Pop Culture Picks – October 2016

This month: Marvel and Netflix debut their latest series, one of the best superhero comics in years hits shelves, and THAT farting corpse movie gets a home release.

October flew by without much fuss. It began pretty quietly with a few solid indies, managed to avoid playing host to a single blockbuster, and ended how it always ends – with a drunken rampage around your local area dressed as a dinosaur/superhero/sexy penguin and a neglected pile of horror classics that you swear you’ll actually watch next year. The biggest talking points came from the world of TV, with Westworld‘s premiere on HBO and Black Mirror‘s arrival on Netflix – two shows that, naturally, these three hip-and-trendy writers haven’t actually started. Instead, we’ve got a film that came out in June and a show that was technically released in September. Bless Puff for staying up-to-date on comics. (Enjoy!)


Swiss Army Man


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Selected by Jeremy (@SauronsBANE)

There’s an implicit aspect of cinema that makes it so varied, so beautiful, and so powerful. Some movies are fortunate enough to acquire that perfect storm of film festival buzz, widespread critical acclaim and universal audience love that results in bona fide classics; others may be unheralded, simply coming around at the perfect time and hitting you right on a unique, indescribably intimate emotional level.

And then there’s Swiss Army Man — infamous for inducing mass walkouts 5 minutes in, and causing countless eye-rolls and dismissals based on nothing but its ridiculous premise.

I’m here to tell you that this disarming, lovable gem came out on DVD/Blu-ray on October 4, and you won’t want to miss the chance to experience the year’s best, most refreshingly original indie dealing with the most complex of relatable issues — self-loathing, the concepts of weirdness and understanding, the crushing desire to fit in, loneliness, love, and even the meaning of life itself — masquerading itself self-deprecatingly as ‘that farting-corpse flick‘.

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You don’t get away with a disturbing, utterly out-there story about a suicidal, shipwrecked man teaming up with a gas-passing corpse by playing it straight, and directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert strike an impressive balance between deftly self-aware comedy, an unabashedly optimistic outlook, and a gut-punch of a third act that casts a new light on everything that came before. It’s what allows for a delightfully off-putting romp to transform into a brutally honest self-assessment of how we ought to deal with the hurt, pain, and damage of life that some viewers (*raises hand timidly*) may find themselves relating to far more than they’d care to acknowledge.

Give it half a chance, and you just might find yourself swept along by a wonderfully irreverent, surprisingly poignant statement on all those aspects of the human condition… and so much more, too. Even beyond the phenomenally committed performances by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, the true hidden weapon of Swiss Army Man is how (as the title implies) it gives you something new to chew on with every viewing. The movie featuring a multi-purpose corpse ends up being a multi-purpose movie that shifts and grows as your own perspective and experiences do. To me, that’s just another manifestation of the beauty and power of cinema.


Luke Cage


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Selected by Minty (@mintsanity)

Luke Cage is such a mixed bag — it’s hard to even know where to begin. The first episode seizes you, dragging you into creator Cheo Hodari Coker’s vibrant world of music, gangsters, crime and passion. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before from a Marvel production. This community feels truly lived in. This is Harlem, baby. It’s such a strong opening hour, setting up the stakes and the players to wonderful effect. What followed, however, was a hit-and-miss blend of comic book and crime drama, set to the backdrop of a Game Of Thrones-esque power struggle over Harlem’s soul that ultimately flattered to deceive.

As with the other Defenders shows, fans flocked for the super-heroics, but stayed for the characters. Mike Colter had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with in Jessica Jones, but he takes his portrayal of Cage to the next level here, adding new depth and emotion to Marvel’s most iconic African-American hero. Through Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s ever-endearing Claire Temple, the show delivers two outstanding female protagonists — both formidable in their own way.

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Shades is a nice surprise. He’s obviously heavily inspired by Littlefinger, but Theo Rossi plays that sinister archetype so incredibly well. The single stand-out character, however, is Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth. His charm and swagger is so infectious — he’s an absolute delight to watch. I wish the same could be said for Alfre Woodard’s erratic Mariah, who only really comes into her own in the show’s final episode. And the less said about the total mess of a character Diamondback ended up being, the better.

I’m starting to feel like these Netflix shows would be better off with fewer episodes per season. Much like Daredevil‘s sophomore run, Luke Cage capably builds momentum throughout its first half before an (admittedly bold) twist and a sudden shift in focus that leaves the second half’s plot flailing. Regardless, it’s another impressive outing from Marvel’s TV crew that — thanks to a very strong final 30-minutes — would have me back on board for another season in a heartbeat. Coffee, anyone?


Black Widow Vol 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted


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Selected by Puff (@_staypuffed)

Since her creation five decades ago, Black Widow has inhabited many roles: a Soviet spy, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, an Avenger. While Widow’s heroic position is ever clear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things have been a little murkier in her recent solo comics. The latest, from writer/artist Chris Samnee, co-writer Mark Waid and colourist Matt Wilson, puts Widow on the run with some of her biggest secrets on the line. The result is an articulately (and beautifully) crafted ride.

Black Widow bursts out of the gate with immediate agency and excitement; the entire first issue is a continuous chase — every panel depicting some form of motion — and Samnee’s incredible pacing solidifies it as a breathless, pitch-perfect read. It’s akin to a comic book version of John Wick; both stories pushed forward by action, their worlds and characters being revealed organically with every encounter. The name of the game here is definitely momentum. The dialogue here is punchy, to-the-point. This helps maintain the gorgeous flow of the book, as does Joe Caramagna’s dynamic lettering.

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To be frank, this is a masterclass in sequential storytelling, comics or otherwise. Samnee and Wilson’s art is clear and precise; an incredible amount of detail and planning has gone into every issue, every page, every panel. The team use a plethora of subtle (but undeniably genius) tools to guide your eye. YouTube creator Strip Panel Naked has a wonderful video analysing Black Widow‘s control of movement; Wilson’s use of colour to highlight, Samnee’s use of perspective to pull you into the action, and so on. Well a worth a look if you’re interested in analysing more of the book’s depth.

If you’re still clinging onto the hope of Marvel Studios producing a solo Black Widow effort, this book is sure to help satisfy that desire. Each issue leaves you desperate for more. Luckily, with the first six issues now wrapped up in a debut volume (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted), a turn of the page gives you just that. With Samnee, Waid and Wilson set to kick off a new story arc very soon, we can only hope that their stellar run is far from over.


That wraps up Pop Culture Picks for another month! We finally managed to select one title from each of our areas (movies, TV and, uh, comics), which we all consider a pretty big achievement. Feel free to share your own October selections below or on Twitter, @MoviesTVComics.

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