Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Comic Con Edition

I unfortunately wasn’t actually at Comic Con this year; I’ve never been to the convention because it is extremely hard to get tickets and it would be a pricey trip for me. It’s on my Pop Culture Bucket List, since the event has morphed from its humble beginnings to become something of a pop culture Mecca. All sorts of exciting entertainment news is announced, tons of celebrities stop by and there is limited edition merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else. The crowds are daunting and I’ve heard that there is a lot of standing in line (not my favorite activity) but even if it is a hot mess, I’d like to go just once to experience it. I feel like every serious pop culture maven makes the pilgrimage at some point and there’s not much that I take more seriously than pop culture. Maybe I’ll start a Kickstarter to fund this venture…..or someday I’ll be getting paid to do this and I can go on the company dime. A girl can dream.

Though I wasn’t in attendance, I sort of felt like I was thanks to the wonders of social media. I’ve been glued to my Twitter account during the convention to keep up on all the breaking news. I’ve culled all the info that I’ve processed in the last few days to pick out the best parts to share with you, dear readers. So pull up a chair and catch up on all the new wonderful pop culture news from the last week.

 

  • Jack White went to a Cubs game; it does not appear he had a good time:

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  • SOA star Charlie Hunnam missed Comic Con this year, but he sent this video instead:

 

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  • You take the jokes out of The Big Bang Theory – no jokes, all plot:

 

  • Comedy Central has some awesome news:

 

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  • Rob Lowe did a promo for Shark Week. It’s weird.

 

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers, released via director Zack Snyder's Twitter account as media announcement 7/27/2014

  • A preview of The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover episode debuted at Comic Con:

 

Tons of trailers:

  • The first trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey was released. Yawn.

 

  • New Boardwalk Empire trailer:

 

  • Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain in Miss Julie:

 

  • A documentary about the ill-fated E.T. Atari game:

 

  • Jason Bateman and Olivia Wilde in The Longest Week:

 

  • The Maze Runner:

 

  • A trailer for the Batkid documentary:

 

  • Dear White People trailer:

 

  • A red band trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For:

 

  • A red band trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2:

 

  • The first look at Kevin Smith’s new film, Tusk:

 

  • Michael Shannon in Young Ones:

 

  • Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) in Another Me:

 

  • Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash:

 

  • Norman Reedus in Air:

 

  • A new Hunger Games: Mockingjay trailer was released:

 

  • Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy in the new Mad Max:

 

  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies:

 

  • Mad Men is officially done – Stan Rizzo’s beard is gone:
  • Chris Pratt has some pretty sweet French braid skills:

 

  • Because the Internet is amazing, they have already made a remix:

 

  • Tumblr of the week: the very silly Nosemouth.

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • All the Star Wars references from Spaced:

 

  • A supercut of Gary Oldman dying in movies (spoilers):

 

  • A supercut of cats in the movies:

 

  • Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” as a monologue:

 

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  • Side by side comparisons of Weird Al’s parodies and the source material:

 

  • See how far technology has come in this supercut of computers from 80s films:

 

  • A compilation of grunge songs done in 8bit:

 

  • And finally, a supercut of all the times that Samuel L. Jackson says mother*cker in the movies. How has no one done this before? (It goes without saying, NSFW)

 

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – A Review

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I have never really been a big fan of apes; when I was little, anything simian-related would terrify me. My mom’s friend had a basket of toys in her living room that belonged to her sons and they would have to remove the King Kong figurine before I would go anywhere near the vicinity of the basket. Even if I wasn’t playing with the toys, unless I was assured that the scary figurine had been neutralized I was seriously stressed out. This was also an issue at the fair, where they had a giant animatronic gorilla in a cage as part of an exhibit on the circus; you could get me in the same room as it, but I kept my eye on that thing the entire time, convinced that it would come to life and break free. Between that and the clowns, that display was pretty much my worst nightmare come to life. I have no idea where this fear originated – I don’t recall having any sort of traumatic run-in with any monkeys – and while it dissipated as I grew older, I generally don’t seek out anything that has to do with apes or monkeys. Though I do like sock monkeys, so go figure.

Needless to say, given my childhood phobia I was not a connoisseur of the original Planet of the Apes movies; they had their heyday slightly before my time and I certainly wasn’t seeking them out on my own. My knowledge of the original film is mostly gleamed from other references in pop culture, most notably The Simpsons:

 

I didn’t see Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the theaters because I simply didn’t think that it was for me; given my checkered history with those of the chimp persuasion, I thought it was best that I sit this one out. Apes that eventually talk and take over the world are a hard sell for me. It didn’t help that I’d been dragged to see the disaster that was Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes reboot with Mark Wahlberg. Yowza – that would be enough to turn anyone off of ape movies. I only relented and watched the James Franco helmed sequel after repeatedly hearing that it was pretty decent. Turn out the buzz was pretty accurate – I quite enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes despite myself. I really got sucked into the story and was surprised by how invested that I became in a prequel to a franchise that I had little to no interest in. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was far more entertaining than I anticipated; it was enough to not only win me over, but make me actually look forward to its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Yet when the new Planet of the Apes film was released, that old ambivalence resurfaced. Usually when any big summer movie is released that I have any remote interest in, I see it opening weekend. I had multiple opportunities to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but I just was pretty “meh” about the whole thing. Whatever enthusiasm that the 2011film had generated had slowly eroded over time; I was once again skeptical that I would find the next installment of inevitable ape domination all that compelling. But once again, critical buzz got the best of me – the general consensus was that the film was one of the better blockbusters of the summer. Admittedly, that is a pretty low bar given this summer movie season, but the promise of a film that wouldn’t suck was appealing enough to get me to finally commit to going to see it in the theater. James Franco wasn’t going to be in this installment, but Jason Clarke was his replacement which in my world is an even trade.

The first act of the film, I wondered if everyone else had watched a different movie than I was watching; I found the initial thirty minutes or so to be painfully slow. Since ten years had elapsed since the events of the last film, they had to spend some time orienting us on what has happened to the world. They also had to introduce the new human characters and explain the dynamics of the ape hierarchy. That’s a lot of ground to cover and it wasn’t always that compelling, especially when the apes are using sign language to communicate. I have no problem with subtitles, but they weren’t what I was expecting for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It was world building and it was necessary set-up, but I wish that they hadn’t spent as much time on it or had done it in a timelier manner. It wasn’t completely uninteresting, but I found my mind wandering a bit and was fighting the urge to check my cell phone to see how much time had elapsed (never a good sign).

I can’t put my finger on the exact moment, but somewhere in the second act I slowly was drawn into the film; perhaps it was because the action picked up a bit or perhaps it was the apes started talking more. Whatever it was, the film began to patiently reel me. The human characters were never all that interesting and mostly served as plot devices. That’s a waste of the talents of the actors that they assembled (the aforementioned Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell), but the film isn’t called Dawn of the Planet of the Humans. The humans are a necessary evil; there would be conflict eventually without them, but they certainly provide the spark to move things along. The franchise lives and dies on the apes and the philosophical differences between Caesar and some of his followers may not necessarily be completely new terrain but it was well done and fairly compelling. Actually, it must have been more than fairly compelling, because by the final act of the film I was fully in on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; it totally snuck up on me, but I was emotionally invested in what was unfolding. Of course, we know that the apes are eventually triumphant – it’s right there in the title – but I was curious to see if this film would deal them a setback on their way to world domination or who would be leading the charge. I was really curious how this all would unfold.

Andy Serkis continues to do revolutionary work as a motion capture actor and is primarily responsible for giving this movie its spark. If Caesar fails to be a compelling character, this movie simply wouldn’t work and Serkis more than delivers. In fact, all the motion capture actors deserve a tip of the cap; it is ironic that the CGI-created characters are more nuanced and three-dimensional than the actual three-dimensional people on the screen. Caesar, Koba, Ash, Blue Eyes and Maurice (my personal favorite) are fully realized characters that have distinctive personalities and points of view. Most of the older apes all experienced abuse at the hands of humans, but it has impacted them differently – some strive for peace while others are hell-bent on war. The dynamics of the ape community are complex and realistic – the struggle for power is clearly a universal trait. Watching a coup unfold is exciting, even in the animal kingdom.

Some other thoughts:

  • Perhaps the most one dimensional of the humans was played by Kirk Acevedo. It took me until halfway through the film to place where I knew him from, but then it dawned on me that he was Alvarez on HBO’s Oz. Wish he’d been given more to do, but still good to see him.
  • Thought I could keep all the different apes straight based on their personality, I could not for the life of me remember all their names. So I dubbed the member of the clan that challenges Caesar “Ape Hitler.”
  • A co-worker asked me to explain the status of the humans and apes at the beginning of the movie. My explanation “The humans have practically been wiped out by a virus and small bands of survivors are running low on limited resources. The apes are just chillin’, hanging out in trees, wife-ing up, having babies and learning to read.”
  • One point of contention – the apes now ride horses. Isn’t that a little disingenuous for a group that was all riled up about how they were treated by humans to use another animal as their source of transportation? #apephilosophicalquandary
  • I believe this film marks the first time that Andy Serkis has received top billing in a film. Good for him and well deserved!
  • For the record, it didn’t necessarily look like the humans were making the best use of their limited resources. I’m no conversationalist, but they could have made some smarter choices.
  • It is a little unsettling how quickly the apes pick up the handling of automatic weapons. This does not bode well for humans down the road.

Once Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets going, it is a quite fun film. I could have done with some slightly different pacing and some better development of the human characters, but I walked out of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with my interest in the future of the franchise rekindled. I’d be perfectly OK with the next installment focusing solely on the apes – they are really the only interesting part – but I’m guessing that is unlikely. This has definitely been a slow summer movie season, but this film was not enjoyable simply because it compared favorably with the other dreck that has been released. This was a fun movie on its own merits and while I have no doubt that my enthusiasm for the next film will wane a bit in the time it takes to produce the newest installment, I’m still looking forward to what the apes are up to next.

A Reader Suggests: Fictional Restaurants

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a reader generated topic, mostly because no one has been submitting any ideas. Believe me – I’d love to let you guys to the work for me; coming up with blog topics is harder than y’all think. A few months ago, my pal Dino sent me this article from The A.V. Club about fiction restaurants that their writers would want to patronize as possible fodder for the blog. It was a great topic, but I wanted to mull it over since they highlighted some of the more obvious choices. Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad? Of course! Who doesn’t want some fried chicken with a side of meth? I’m fascinated by the burger of the day specials on Bob’s Burgers, so I would absolutely drop in for a bite if I was able. A chance to experience Luke’s gruff demeanor and watch some classic Lorelei and Rory banter at Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls – count me it! I’m positive that a night at Jack Rabbit Slim’s (Pulp Fiction) would be memorable; I’d absolutely order a $5 milkshake. The A.V. Club writers know their way around pop culture references, so if I was going to add anything to the conversation I was going to dig deep to think of some other fictional restaurants where I’d like to dine.

But I love a challenge, so I’ve been mulling this around in the back of my mind. I wanted to pick restaurants that I actually wanted to frequent – either because of the food, the ambiance or the people – rather than simply restaurants on shows that I like. They had to actually serve food as their primary purpose, so as much as I would love to hang out and throw some back beers at Paddy’s Pub it couldn’t make the cut.

So with those limitations in mind, here are some of the pop culture eating establishments where I’d like to spend some time:

The Dream Café (Seinfeld)

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I bet you thought I was going to say Monk’s, which wouldn’t have been a bad guess. I am, after all, a little obsessed with Seinfeld and the diner was one of the gang’s favorite hangouts. But other than spending some time with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer, there isn’t much to recommend about Monk’s; the food never looked that appetizing (especially when Paco was working) and fittingly not too much really happened there.

Instead, I would rather dine at the establishment run by Babu Bhatt. The Dream Café had something for everyone; where else are the specials tacos, moussaka and franks and beans? Nowhere! No matter what you were craving, they had it on the menu – until Jerry came along and ruined the whole thing. Plus there were never any other customers, so I’d have the run of the place and it would be nice and quiet. On a good day, you might even get to help someone cheat on an IQ test.

 

Merlotte’s (True Blood)

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True Blood is borderline unwatchable at this point, but I still think Merlotte’s Bar and Grill might be a fun place to grab some onion rings. Seriously – I don’t know how they film those things, but they look delicious. I have no idea if Lafayette is actually a good cook or not, but I don’t know that it even matters – just to see him back there, throwing around some witty one-liners would be reason enough to give them my business. I imagine that the service sucks – one waitress in particular is always late to work or distracted by some drama – but the  visits from supernatural creatures and the cold beer would make up for it. You literally never know what is going to happen while you’re there. Sadly, Eric Northman makes fairly infrequent appearances at Merlotte’s which is probably the biggest mark against the establishment

 

Desautel’s (Treme)

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I am way behind on Treme, but one of the things I enjoyed about the show is learning more about the culture of the city of New Orleans. Not only has Treme expanded my knowledge of music, but it has also made me want to make a trip to the city just to taste some of the food thanks to the story lines involving chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens). When the show begins, she is struggling to keep her restaurant afloat after Hurricane Katrina and anything that she makes always looks delicious. I’m not even sure if I would actually like some of the food – I’m a total wimp when it comes to spiciness – but I’d be willing to give it a try. I’m craving crawfish and muffuletta just writing this – two things I’ve never actually had to eat.

Mel’s Diner (Alice)

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This one makes the list simply so I can hear Flo say “kiss my grits.” End of story.

 

Freddy’s BBQ Joint (House of Cards)

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Good BBQ is hard to come by and apparently there is no finer BBQ than Freddy’s. If Frank Underwood is willing to take time out of his plotting and scheming for some ribs, that’s some good eats.

 

JJ’s Diner (Parks and Recreation)

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Like Leslie Knope, I am a girl who loves waffles. I would eat waffles multiple times a week if it was socially acceptable. I’ve been known to give waffle irons as gifts, even to people who don’t really want them (I’m looking at you, dad). So if JJ’s Diner waffles are good enough for an overachieving perfectionist like Leslie, then this is a place that I need to be. And if I ever tire of waffles (heresy!), I can always try the heart-attack inducing The Four Horse-Meals of the Egg-Pork-alypse (a twelve-egg scramble, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns, chicken-fried steak, and a giant tower of buttermilk pancakes).

 

Nuovo Vesuvio (The Sopranos)

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The Sopranos is one of my all-time favorite shows; not surprising given the brilliant writing, the gifted cast and its unflinching look at the mafia. But somewhere around the second season I noticed an interesting side effect – this show was making me hungry. By the time each episode was over, I was starving. I’m not even a big fan of Italian food – well, American Italian food – but all the meals on the show looked amazing. This was especially true of the Artie Bucco’s Nuovo Vesuvio, a frequent hangout of the Soprano crime family. Not only is the food mouthwatering – at least in the beginning – but there is always the possibility that you’ll be the witness to some illicit mob activity. That might not be appealing to everyone, but that’s a fun night for me.

 

Joe’s Pie Diner (Waitress)

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I’ve always thought that the 2007 film Waitress is underrated and deserved a wider audience. In the movie, Jenna (Kerri Russell) is stuck in an unhappy marriage and banks on winning a pie contest with one of her creative concoctions to earn her the money she needs to flee her husband. Her pies are regularly served at Joe’s Pie Diner and have secret names related to what is going on in her life. The marshmallow mermaid pie is called “biblically good” in the film, which is a pretty sound endorsement. Plus you get to hang out with Andy Griffith and that’s always a win.

 

Phil’s (Murphy Brown)

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The bar and grill frequented by the staff of the television newsmagazine FYI, I’m not sure if the food is the real draw. As a political scientist, I’d love to hang out at a watering hole frequented by DC insiders and politicians. Yup – I’m a government nerd, but I’d have a grand time speculating on all the backroom deal and political intrigue that was occurring in this Washington institution.

 

Steak Me Home Tonight (Happy Endings)

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I’m a big fan of food trucks; I was frequenting them way before it was trendy to do so. Back during my ill-fated tenure at UConn, one of the few things that really made me happy was a food truck on campus that made what seemed like the greatest breakfast sandwiches of all time. I looked forward to grabbing a bite there once a week – my treat for making it another week in the program – and I would be so bummed out if I missed them. That’s part of the thrill of food trucks – their unpredictability. There’s a burgeoning food truck scene here in Albany, which is quite the positive development. So it’s no surprise that I’d want to swing by Dave’s Steak Me Home Tonight from Happy Endings (R.I.P. – still not over it). I love me some cheesesteaks, which happen to be Dave’s specialty, and who doesn’t love some punny word play with their sandwiches. Plus he won the coveted “Truckies” award for best sandwich in Chicago – and those are people that know their sandwiches – and Colin Hanks has been known to drop by, so you know this place is legit.

Now it’s your turn – what fictional restaurants would you want to break bread? Sound off in the comments section. Bon appétit!

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