Pop Culture Picks – September 2016

This month: an Australian teen in the 1970s comes of age, Donald Glover debuts his new TV creation, and Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic gets a remastered release.

September’s been a strange month in the world of pop culture. It was pretty slim pickings on the blockbuster front as the summer movie season wound to a close. The focus instead shifted towards the festival scene, featuring a bunch of premature Oscar contenders that most of us won’t see for at least another few months. In true 2016 style, most of the best content was found in the worlds of TV and independent cinema – or, if you’re Jeremy, from the re-release of a beloved 17-year-old gem…


Girl Asleep


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Selected by Puff (@_staypuffed)

Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore) is a wallflower in 1970s Australia, intimidated by her new school peers and dislocated from her eclectic family. On the edge of her 15th birthday, Greta’s parents (Amber McMahon and Matthew Whittet) decide to throw her a birthday party; the decision, though carried by good intentions, tips Greta into an abyss of music and monsters. As the party begins, she (and the viewer) swirl straight into fantasy; it soon becomes a vehicle for her to confront her anxieties, her uncertainties and her quirks.

Rosemary Myers’ directorial debut is a unique blend of the real and surreal, tackling the coming-of-age film from an off-kilter angle. One will immediately notice the boxy 3:4 aspect ratio, which the film uses to illuminate the story and setting as strange, picturesque and heightened — much like the teenage period itself. There are easy similarities to Wes Anderson (especially in terms of comedy and visuals), but rest assured, Girl Asleep is a beast of its own.

With its theatricality and skewed humor, it comes as no surprise that Girl Asleep began as a stage production. With the play’s creator, Mathew Whittet, adapting and expanding the story, the film is able to face normal fears in absurdist ways. There are some impressive performances from young actors, especially Whitmore, whose emotive sensibilities and vulnerability anchor the film. If you were kicking around in ’70s Australia, this will be a wildly nostalgic ride. If you weren’t, then the movie provides a fresh viewpoint to explore social acceptance and individuality. Girl Asleep‘s cinema release is limited in scope, but if you get the chance, definitely track it down. It’s well worth the 76 minutes.


Atlanta


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Selected by Minty (@mintsanity)

Atlanta is like no other show on television at the moment. It seamlessly weaves the worlds of drama, comedy and hip hop together to produce a single, tightly-scripted 20-minute-long piece of pure entertainment – week in, week out. It’s a series that’s just as comfortable finding humor in a totally botched drug deal as it is providing piercing social commentary about the treatment (and at times the behaviour) of young black men in modern American society. Yeah, it’s that deep.

Even from just an acting standpoint, Donald Glover is sublime as the show’s protagonist, Earn — a perennially broke college dropout trying to kickstart his cousin’s burgeoning rap career. Throw in the fact that he also created and co-wrote this 10-episode FX series, and he really deserves all the praise we can throw at him. Like all superstars though, he’s aided by an extremely underrated group of collaborators.

Director Hiro Murai imbues each episode with a striking visual style, while still successfully grounding Earn’s onscreen antics in reality. Zazie Beetz happily goes toe-to-toe with Glover in every scene they share, adding playful wit and a little heart as Earn’s ex, Van. But it’s Keith Stanfield’s eccentric Darius who may end up being the show’s breakout. Instantly quotable and eternally spaced out, Stanfield leaves you howling with laughter — and yet still comes off looking so effortlessly cool in the process.


The Iron Giant (Blu-ray)


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Selected by Jeremy (@SauronsBANE)

The Iron Giant was originally released all the way back in that quaint, innocent, far-gone era of the late 20th Century… fondly known as 1999. I was fortunate enough to catch the Signature Edition re-release of the film in theaters late last year, and I was finally able to witness on the big screen precisely why such a charmingly simple, old-fashioned children’s film has profoundly influenced so many since.

Luckily (for me), the newly remastered Blu-ray for this edition — including a handful of new scenes — went on sale earlier this month, giving me a convenient excuse to talk up a genuinely fantastic piece of media to recommend for September. From the technical wizardry of the hand-drawn animation on display to the deceptively simple storytelling (featuring themes/commentary that hit far harder than one might expect), The Iron Giant unabashedly wears its love for superheroes on its sleeve.

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Using the Cold War as a backdrop for how people would react to the question of “What makes someone a hero, as opposed to a villain?”, it really wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Iron Giant tackles many similar concepts that blockbuster comic book movies are attempting to cover right now… but Brad Bird’s endearing story, focusing on the stubbornly hopeful Hogarth and his relationship with the Giant itself, manages to approach its themes and messages with far more thoughtfulness, potency, and raw emotion.

At the end of the day, The Iron Giant is a lovably retro, yet timeless classic that is all about the choices we make (or don’t make) to help shape the world into a better place. The indelible legacy of Superman inspires the Iron Giant to use his abilities for heroism, and the Iron Giant in turn inspires Hogarth (and, by extension, us) to do the same in our own small, simple ways. If you were somehow never introduced to The Iron Giant when it first came out, or missed out on the re-release the second time around, don’t let this final opportunity pass you by.


Hopefully this installment of Pop Culture Picks has inspired you to check out new things after a quieter month. Let us know the films, shows and comics you enjoyed during September here, or over on Twitter, @MoviesTVComics.

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