Pop Culture Picks – August 2016

This month: David MacKenzie’s morally grey tale of family ties and Texas rangers, a neon-drenched look at societal narcissism and social media, and a political sci-fi extravaganza courtesy of DC Comics…

You wait ages for a collaborative Movies | TV | Comics article… then two come along at once. At least, that’s how we think the saying goes? To celebrate the end of August, we’ve each selected a piece of pop culture that resonated with us this month. While each pick may not necessarily represent our favorite movie, show or comic released during this period, they’re all certainly worthy of further discussion…


Hell or High Water


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Selected by Jeremy (@SauronsBANE)

The Western is a genre that is as familiar to moviegoers as any other – if you think superhero movies are impossible to escape these days, just take a stroll through the glory days of when Westerns absolutely dominated the film landscape for decades at a time. Arguably, some of the very best Westerns feature no clear-cut heroes and villains…and Hell or High Water, the bright spot of August releases, is no different.

Following the exploits of a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster are both at the top of their game here, with Pine giving the performance of his career) with VERY different motives for doing what they do, the film serves as a 100-minute buildup to their inevitable confrontation with two grizzled Texas ranger veterans, one of whom (a delightfully cranky Jeff Bridges, in exactly the type of role he was born to play) is mere weeks away from retirement.

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If that sounds like the recipe for a standard action-packed, shoot-em-up tale of outlaws squaring off against law enforcement, be prepared for Hell or High Water to subvert this trope at every opportunity it gets. Opting for quietly introspective character moments over guns-blazing action clichés, director David MacKenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan instead take the No Country for Old Men route – crafting a compelling, morally grey thriller with even more relatable and relevant commentary than the highly-regarded Coen brothers Western.

Between trigger-happy vigilante civilians, openly racist sheriffs, and a crime spree that serves as a sharp critique on banking institutions, Hell or High Water is a movie that has far more going on than meets the eye. Indeed, it only seems fitting that this lackluster summer at the theaters is given one last jolt by an intelligent, lowkey, contemplative film with plenty to say.


Nerve


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Selected by Minty (@mintsanity)

To say Nerve was the best new film I watched in August would be a bit of a fib (that honour goes to The Little Prince), but it was the one that stuck with me long after I’d left the theatre. Don’t be put off by the shallow-looking, neon-drenched trailers. It’s actually a rather compelling thriller, featuring a number of set-pieces that ultimately put most of this summer’s overloaded blockbusters to shame.

Nerve‘s greatest strength is also its least endearing quality. It’s authentic. Where many filmmakers have struggled to integrate social media & viral content into their movies without coming across as wildly out-of-touch, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman understand internet culture. They know how ugly it can be — and the lengths to which some people will go to achieve fame, or inflict pain on others for their own amusement. Nerve showcases that, highlighting how obnoxious we’ve become as a society.

Admittedly, the story isn’t quite as deep as I’m making it out to be. Most of the characters are so shallow, it’s hard to find one you truly like. But in an industry obsessed with staging every blockbuster finale around a giant sky beam, Nerve at least offers a more inventive breed of popcorn entertainment.


The Omega Men: The End Is Here


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Selected by Puff (@_staypuffed)

Last year, DC Comics launched a new initiative — labelled DCYou — that put an emphasis on standalone storytelling from talented creators. While it wasn’t a massive financial success, DCYou did produce some of the publisher’s most interesting stories in years. Chief among them: The Omega Men, a dense, richly rewarding sci-fi yarn from writer Tom King, artist Barnaby Bagenda and colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr. (with additional art from Toby Cypress, Ig Guara and Hi-Fi).

The Omega Men centres on a group of terrorists who kidnap White (formerly Green) Lantern Kyle Rayner and lead a rebellion against their sprawling intergalactic government. King’s narrative is littered with political and social allegory, commonly agreed to be commentary on the Middle Eastern conflict. But even separated from that reading, the creators have constructed a deep world, one that a reader can drop straight into without hesitation; while the concept is a modern update on an obscure team from DC’s past, there’s no pre-reading required here.

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The most immediately striking thing about The Omega Men is its approach to visual storytelling. Each issue begins locked in a 9-panel grid; the layout and formatting of every page becomes crucial to the book’s success. Then, within the panels, Bagenda and Fajardo Jr.’s unique styles blend together to create something grizzly, beautiful, and undeniably memorable. Also, a mention should go to Trevor Hutchison, for his gorgeous, propaganda-inspired cover art.

Many readers missed out on this fantastic collaboration between writer and artistic team upon its initial release. Luckily, the entire 12-issue series has just been collected in a single paperback (subtitled The End Is Here) so now is the perfect chance to rectify that.


Liked this? Give it a share, and in the meantime be sure to let us know what your favorite movies, shows and comics were during the month of August. Don’t say Ben-Hur. We’ll accept anything but Ben-Hur.

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