Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Out Like A Lamb Edition

While officially Spring began a few weeks ago, living in Upstate New York I refuse to even contemplate the end of winter until the calendar has turned to April. Even then, I am on my guard for a freak snow storm or colder temperatures, but I allow myself to dream of everything turning green, flowers blooming, and the day that I can put my shovel in my trunk, hopefully not to be used again until December. For someone who hates winter, these last few days of March mark the final phase of my seasonal depression. And then, like a goldfish, I will promptly forget how much I hate winter until it inevitably rolls around again. Soon enough, my self-imposed exile will be lifted and I will hit the road for more pop culture adventures. I can’t wait.

Thankfully we have the pop culture roundup to get us through these dark days. As usual, I’ve scoured the interwebs looking for the best that the world of pop has to offer. So while I contemplate putting my winter boots in storage, check out what you might have missed.

Television

Always amazing to spend an afternoon with my Fresh Prince family. Wishing that James Avery was still with us to make this complete.

A post shared by Alfonso Ribeiro (@therealalfonsoribeiro) on

 

Movies

 

Trailers

  • Justice League:

 

  • Spider-Man: Homecoming:

 

  • Ferdinand:

 

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales:

 

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:

 

  • Baywatch:

 

  • iZombie, season 3:

 

  • A Ghost Story:

 

  • Death Note:

 

  • 2017 from Louis C.K.:

 

  • An Inconvenient Sequel:

 

  • Fargo, season 3:

 

  • Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie:

 

  • The Sweet Life:

 

  • Wish Upon:

 

  • Casting JonBenet:

 

  • Playground:

 

  • Berlin Syndrome:

 

  • Queen of the Desert:

 

  • Dragonheart 4:

 

  • What Happens at the Abbey:

 

Music

 

Theater

Stand-up

Books

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • Twilight as a goofy comedy:

 

  • People audition to be Stephen Hawking’s new voice:

 

  • Sia dropped by Sesame Street:

 

  • Watch actors perform side by side with their real-life counterparts:

 

  • The Avengers react to the Justice League trailer:

 

  • Tom Hardy reading bedtime stories is apparently a thing:

 

  • A Deadpool/Beauty and the Beast parody:

 

Logan – A Review

The X-Men movie franchise has been something of a roller coaster ride. When the original X-Men movie came out in 2000, it helped kickstart what eventually would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe domination. I didn’t know very much about the X-Men; up until that point my familiarity with superheroes was limited to the major players: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. X-Men was the first movie that introduced me to the wide and diverse world of superheroes and I was instantly fascinated. It helped that X-Men was a decent movie; sadly, as the franchise continued, its track record got a little shakier. Perhaps my wonder at this new world simply wore off, but the rest of the X-Men related movies were something of a mixed bag. I think I was disappointed in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand and I certainly thought that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not good. When the franchise rebooted itself with X-Men: First Class, I thought that they may have righted the ship, but X-Men: Apocalypse proved that they were still plenty capable of terrible franchise installments even with the new cast.

Through it all, one constant of the greater X-men universe has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Even when the movie he appeared in was crappy – including his first solo outing – Jackman was always a solid guardian for the character. While most of the main X-men were portrayed by different actors during the long run of the franchise, no one else has donned the claws other than Jackman, which has led to some much needed reliability in a series of movies that has jumped around in time. But 17 years is a long time to play a character, so I wasn’t totally surprised when word came down that Logan would likely be Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine. All good things must come to an end eventually. I would have gone to see Logan simply to see Jackman’s sideburns one last time regardless, but when the news came down that Logan would not only be based on the popular comic book story Old Man Logan, but that it would also be rated R, my interest was definitely piqued. Though I haven’t read Old Man Logan, I’ve been anecdotally hearing about this story for years and how it is really dark and gritty it is – and y’all know that I love dark and gritty. Deadpool’s runaway success last year made studios a little more comfortable with the idea of an R-rated superhero movie and while a lot of the R-Rating in Deadpool goes to raunchy and delightful jokes, the idea of a superhero movie will real violence and real consequences only served to potentially heighten the stakes of Logan and increase the world wariness of Wolverine. Despite the bad aftertaste that X-Men: Apocalypse left in my mouth, I was willing to let my expectation for Logan rise ever so slightly. I was cautiously optimistic, but still prepared for Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine be a letdown.

Thankfully, Logan was really great and took full advantage of its rating to make a definitively adult superhero movie. It isn’t just a lot more violent (though it definitely is), but it is able to explore a lot of ideas and topics that don’t really fit into a PG-13 movie: carrying the burden of killing a lot of people, loss of family, and questioning your purpose. There aren’t a lot of quips in Logan and there aren’t man attempts to make this a lighter movie. Logan is also freed from the burden of setting up the next X-Men or Marvel movie and it takes full advantage of that luxury by focusing on telling this one particular story without having to remind us how it fits in the larger MCU. No characters are forcefully shoehorned in and references are made to actions that have happened off-screen prior to the film that Logan doesn’t feel that it has to explain or fully explore. It trusts that a grown-up audience can make inferences and doesn’t need everything spelled out for them. For me, it was a refreshing change of pace.

Logan takes place in 2029 and Wolverine/Logan is one of the last surviving mutants. No new mutants have been born in last 25 years and Wolverine’s best days are behind him – he is visibly older and he no longer heals like he used to. He’s earning money as a chauffeur while he and mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) secretly harbor and care for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from senility and an inability to control his telepathic abilities (which isn’t good for anybody). Logan is approached by a Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to transport a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen). She and Laura are running from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (Ricard E. Grant), who have a keen interest in Laura. This assignment pulls Logan out of retirement and puts him on a collision course with not only some “bad hombres” but with his own destiny and legacy.

As usual, Hugh Jackman is solid as Wolverine and finally has a movie around him that allows him to play a much more nuanced version of the character. Jackman is definitely going out on a high note, as Logan is easily one of my favorite installments in the X-Men franchise. I’m always going to like the old weary version of a character to the young version, so Logan is right up my alley.  It’s not a perfect film – these movies have always struggled with creating well-rounded female characters – but the singularity of its focus and its relatively small cast allows the film the space to breathe and tell a well-crafted story with a focus on the people as well as the action sequences, which benefit greatly from minimal use of CGI. The fight scenes feel realer and fresher because the viewer is closer to the action and now that people actually die (sometimes gruesomely) on screen, there is a real urgency to every time that Logan unsheathes his claws. The viewer is also very aware of the toll that each battle takes out of Logan; with the specter of invincibility removed, there is more investment in the outcome. It all felt realer and rawer; there is an urgency to the film as it feels like most of the characters are on borrowed time – and they know it.

In between all the mayhem, there are also some quieter moments that permit the film to explore the emotional connection between the characters. Patrick Stewart is always great, but as deteriorating and feeble Professor X he has found a new note to his character that allows him to flex different acting muscles. He and Wolverine have always had a special relationship and Logan allows that bond to be examined. As potentially the last of their kind, that bond is only intensified and both actors have some very powerful scenes together. Adding Laura to the mix creates a family dynamic that is fun to watch.

Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how Logan was going to end, it was still an enjoyable ride to be on. By keeping it simple and with the freedom afforded by a R-rating, I think that Logan is not only a great superhero movie, but a great movie full stop.  Personally I’d like to see superhero movies continue to follow this pattern, though that is unlikely given the larger picture of Marvel movies and the box office receipts that rely on the younger set being able to see these films in the theater. But even if it is unrealistic for all superhero movies to fit the mold of Logan, I hope it’s a direction that they don’t abandon. With the right actors, story, and the shackles of servicing a multiverse removed, superhero films can certainly elevate their game and explore some more interesting terrain. If Hugh Jackman does indeed ride off into the sunset, never to play Wolverine again, he picked a stellar jumping off point. He’s done that character right for 17years and finally the character has done Jackman right as well.

Logan is currently in wide release.

Get Out – A Review

Horror films are woke, y’all.

That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon. While horror movies are often thought the be the realm of cheap thrills, gratuitous nudity, and terrible acting, there is a tradition in the genre of making film that also tackle social commentary. Night of the Living Dead was certainly informed by the racial tensions of the 1960s, Dawn of the Dead has some thoughts about consumerism, It Follows certainly has been read as part allegory about the dangers of casual sex and/or millennial apathy, and even The Purge reveals elements of socio-economic and racial conflict.

The first time that I saw a trailer for Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out was before a screening for Fences. I was aware that Peele was working on a horror movie, but I had no idea what the concept or plot actually was. When the trailer ended, the racially diverse crowd sat there in awkward silence, not quite sure what they had just witnessed or what it meant. There were a few nervous titters of laughter, but the uncertainty of how to react was practically palpable. People are often uncomfortable talking about race, so a thriller with a premise like Get Out is going to make people squirm (and think) a bit. I resolved then and there that I was going to see Get Out, because if the trailer had that effect, I couldn’t wait to see how provocative the whole movie would be.

The set-up for Get Out is pretty simple: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) are going upstate so that he can meet her parents for the first time. Chris is slightly apprehensive, as Rose hasn’t told her affluent white family that Chris is black. She assures him that it won’t be an issue –and when Chris first meets Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) they almost try too hard to welcome him and show how cool they are with the situation. It’s slightly cringe worthy, but more troubling is the behavior of the family’s black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson). Chris feels something off about both of them, like they would be more at home in The Stepford Wives. His unease intensifies as he meets more of the friends of Rose’s parents, who are not openly hostile but force Chris to endure a series of microagressions. Is this the passive prejudice of the wealthy liberal elite or is there really something sinister going on here? That’s as much as you should know about the movie going in; half the fun is letting the story slowly reveal itself.

There is a lot going on in Get Out and honestly I’m still unpacking some of it, but I found this movie to be extremely smart and well-done. It’s entertaining and scary; it makes you laugh and it makes you think. Peele has crafted an excellent commentary on race that isn’t too heavy handed or predictable.  I didn’t have any idea where this story was going and just when I thought I had things figured out, it zigged when I thought it would zag. The tension and unease is present from the very beginning of the movie and Peele and his actors know how to slowly turn up the heat. Fans of horror will appreciate that Peele plays with some of the tropes of the genre while subverting expectations. He even manages to make Fruit Loops terrifying.

The actors all do a spectacular job in their roles. I was vaguely familiar with Kaluuya from his appearance on an episode of Black Mirror, and he’s really a revelation in this role. As Chris struggles to determine whether his paranoia is from generally being uncomfortable with the situation or because he is actually in peril, the viewer feels his uncertainty and is instantly sympathetic. His performance may have briefly made me think “seriously, what is up with these white people?” – a question that I don’t normally find myself having to consider given my race. This is also pretty much the perfect role for Williams and plays into every preconception that people probably have about her from her depiction of Marnie of Girls. As Chris’ wise-cracking, TSA agent pal, comedian Lil Rey Howery provides some much needed comic relief.

There is a moment at the end of Get Out that proves just how effective this movie is. I won’t spoil it, but it serves as an important reminder that some of the scariest things out there are not the boogeyman or a super-powered serial killer, but grounded in reality. I saw Get Out almost a week ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In my very limited downtime, I find myself Googling reviews and analysis about the movie to get different perspectives and to see how different people interpreted the movie. It’s not often that a horror movie prompts that kind of self-imposed homework, but as I peel back more layers of the symbolism, the movie just gets more fascinating. Plus it’s just a damn entertaining film. Even if you don’t typically like horror movies or thrillers, this is one to see.

Get Out is currently showing nationwide.