Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Snow Day edition

Well, it was too good to last. We finally got some significant snow here in Albany; up until this point we’ve just had a dusting or two, but we had several inches by the time I left for work this morning with more snow and sleet on the way. I am miserable. I live in the totally wrong part of the country as I hate winter. I could handle it being really cold, but once the precipitation starts to fall I am not a happy camper. If I didn’t love my friends and family so much – and wasn’t kind of lazy – I would have taken off for a warner climate long ago. Now I’ll just pout until I go to Florida in March.

While I’m sulking at my desk and watching the snow fly, enjoy your (slightly delayed) bi-weekly roundup of pop culture stories you may have missed.

  • It was a sad Christmas as we lost two actors – Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple, Quincy) and Charles Durning (a prolific character actor who was Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie) both passed away. Rest in peace.
  • If you need a Star Trek crash course, here’s a chart of all the character names and roles.
  • As a Seinfeld devotee, I ate up this New York Times Magazine piece on Jerry.
  • Grantland has a conversation with Quentin Tarantino. If you missed my review of Django Unchained, that’s here.
  • Frank Ocean’s song didn’t make the Django Unchained soundtrack, so he released it on his own. Take a listen:

 

  • Last Django Unchained reference (promise!) – check out this mashup with Blazing Saddles

 

  • Someone dressed up their dogs to look like Walter White and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. I wonder if my cat would tolerate that?

breakingbad-dogs

  • Perhaps the third time is the charm: Kate Winslet married Ned Rocknroll (Best.Name.Ever) earlier this month. I’ve always really liked her, so I hope this works out for her. Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio gave the bride away.
  • UGH! CBS has renewed How I Met Your Mother for a ninth season. I used to really like this show, but it has had a serious drop off in quality the last two seasons and I finally stopped watching it a few weeks ago. Damn you, Jason Segel, for not refusing to come back. It would have been a mercy killing.
  • Here’s the trailer for the new Gossling/Cooper movie that was filmed locally and got everyone in such a tizzy (not that I blame them).

 

  • Another story with a local twist – Brewery Ommegang has teamed with HBO to bring us a Game Of Thrones themed beer, Iron Throne. Ommegang is a brewery in Cooperstown, NY (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) and is pretty close to Albany. I’ve sampled many of their beers and they are all tasty – I am partial to Three Philosopher – so I am definitely trying Iron Throne when it debuts in March. Might be reason enough to take a trip to the brewery for a tour.
  • Wheel of Fortune is getting a lot of attention for this decision. Watch your pronunciation people! It may cost you $4,000.

 

  • I’ve always been a fan of Legos, so I’m pretty psyched for this Back to Future inspired set. And as a side note, when are MLB and Lego going to get together for licensed baseball stadium sets. I would absolutely buy that.
  • The Walking Dead has been renewed for a 4th season, but show runner Glenn Mazzara is leaving the show over a difference of creative direction. That’s too bad, as I thought he fixed a lot of the problems that I had with the show in the second season. AMC is now getting a reputation as a network that doesn’t work well with creative types; there is a lot of turnover and prolonged disputes.
  • Arsenio Hall is back

 

  • Steve Carell and Jim Carrey play rival magicians in the new movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I don’t see any way this movie will not be fantastic.

 

  • File this under terrible ideas – Vin Diesel (remember him?) may play Kojak.
  • A moment of silence for Nick Swisher, who has signed with a baseball team that is not the Yankees. Right field will not be the same without him. Perhaps I will now move my seat location.
  • For those of you that miss Community as much as I do, hopefully this video of Alison Brie and Danny Pudi freestyle rapping will tide you over until new episodes (allegedly) debut in February

 

  • The League (FX) and Psych (USA) have both been renewed for their 5th and 8th seasons, respectively.
  • Yeah, this isn’t at all creepy. Larry Hagman will appear posthumously on an episode of CBS’s reality show I Get That A Lot.
  • NBC will also host a mini Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip reunion when Bradley Whitford stops by Matthew Perry’s sitcom, Go On.
  • Michael J. Fox’s new show just got a lot more interesting; The Wire and Treme’s Wendell Pierce has joined the cast.
  • The Rock+ Mark Wahlberg+ Rebel Wilson = Heather’s all in. I want to see Pain and Gain NOW!

 

  • I don’t care your political leanings – this photo of President Obama playing with a staffer’s son is fantastic

Obama spiderman

  • Speaking of Spider-Man, the latest issue has fans all riled up. (Contains spoilers)
  • And finally, it was probably inevitable. Here’s The Hobbit/The Hunger Games mashup, The Hobbit Games.

Hitchcock – A Review

Who knew that a movie about the master of suspense could have so many laughs?

I went into last night’s screening of Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, expecting a straight drama. With the pedigree of the actors involved and the subject matter, I don’t think that would be an erroneous assumption. Hitchcock, however, is a much lighter film; if you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I doubt that you’ll learn anything new here. The movie isn’t very deep, but it is fun. Not exactly what I thought I was getting, but still a movie that I enjoyed.

Hitchcock focuses on the time period when the director (Hopkins) was struggling to make what would be his most famous movie – Psycho. At sixty, Hitchcock is trying to prove to the studio – and perhaps himself – that his best years are not behind him and that he can still do innovative projects. When he decided to adapt the book Psycho, based on the murders of Ed Gein, there are doubts. The subject just seems too horrific to be a film and Hitchcock has to finance the film himself to get it made. The only person who is confident that Hitchcock can pull this off is his wife Alma (Mirren), who has been his sounding board and behind the scene partner for over 30 years.

While the film chronicles the time period when Hitchcock was working on Psycho, the real focus of the film is on the Hitchcock marriage. Psycho really only serves as a backdrop for watching the interactions of Alma and “Hitch.” Their marriage is an interesting one – Alma is fully involved in all of Hitch’s projects, but rarely gets the credit for her contributions. Instead, she is often pushed in the shadows and is forced to watch her husband receive all the accolades and leech after all the pretty blondes that he casts as his leading ladies. Hitch, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Alma working on a project with another writer; he is convinced that there is more to this relationship than simply a creative collaboration and he is not used to not having Alma at his beck and call for his projects.

The film makes some attempt to get into the psychology of Hitchcock, but it is one part of the film that really doesn’t work. Having Hitchcock carry on imaginary conversations with Ed Gein seems out of place with the rest of the film and the device is simply silly. While making an attempt to explain the inner workings of Hitch’s brain, it really only serves as a distraction. Nothing in these scenes seems at all credible; rather, it feels like the director has decided to use some of what he has learned in an undergraduate psychology survey course. It’s all beyond goofy and detracts from the rest of the film. Thankfully, the device is used sparingly and I simply paid little to no attention to those scenes.

Anthony Hopkins is very good as Hitchcock, though he never completely disappears into the role. He doesn’t look much like the famous director – though they did give Hopkins Hitchcock’s legendary figure – but he doesn’t necessarily look like Hopkins either. It’s kind of a weird amalgam, but it works. Hopkins’ voice is closer to the director’s, but again, is just enough off that it isn’t completely convincing. I don’t think that is necessarily essential to a successful performance –it’s more important to capture the spirit of the person, which Hopkins does nicely – but after watching Daniel Day Lewis’ personification of Lincoln, you do notice when the actor is more present in a role. Mirren is outstanding as always, though she is definitely a more attractive version of Alma. She and Hopkins pair up nicely and it is a delight to watch them together on screen.

Some other thoughts:

  • Hitchcock also sports a pretty impressive supporting cast: Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica “Mrs. Timberlake” Biel as Vera Miles, Toni Collette as Hitch’s assistant, Danny Huston as Alma’s writing partner and a brief – and surprising – appearance by Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio as the writer of Psycho’s screenplay. Macchio’s appearance caused quite a stir in the theater; people have apparently missed him.
  • Ed Gein made quite an impression; not only is he the model for Norman Bates, but he was also the inspiration for Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. And that concludes today’s installment of “Get to Know a Serial Killer.”
  • I am such a sucker for the clothes during this time period; I’m sure that they weren’t all that comfortable, but they are so pretty. I’d wear dresses every day if I could, which is a complete 180 from when I was a kid.
  • If you watched HBO’s The Girl, Hitchcock gives a very different look at the famed director. There are mild hints of some of the obsession that Hitchcock had for the women he cast in his films, but for the most part his relationship with Leigh was depicted as totally professional and there was none of the drama on the set of Psycho like what Tippi Hedren allegedly had to put up with in The Birds. If you haven’t seen The Girl, I recommend it.
  • I did enjoy the nods to Hitchcock’s hosting of the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents at the beginning and end of the film.

While I enjoyed Hitchcock and thought the movie was a lot of fun, it didn’t have the gravitas or depth of story that I expected. While it is an interesting character study, there isn’t a lot of story here. I’m somewhat surprised that they picked this time period; though Psycho was the film that Hitchcock is probably best known for, there isn’t a lot to tell about its production. I get the sense that a lot of the drama in Hitchcock was fabrication or dramatization of actual events. In a way, the story squanders the immense talent that is up on the screen; I think with this cast they were capable of telling a much more interesting and in-depth story. Regardless, I think Hitchcock is worth seeing and is ultimately an agreeable film, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Not covering a lot of new ground, but everyone had a lot of fun during the film’s 90 minute run. Hitchcock is affable, but not innovative.

Hitchcock opens nationwide today.

Coming Attractions – Fall Movies

With the leaves starting to change and the temperatures starting to dip, there is no doubt that summer is well in our rear view mirror. Even though the official start of fall was only a few weeks ago, it somehow already seems like summer is a distant memory. Of course, all the Christmas merchandise and decorations in stores does nothing to help matters. I actually saw my first Christmas themed TV commercial last night; Target, I love you but you’re jumping the gun a little bit!

The end of summer also means the end of summer blockbusters. The superheroes of the universe get to hang up their capes for a while for much needed R&R and you see a drastic decline in the number of explosions in films as the weather becomes crisper. While summer movies tend to be big, broad affairs that are a lot of fun, fall movies become generally much quieter and more serious. There are aberrations of course – we are currently right in the heart of horror movie season – but there is generally a distinctive change in tone at the cinema. Fall brings the first glimpse of possible Oscar contenders, though the majority of Oscar hopefuls will roll out closer to the end of the year. There is no way that the upcoming Hungry Hungry Hippos movie (yup – a real thing) would ever open in the fall. That has summer written all over it.

While I enjoy the superhero/shoot-‘em-up movies as much as the next girl (well, probably more than most girls), the film of fall and winter tend to be the ones that I enjoy the most. This year is no different; I have a lot of movies whose release I am anxiously anticipating. While some people write birthdays on their calendars, I write movie openings. Here’s a sampling of some of the films that I am most excited for (I stretched the definition of fall a bit – some of these films come out as late as December).

1. Argo (October 12)

I’ve made no effort to hide my adoration of Ben Affleck, but I am especially enjoying this second phase of his career. Not only is he making more interesting choices in the roles that he selects, but he has blossomed into quite the director. I quite liked his adaptation of the Dennis Lehane book Gone Baby Gone and while The Town had some flaws, it was also a solid film. His latest effort, Argo, has a great cast (Affleck, my man Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and everyone’s favorite football coach, Kyle Chandler) and tells what appears to be an interesting story of the operation to rescue six Americans trapped in Iran during the hostage crisis.

I’ve seen this trailer more times than I can count, yet when the early chords of “Dream On” start, I get chills every time. If I’m not at the ALDS this weekend (GO YANKEES!), I will be in the theater watching this movie.

2. The Paperboy (limited release October 5)

This is the latest from the director of Precious and is a sexually charged crime thriller. What intrigues me about this movie is that there are a lot of actors in this film in roles that you don’t really expect them to play – John Cusack plays a convict and Nicole Kidman plays a death row groupie. The film stars Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey as brothers trying to prove that Cusack was wrongly convicted. This movie has gotten a lot of buzz because of the relationship between Efron and Kidman in the film and the behavior that they engage in; I won’t spoil it for anyone who wants to be surprised, but if you are curious you can find out more info here. I like Kidman when she takes some chances and this role sounds like it is as big of a departure from her usual persona that you could get. I have no idea when this film will roll into town, but they have peaked my interest.

3. Vamps (limited release November 2)

I’m intrigued by this comedy for three reasons: a) It marks the first reteaming of director Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone since Clueless (a movie that I still find incredibly re-watchable, and that is not typically my genre); b) Krysten Ritter (aka, the titular “B” in the ABC Comedy, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 co-stars; and c) Despite the fact that they have been done to death, I still kind of like vampires.

The premise otherwise could go either way – two young vampires experiencing the trials and tribulations of being single and dating in the big city – but based on the pedigree, I’m expecting good things.

4. Skyfall (IMAX November 8; conventional theaters November 9)

Daniel Craig is my favorite actor to play Bond, which may be considered blasphemy to those who grew up with Connery in the role. But I’m relatively new to the 007 game and I really liked Craig before he put on the famous cufflinks (check out the movie Layer Cake – fantastic!), so I am partial to his interpretation. I think he revitalized a flailing franchise with Casino Royale. So after a delay between movies due to the bankruptcy issues at MGM, I’m anxious to see 007 back in the game (even if he’s drinking beer now instead of martinis).

5. Hitchcock (November 23)

I have loved Hitchcock movies for as long as I can remember; my mom was a fan and I distinctly remember watching Rear Window with her for the first time (though I’m beginning to believe that my distrust of birds can be connected to my viewing of his film). I always get excited when AMC does their yearly Hitchcock marathon, though my DVR may feel differently about it. Hitchcock the man is just as fascinating to me; I watched an old interview that he did with Dick Cavett and immediately wanted to know more about the man behind these films. Hitchcock is based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho and focuses on the relationship between Alfred and his wife Alma. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren star as the couple and if that isn’t an impressive pedigree for a film, I don’t know what is. (Sorry – no trailer yet for this one) The trailer is currently showing exclusively at Apple Trailers.

6. Hyde Park on the Hudson (December 7th)

Here’s all you need to know: Bill Murray is FDR. If that doesn’t make you curious, I don’t know what would.

7. Christmas Bonanza – Django Unchained, Les Miserable, West of Memphis (limited release)

I’m not sure yet how I am going to convince my family that we should celebrate Christmas at the movie theater, but there are three movies that I am very much looking forward to. And yes – I am aware that I don’t have to see a movie the day it comes out. But I want to.

Django Unchained should come as no surprise – I’ve been talking about this new Taratino movie since it was just a twinkle in Quentin’s eye. He speaks my language, so I have no doubt that it will be awesome. I’ve seen every Taratino film on opening day since Kill Bill Vol. 1, so I may have a late night showing in my future.

 

My desire to see Les Miserable is more unexpected, even to me, since I’ve never seen the play or read the book. Chalk this up to repeated viewings of the trailer; advertising actually worked in this case. Though I am a sucker for a musical, so this desire isn’t completely out of left field.

 

As for West of Memphis, I apparently just can’t get enough of the story of the West Memphis Three. You would think that this subject would have been exhausted after the three HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, but from what I’ve heard this new documentary is not just a rehash of the previous films and offers a new perspective and new information. This film has already on the festival circuit and reviews have generally been pretty positive. And Lord knows I do love me a good documentary.

What movies are you looking forward to this fall? Sound off in the comments below.