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July 2019

Euphoria: A Technicolor Trip to the Teenage Wasteland

Respectfully, I called it.

When Netflix canceled the sweet, innocent coming-of-age series Everything Sucks!, I looked at the known projects actress Sydney Sweeney was attached to at the time (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, HBO’s Sharp Objects, and a little movie set in 1969 Hollywood from Quentin Tarantino) and said Netflix would regret letting her get away.

Netflix famously doesn’t release its viewership numbers. But if you listen closely you can probably hear the sobbing from outside their offices. And she’s not even the named star of HBO’s Euphoria. Zendaya, who made the great Spider-Man: Far from Home even better with her wit, is our Virgil in this little walk through the hell of the teenage years.

She plays the improbably named Rue, a teenager who may be bipolar but is definitely a drug addict from a young age, and there are all sorts of fan theories that Rue is dead and narrated from beyond the grave.

My advice? Don’t overthink it. Watch it as a teenager might live it — experience it in the moment. Yes, there will be a lot more sightings of the nude male body than you’d expect from a “teen drama,” but it barely makes a dent in the nudity disparity of show business. But if flashing lights are an issue for you, watch something else. (Seriously.)

When we meet Rue, she’s fresh out of rehab after an overdose — her little sister found her, and yes, that has repercussions — and she has no intentions of remaining sober. Then she meets Jules, a trans girl played by newcomer and real-life trans model Hunter Schafer, and the sort of instant chemistry only found in teenage years sparks into a peculiar, tentative, frightened and frightening, and magical romance.

Rue’s issues, we’ve already discussed. Jules’ issues involve hooking up with older men who swear they’re not gay but invariably find her on gay dating apps. And one of them (played by Eric Dane) turns out to be the father of one of Jules’ new classmates — and one of the wealthiest men in town. Oh, and the son is a case study in whatever privileged young white male sociopath just got away with a horrible crime, probably sexual in nature, whenever you read this. Those are just a third of regular cast.

Some have stories we’ve not begun to explore, so I’m glad HBO has ordered a second season. Maude Apatow (daughter of filmmaker Judd Apatow and his wife, actress Leslie Mann) plays the younger sister of Sydney Sweeney’s character, maybe the one level-headed character on the entire show, and all we know about her is that she seems to be in love with Rue.

There are two drug dealers — a dropout in his early 20s and his well-read but trashtalking little brother who may be pre-adolescent — who could probably carry a series of their own. Barbie Ferriera’s work as Kat — a budding webcam girl — is breaking the new boundaries in the portrayal of plus-sized women and their sexuality that Lena Dunham likes to think she did, minus the insufferable factor.

Where are the parents? Well, Rue and her sister are children of a single mother who works hard. Cass and Lexi (Sweeney and Apatow) are daughters of a single mother who drinks hard. Eric Dane’s menacing statutory rapist character is waking up to the fact that his son is a true monster in the making. And the drug-dealing brothers are caring for a grandmother at home who seems to be virtually comatose.

The show’s dark. But sometimes it’s wickedly funny: There’s a fourth-wall breaking sequence in the second episode in which Rue discusses the rules for nude male selfies, let’s say, that is shocking and raw and hilarious, and probably got her key card to the Disney Studios deactivated.

A more recent episode found her in a manic state, obsessing over her relationship with Jules and coming to all sorts of plausible but wrong conclusions, donning an outfit like a 1930s police detective (suspenders, dress shirt, fedora, cigarette) and towing Lexi around as her junior partner. That bit of costume play could have been right at home on the sort of tween fare where Zendaya got her start, though it would have been a lollipop or Twizzler as the prop instead of a cigarette.

The 3:45 a.m. phone call to the long-suffering friend would have been the capstone in either situation, along with the friend finally hanging up. But then there’s the moment where medicine bottles in a comatose woman’s bedroom become animated and start telling Rue to open them up and take all the pills. And the finale looks like it’s going to have a true-to-life discussion about an unwanted pregnancy (I’m not saying whose, but it isn’t Rue’s) that may not end with the happy “I’m keeping the baby” or “I’m giving it up for adoption” moment you’d find if Nick or Disney ever went there.

The actors’ and actresses’ work with creator Sam Levinson (son of director Barry Levinson) has created a searingly intimate look at the teenage years with characters who are as close to the performers as their skin. At least a couple of the performers say in post-show segments that their characters are based on their own experiences (Ferriera, Schafer). So while there is an element of “freak out the parents” here — a bit of the “cautionary tale” baked into the recipe — there’s also some hope even at the bleakest moments.

Because some of the people telling these stories have survived as bad or worse. That’s something, at least.


Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

Guest Voices: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

"In this town, it can all change, like that."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino's love letter to a bygone era of movie stardom. It's indulgent, but also complex and fascinating, and offers an utterly unique experience for those willing to embrace its meandering charms.

It looks at two men who embody the dichotomy of Hollywood, and tells a fractured fairytale about the city of dreams with a blend of fact and fiction. It's Tarantino's warmest movie since Jackie Brown.

It's also a kinder, gentler film than one would expect from the master of gut-wrenching graphic violence and bloodshed. It's imperfect, erratic and even infuriating at times. But it is nearly impossible not to love.

Tarantino has a reputation of being a man of many intense passions, but this is the stuff he really cares about, we can clearly see and feel that in every single scene, and it inspires some of his most quietly effective filmmaking.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino found an ideal project to focus his fixations, fantasies, fetishes, and concoct a brilliant recipe of Hollywood fairytale. One of the best part of the movie is that it forgoes telling us how much Tarantino loves films, and simply lets us feel it, almost like being on a ride of 1969 Hollywood Boulevard with him.

Talking about the actors involved, Brad Pitt has one of the coolest movie roles he's yet played, Leonardo DiCaprio gets to show off all manner of acting chops, and Margot Robbie gets to enjoy pretending to be the Sharon Tate we never got to see.

It's also a heavyweight acting match between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. If it were up to me, I would hand the belt to Pitt, along with an early Oscar nomination. Their whole dynamic, which was beautiful and brotherly, reminded me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now that's a heavy comparison!

It's funny, sad, perversely nostalgic, and it's Tarantino's obsessive ode to a lost Hollywood era that's packed with visual verve, pop-culture riffs and cinematic pleasures.

It's both the most and least Tarantino film in a very long time. 


Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. FacebookInstagramIMDB.

Mars is back and shining brighter than ever

I grew up a Nancy Drew fan. I graduated from the Berenstein Bears to Nancy's mysterious exploits at age seven, because my mom pulled down her box of canvas-bound editions and gave them to me. I was hooked, even if they used weird words I had to go look up like "titian" and Nancy was always getting captured and needed her boyfriend or father to save her. Hey, it was the fifties.

So when I say that Veronica Mars is the heir apparent to Nancy Drew, you should know that it's a high compliment.

I did not believe I was the target demographic for the show when it premiered, being significantly out of high school. And yet the strong writing, great acting, snappy dialogue and fun stories interposed with enough real drama to tug at the heartstrings kept me hooked all the way through the first two seasons. The third season stumbled a bit, and then came the axe of cancellation.

The movie was... disappointing. It was clearly a message to Hollywood that the fans raised $5.7 million to bring Veronica back to life, but I wish we had gotten a movie worthy of Kristen Bell and her compatriots. It says something that while I remember the season arcs of S1, S2 and S3 nearly perfectly, I had to go look up reviews of the movie, which at 107 minutes was barely long enough to count as a two-part episode.

So I'm happy to say that S4 is a wonderful return to our favorite detective. Veronica is working with her father again. Wallace is teaching at the high school. Logan has become James Bond - er, Naval Intelligence, swooping in and out of Veronica's life in a manner befitting their mutual social shortcomings. (As usual, played by the eternally underappreciated Jason Dohring. Someone give this guy a leading part, because he can burn down buildings.)

The sheriff is a pain in the ass. The rich people in town are obnoxious and corrupt. And there's a murderer afoot.

In short, welcome back to Neptune.

I found the season almost as compelling as S1, binging through it in a couple of days. And since S1 of Veronica Mars is practically the template for which binging was invented, that says a great deal. With Veronica, it's not often about whodunit, but how we get there, and there were just enough twists to keep me entertained even though I saw the villain coming (and the final twist, which apparently has people screaming). 

Flaws: I miss Wallace. Oh, he's there, but his role as a teen was to be Veronica's conscience, a snarky Jiminy Cricket to keep her from getting too deep in her own head and messed-up traumas. He's barely there in this season, and the role of Veronica's Conscience is played by... Logan? Okay, I actually prefer the James Bond Logan to the angry, scary-violent possessive jerk we've seen before, but Logan does not serve as anyone's conscience, ever.

Also, I didn't find it a flaw, but please remember that Veronica Mars is now a streaming-service show on Hulu. And boy, do they enjoy not being subject to network censors or the restrictions of underage actors. Bamp-chicka-bamp-bamp.

Fortunately, Keith and Veronica still have the single best father-daughter relationship on television. (Fight me.) They have the kind of loving, friendly, honest-with-flaws affection we'd all love to strive for with our offspring, once they grow up and become humans. I might add that Enrico Collatoni joins Jason Dohring in the "eternally underappreciated actor" field, as his ability to break my heart with facial expressions has not dimmed with the passing of years.

This season was so much fun that I found myself nostalgic for S1 again, and so I have been replaying the old episodes in my spare time. Now I've gotten my husband hooked, and I'll be restarting another binge, so I have to fun of watching him solve the murder of Lily Kane. (Shhh, nobody tell him.)

Some of the reviewers got a little snide, asking if we really need more Veronica Mars now that Kristen Bell isn't Nancy Drew age anymore. Shut up, reviewers. There is fun on the dark side of thirty, thank you, and if S4 is an example of what they can do with the grownups, I'd like to see several more, thank you. Welcome back, Veronica.


Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at

Another roar at Pride Rock

There is almost nothing new about The Lion King.

But you should still go see it.

One of the big attractions from this sort-of-live-action remake (we'll get to that in a minute) was the inspired casting. Donald Glover and Beyonce inherit the claws of our leading lions with grace, and in both acting and singing, they roar with the best of them. It was only fitting that James Earl Jones was the returning cast member, as no one in the world could follow in his paw-steps as Mufasa. John Kani can't be the ghost of Robert Guillaume and fortunately he doesn't try. Alfre Woodard is a dignified and intense Sarabi, and while Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan really can't match Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, they do Timon and Pumbaa proud. And John Oliver is inspired casting as Zazu.

The only one who suffers is Scar, which surprised me as Chiwetel Ejiofor is no slouch at all to being quietly menacing (as all Firefly fans know). Perhaps it's simply that Jeremy Irons' voice is impossible to follow, or perhaps it's that his big number, "Be Prepared," is the only one to get a major rewrite and they should have left it alone. Supposedly Benedict Cumberbatch turned down the role, which might've been interesting to hear with his sinister bass, but I'm not sure anyone could have resolved the mishmash that they made of "Be Prepared." (Rumor has it the number was going to be left out entirely due to the Nazi metaphor from the animated version, but people threw fits, so they worked it in even thought Chiwetel really can't sing, and excised the metaphor, and yeah, it's a mess.)

But you should still go see it. New-Lion-King-trailer-2

The biggest problem with the new Lion King is actually a problem all the other live-action remakes have managed to avoid: it's too much the same movie as the 1994 blockbuster that changed Disney forever. Love them or loathe them (and for me it's a mixed bag), the live-action remakes have each brought something new to the story. 

Cinderella gave its heroine more of a backbone and a greater connection to Prince Charming, as well as a motivation and history with the Evil stepmother. Beauty and the Beast solved some of those irksome plot holes from the animated version, like why the entire kingdom forgot it had a prince, why all the poor servants were cursed too, what happened to Belle's mom, and so on. Aladdin attempted to resolve some of the queasy stereotypes from the original animated and turned much of the plot on its ear, resulting in Jasmine's rise as the true protagonist of the story and shifting away from "will they or won't they get married" as the primary conflict. (Also, "Speechless" is as kickass an empowerment song as "Let it Go" or "How Far I'll Go." Fight me.)

Lion King doesn't do any of that. There are a few hints at a backstory we never see, a long-ago love triangle between Sarabi, Mufasa and Scar, which would add a little nuance and malice to Scar's actions and tie it closer to the Shakespearean source material... if we ever got to see it. Unfortunately it's just a few throwaway lines, and then we're back to a shot-for-shot remake of the original.

But you should still go see it.

Why go see an allegedly "live-action" remake that is so utterly faithful it practically copies the camera angles from an animated film from 25 years ago? When you probably saw it in the theater, bought the clamshell VHS, bought the Gold Collection DVD, and now probably have it on Blu-ray as well? When you grew up singing its songs and taught them to your kids? Why see a slavishly-faithful remake that takes zero chances with the story that made Disney nearly $1 billion in unadjusted dollars on a $45 million investment? 

Because it is, quite simply, the most amazing visual achievement in cinema I can ever recall seeing in a theater.

We all know lions don't sing or dance, right? I mean, I'm pretty sure on that point. I am less sure after watching The Lion King in its current iteration, and when I saw that the production crew thanked the staff of Animal Kingdom, I wondered if they were training the critters at night and just telling us this is CGI.

It was simply impossible to tell that I was watching a CGI-animated film, which was initially billed as "live-action" and then was mocked relentlessly until Disney quietly dropped that line from the promo. It's a fair point; it's still animation, just a very different kind than the ground-breaking visual style that ushered in Lion King in 1994. 

Even though the entire opening sequence is an homage to the original, shot for shot and moment for moment, I found myself gaping at the screen as CultureGeek Jr. and I marveled at the amazing state of the art that created this film. Visually it was an astounding piece of artwork, bringing lions and hyenas and antelope to life before our eyes, making them sing and talk without a hint of silliness, and all in the shadow of what appears to be Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

The Lion King was never my favorite of the Disney Renaissance, but it's always been a fun movie that shaded a little darker and more adult than its predecessors. It's Hamlet with lions, and the very few changes by director Jon Favreau don't change that.

And yet I still tell you to go see it.  If you didn't like the original, you won't find anything new here. If you liked the original, you'll probably like this one. But it also represents an amazing new state of the art in filmmaking, and while I wish they'd have brought something new to the tale of Simba and his compatriots, I tip my hat to the artists who drew this new picture for us.

Toy Story Kid

When I found out a fourth installment of the Toy Story franchise was confirmed by Pixar, I was actually somewhat disappointed. Growing up watching the Toy Story movies, or growing up with any franchise for that matter, automatically makes it a little more special.

I LOVED how they chose to end Toy Story 3, with Woody and Andy physically saying goodbye to each other. It was perfect, it was emotional, it was impactful, and it was the absolute perfect way to end the franchise that revolutionized film animation as we know it.

I felt a fourth movie was unnecessary. It’s not like Disney or Pixar is short on money, and the third one ended perfectly, so why force a fourth one? Then I saw the teaser that literally just showed the main characters dancing around in a circle in slow motion, and at the very end showed this new “spork” guy.

I was weak. Just seeing the characters again, hearing that old Randy Newman song again, I was sold. Toy-story-4x750_0

After seeing the movie, I realize why Pixar wanted to make a fourth. There are new characters introduced, and there are old characters and relationships that they wanted to examine and explore.

Of course, the number one way to an audience’s heart is nostalgia, and there’s plenty of it. Pixar is known for putting props from other movies in the backgrounds of other movies. The restaurant Pizza Planet is originally from the first Toy Story, but it has shown up in the background of Cars, The Incredibles, Wall-E, and Up. Nostalgia is the best way to please your audience, and make it feel real and remind you of all the wonderful things you remember about the franchise.

One thing that I love about Toy Story 4 – and all the other Toy Storys – is that at least once in every movie, they tackle a psychological (and sometimes dark) dilemma about being a toy that we never thought about. In the first Toy Story, we see Buzz acclimate and become self-aware, realizing that everything he knows is not real, and that the day-to-day life of a toy like him is sometimes not so spectacular. In Toy Story 2, we see Woody realize that he shouldn’t take everything for granted like having a great kid like Andy by his side. And we see Jessie’s side of the story too, being abandoned by her owner, and wanting to be loved.

In Toy Story 3, we see that Andy finally grows up and has to get rid of all the toys, then getting donated to that hellish dimension they call a daycare. One of my absolute favorite moments from Toy Story 3 is when they’re trapped in the garbage fire pit, and they realize this might be the end, so they look around at each other and they all hold hands together as one – absolutely beautiful. And on top of that we get that beautiful goodbye between Woody and Andy.

Toy Story 4 it checks all the boxes for making it a Toy Story movie. It introduces new characters that you learn to know and love, it expands on old characters, it gives us insight on the emotional and psychological aspects about being a toy, and it also has some tearful goodbyes. The best part is that it feels like an old Toy Story movie: it’s got the same vibes, it’s got the same character quirks, it’s got the same look.

It’s a new addition to the franchise, but it doesn’t feel “new.” All the characters and direction make it feel classic.


Ian Smith is a film and theater student in Edwardsville, Illinois. He has grown up with Toy Story and the MCU, and has watched every single one of the Honest Trailers.

Stranger Things: Season 3

I'll be honest: Your Friendly Neighborhood CultureGeek bailed on Stranger Things in the second season. By the scuttlebut running around the internet, it's possible this decision was unwise. 

Still, that means it falls to the Guest Voices to tell us what's going down in Hawkins, Ind. 


David Tyler

In Season 3 of Stranger Things, the people of Hawkins face the most terrifying horror yet. Not Demogorgons, Mind Flayers, or various supernatural inter-dimensional beasts (although there are those as well), but something far more hideous: hormonal teenagers!

Like many shows that feature children as a part of the cast, Stranger Things has to decide how to handle the simple fact of the cast growing up. Stranger Things elects to lean into that most relatable of early teenage angst: young love. Much of the season is dedicated to the various romantic relationships of the young cast, particularly psychic telekinetic Eleven and her beau, Mike. 

Though the cast is adorable as always, these forays into teenage dating can feel distracting. Luckily, at a trim eight episodes Season 3 does not suffer from the long stretches of filler that plague some Netflix outings (Hi there, Iron Fist!). This season is more action-packed than the previous two, and the episodes zip along quickly.  The show is built for bingeing, as the end of each episode usually has a cliffhanger that demands the next episode be viewed NOW. 

As a show whose initial hook was 80s nostalgia, Season 3 ramps up the 80s culture to an almost absurd degree. Central to this is the new Starcourt Mall, ground zero for your 80s fix this season. Inside the mall, the discerning 80s connoisseur can find a bewildering array of 80s stores, foods, and fashion, from Waldenbooks to Orange Julius to that ungodly big hair that 80s culture apparently demanded as some sort of entrance fee. People of an, ahem, certain age will squee in delight the first time the interior of the mall is shown. (Yes, I am of that age, and yes, I squeed.)

Overall, the plot of the season moves along well, as the obligatory monsters are discovered and dealt with. The breakout star this season is clearly Maya Hawke as Robin, who spends most of the season with Steve, her Scoops Ahoy coworker, with whom she has loads of chemistry. Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrave, who had a smaller role in Season 2, is featured in Season 3 and does not disappoint. He is arresting on screen; my teenage daughter rather disturbingly describes him as a "thirst trap."

DownloadOf course, I have questions. Can someone explain to me why the people of Hawkins are still, well, there? People are dying and odd paranormal events have been occurring, but the good people of Hawkins are still going about their business, getting ready for their July 4th party like everything is perfectly normal. Still, I suppose they could have bought the government coverup. 

Less believable is the fact that throughout the season, the cast, split into various groups, each gets a piece of the main picture, yet does not come together immediately.  As soon as anyone that knows what has really been happening in Hawkins comes across the slightest oddity, especially gross Mind Flayer-adjacent ones, they should gather up the whole gang. Instead, everyone has their own little adventures that only converge in the finale. It strains credulity nearly to the breaking point, though not beyond.

With Season 3, Stranger Things is growing up. More mature storylines and pairings take the place of Dungeons and Dragons, which while causing a slight "loss of innocence" feeling, seems the proper way for this show to evolve. However, it has not lost its sense of fun, making it a superlative show that stands out from the streaming crowd. It's worth every second.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the song in the last episode. The kid in you will scream in joy. (Yes, I screamed.  No, I am not ashamed.)


Jason Tippitt

Stranger Things 3 charges full-speed ahead into the dangerous world that was looming at the end of the second edition of this series: puberty.

It’s 1985, and the quartet of boys who started this series are now keeping company with 2.5 girls. (Mike’s dating Eleven, Lucas is still dating Max, and Dustin returns from camp with tales of a girl named Suzie who’s “hotter than Phoebe Cates” but lives out of state.) Will, for his part, just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons like the old days.

There’s a lot to love about this season: the arrival of actress Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as Steve’s fellow mall ice cream server Robin and the expanded role for Lucas’s younger sister Erica are just a couple of highlights. But the more mobile lifestyle of teens gives us a new, colorful set in the Starcourt Mall, and the anxieties of first love allow us new insights to these characters, particularly when Mike and Eleven hit a speed bump in their relationship and turn to Lucas and Max, respectively, for advice.

(Cue the mall makeover scene for El, scored to Madonna’s “Material Girl.” With the guys … there’s some belch- and fart-derived humor. It’s a miracle we ever made it out of the trees.)

It was great, by the way, to see Max (Sadie Sink) fully integrated with the gang after being introduced last season … and even better to see Max and El becoming thick as thieves after Eleven’s initial jealousy last season (when El was isolated from the boys most of the season).

I’m on board with some critics’ complaints that the season’s Big Bad is lacking in originality or a clear purpose. And that the Little Bad that gets us there — though timely — has the same shortcoming. But I’m not sure I care. I’d rather have the magnificent character moment between Steve “The Hair” Harrington and Robin “Girl He Overlooked in High School” Last Name Eludes Me in episode 7 than watch a villain give a grand speech, to be honest.

My only two complaints are that the writers seem to have trouble finding things for Nancy and Jonathan, Mike and Will’s older siblings, to do now that they’re a couple as of Stranger Things 2, and that we got virtually no time re-establishing the status of Max’s relationship with her older stepbrother Billy for him to be such a major character this season.

Dacre Montgomery gives a standout performance that made me care about Billy, a character whom I’d deemed after season 2 to have few redeeming qualities, but he does so in virtual isolation from the rest of the teen cast for all but two episodes. The Duffer Brothers seem to have at least one more installment in them, based on the post-credits teaser in the final episode, and Netflix’s rare statement about just how big a viewership tuned in for this season would seem to suggest they appreciate what they’ve got here.

I’m on this ride as long as they keep it going.


David Tyler is a lifelong aficionado of all things geeky, ranging from Star Trek to chess. He carries his Infinity Stones everywhere he goes. 

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

Roundtable: Spider-man: Far From Home

It's the 23rd movie in the Marvel Saga (though that's only if you don't go back to Howard the Duck, and what monster would do that?). It made $185 million in its loooooooong launch weekend, instantly vaulting to No. 5 on this year's box office and... No. 163 in all-time worldwide box office. Or something. 

But was it good? The CultureGeeks are here to help you out! At least those that saw the movie opening weekend. (It's not like we have lives.)

Note: This review has spoilers for Avengers: Endgame! If you are among the 0.00005 percent of the moviegoing population that hasn't seen it yet.... what in the name of Thanos are you waiting for? It's out on Blu-ray in a month!


David Tyler

Spider-Man: Far From Home is an entry unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Since early in what Marvel calls Phase 1 we have had movies that, while servicing the heroes they they are ostensibly about, have also had the task of increasing the MCU's interconnection and moving the overarching story (i.e. Thanos and the Infinity Stones) forward. 

Far From Home, however, has a different assignment: mop-up duty.  You may be forgiven for thinking a movie named Endgame would be the last entry in the Phase 3 story arc, but officially it is Far From Home that wraps up the current MCU storyline. 

Spider-Man, for all his cultural relevance and comic history, is ultimately low-stakes amid the cosmic gravitas of MCU entries Spider-mansuch as Captain Marvel, Thor, or Guardians of the Galaxy.  This low-wattage power level makes Spidey the perfect vehicle for exploring the aftermath of Thanos's snap, or the "Blip" as the people of Earth have apparently begun calling the five-year disappearance of half the world's population. 

As we follow Peter Parker and friends (nearly all of which were conveniently "blipped" away and brought back) through their European science trip we get to see the evidence of Endgame's consequences, from broken-down neighborhoods to the near-universal mourning of Tony Stark.  It is Peter's relationship with Stark, and trying to live up to Stark's legacy, which drives the plot of Far From Home, and also gives it emotional heft.

Of course, this is an MCU movie, so the usual action set pieces abound, all of which are just as amazing as we have come to expect from Marvel.  The cast does their usual outstanding job. Tom Holland continues to be the best Spider-man shown on screen, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is always enjoyable, the rest of the kids on Peter's trip are all interesting, and so on. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition as new hero(?) Mysterio, but the clear MVP of Far From Home is Zendaya as MJ, Peter's erstwile love interest and sarcastic ninja. Zendaya is absolutely magnetic on screen and steals every scene she is in. Honestly, there are times when when Far From Home feels like a MJ movie, and everyone else should just be happy to be along for the ride.

So, is Spider-Man: Far From Home the best Marvel movie yet?  No, that is still far and away Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You can easily make the case, however, that it is the best Spider-Man movie ever, which is no small praise.  Moving forward, the MCU will undoubtedly find stories that are galaxy-spanning in scope, but for now, Spider-Man: Far From Home stands as a fitting, Earthbound coda to the story we have all been following for the past decade.


Jason Tippitt

At last, I managed to see a Marvel movie unspoiled. Spider-Man: Far From Home kinda spoils the audience, though, in a different way: the “spoiling the grandchildren” sense of the verb because after Captain Marvel and Endgame, Marvel could have coasted to the end of Phase III. Instead, we get this delightful European pastry of a movie.

Tom Holland and Zendaya light up the screen any time they’re together, the first cinematic Spider-pairing to really make me think “iconic screen duo.” I kinda want to see them age into doing Thin Man movies together, or playing Rob and Laura Petrie, with other stops on the way to doing On Golden Pond together a few decades after I’m gone. The various layers of this movie’s plot are full of humor and heart, from best friend Ned’s work to preserve Peter’s secret identity to the teen romances on the class trip to Europe, from Aunt May and Happy Hogan’s charity work together to the new odd couple pairing of Peter Parker and Nicholas J. Fury.

The movie’s heavy topic of legacy in the wake of Iron Man’s death in Endgame is a factor the trailers may have overemphasized. The complex special effects magic in some of the second-half fight scenes were too good — stunning, fast-paced, of “this is how it looked in my mind when I read the comics but I just didn’t know that” quality — to put in the trailers and I’m glad The Powers That Be at Sony kept them close to their vest.

The tag scenes at the end of the movie don’t just open windows to new possibilities — they knock down the entire wall between us and them. Marvel’s keeping very quiet about whether there’s even a Phase 4 as such developing, and anything could happen. “Anything can happen” is a feeling I used to have when reading comic books. But the same people kept dying and coming back, turning evil and then reforming or vice versa, and the four-colored pages lost some charm. How odd that the corporate world of film — forced to contend with actors and actresses who age and start wanting to do other things — would be the place where I’d rediscover that thrill as this franchise starts doing unexpected things because it’s way too soon to think about recasting any roles that have been vacated.

The streak won’t last forever. They never do. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still an exciting place to be, and Spider-Man and company make it seem like a lot of fun when you’re not blinking out of existence for years at a time.

P.S. Peter’s classmate Betty (Angourie Rice) should do amateur video news recaps for every Marvel movie from now on.


Jim Gillentine

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can!

How does Marvel Studios follow up Avengers: Endgame? One of best, if not the best comic-book movies in the MCU? They follow it up with the fun and witty Spider-Man: Far From Home, which has some very big shoes to fill after Endgame.

Far From Home picks up not long after the ending of Endgame, and centers around Peter Parker trying to deal with the fact that his hero Tony Stark is dead. Peter feels that it’s his job to somehow become the next Ironman. Meanwhile, he is trying to have fun on a European trip with his classmates and leave the hero stuff behind in New York. But Nick Fury and the strange new hero in town called Mysterio are determined to get him to help them stop a new threat.

As my wife is fond of saying, wackiness ensues.

As much as I enjoyed Endgame, I have to say that I really had a lot more fun watching Far From Home. I guess because Far From Home is a fun, upbeat movie, whereas Endgame finished with a serious and incredibly sad but hopeful ending.

Tom Holland has done a wonderful job capturing the spirt of a young Peter Parker trying to fit in a larger world beyond being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and the burden it can place on someone so young. Zendaya is wonderful as MJ with her snark and comebacks. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Mysterio, and you can tell he was enjoying the part.

But my favorite character is always Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Although he provides some of the best laughs in the film, he also has the best scene in the movie, as he and Peter Parker are talking about Tony Stark and Peter’s place in his legacy.

The effects of Infinity War and Endgame's snap are part of the story and it shows the impact it has had on the world, but I wish more time could have been given to that plot point.

My main gripe about the film is that there is a lot of footage in the trailers that did not make the movie. The scene with Iron-Spider fighting the crooks and joking with the cops isn’t there, nor the scenes of Peter getting his passport. I know this happens all the time, but when it looks like a cool scene, I look forward to seeing it in the film and it is a little bit of a letdown when it’s not there.

Still, go check out this movie, you won’t be disappointed and I’m sure you will have a fun time.


Elizabeth Donald

It's hardly an easy task to top the operatic tragedy that was Endgame, and fortunately Far From Home doesn't try. It's a lighthearted entry comparatively speaking, and frankly, we needed a little teen silliness to breathe after the relentless trauma of Endgame.

Far From Home gets a lot of things right. I'm not going to pretend to be anything like the comics aficionado that my fellow CultureGeeks are, so I'm not going to weigh in on the battle of the Spideys or whether Tom Holland is the best to capture both Peter Parker and Spider-man so far. I will agree with the insightful author Keith DeCandido in his take, in that the new Spidey movies capture teenagers as they really act, not as middle-aged screenwriters think they act. (What, you can't read the link? You should subscribe to Keith's Patreon and get his awesome reviews all the time!)

The kids are all right. How about the adults? Well... I have complaints. (Don't I always?) One of my major complaints is completely wiped out by the end credits scene. so stay to the end. What's that you say - you're well-trained by Marvel and you know to stay to the end? Apparently some people still haven't gotten the memo after more than 20 freaking movies, because I see them filing out of the theater and I just want to tackle them shouting, "Don't you know there's MORE?" But I'd like to be allowed to return to my cineplex, so I restrain myself with muttering.

Another of my complaints has been addressed by my fellow reviewers: At least two-thirds of the teaser isn't in the movie. That speaks of some serious re-editing, and while I don't care about watching Peter pack for his trip, I feel cheated by not seeing his battle with the bandits and joshing with the cops. And as for his interaction with Flash, let's just say that if the trailer is funnier than the actual moment, your movie might have issues.

SadpeterThose issues are few, however. It's fun, and loud, and there are action scenes and CGI wackiness and it's predictable as hell, but you knew that coming in. There's a good bit of angst over the passing of Tony Stark, though I agree with some of the complaints that Captain America was just as much of a major name as Iron Man. It makes little sense that Tony's being mourned worldwide, especially since he seems to have hung up the Iron suit for five years before dying, and no one is mourning Cap's apparent demise. (Apparently the others who bit the dust in Endgame were too lacking-her-own-bloody-movie to merit a billboard.)

But we need Peter to mourn, and Tony was his uncle. Oops! I mean, his mentor! See, Holland did a fantastic job playing Peter's grief in Endgame and he matches that performance here. But the writer in me believed that Peter's grief was exacerbated by the loss of Uncle Ben, which is pretty much the gold standard for Motivational Origin Trauma. I mean, Uncle Ben is lying there right next to Bruce Wayne's parents. Now, I've seen written just about everywhere that nobody wants origin stories anymore. So I will sit on my sad, lonely mountain rewatching my origin stories, because I love the different takes on the stories we know. 

So fine, we don't need to actually see Ben die a third (fourth? fifth?) time. But can we acknowledge he exists? Can someone - Aunt May, Peter, anybody - recognize that this is the third quasi-orphaning for Peter, after losing his birth parents and Uncle Ben and now Tony, so he's either going to have serious father figure issues... or desperately search for a replacement father to take their place? (Ahem. No spoilers.) All we got of Ben were his initials on a suitcase, and frankly, I didn't feel that was sufficient. I am, however, used to being alone on my mountain. 

In all, Far From Home was more entertaining than a boxful of puppies, nodded its head to the endless internet yammering over the real-life implications of the Snap ("blip"? really?) and reminded us that these movies are supposed to be fun. Oh, and that technology can do anything the plot wants it to do. 

Stay to the end, kids.


Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at

David Tyler is a lifelong aficionado of all things geeky, ranging from Star Trek to chess. He carries his Infinity Stones everywhere he goes. 

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

Jim D. Gillentine is an author and self-professed comics geek, having immersed himself in four-color prose since the 1970s, and is the biggest Godzilla fan in the western hemisphere. He is currently completing his bachelor's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Website.

Today we celebrate our Independence Day

That's a famous line from a famous speech, and nobody really cares that it's trite and cliche and jingoistic because you just wanna salute President Lonestar and hug him at the same time. I love that movie.

But it's too easy to remember Independence Day (and forget the sequel) or a rousing-yet-historically-questionable flick like The Patriot when mulling appropriate entertainment for the Fourth of July. For some reason, any war movie suddenly becomes a nominee for an Independence Day flick, as though fighting a war means you're automatically full of American spirit. But I wanted to find some movies that showcase what it means to be American, without necessarily defaulting to Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor just because they feature American soldiers.

Sure, you could drag out an old saw like Yankee Doodle Dandy. Or you can enjoy some of these choices from the CultureGeeks, as you hide in the air conditioning and wait for the fireworks. 


Jason Tippitt: Avalon

“I came to America in 1914 - by way of Philadelphia. That's where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn't know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!”

— Sam Krichinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl), in Avalon (1990, written and directed by Barry Levinson)

Avalon_posterAvalon is an essential Fourth of July movie for me because the way it explores the immigration of one European Jewish immigrant and his family as they settle in early 20th century Baltimore captures the best spirit of this country beautifully. It’s an epic movie that feels intimate, drawn from the story of Barry Levinson’s own family history.

Levinson’s semi-autobiographical series began with Diner (1982), continued with Tin Men (1987), and seemed to reach a conclusion with Avalon but evolved from a trilogy to a quartet with Liberty Heights (1999). Each has its charms, as well as some moments that might or might not fly in today’s environment, but Avalon is the one I revisit again and again as I grow older. After all: “If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better” (Sam once more).

Avalon is a time capsule to a time when America’s European immigrant heritage was a more recent, valued memory (except to the people who were dislodged by all those white folks in the first place). Sam Krichinsky, newly arrived in America, sails into Baltimore Harbor on Independence Day in 1914, sees the fireworks, and thinks that it's a welcoming party just for him. The picture, the script, and the score (by Randy Newman!) unite beautifully, time after time after time. And it’s also an almost quaint look at how television’s growing role in the home started the end of real conversation between families … maybe Charlie Brooker could get Netflix to remaster the audio and visual and call this a prequel to Black Mirror.


David Tyler: 1776

When I was asked to come up with a movie for this roundup, at first I was stumped.  All I could come up with was Independence Day.  Admit it, you did too.  However, after visions of exploding White Houses stopped dancing in my brain, I started to actually consider what constitutes "a Fourth of July movie that captures the American Experience"?  For me it has to have three main components. First, it has to actually be set on or around the Fourth of July.  Second, the film has to have uniquely American themes.  Finally, I want some American history in my Fourth of July movie.  Also, catchy musical numbers are a plus. And so I humbly give you 1776.

1776 is a civics lesson that entertains.  You want an American experience?  How about a musical set during the actual birth of the nation? 1776 is the story of the Continental Congress from inside the Continental Congress.  Seeing the Founding Fathers squabble unceasingly about matters big and small (and sing while doing it) is pure magic.  Arguing with each other before making enormous decisions that will rock the entire world sounds pretty American to me.  The cast delivers the chaos of creating a new country completely from scratch on the screen, with loads of laughs along the way.  Of special note here is the performance of Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin, easily the best Franklin ever put on screen. 

However, in the middle of all the good times (and singing!), real issues surrounding America's birth are explored.  We get to watch as the Founders struggle with issues of regionalism, love of country (England, for some, a new America for others), the horrors of war, and of course, the slavery practiced at the time in many of the colonies, particularly those of the south.  The compromises that had to be made in order to bring the Declaration into existence make for powerful stuff, although, yes, there is still singing.

So, for good American holiday fun with a dash of history, a bit of education, and (say it with me) SINGING, give 1776 a try this Fourth.  Of course, if this is not your cup of (Boston Harbor) tea, I am sure Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are ready to blow up alien motherships at a moment's notice.


Elizabeth Donald: Glory 

There are so many films I could choose for a view of the American experience, as hard as that may be to find these days... and my guests already took some of my favorites, particularly Avalon (which carries the dubious honor of being the first movie I ever reviewed for publication back when it was released in 1990).

But if I had to choose, I think this year I would go for Glory. Any film that purports to be "the true story" of anything is subject to immediate slapdown Denzelbecause real life rarely comports itself as we would prefer for maximum film effectiveness. But Glory's real story is remarkably close to the powerful and compelling film by Edward Zwick (with a few notable exceptions). Based on the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, it followed the campaigns of the 54th Massachusetts during the Civil War, one of the first black regiments in the U.S. Army. 

Matthew Broderick is perfectly cast as the walking-privilege commander placed in command of black troops who don't know whether to trust him, and Cary Elwes as his conscience - er, second in command. Morgan Freeman is contractually bound to be the voice of elder wisdom in any movie in which he appears, and a very young Andre Braugher shines as a man who never expected to be a soldier and is absolutely terrible at it, but determined to prove himself.

The standout, of course, is a young Denzel Washington as an escaped slave powered by bitter fury, earned by years of abuse and deprivation. The famous whipping scene was used as his Oscar nomination clip, making it very clear to all watching why he became the first black man to win best supporting actor (and eventually, of course, brought home best actor for Training Day). All the skill and power of one of the finest actors in our pantheon is on display here.

The film itself lost the best picture statuette to Driving Miss Daisy, but if I had been allowed a vote, it would go to Glory. It is simply an incredible film, and can wring a tear from the coldest of hearts. It shows us how far we've come and how far we have to go at the same time, while acknowledging the awful parts of our history and the lessons we should have learned by now. It is too easy for the Fourth to become all about American heroism and inevitable victories; to ignore the sad and dark parts of our history is to do an injustice to those who fought and died to bring us as far as we have come.



Honorable mentions:

• Born on the Fourth of July, which really has nothing to do with Independence Day, but points to the dangers of patriotism married to unquestioning obedience in the story of a Vietnam veteran who becomes disillusioned by the war.

• Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, an almost unabashedly idealistic film with Jimmy Stewart as the original Boy Scout (almost literally except the BSA wouldn't let them use the name) who goes to Congress and finds out they've always been... um, just what we call them on Twitter. #notallcongressmen Amazing acting by Stewart, and designed to make you believe good people can do good things if we just get out of their way. It's hilarious that everyone thinks of it as rosy Capraesque fantasy, but when the movie was in production, the Hays Office nearly shut it down for its controversial view of American government. The real-life Senate railed against it and it was banned in several countries. 

• The Sandlot, nominated for an epic Fourth of July ballgame.

• Jaws, as Bruce the Shark really gets his chomps in during the Fourth of July celebration at Amity Island. The city leaders line up the public to be a hot lunch so they can keep those tourism dollars on the Fourth! What else could be more American?

• Forrest Gump, one of the few movies that is truly much better than the book. It tells us the history of our country in the 20th century through the unlikely eyes of a man with mental handicaps, brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hanks. Its recreations of historic moments coupled with the emotional drama of living through and surviving the turmoil of the mid-century can't be topped by any other film. 

• Captain America: The First Avenger. What, you're not sick of the MCU yet? Cap gets to shine in several movies, but the first one is so chock-full of American spirit that many dismissed it as too idealistic. But that's the real charm of Captain America, as skillfully portrayed by Chris Evans: Everyone thinks he's just too good to be true, but he really is just a kid from Brooklyn. It's his heart that gets him chosen for the magic plot serum, his belief in the equality of everyone and willingness to stand up to bullies, putting others before himself. As CultureGeek Jr. put it when we saw the first movie, Captain America is Superman now that Superman is out to lunch (thanks Zack Snyder). Salute to Cap. 


Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

David Tyler is a lifelong aficionado of all things geeky, ranging from Star Trek to chess. He carries his Infinity Stones everywhere he goes. 

Endgame checkmate

I must sadly inform you that there is really no need for you to run back to the theater for your fifth viewing of Avengers: Endgame.

Look, I love the movie as much as any of you - more, maybe, despite the flaws about which I have argued endlessly on social media. I wrote a media analysis of Fat Thor for my media research class - yes, it was on topic - and ran an opposing view here on this very site. We've all wept for [Character] and [Character], blasted the Spoiler Elves, and saluted our Captain.

No one was under any illusion that the instant re-release of Endgame into theaters was anything but a quick cash grab running for the No. 1 spot. It's not like they were hiding it; the slate as top-grossing movie of all time is a prime marketing tool, even though it's virtually meaningless. I mean, Avatar has held that spot for many years despite being a rather ho-hum film (albeit very pretty). I maintained at the time that Avatar won the top spot because it was the first to require special 3-D glasses and you had to pay extra for them. Yes, kids, there was a time when a ticket was a ticket, and one price fits all.

It's held onto that spot as other records have been broken practically every year. Records break easily in box office because box office is always going up, and because Hollywood and movie theater chains know all sorts of tricks to squeeze more dollars out of our pockets in an era where just about everyone has the ability to watch these movies endlessly at home, so why put up with obnoxious teenagers giggling all the way through the latest Annabelle? 105869314-1556118903883avengers4

But when you adjust for ticket price inflationAvatar isn't even in the top ten. Neither is Endgame, clocking in at No. 17 and two spots behind Avatar. While the original Star Wars ran a good game, no one has yet unseated Scarlett O'Hara as Gone With the Wind still holds the No. 1 spot for biggest box office.

Meaningless or not, the re-release was clearly an attempt to make up the $45 million gap between Endgame and Avatar. As of today it's still $23 million short, and if today's nearly-empty theater is any indication, it will stay that way.

CultureGeek Jr. and I scouted out the re-release with "bonus features" for you, and unless you're just dying (heh) to see the movie again, you can wait for the DVD. As far as we can tell, there were no significant changes made to the movie itself - and we should know after our repeat viewings. (Some writers have said specific scenes were longer; we noticed nothing.)

There is a post-credits memorial to Stan Lee that may cause a sniffle if you still have any heartstrings left after the Endgame final battle. There is a cut scene with unfinished CGI, and not to put too fine a point on it, I can see why it was cut. It's pretty much pointless and adds nothing to emotional or character development, much less plot. This is even more frustrating when you realize that there are six deleted scenes to be included on the DVD, and this is all they gave us?

And there's an end-credits teaser for Spider-man: Far From Home. It's nice and all, but really, nothing we didn't already glean from the other trailers, and since the movie is out now, it hardly seems necessary. 

When this was announced, I thought they would wait on the re-release until a week or two after the Independence Day holiday to avoid competing with themselves: it doesn't really make sense to have Endgame and Spider-man fighting each other for box office. But it turns out it isn't much of a fight; at least in our theater, Endgame showings are mostly empty, and they're waiting in line at the IMAX for Spidey. Sony is expecting $125 million from the six-day holiday stretch for the webslinger, while the industry is expecting $175.

So if you really want to see Endgame again, feel free to shell it out and you'll see the extra footage. But if you've seen it enough by now, you can certainly wait for the DVD. If you're conserving your funds, save it for Spidey. Rumor says that it's... amazing.



SPOILER: One tiny bit of light from the deleted scene that we missed: according to the news, the firefighter in the Hulk's deleted scene is none other than Die Hard's Reginald VelJohnson. Which explains Scott Lang's random Die Hard line mid-movie.