Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Using Some Vacation Days Edition

Normally my summer vacations revolve around going to visit friends; over the years many of my friends have scattered across the country and vacation is a chance to catch up with people and explore some of my favorite cites. I am lucky that most people have relocated to fun and exciting places that I would want to visit anyway, so it works out for everyone. This year, however, a weird phenomenon has happened – the stars have aligned and almost all of my far away friends are coming through Albany at some point this summer. It’s kind of weird to have everyone on my home turf, but it is also has been beneficial for my travel budget. Since I don’t have anyone to go visit, I’ve decided to do a bunch of smaller trips instead of one big trip this year. I’m still not 100% what I’m doing, but since summer is more than half over I’m starting to put together some concrete plans. It’s exciting to have so many possibilities, but it’s also a little overwhelming. I’m also trying to work around my already over-scheduled social calendar; I’d already committed to a bunch of activities before I decided to use up some vacation time. I’ve got to stop buying concert tickets.

While I spend hours figuring out some ways to blow through my stockpile of vacation days, catch yourself up on the pop culture that you may have missed in the last week. With the Television Critics Association meeting wrapping up and Comic Con about to begin, there was plenty of pop culture goodness to choose from this week. I love when that happens!

  • A Game of Thrones theory has been making the rounds lately. It isn’t new, but this video explaining it has revitalized it (spoilers):

 

  • Kanye gave an interview to GQ and as usual, it is filled with ridiculous quotes. Don’t ever change, Yeezus.

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  • There’s a contest to win a hometown screening of the new Star Wars film – and give a sneak peek at the new X-wing prototype (full disclosure – I have no idea what that is):

 

  • The final season of Sons of Anarchy will not only have Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson, but also Theo Huxtable.
  • I was so very sad to hear that the great Elaine Stritch had passed away. In her honor, here’s some of her best moments on 30 Rock:

 

  • Here’s a photo of Joe Manganiello as a kid and Joe Manganiello now. Impressive transformation.

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  • Side note – I don’t even really drink soda any longer, but I’m kind of obsessed with finding a Coke bottle with my name on it.
  • I only just learned of American Ninja Warrior thanks to my friend Laura’s kids, but even I recognize that this run through the course is pretty impressive:

 

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Note to LEGOLand, my birthday is in September. Start building.

  • Ryan Murphy teases the conjoined twins from American Horror Story: Freak Show:

 

  • Edit out the banter and an episode of Family Feud only lasts 3 minutes:

 

  • Conan and Dave Franco explore Tinder; hilarity ensues:

 

  • Here’s a first look at Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad and Adam Sandler in Pixels:

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Trailers:

  • A look at the new season of Homeland:

 

  • A teaser trailer for Fifty Shade of Grey turned up in an unlikely place – Beyoncé’s Instagram feed:

 

  • A first look at Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler:

 

  • Elisabeth Moss in The One I Love:

 

  • Jim Parsons and Rihanna lend their voices to Home:

 

  • Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game:

 

  • Dominic West (McNulty!) in the new Showtime series, The Affair:

 

  • Another week, another new trailer for Gotham:

 

  • Keira Knightley in Laggies:

 

  • The Conjuring spinoff, Annabelle, gets a trailer:

 

  • More scary stuff – the trailer for Ouija:

 

  • Syfy’s new show, 12 Monkeys:

 

  • The Rock predicts the outcome of a fight between Hercules and Superman (he’ll portray the former in an upcoming movie that looks terrible but that I will still see).
  • Tumblr of the week: Bea A Day, because who doesn’t love Bea Arthur?

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  • This aquarium is pretty cool:

 

  • Footage has surfaced of a young Kanye West rapping in 1996:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts.

  • The Game of Thrones theme – the dubstep remix:

 

  • Kids cursing in movies:

 

  • A cover of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust<” created using clips of people screaming in movies:

 

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  • Here’s a slow jam version of The Muppet Babies theme:

 

  • Jack White covering “99 Problems” is like my dream come true:

 

  • Hear the Queen’s Guard play a cover of The Game of Thrones theme:

 

  • And finally, “Let It Go” sung using clips from 80s TV shows:

Bruno Mars – Times Union Center (Albany, NY), 7.20.14

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Everyone loves Bruno Mars.

I first noticed this phenomenon when Mars did the halftime show at the Super Bowl this year. Normally, I am the only one in my circle that I watch football with that cares anything about the halftime show; the boys have been generally interested in Madonna, Beyoncé and the parade of classic rock stars that have done the show since the wardrobe malfunction heard round the world. Since my team is never in the Super Bowl (or the playoffs….or has a winning season…sigh), I usually root for two things: a good game and an interesting halftime performance. I can’t say that this year started out any different, with the boys generally indifferent to the fact that Bruno Mars would be the headliner. But after Mars’ pretty stellar and enthusiastic performance, even they begrudgingly had to admit that he was pretty good. That’s high praise from that group. I’m sure the craptucular nature of the game primed them to be excited about something, but I give most of the credit to Mars putting on one hell of a show. I was fortunate to nab tickets to the Albany stop of his Moonshine Kingdom tour the morning after the Super Bowl and it became evident pretty quickly that a lot of other people had be won over by his performance by how quickly the tickets were selling. Normally I have a pre-sale for most shows, but battling it out with the common folk meant I grabbed the first decent tickets that I could find. I didn’t’ want to miss out.

The diversity of the crowd at the show last night added further credence to my belief that everyone loves Bruno Mars; while the crowd definitely skewed more female (evident from the extraordinarily long line at the restrooms), it was otherwise kind of all over the place – there were people of all ages and races walking around the building. I’m used to being either among the oldest or youngest people at shows, but the demographics of this concert were so out of whack that I think I was smack dab in the middle. It’s not often that you see gaggles of teenaged girls and groups of moms out at the same show. There was even one brave dad who had at least 10 eight year old boys with him. We saw them leave a little early and it looked like a summer camp; I hope someone bought that guy a beer.

What I was not anticipating was how much people love Bruno Mars; somehow, without me noticing, Mars has become a sex symbol. I haven’t heard so much screaming and carrying on since my days of going to boy band concerts; every gyration and pelvic thrust of his dancing was meet with deafening squeals of approval. I kind of thought this would die down as the night progressed, but it didn’t. The audience was as whipped into a frenzy during the last song of the encore as they were from the first note of his stepping out on stage. He had that crowd eating out of the palm of his hand from the jump and never lost them. Girls lost their minds at pretty much everything he did; I looked at my friend Kristin at one point and said that I was wholly unprepared for this sort of experience. It was overwhelming, but fun to watch.

To his credit, Mars earned pretty much every hoot and holler that he was greeted with – the dude is a performer. If you saw his halftime show, just imagine that going on for 90 minutes. There was of course him singing his litany of hits, but there was also explosions and graphics and dancing. My God, the dancing. I don’t know where that guy found the energy (well….I have some ideas), but he was boogieing up a storm on that stage, often do choreographed group moves with the members of his band. He was the consummate showman. The whole show had a very retro vibe to it – I thought it predominantly had something of a 70s feel to it, but I could also see elements of the 50s and 60s mixed in there too. Mars is influenced by all types of music and he employs parts of doo-wop, rock, soul, r&b and pop in his performance. These components have always been present in his songs, but they really become evident when seeing him live. I felt like I was watching the entire concert through an Instagram filter – and I mean that as a compliment. By drawing on so many different inspirations, he put on a show that was unique and unlike most concerts that I go to. An added bonus was that he and his band seemed to be having so much fun on stage; they were all smiling throughout the set list and seemed to really be enjoying themselves and each other’s company. It was definitely contagious – though I didn’t get up and dance much because my back is killing me, I had a big smile on my face throughout the show. I knew that I’d have fun at the show – the company alone insured that – but I had not quite anticipated that I would have that much fun. It really pulled me out of the doldrums where I’ve been wallowing the last couple of weeks; when a concert can put you in a great mood, that’s really saying something.

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Some other thoughts:

  • I was having so much fun at the show that a woman behind me spilled her beer on me and I didn’t even care. Normally I’d be pretty annoyed, but once I was sure that I didn’t get any on my new bag (priorities), I just shrugged and went back to watching Mars do his thing.
  • Kristin and I debated on the ride home about the attractiveness of Mars and the reaction that he caused in women. While I can see where other people find him desirable, I just cannot get over how short he is. He is taller than me, but not by much, and that just doesn’t work for me.
  • Speaking of his height…..this gives me another opportunity to post the photo of him and Taylor Swift, which never fails to crack me up:

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  • Opening act Aloe Blacc did a good job of warming up the crowd. I didn’t think I knew him, but it turns out that he has two songs that have been on the radio a lot. So it was a pleasant surprise that I recognized some of his music. His only flaw was that he kept mispronouncing Albany (he said it like it is spelled Al-bany rather than how it is pronounced: All-bany). I didn’t necessarily care that he said it wring, but he KEPT referring to the city. If you are going to do that, make sure you know how to say it before going out on stage.
  • Further proof that everyone loves Bruno Mars – even the dads who were at the concert chaperoning their children got up to dance and were singing along.
  • I do wonder if parents were prepared for the sexuality associated with Mars’ performance. It wasn’t tasteless, but there was definitely some bumping and grinding, as well as some song lyrics, that may have caused unexpected uncomfortable conversations on the ride home. Plus, as a former 11 year old girl, I can’t think of anything more horrifying to even the most sophisticated tween than watching part of that performance sitting next to your dad.
  • I was already on board with this concert, but when Mars went into a medley of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” he completely won me over.
  • Not only can Mars sing and dance, but he also played both the drums and the guitar. He’s got mad skillz, yo.
  • Fair warning – if you go to see the show, there are multiple instances of loud explosions that sound a little like gunfire. This made me laugh, since though most of the suburbanites in the audience were unaware, the venue is only a few blocks from some questionable neighborhoods. So if you timed it right, you could probably shoot someone at a Bruno Mars show and get away with it. Not that I’m encouraging that.

The time absolutely flew by during the concert and before you knew it, it was time to go home. I was actually disappointed that it was over, despite the fact that I had to be to work early in the morning and I was cutting into my precious sleep. If he had done three encores, I would have been more than happy to stay there until midnight. Bruno Mars and company really know how to put on a show and everyone seemed to be in a great mood as we filed out of the venue. Really, other than the beer being spilled and the crazy long lines for the bathroom (which I never got to use), I have no complaints. It was a thoroughly entertaining show and I’m now a bigger Bruno Mars fan than I was going into the concert. This is the time of year when I start to get a little tired and jaded about all the concerts I go to – fatigue starts to set in and I regret overextending myself. But seeing Bruno Mars had the opposite effect and totally invigorated me. If he comes to your town and you can get tickets, you should absolutely go. You’ll be a happier person.

 Bruno Mars is out on tour through September; check for dates here.

 

Sex Tape – A Review

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This has been, in my opinion, a pretty lackluster summer at the movies. Usually there are a bunch of summer blockbusters that I’m looking forward to seeing, but there hasn’t been very much this year that has captured my attention. I realized last night that I had not been to the movies in over a month, which is a really long time for me to take a break from going to the cinema. Part of that is that I’ve simply been really busy with concerts and other activities, but part of that I simply haven’t been in any big rush to see anything. There are some smaller films that I do want to check out – Chef and Belle top that list – but when it comes to big summer movies, the only thing that I’m really looking forward to is Guardians of the Galaxy in August. There have of course been big movies this year – I will never understand what people see in the awful Transformers franchise – but, other than 22 Jump Street, nothing that is even remotely appealing to me.

One film that I held out a glimmer of hope for was the new Jason Segel/Cameron Diaz comedy, Sex Tape. The previews looked pretty promising – watching Segal ask Siri how to give CPR to a dog was consistently funny – and I find the two stars particularly affable. The premise of a couple trying to get back their homemade sex tape that as accidentally distributed to all their friends and family had real comedic potential; enough so that I finally ended my month long hiatus from the movie theater and went to check out the first screening of the film.

Unfortunately, Sex Tape is not the movie that is going to turn around my summer doldrums at the cinema; despite all the ingredients being present for a theoretically hilarious movie, Sex Tape fell pretty flat. There were individually funny moments scattered throughout, but ultimately there weren’t enough laughs to make this a successful film. The likability of Segel and Diaz softened my criticism a bit, but this was a movie that just didn’t have much more to it other than a funny idea. It failed to perform, which is really the worst thing for a sex tape.

Diaz and Segel play married couple Jay and Annie who are in something of a rut; when they were dating they used to have sex all the time, but marriage and two children have cooled things off. When Annie’s blog may be purchased, the pair decided to celebrate by trying to spice things up and making a sex tape. When Jay fails to immediately delete the tape, it is inadvertently distributed to many people that they know and Jay and Annie try to scramble to delete the tape before anyone has the chance to view it. This of course leads to a comedy of errors and misunderstandings as the couple try to protect their privacy.

What was most surprising about Sex Tape is the lack of chemistry between Diaz and Segel; the two have worked together previously on Bad Teacher, but in a movie that is all about a couple’s sex life there is a lack of any real spark between the two of them. It’s hard to root for this couple when there isn’t any clear reason why they belong together other than the film tells us that they do. My inherent goodwill for both of these actors helped cover up some of this problem, but it wasn’t enough to completely eliminate it. I simply didn’t buy that the two of them were a couple that loved each other.

I wouldn’t have been able to dwell on this lack of chemistry if the laughs were coming fast and furious, but there were enough lulls that I had time to contemplate the relationship dynamics. Sex Tape isn’t without laughs and there are some moments that serve as a glimmer of the film that I think that they were hoping to make. But the film doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of diminishing returns and goes back to the same source of laughs one too many times on more than one occasion. A particular sight gag involving Rob Lowe’s character was amusing the first few times, but by the fourth time it is used it is no longer funny. There feels like there is a lot of filler in this film; the writers has a fun idea for a movie, but had no idea how to flesh out the concept and make a full feature. So the plot meanders and jokes last a beat or two too long and it winds up weakening the parts of the film that are successful. The writers just didn’t have enough material. Most of the laughs are frontloaded in the beginning of the film and as the story progresses it slowly begins to run out of steam.

It is also worth noting that for a film about a sex tape, I didn’t find the film all that salacious. We saw more of Jason Segel in Saving Sarah Marshall; in fact, the only nudity that we get from either actor is shot from behind. The sex that is shown isn’t particularly sexy either – it’s all for comedic effect. The film is rated R, but I’d argue that is more for language and subject matter more than sex or nudity. I didn’t go to this film expecting to be titillated or scandalized, but some people may not exactly be getting the film that they thought they were getting. Even the humor isn’t all that adult in nature; there honestly won’t have to be that many edits made when this film inevitable winds up on FX in a few years. Some people will be offended because people are always offended, but I didn’t find much in Sex Tape that you wouldn’t find permissible on basic cable. Any kids that sneak into this film thinking that they are going to see something indecent are going to be sorely disappointed.

Some other thoughts:

  • No need to stay after the credits; unlike most films in this genre, there are no hilarious tags at the end. And don’t Google “Sex Tape post credit sequence” like I did, because you probably aren’t going to want the majority of the results. Or maybe you will – to each their own.
  • I’m still a little freaked out by how skinny Jason Segel has gotten; his face is so much thinner than I’m used to seeing him.
  • This film tonally is a little inconsistent; the scene with Rob Lowe in the middle is genuinely very weird.
  • For a woman who is a mommy blogger, Diaz doesn’t seem to like being a mommy all that much.
  • I’m not usually a Jack Black fan, but he is used just the right way in this film- though I did notice that his dialogue seemed very repetitive.
  • A lot of the plot of this film is like a Rube Goldberg machine – it’s very clearly an overcomplicated contraption to keep the movie plugging along. There were several times during the film where I thought to myself that this problem could be solved in a much more efficient manner. Again – not as noticeable or problematic when there are more laughs, but with time to dwell on things it becomes apparent that everyone is working very hard to make this as complicated as possible.
  • Is a woman in roller skates a male fantasy? First Boogie Nights and now Sex Tape.

Sex Tape isn’t as dreadful as its current rating on Rotten Tomatoes – hovering around 17% – but it isn’t the comedy that is going to ignite the second half of the summer movie season either. It certainly isn’t worth plunking down your hard earned money to see it at the theater. But in some ways it is worse than simply being bad – it’s ultimately just forgettable. By the time I got home from the movies, I’d pretty much wiped the film from my memory, which is never good but is especially telling since I live one mile from the cinema. The premise of Sex Tape isn’t the problem; it’s the execution that fails this movie. The lack of chemistry between the stars and the sporadic laughs illuminate the fact that the writers only had a half-baked concept when they started filming. Sex Tape isn’t all that sexy, but the much bigger problem is that it isn’t all that funny.

Sex Tape opens nationwide today.