released in 1990). X2 (2003) was a revelatory leap forward and stands up well to this day (the bigger budget and everything to do with Nightcrawler were significant contributors). By the time the inferior and belabored X-Men: The Last Stand rolled out in 2006, Christopher Nolan had just given Batman an exceptional new cinematic restart (Batman Begins in 2005), and the X-Men franchise had to re-mutate again. One attempted genetic experiment was resoundingly anti-climatic – besides the estate of Hugh Jackman, I am not sure there are too many people who have benefitted in any way from the Wolverine movies (their complete lack of pop cultural impact is really telling). 2011’s X-Men: First Class had the opposite effect. Set in 1962 and infused with a nostalgic charm by director Matthew Vaughn, First Class expertly told the X-Men origin story of young Professor Xavier and Magneto through the brilliant chemically balanced performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (although a little too miscast as Raven/Mystique, it never hurts to have Jennifer Lawrence on your team). If First Class rebooted and restarted the X-Men mythos in the best of ways, X-Men: Days of Future Past was an opportunity to tie the two X-Men time periods (and actors thereof) into one elegant through-story. The resulting movie, again with Bryan Singer at the helm and again buttressed between two Batman movie franchises, conveniently resets the events of the past movies by creating an entirely new history (popular deceased characters can now have new life in future movies), but unfortunately works to both cheapen what was good about the original three movies and the goodwill brought on by X-Men: First Class. Time travel is the trickiest of fantasy tropes. Mind-blowing is palatable if there is some restraint (this is why I am so stoked for Interstellar and why Inception worked so well – thanks again Christopher Nolan). X-Men: Days of Future Past does not show as much restraint as it could (everything seems awfully convenient, especially the premise that Jackman’s Wolverine is the perfect candidate to take the journey) and the result is a lot of sloppy and imprecise filmmaking (the anti-Usual Suspects).

2) I am thrilled for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s onscreen chemistry and offscreen professional and personal relationship that has grown from their time together on the first movies, but after seeing Fassbender and McAvoy again do their young Erik and Charles thing, there is nothing quite like it. I could sit and watch these two play a board game together or model vintage fashion and it would be mesmerizing (it’s a good thing because these opportunities come up throughout DoFP).

3) If you have seen any of Peter Dinklage’s work on Game of Thrones, you immediately recognize two things – he is a superior actor and you want to see him perform more. I thought that Dr. Bolivar Trask, the sentinel’s Dr. Frankenstein lobbyist, would be the perfect dichotomized bad guy for Dinklage’s talents to shine. Sadly, Trask is written poorly and without a desired amount of ethical and psychological depth. Dinklage is wonderful so not all is disappointing, but this is a lost opportunity to showcase the full extent of Dinklage’s brilliance.

4) For her second straight movie release (I see you, American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence has played a part she was not born to play. The weight of her movie superstardom and talent may even at times be more of a detriment than of a benefit. You know she is capable of such incredible things, so when her Raven character is given such choppy dialogue and inconsequential and confusing motives, you are left feeling as blue her full-body suit.

5) X-Men: Days of Future Past is a movie with epic, interstellar storytelling ambition that too often feels grounded to Earth. It is too many things all at once such that what it really needs to be – thoughtful, provocative, compelling – fails to fully develop. The future scenes are action-sequence pleasure, but of little care or consequence. The past scenes from the 70s are fogged by a blurry dedication to external realism over internal truth.

Interstellar Trailer – It’s about saving the world

Before yesterday, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar had been cloaked in an introspective veil of plotted ambiguity and fantastical anticipation. Sure, there was this deeply moving yet enigmatic and largely indecipherable teaser about the pioneering destiny of humankind. Although certainly more than just alright (alright, alright), we only gained some awareness of the stakes (expectedly monumental) without learning a mere Hans Zimmer epic musical moan and groan about the terms of engagement.

This has now all changed. The newly released first Interstellar trailer paints a broad brush of its picture (I am sure Nolan has intentionally left out many of the finest details) and of Matthew McConaughey’s (the year of!) protagonist journey. Watch here:

As a true believer in the “In Nolan We Trust” school of cinematic consumption, I may refrain from future preview iterations in order to best preserve my mythologized first watch on opening night in November. For now, these slightly more than two minutes of content leave me delightfully content and give me the following beautiful nuggets to consider:

– I may need to sure up my Murphy’s Law understanding.

– Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper character may be a well-educated man and an engineer, but he is no trained pilot.

– In the world of Interstellar, the Earth has enough planes and televisions to match its desired inventory levels. Food is another story.

– Professor Michael Caine will ask us to confront realities about the limitations of our solar system. Cooper believes Nolan picture favorite Caine has a plan to “save the world.”

– “We are not meant to save the world. We are meant to leave it.”

– McConaughey’s Cooper will be back for his kids, but must go on this mission first to save them.

– “We must reach far-beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals, but as a species. We must confront the reality of Interstellar travel.” Yessir.

My confrontation has officially begun.

Who’s in “Star Wars: Episode VII?”

Finally…finally the principal members of Star Wars: Episode VII have been announced. Beyond the returning stalwarts from Episodes IV-VI, we don’t yet know what characters the new people are playing, but after years of speculation, any intel out of J.J. Abrams camp is a good thing. May the internet snarky opinion bonanza begin!














Steven Spielberg directing “The BFG”

Steven Spielberg’s next directing gig has been announced as Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, The BFG. This story about a “Big, Friendly Giant” was one of the few Roald Dahl stories that did not espouse immediate nightmares (the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains the scariest movie I have ever seen). Steven Spielberg directing a beloved children’s novel? Yes, please.