More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017 December 30, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Movies,Music,Pop Culture,Television,Theatre — dwhren @ 10:24 am

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.


No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.


There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”


For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.


I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.


The Big Sick July 10, 2017

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:11 pm

I love romantic comedies and dearly miss them. There have been very few rom-coms even made in the past decade or so and the few that have been made have pretty much all been garbage. Hollywood is apparently not interested in rom-coms anymore. They are not bankable overseas I would imagine, and that is apparently the only thing that matters anymore. I enjoy a good superhero film as much as anyone, but I’m really not interested in watching nothing but people blowing stuff up. Same thing for television where everything is now a prestige drama. Sometimes you just want to watch one of those blue sky USA shows that they no longer make but I loved. Sometimes I just want to watch something amusing and sweet that makes me leave the theater with a big smile on my face. Happily there is finally a movie out there that made me do just that.

This past Friday I finally got to see The Big Sick, which I had anxiously been awaiting since I first heard about it months ago coming out of some of the film festivals. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon. They wrote the movie and Kumail stars in it as himself along with Zoe Kazan playing Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents.

The general story is that a few months into their relationship Emily winds up in a coma and Kumail develops a relationship with her parents and realizes how much Emily means to  him, which means he’s going to finally have to defy his Pakistani parents’ wishes for him to marry a Pakistani girl.

It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and heartfelt romantic comedy that probably is a little bit more com than rom, which makes sense since the female protagonist half of the relationship spends about a third of the movie in a coma. I laughed a ton and rooted for the couple to get together. All the things I’m supposed to do in a romantic comedy. I can only hope that this movie is a harbinger of more movies like it to come.

The Big Sick has been slowly rolling out into theaters across the country like they tend to do for smaller independent movies. If it hasn’t already, hopefully it will soon show up in a theater near you. Once it does run, don’t walk, to go see it. You won’t be sorry I promise you. Plus the better this movie does in theaters the more likely more movies like it will follow.


Beauty and the Beast March 18, 2017

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 11:33 am

I’m not sure I’m totally on board Disney’s plan to remake seemingly all of their animated features as live action movies, but I admit I was extremely excited about the prospect of Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite Disney movie, and I got chills starting from the first teaser trailer that completely emulated the one for the animated film.

As the opening day for the movie neared though I grew a little apprehensive about it especially as the reviews for it seemed to be middling. I thought what if it is just an inferior shot for shot remake and I should have just stayed home and rewatched the animated version instead. And when I thought I might be left to see it on my own I started to reconsider if I should, but then I found out a group of my friends was going so I decided I should put aside my worries and go see it.

I’m glad I did because I loved the movie. It doesn’t supplant the animated movie, but this is an excellent companion piece. The casting is brilliant. Everyone is perfect for their parts. The shot for shot moments of the film, which is a good chunk of it, only added to its greatness for me instead of making it seem like a sad copycat film. The movie is much longer than the original, so there are a number of things that are not in the original film. They fill out the back stories of Belle and her father more as well as add a little bit more to the Beast’s story.

They also filled out the movie with four new original songs. No one is going to be clamoring to hear any of the new songs again. I felt the same way about the songs they wrote for the Broadway show. I’m kind of curious why they didn’t just use those, but either way none of those songs add anything to either production. The original music from the animated movie is some of the best Disney music there is, so hearing all of that again made me really happy. I really did not anticipate having the physical reaction to the opening strains of the song “Beauty and the Beast” when they start coming down the stairs to the ballroom dance scene, but my heart swelled.

Most importantly they fixed the major problem with the original movie in which Belle treats the local bookstore like a library. They clearly say it’s a book store and yet she seems to borrow and return the books that she reads from there. Given no one else the town seems to care about reading I’m not sure how that store is still open. In the live action movie they make it a library, which makes so much more sense. I’m glad to see someone at Disney was as bothered about this as I was.

Seeing this movie with an audience was great too. Everyone seemed to love it. I was amused that the people in my audience clapped for the Le Fou gay scene that has caused so much brouhaha over nothing. Seriously it’s like 1/2 a second long. If you blinked at the wrong time you would miss it. I’ve also never been in a movie theater where people applauded at the credits as if they were at the live theatre. I’ve obviously seen movies where people clap at the end in general. People did that here, but then the credit sequence was one of those where each individual character is shown on the screen with the character and actor name. People the theater applauded each actor cheering louder for the ones they really liked and booing Gaston. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful reimagining of a beloved Disney movie.


Thanksgiving 2016 November 26, 2016

Filed under: Family,Life,Movies,Travel — dwhren @ 6:52 pm

For the past several years we’ve done Thanksgiving in New York with my husband’s family and Christmas in Arizona with my family. This my sister is going to her in-law’s in Boston for Christmas, so we decided to switch things up and go out there for Thanksgiving. The only way to make the trip affordable was to take vacation time on Monday and Tuesday and fly out the Saturday before and then come back the day after Thanksgiving.

My nieces are 8 (as of December 13) and 4 1/2, which are really fun ages. I spent a lot of time playing with them and thank god didn’t have to play Barbies one single time. The only time they were playing Barbies while I was there my youngest niece told me to go away and I gladly did.

On Tuesday while my husband and sister were working and my nieces were at school, I went on a hike in Catalina State Park with my parents. We did the Romero Pools trail, which was definitely one of the more difficult trails I’ve hiked between the rise in elevation and how rocky it was. We were kind of lame and turned back probably about .2 of  mile before we got to the pools. Once we reached the top of the ridge and realized we were going to start going down the other side of the mountain and thus were going to have to hike back up it again we decided to turn around. We had already hiked 5 miles, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. My husband, father, and I also did a quick 3 mile hike nearby where they live on Thanksgiving morning. It was a piece of cake compared to the other one we did.

Wednesday we took the kids to see Moana (or rather I really wanted to see Moana and suggested that we go). I enjoyed it and could definitely tell that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the music for it, which was really the best part of the movie in my opinion.

We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for which I was roped into making a pumpkin carrot cake. Since I’m more likely to make a cake than a pie, I decided to make straight up pumpkin pie my dessert and only tried a bite of the cake. It pretty much tasted like carrot cake for the most part, which is not a bad thing since it’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not sure I’d bother with the pumpkin version of it again. There was lots of other delicious food and fun times with my family and friends.

It was a fun trip and it went by way too fast.


Ghostbusters July 16, 2016

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture,Uncategorized — dwhren @ 10:05 am

I haven’t been writing around here these days because the weight of the world has just been too much. The relentless beating the world is handing us in 2016 has left me without much to feel extremely happy about, and the little things that are giving me some joy seem too trivial to be writing and posting about in the midst of all the chaos and sadness.

The new Ghostbusters is something I finally feel like writing about. So I decided to write (a mostly non-spoilery) review of it. I have a memory of seeing the original Ghostbusters movie in the theater and my sister freaking out at the beginning at that ghost in the library, but then I also see based on the date that I would have been six and my sister would have been five so I highly doubt my parents actually would have taken us to see that movie. I may be having some false memories about this one. At any rate whether it was in the theater on VHS a few years later when I first saw it, I have seen and loved the original Ghostbusters movie many times. I own it on DVD and when it was re-released in theaters the other year for the 30th anniversary we went and saw it. For our birthday the year Ghostbusters II came out my sister and I each invited a couple friends for lunch at Pizza Hut and to see the movie as our “birthday party”. So what I’m saying is I have a long relationship with this movie franchise.

I’m generally tired of the constant rebooting and remaking of every movie ever made, but for some reason the thought of this one never bothered me probably because of it being with women Ghostbusters. It’s not even that I’m so rah, rah women, it was more that it at least makes the movie something different in some way and gives it somewhat of a reason to exist. Although don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate having good female led movies too. As they announced the cast for this movie it definitely made me even more excited and hopeful that it could be something good.

The new Ghostbusters came out this weekend and I went to see it with a bunch of my lady friends last night so that we could go out and support seeing a female led comedy on it’s opening night. The movie did not disappoint at all. I haven’t actually read a full review of the movie, but based on headlines and commentary on Twitter I’ve seen about reviews it seems like they’re generally positive, but basically call it nothing special but a fun summer romp. I guess that’s accurate, but also in my mind Ghostbusters is meant to be a fun summer romp. It’s not high art and was never meant to be. I don’t think anyone could claim that about the first movie either even though it’s deemed as a beloved classic now.

I will say that the plot in this one is weak and it’s a good thing it’s not what the movie is hanging it’s hat on. The plot of the original Ghostbusters isn’t crazy deep, but it definitely hangs together a little bit better than this one and there seems to be a bit more there, there than this one. No matter because the new Ghostbuster is a joke machine. I laughed delightedly throughout the whole thing. It was so joke dense that I expect that should I see it again I will pick up on even more stuff. I feel like it’s even more of a comedy than the first Ghostbusters, which seems darker than this one. There’s not really any scary in this movie like there was in the original. I’m okay with that though. It makes this movie more of it’s own thing rather than an attempted beat by beat remake of the original but with women. I think there were a few too many winks and nods to the original. I appreciated that there were some, but after awhile it felt a little bit like lazy joke writing. Oh hey look it’s just like such and such and so and so from the first one. Kate McKinnon as everyone has said is a revelation in this movie. She is just pure joy to watch and really gives the stand out performance in this movie. She alone is worth the price of admission.

It really was a delightful movie and if you’re looking for something fun to divert you from all the horrors of the world as of late I would highly recommend it. I already told my husband if he wants to see it I would happily go again.


All Things Must Pass January 24, 2016

Filed under: Movies,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 3:43 pm

Way back in 2011, Colin Hanks was a guest on the Nerdist podcast and mentioned that he was hoping to make a documentary about Tower Records. Over the next 4 years I never stopped hoping that the documentary would actually be made. When I finally heard All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records was being released in theaters this past fall I did a little happy dance.

It would have been happier if it had ever actually made it to a theater in Baltimore. It was one of those things that opened in New York and Los Angeles to start and then eventually made its way around the country in spurts. For whatever reason as far as I can tell it never came anywhere in Maryland. I don’t know why. There’s several theaters I can imagine having played it.

At any rate I resigned myself to waiting for it to become available online before I was going to get to see it. Last time I checked it still wasn’t available. Then last night as I was scrolling through my Twitterfeed I noticed a tweet from Colin Hanks that was retweeted by Jason Isbell, a musician I’ve mentioned eleventy billion times telling people that they should watch All Things Must Pass before the blizzard passed. I got super excited and did just that. We rented it from Amazon with some credits we had built up from declining the 2 day shipping on our Prime account.

I can’t say I was ever really someone who shopped at Tower Records. Their real hey day had passed by the time I was old enough to really be amassing a music collection. At one point in the documentary they talk about how even before Napster and the digital era they were already facing issues from places like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy selling CDs at much cheaper rates. I amassed most of what once was my fairly extensive CD collection at Best Buy. It may not be cool, but it was way cheaper than buying them at somewhere like Tower Records. I definitely was in some Tower Records from time to time, but it certainly wasn’t an institution to me like it was to some people. It’s more of a signifier of the music business and how it’s changed so much in the past 15 years or so.

Even though I wasn’t a real patron of Tower Records they were iconic and as an avowed lover of music I was still very interested in this documentary. It’s basically exactly what the title says it is. It’s a documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records, simple as that. If that sounds like something that interests you then I would definitely watch it. It was something I was interested in and I enjoyed it, but I doubt it’s something that appeals to everyone. You know which side of the equation you fall on.

At any rate I’m glad that Colin Hanks got to make the film and that I finally got to see it. It was perfect timing finding out it was available when I was stuck in my house thanks to a blizzard and had time to sit down and watch it.


Carol and Brooklyn January 6, 2016

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:53 am

Once upon a time in my life I used to go to the movies quite frequently. In high school and college it wasn’t unusual for me to go almost every week. Then life got busier and tv shows got much better. Now I tend to prefer watching tv to movies. In general if I don’t manage to see a movie in the theater than I’m not ever going to see it. That being said I still only usually go to the movies a handful of times every year at this point.Thus the fact that I’ve gone to two movies in the first five days of 2016 is kind of crazy.

Sunday my friend Karen and I went to see Carol. It takes place in the 1950s and stars Cate Blanchett as a housewife in the midst of a divorce with her husband played by Kyle Chandler. She meets Therese, a young shop girl played by Rooney Mara, with whom she strikes up a relationship. I won’t go into any more detail than that since that’s basically what I knew about the film going in. The story went in a direction that I wasn’t quite anticipating. It’s a much more subdued and tortured film than I was anticipating. It was lovely nonetheless.

Then last night I went to see Brooklyn with a bunch of friends. I adored the book by Colm Toibin that the movie is based on and even had the pleasure of meeting the author and hearing him talk about when he gave a lecture at my library. Based on timing I didn’t think I was going to make it out to see this film in theater, so I’m happy it stuck around long enough that I got to see it.

It too was a very lovely film set in the 1950s. Saoirse Ronin plays Eilis a young Irish girl who emigrates alone to America where she builds a life until a family tragedy draws her back to Ireland. The movie is really well adapted from the book. It’s been years since I read it, so any changes at this point were lost on me. The overall large plot points that I remember and the overall feeling of the novel have been retained.

Of the two films Brooklyn is the one with wider appeal. There is a lot more humor in it as well as other things that elicit emotion. It was a beautiful movie. As the woman sitting in front of me said, “I’m not ready for it to be over yet. Can we just stay and watch the next showing?”

If either of these movies sound like they would be your thing I high recommend them both.