Today’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a special one for me because Jess Reedy summoned me to huddle with Barry Hardymon, Katie Pressley, and host Stephen Thompson on The Goldfinch — John Crowley’s new film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt that remains far afield of my usual bailiwicks of fisticuffs and rocketships. Plus I get to shout out Meow Wolf, perhaps the highlight of my visit to New Mexico last week.
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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.
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.
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 am chuffed to be back on the iHeartRadio Podcast Award-nominated Pop Culture Happy Hour this week to discuss Glass, fallen auteur M. Night Shyamalan's joint sequel to 2000's Unbreakable and 2017's Split. It isn't very good, but the movie has an anachronistic quality that's sort of... sweet. While it's made explicitly clear—every damn thing in this movie is explained and re-re-re-explained—that Glass is set 19 years after Unbreakable, Shyamalan acts as though superhero comics haven't become Hollywood's No. 1 source of grist during the back half of that period. (In the years since Unbreakable, we've seen three different A-list actors play The Incredible Hulk, for chrissakes.)
A goodly portion of those films have featured Samuel L. Jackson, who, to be fair, looks like he's having at least as much fun sitting in a wheelchair staring into the middle distance in Glass as he does when he's cashing another check as Nick Fury. After his brief return to acting in both Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson's Looper back in 2012, I'd hoped maybe Bruce Willis would deign to open his eyes again, but no such luck. And the movie's top-billed star continues to perform his solo show Scares Ahoy with James McAvoy.
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.
We had to do a Pop Culture Happy Hour discussion of Die Hard because it’s holiday time and because the beloved classic turned 30, uh, back in July and because we just had to. I thought I was being punk’d when I got the invitation but I’m so glad it was real. This was the awkward Christmas Eve holiday party/attempted spousal reconciliation I’ve been waiting to be invited to since I was 11 years old. Yippie kai yay, podcast lovers. (My punishingly long Die Hard Dossier 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.