Pop Culture Odds and Ends – I’m Out Of Here Edition

It felt like it would never happen, but the day is finally here – tomorrow I head out on vacation. Hooray! Just in time too; after spoiling us with some gorgeous weather this weekend, Mother Nature decided that she wanted to remind us who was boss. I’m currently watching it snow outside my apartment. If I wasn’t getting out of dodge in less than 48 hours I might be more upset about this turn of events, but since my bags are packed I’m taking all of this in stride. As long as I can still fly out of here Thursday morning, I can handle anything.

I’d love to tell you that I planned well enough that blog postings won’t be disrupted while I’m away, but that would be a lie. I’m going to really try to take a break from all my responsibilities while I’m gone and that extends to blogging. So unless inspiration strikes me out of nowhere and a story comes along that I just HAVE to write about, the blog will temporarily be on hiatus until I get back in the middle of next week. Try not to freak out :-)

So while I try to figure out how much I can fit in a carry-on and break the news to Pumpkin that he’s flying solo for a while, feel free to peruse this menagerie of pop culture links that I’ve assembled. If you read a little bit at a time, you can stretch this blog post out to cover my brief leave of absence. It will be like I never left.

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  • File this news under “duh” – HBO has renewed Game of Thrones for a 5th and 6th season.
  • The real “Alex” from Orange is the New Black (played by Laura Prepon on the show) speaks with Variety.
  • ABC is doing an Agent Carter TV series. Hayley Atwell will reprise her role from Captain America: The First Avenger.

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  • Jon Hamm was on Sesame Street:

 

  • This LEGO replica of Fenway Park was awesome enough that even this Yankee fan was impressed:

 

  • Someone who is in the new Star Wars? Peter Mayhew, the man behind Chewbacca.
  • Aaron Paul was also at the music festival, photobombing like a boss:

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  • Meanwhile, Paul’s former Breaking Bad co-star Bryan Cranston was helping a kid ask a girl to prom:

 

I think this prom-posal trend is ridiculous, but that is fantastic.

  • Jimmy Fallon and Stevie Nicks recreated her “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” video, with Fallon assuming the Tom Petty role:

 

  • Jennifer Hudson has released a new track:

 

  • Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar have a song in the new Amazing Spider-Man movie:

 

  • The MTV movie awards were up against Mad Men and Game of Thrones on Sunday, so I didn’t watch them (plus I’m a grown up), but host Conan O’Brien had quite the celebrity studded cold open.
  • I do have to respect an awards show that doesn’t even pretend to be something that they are not. For example, Zac Efron won the award for Best Shirtless Performance and accepted in the most appropriate fashion:

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Trailers:

  • A first look at Ben Affleck in Gone Girl:

That didn’t look terrible.

  •  A new clip from The Fault In Our Stars:

 

  • A first look at Maps to the Stars:

 

  • The bronies are getting another documentary:

 

  • A Most Wanted Man, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final roles:

 

  • Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff’s new film:

 

It’s been noted that this trailer has a lot in common with his last film, Garden State.

  • The first trailer for The Leftovers on HBO:

 

  • The final trailer for X-Men:Days of Future Past:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • It was only a matter of time – Defying Frozen Gravity:

 

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  • A James Brown/Game of Thrones mashup:

 

  • Game of Thrones…with kittens:

 

  • Mad Men meets Blaxploitation:

 

  • The Firefly theme song redone as “yacht rock”

 

  • This Frozen/Breaking Bad mashup is perfection (and does not involve “Let It Go”):

 

1987

Draft Day – A Review

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The NFL draft is really boring.

I say this as someone who has sat through this event on more than one occasion. As it was pitched to me, it sounded like it might be somewhat interesting – the NFL teams strategically pick new players for their team, trying to get the best players before they get scooped up by other teams, but not overpaying for players that they don’t need or that they could get in later rounds. As someone who enjoys football, I imagined that this would be exciting, but in practice it was just a lot of sitting around waiting for teams to make their selection of people that I didn’t really know much about since I’m not a huge college football fan. Even when I had done some background research, it’s still a pretty anticlimactic process since you have to wait several months to see if these picks pan out. I’m sure hardcore fans find this riveting, but for me it was like watching paint dry. So I did what every self-respecting person does when they are doing something that they find excruciatingly boring to make someone else happy – I drank and made ridiculous wagers to liven up to proceedings. After a few adult beverages, I didn’t find Mel Kiper or the draft any more exciting that I had previously, but I also didn’t really care that I was bored out of my mind. Occasionally something exciting happens – Brady Quinn took so long to be drafted that I had to be woken up to see it happen – but mostly it’s just a lot of taking heads and watching clocks tick down.

In that sense, the new Kevin Costner movie Draft Day captured the experience of the NFL draft pretty well – nothing much really happens and not much transpired that I couldn’t have predicted within the first ten minutes of the film. Draft Day is just a lot of waiting around for something interesting to be presented, though they do their best to distract you from the nothingness with some inane relationship and family stuff. Draft Day is a football movie for people that don’t really care that much about football; it’s a fine sports film, but doesn’t have much of anything original to say.

Draft Day focuses on the events of the day of the NFL draft; Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Brown – a team that hasn’t been successful in a long time. Facing pressure from the fan base and the Browns owner (Frank Langella) to “make a splash” this year, Sonny must decide what he is willing to sacrifice when presented with the opportunity to get the Browns the #1 draft pick. The situation is further complicated by his romance with a team executive (Jennifer Garner) and combative relationship with the team coach (Denis Leary), as well as the recent passing of his father who also happened to be the former coach of the Browns. That’s a whole lot of outside drama that has been pulled into the picture, perhaps to widen the appeal of the film. The proceedings at the actual draft don’t occur until the last 15 minutes of the film, so these other story lines help keep things moving until the titular event occurs.

Kevin Costner is perfectly charming in Draft Day; the man seems to be most at home in sports movies nowadays. I’ve never been a huge Costner fan, but he does fine work as Sonny and struggling with what he thinks is best for the team while also protecting his legacy and job. I like Jennifer Garner as a person – she appears to be good people – but I can’t say that I’ve ever been all that impressed with her as an actress. Draft Day does nothing to change my opinion – she’s not bad, but she’s not great either. To be fair, she isn’t giving a heck of a lot to work with, but she fails to elevate the material much beyond the blandness on the page. I’m not sure that I buy her as a potential love interest for Costner, but at least that means that there is a woman depicted in the executive staff of an NFL team (though, for an executive she sure seems to be getting a lot of people coffee). Denis Leary seems to be having fun being a jerk and he’s just the right amount of annoying in the film. I hope that’s what they were going for. None of these characters have a ton of depth – we know the most about Sonny out of necessity, but the rest of the cast are just broad archetypes without much definition.

The film does its best to ramp up the tension, but unfortunately  is a fairly predictable film. I was pretty sure that I knew the ultimate outcome well before it was revealed – the only question was the details of how we were going to get there. It’s all very vanilla and while that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, it doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. Sports movies tend to follow the same basic script and the fact that the NFL collaborated with this film is clearly evident. You can see the fingerprints of the league all over this overly sanitized look at the NFL. The film definitely tries to make it look like character is a huge factor in deciding who to put on your team and while I’m sure that it is a contributing component, reality implies that your skill on the football field is a much bigger deal than if you are a nice guy or not. When you have current players who have felonies or who have been accused of sexual assault or other deplorable behavior, it’s kind of a hard to sell that a guy who may have fibbed a few times is a cancer to a team. It’s nice in theory, but in practice if you can throw a ball down the field for a touchdown, it doesn’t really matter if you are a jerk.

Some other thoughts:

  • This movie was originally supposed to be about the Buffalo Bills, not the Cleveland Browns. As I was watching the film, I kept mentally substituting “Bills” for “Browns” in the script. I don’t think they had to do a lot of rewrites. Both franchises are kind of pathetic.
  • I cheered when they showed Ralph Wilson Stadium in the film – I don’t know if that’s frowned upon, but I did so quietly.
  • I’m not sure that the Jacskonville Jaguars are going to be particularly psyched with how they are depicted in the film.
  • He doesn’t have a ton to do in the film, but that is indeed Chadwick Boseman (42) as Vontae Mack. He is the Bo Jackson of sports movie athletes.
  • Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy, aka P Diddy) also appears in the film as an agent.
  • I was particularly excited to see Timothy Simons (Jonah, Veep) as part of the Browns team.
  • The assistant to the owner of the Browns is named Heather. Not really relevant, but that made me happy.
  • I have obviously never been through an actual draft experience, but I have been through a lot of fantasy drafts and always found them stressful. That being said, I never panicked as much as some of the people in this film.
  • Of course they managed to work in the obligatory reference to Tom Brady being drafted in the sixth round.

Draft Day is a perfectly OK movie – not really a ringing endorsement, but that’s ultimately the most accurate description of my feelings about it. In an attempt to appeal to a lot of people – including the NFL so that they would give them access – the result is a pretty bland movie that felt very generic. If you are a big Costner fan you may be more enthusiastic about the film, but I wouldn’t waste your money to see it in the theater. It’s a movie that would be good to watch on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry – it doesn’t require a lot of attention and it is a pleasant enough experience without being memorable or compelling. Like the real NFL draft, there aren’t a ton of surprises in this film; if you are well versed in sports movie clichés, there isn’t much new to see here. When it comes to selecting your next movie to view, Draft Day is a third round pick at best.

 

Talk back – Game of Thrones

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This post will discuss the events of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones; if you are looking to avoid spoilers as to what transpired on the show up to this point, mosey along to another post.

 

 

I’ve been to a lot of weddings. I believe the last time I did a count I’ve been invited to over 40 and have attended close to 35. As I’ve gotten older, the frequency of these invites have slowed down a bit; in 2013 I even made it through the entire year with nary an invite to someone’s nuptials – the first year that has happened since I was 19 years old. While I am always excited to help friends and family celebrate and be a part of their special day, if I’m being completely honest there is also a very small part of me that is less enthused at the obligation and expense of attending a wedding. My joy for the couple involved trumps this feeling, but if I said that the mental arithmetic of how much time and money this invitation was going to cost me didn’t briefly cross my mind every time that I pull a fancy envelope from my mailbox than I’d be lying. When you’ve gone to as many weddings/bridal showers/bachelorette parties as I have, you can get a little burned out.

If I lived in Westeros, however, I’d have a much different feeling if I received a wedding invitation – pure dread. Because if there is one thing that Game of Thrones has taught us, weddings in this realm are hazardous to your health. The weddings that I’ve attended, the worst that has happened is someone has too much to drink or there is family/friend drama. At a Westeros wedding, you’re as likely to be served death as you are to get some prime rib.

Last night proved no different, as sociopathic teen King Joffrey finally met his demise at his wedding feast. It was clear that something was going to happen – the show rarely spends such a prolonged amount of time in one location – but it is a testament to the acting, writing and directing that I wasn’t sure what that something was going to be. As I watched the episode unfold, there were several people that I thought were quite possibly in peril, though Joffrey was pretty low on that list. There was such a palpable sense of dread that the anticipation for whatever was going to happen continued to build as the wedding scene played out and I was on the edge of my seat. When Joffrey started choking, I still didn’t think that he was really in danger; I presumed that we were setting the stage for something else. But as he collapsed on the floor surrounded by his hysterical mother and father/uncle, I had two very different competing emotions – the first was relief that this monster was finally gone while the other was something akin to disappointment that this great, evil character was no longer in play.

Joffrey had to die at some point – even in a world like that created by George R.R. Martin where expectations are subverted, it had to be assumed that Joffrey was not long for this world. He was far too cruel and short-sighted in his behavior for him to peacefully pass away from old age. He was going to get his comeuppance eventually; he had pissed off far too many people for someone to not seek revenge, but I figured that we still had a few more seasons of his reign of terror before someone finally took him out (preferably Arya Stark). I never would have predicted that he would be poisoned on his wedding day while surrounded by family and those sworn to protect him, which I guess was kind of the point. Martin has a reputation for zigging when you think that he’s going to zag, which is what makes him a great, if sometimes frustrating, storyteller.

Of course, Martin couldn’t let us have that moment to savor the assassination of Joffrey; as the king was gasping for his last breath, the immediate suspect became his uncle Tyrion – easily one of the most beloved characters on the series. It almost seems cruel – Tyrion had suffered at the hand of Joffrey as much as others only to put in the gravest of peril once his tormentor was dead. I am skeptical that Tyrion actually had anything to do with the murder of his nephew; though it was Joffrey’s wedding day, there were plenty of people in attendance that wouldn’t shed any authentic tears at his passing. In fact, Joffrey did a pretty stellar job of showing why he deserved to die in the moments preceding his murder by mocking several of the prominent families of the realm. Humiliation has always been Joffrey’s brand of humor.

But after the momentary jubilation that this little brat finally had to face the ultimate consequence for his behavior, it dawned on me that I was actually a little disappointed that he was gone for a variety of reasons. His death, while cathartic, was not nearly as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. After all that he has done to so many people – the Starks in particular – it would have been a more fitting ending for him to die more directly at the hand of someone that he had wronged. His death by poisoning was gruesome, but didn’t have the same resonance as it could have had since it was removed from whoever was behind it. I suppose that’s realistic, however; sometimes people aren’t able to get the justice that they deserve and the toppling of an evil man is not always as flashy as you would have hoped. After all, it took something as mundane as tax evasion to finally bring down Al Capone. Everyone doesn’t get the ending that they necessarily deserve. While there would have been something particularly sweet about Sansa Stark plunging a dagger into Joffrey’s heart, that’s no how Martin choose to have it play out.

I’m a little bummed that we’re not going to have old Joffrey Baratheon to kick around anymore. Getting angry at his spoiled and warped behavior was part of the fun of watching Game of Thrones. He was the child king that everyone loved to hate; Joffrey was simply the worst and anticipating his death turned out in the long term to be a lot more enjoyable than the act itself. Jack Gleeson did a tremendous job of creating such a despicable character that while I’ve been rooting for Joffrey to die pretty much since he was introduced on the show, I’m still slightly sad that he won’t be part of the story going forward.

Joffrey’s death was important event, not only because fans finally got to see the moment that they had all been looking forward to, but because his death unleashes a lot of chaos on the story. Things are never boring or simple on Game of Thrones – someone somewhere is always in danger and/or plotting the demise of another character – but the murder of a king will have far reaching implications as we find out who was behind this, who will pay the price for it (two possibly mutually exclusive points) and what this means for the governing structure of the realm. One would have to think that Tywin, patriarch and mastermind of the Lannisters, would have a backup plan, but who knows what that would entail.

We were also reminded that Joffrey is far from the only monster roaming around the Westeros; he may have been a douche, but at least he had family members that were occasionally able to temper his pathos and reel him in. That is not the case elsewhere – the beginning of last night’s episode made that abundantly clear with Ramsey Snow hunting a woman for sport. Joffrey was terrible, but there are much scarier things out there. Cut off the head of one evil figure head it is possible that someone even worse will take their place. I saw Heathers – I know what’s up. Joffrey was the evil that we knew; I’m a little concerned with what else Martin has in his bag of tricks to unleash upon us as this story unfolds. It is quite possible that things are about to get a lot worse – perhaps we will soon be longing for the jackassery that was Joffrey. That is a sobering thought.

But for now, I’ll pour a little wine out for our dead King; it’s not often that I watch a TV show and become immediately frustrated that I have no one to discuss it with, but that happened last night. I immediately sought refuge in the warm embrace of Twitter, where no one ruins about spoiling anything and there was brief jubilation that Joffrey had FINALLY shuffled off this mortal coil. A tip of the cap to Jack Gleeson, who is contemplating retiring from acting now that his obligation to Game of Thrones has come to an end. By all accounts, Gleeson is the nicest guy and is nothing like the character that he so vividly brought to life, so while I wish him well in whatever he decided to do with the rest of his life, I hope he knows what a fantastic job he did. Sunday nights aren’t going to be same without Joffrey to get pissed at anymore.

As for Tyrion, I think the parody Twitter account for the character says it best: