Heather’s Favorite Pop Culture of 2015

2015-Year-in-Review

I think all bloggers are contractually obligated to do some sort of year end post and New Year’s Eve is as good a day as any to pause to take a moment and reflect on the pop culture that I consumed in 2015 (and I consumed a lot). Overall, I think that pop culture 2015 was pretty strong; there were lots of great movies, TV shows, concerts and Broadway shows out there if you knew where to look. I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what I’m going to like – and what I’m not – so while there were fewer pop culture items in 2015 that just blew me away, what I did consume was consistently enjoyable.

So in a year when I watched, listened and experienced a lot, these were my personal highlights for 2015.

Top movies of 2015 (in no particular order):

Mad Max: Fury Road

 

I had no previous experience with the Mad Max franchise, so I was slow to get around to seeing this. I’m sorry that I waited so long, as I really dug this movie. It was smarter and more enjoyable than I expected and I was a big fan of the film’s feminist tone. Most important – I couldn’t take my eye off the action. Plus how many other movies this year featured a guy shredding a guitar that spit out flames?

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That’s reason alone to crack my best of list.

Ex Machina

 

This one was another pleasant surprise that I didn’t get around to seeing until it was available on demand. I’m a little skiddish when it comes to the sci-fi genre and more often than not, I just don’t like movies of this ilk. So I was a little wary when I read the description of Ex Machina as robots and artificial intelligence aren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. But despite the sci-fi elements, Ex Machina was grounded enough in reality that I was instantly drawn in. Excellent performances from Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander kept me fully invested and the film took me in an unexpected direction. The dance sequence is just the icing on the cake:

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Spotlight

 

This film about the team that uncovered the sex abuse scandal of the archdiocese of Boston boasts an incredible ensemble that created a story that stayed with me long after the movie was over. Even though everyone knows the ultimate outcome of their investigation, they told it in such a compelling way that you are totally invested. An emotional and important movie.

 

Creed

 

Thanks to fantastic performances from Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, Creed completely reinvigorated the Rocky franchise. Smart writing and directing found interesting new facets to what could have been a retread of previous movies. Even though we’ve seen elements of Creed before, it somehow felt completely new and fresh.

 

The Hateful Eight

 

I plan to post a full review of the latest Quentin Tarantino film next week, but suffice to say that since I’ve seen it I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s perhaps his most violent and profane movie, yet also his simplest and most constrained. It clocks in at just under three hours, yet I can’t wait to watch it again.

 

Honorable mention: The Big Short, Brooklyn

 

Top Television Picks

Mad Men

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All good things must come to an end and this year we said goodbye to Donald Draper and company in memorable fashion. I could have spent time with these characters for the rest of my life and probably wouldn’t have tired of them, but Matthew Weiner brought his series to an end in a fitting and satisfying manner. I’m sad that I don’t have Jon Hamm as a part of my life on a regular basis, but that’s what the DVDs are far. Easily one of the best shows not only this year, but in the history of television. Plus it gave us what is easily the greatest GIF of the year:

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#Likeaboss

 

Inside Amy Schumer

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There’s no doubt that 2015 was Schumer’s year, but while the success of Trainwreck has certainly dominated the narrative I think her Comedy Central sketch show really found its stride in its third season. The show is not only hilarious but offers some pretty spot on social commentary. The standalone episode that is a parody of 12 Angry Men is nothing short of brilliant and was a risk to undertake. I’m guessing the days of this show are numbered, given the success she’s enjoyed on the big screen, but I’ll savor this show while we have it. So smart and so freaking funny at the same time.

 

Jessica Jones

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I never got around to blogging about Netflix’s newest Marvel inspired show when I watched it, but I may still write about it as there was just so much about this series that I loved. This is easily the most adult treatment of Marvel characters that I’ve seen to date and it has a distinctively noir vibe. Jessica Jones dealt with some interesting issues, such as PTSD after domestic abuse. This is a superhero show for people who don’t really care about superheroes; Krysten Ritter is amazing and David Tennant’s Kilgrave is easily the most charismatic and terrifying villain to date in any Marvel property. And not for nothing – it’s nice to see women in the leads of these shows. Jessica Jones also did a nice job or piquing my interest for the forthcoming Luke Cage.

 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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John Oliver and his staff continue to put out one of the most intelligent comedy shows about current events. Because his show is only once week, rather than daily, they have the luxury of deliberating on news stories rather than quickly reacting to them. The show’s decision to focus on one issue in depth per episode has also been a smart one; this show has provided a public service in education its viewers on issues that are often overlooked by the mainstream news – especially issues that involve criminal justice reform – while also making you laugh. That’s a powerful combination and John Oliver is doing very strong work.

 

Game of Thrones

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The fastest ten weeks of the year are when Game of Thrones is on; waiting for the show to return is excruciating.

Making a Murderer

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If you know me personally and have run into me in the last two weeks, you are more than aware that I’m obsessed with this Netflix docu-series. Like, I won’t shut up about it until you promise to watch it. This investigation of a man who was wrongly convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, only to be accused of murder under questionable circumstances shortly after his release is compelling and infuriating. I devoured all ten episodes in two days and then hounded everyone I knew to watch it so we could talk about it. If you’re a fan of Serial, this is right up your alley; Making a Murderer raises a lot of important questions about a criminal justice system that is obviously flawed. I consider this a must-watch series. Netflix brought their A-game this year.

Honorable mention: Mr. Robot, Master of None, The Americans, Spotless

 

Top Pop Culture Experiences

Hamilton

If I did nothing else this year but see Hamilton on Broadway, I think I still would have been happy. This has transformed what I thought a Broadway show could be and is easily the best pop culture moment that I had all year. I am so glad that I opted to tackle New York City with my sprained ankle to be able to see this show – and I can’t wait to see it again in 2016.

 

Madame Tussauds

Sometimes it is fun to do some cheesy touristy stuff and I had a blast spending the afternoon at the famous wax museum in New York City. Once you embrace the silliness of the whole endeavor, getting your picture taken with replicas of famous people is actually a fun way to kill some time. Plus it’s pretty amusing to see the figures that don’t quite do justice to the person that they are representing.

 

Comics Come Home XXI

Being on crutches knocked me out of commission for six long weeks; the only thing remotely fun that I attempted was the road trip to Boston to see Comics Come Home and it was totally worth all the anxiety that I had about it. A great night of comedy for a great cause; it’s now officially an annual tradition.

 

Foo Fighters Concert

Dave Grohl and I were finally breathing the same air. Enough said.

 

Seinfeld pop-up apartment

You wouldn’t think seeing the replica of a TV set would have been such an amazing day, but when you are as big a Seinfeld fan as I am it was sort of a spiritual experience. I fulfilled a dream that I didn’t even know I had. And I got to meet the Soup Nazi!

What are your picks for the best of 2015? Sound off in the comments below…..and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016!

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Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Last of 2015 Edition

The final days of 2015 are upon us and I’m happy for the symbolic fresh start that a new year brings. 2015 has definitely been a roller coaster year for me that saw a lot of highs as well as its share of lows. Obviously that is part of life, but since most of the lows have been concentrated in the last few months of the year it makes it feel like the year as a whole has been a struggle. I don’t know that turning the page to calendar year 2016 is miraculously going to eliminate some of my lingering medical issues, but it does provide the illusion of leaving some of the more unpleasant moments of 2015 in the rearview mirror. And I’m all for that.

But of course we can’t close the book on 2015 without one last pop culture roundup. The pickings were a little slim this week, but presumably everyone was so busy with the holidays, family and friends to be spending a lot of time keeping up on what’s been going on in the world of pop. That’s why I’m here – I’ve cultivated a collection of stories that will get you caught up on all that you’ve missed. So while you finalize your New Year’s Eve plans and stock up on champagne, take a moment to bid adieu to the year with this week’s roundup.

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#hoverboard #knockout #MikeTysonBreaksBack #imtoooldforthisshit

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Time for some trailers……

  • Deadpool:

 

  • Orphan Black, season 4:

 

  • Sesame Street on HBO:

 

  • Lifetime’s War and Peace:

 

  • Hail Caesar!:

 

  • Bordertown:

 

  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

 

  • International trailer for Batman v Superman:

 

  • DC’s Legends of Tomorrow:

 

  • Sherlock: The Abominable Bride:

 

  • Desierto:

 

  • A&E’s Damien:

 

Our baby chicks were over the moon when they recently met BB-8.

A post shared by Museum of Science and Industry (@msichicago) on

 

 

As always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • A supercut of wrestlers receiving a “low blow”:

 

  • Rapper Mac Miller covers Billy Joel:

 

  • Christmas lights synced up to Star Wars:

 

  • “Evil Woman” mashed up with “In the Dark”:

 

  • Florence + the Machine cover The Beatles:

 

  • Full Metal Jacket if directed by Wes Anderson:

 

  • Macaulay Culkin reprises his Home Alone character:

 

  • Daniel Stern responds:

 

  • Captain Cuts released a mixtape of mashups:

 

  • Captain America: Civil War trailer in LEGOs:

 

  • And finally, The Muppets perform “Kodachrome”:

The Big Short – A Review

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When I heard that Adam McKay (Funny or Die, Anchorman) was directing a movie about the 2008 economic collapse, I was a little confused. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of humor in what happened on Wall Street, so I wasn’t quite sure what McKay was bringing to the table. The man who brought us Ron Burgundy wasn’t the person that I expected to adapt Michael Lewis’ book about the housing credit bubble finally bursting. However, McKay had assembled an all-star cast and I’ve enjoyed all the other adaptations of Lewis’ books, so I figured that there was something to this project that I just wasn’t seeing that would make this partnership make sense.

Turns out that McKay might have been the perfect person for this job, as The Big Short finds humor in the lunacy of the behavior that contributed to the recent recession while at the same time educating the viewer on what things like subprime loans, CDOs and bond ratings are without being boring. The Big Short will make you laugh, make you angry, and make you smarter about economics all at the same time – no small feat. It’s rare when a cast of such famous people can all disappear into their roles, but Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt do just that. The Big Short will make you chuckle, but this is not necessarily a comedy; there is a slow burn of anger that is simmering just under the surface of this film and if you don’t walk out of this film a little more outraged than when you walked in, there is no hope for this country.

The Big Short tells the story about a handful of investors who saw what so many people missed or willfully ignored – the pending housing collapse caused by banks giving out loans like candy to people, many of whom were in over their heads financially. Hedge Fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) crunches the numbers and realizes that the housing market is being artificially supported by a series of subprime loans; when interest rates on these loans increase in 2008, Burry predicts that there will be many people who will default on their mortgages. He approaches numerous banks and asks to essentially bet against the housing market; the banks, believing that the housing market is secure and that this is easy money for them, accept this offer with no thought to the potential catastrophic economic impact that will result if Burry is right. Other investors, including Jared Vennett (Gosling), Mark Baum (Carell), Charlie Geller (John Magano) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) hear about Burry’s investment and agree with his analysis. Further analysis by Baum’s team lends further credibility to Burry’s predictions – rating agencies are inflating ratings on bad loans to keep the bank’s business and that mortgage brokers are not even conducting preliminary background checks on potential loan recipients. All the investors bet against the market and essentially profiting from the pending economic meltdown that will cost thousands of people their job, their pensions and their homes.

This could have been an extremely boring film, but the development of the personalities of the individual investors helps keep this film from feeling like an economics lecture from Ben Stein. Christian Bale’s Murray is definitely an eccentric – a former M.D., he analyzes trends while barefoot and blaring heavy metal – and that gives Bale a lot to work with. Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert serves as the conscious of the film, reminding his friends Geller and Shipley that their profit will come at the expense of a lot of people’s suffering. Steve Carell’s character is full of self-righteous anger at a system that is not only fiddling while Rome burns, but irresponsibly throwing gasoline on the fire.

The film also uses an innovative technique to explain some of the more technical terms and concepts that contributed to the collapse; it breaks the fourth wall and uses celebrity cameos to provide insight into what these intentionally confusing words actually mean. I have a degree in economics, so I’m probably a more willing audience than most, but having Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining sub-prime loans is perhaps the most accessible way to make people understand what exactly was happening. Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez are used similarly (minus the bathtub). These bits are of course humorous, but they are also educational; I walked out of The Big Short with a much clearer picture of how the economic recession of 2008 came to pass. And the more that you understand what happened, the more incensed you become. If you weren’t already mad at bankers for their role in the collapse, you will be after The Big Short, especially after you are reminded how little they paid for their negligent behavior. The Big Short may mine the crisis for laughs, but make no mistake about it that this film also wants you to be infuriated as well. The film smartly doesn’t lecture, but  under the farcical behavior  there is an undercurrent of anger that eventually becomes palpable.

Some other thoughts:

  • This film is lucky enough to boast all-star actors in even the smallest of performances; Oscar winner Melissa Leo briefly appears as an employee at the rating agency. Marissa Tomei also has a small part as Carrell’s wife.
  • I’m really only familiar with Finn Wittrock from his work on American Horror Story, so I was kind of conditioned to think that when he appeared he was going to kill everyone. Sadly, he didn’t slice up even one banker, which would have made for an even more satisfying movie.
  • I would 100% sign up for an economics class taught by Anthony Bourdain.
  • This shouldn’t be a deciding factor in seeing the film, but Gosling and Pitt have much less screen time than Carrell and Bale.
  • Bale’s character rocks out to Metallica in the movie, which makes him aces in my book.
  • Even though you are rooting for all the investors in the film, they aren’t heroes. They all profit from this broken system, with varying impacts on their consciences. In a way, they are the lesser of two evils.

The Big Short manages to do what many people would think is unthinkable – create a movie that doubles as both entertainment and an economics lecture. The stellar cast and smart directing choices makes The Big Short an immensely watchable film that also serves as a primer for understanding why the global recession of 2008 occurred. It’s a fun, yet frustrating movie, since it is clear that because so few people were held accountable for their role in the collapse, they continue their dangerous practices, just under another name. The Big Short is a smart and funny movie that will also make you angry. It’s a heist movie, a satire and true crime, all rolled into one.