Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Snow Day edition

Another day, another snowstorm – I am really beginning to hate living in Upstate New York. It’s been a bad winter for everyone and the fact that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow is not a good omen. We’re getting up to a foot today and there are rumblings of a Nor’easter headed our way on Sunday. This may be the winter that finally breaks me.

Thankfully I am working from home today so I don’t have to go out in this mess and I am looking forward to participating in a conference call this morning while still in my pajamas. I feel terrible for the people who don’t have that luxury or who don’t have a very understanding boss and are bracing this weather to go into work today. Stay safe!

For those of you that are snowed in, hopefully my biweekly roundup of pop culture stories will help keep you warm and make you forget about all the white stuff piling up outside. Maybe there’s even a thing or two in here to help you keep the kids entertained.

  • In honor of the weather, check out this side by side comparison of the beginning of The Walking Dead and Atlanta after 2 inches of snow paralyzed the city:

BfRO7AnIMAEXzgy

  • Benedict Cumberbatch dropped by Sesame Street:

 

  • The good people of Savannah, GA had to watch the same boring Super Bowl that the rest of us did, but they also got to watch this ridiculously epic local commercial for a personal injury lawyer:

They are the clear winners of Super Bowl Sunday.

  • Last time it was Liberace, this time it’s Peter Pan. Bill Murray knows how to make an entrance:

 

  • Steve Carell’s college mustache is OUTSTANDING:
  • A gag reel from Thor: The Dark World:

 

  • David Beckham – fan of LEGOs. He just became more perfect.
  • One unknown perk of winning the Super Bowl – you get to hang out with Beyoncé and Jay Z:
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@BrooklynNets

  • Neil Gaimain reads Green Eggs and Ham for charity

 

  • Former Olympian Tara Lipinksi skated a The Big Lebowski-themed routine on Fallon:

 

  • Conan is the king of the remote segments; in this one, he tries to sell some of his old memorabilia:

 

  • The cover for Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue has been revealed:

VF Hollywood

Julia Roberts is one lucky duck!

Trailers:

  • Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West (Red Band – NSFW):

 

  • Kevin Costner’s Draft Day:

 

  • Transformers: Age of Extinction:

 

  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2:

 

  • 24: Live Another Day:

 

  • Vampire Academy:

 

  • Liam Neeson in Non-Stop:

 

  • From Dusk Til Dawn – the series:

 

  • A trailer for the video game Thief:

 

  • The Amanda Knox story inspired a feature film, Face of an Angel:

 

  • The final Divergent trailer:

 

  • Another interesting trio: Aaron Paul, Rob Thomas and Bill Murray at a Kings of Leon concert:
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@ThisisRobThomas

  • Animator Arthur Rankin, Jr., who was responsible for holiday classics like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, passed away.
  • This week is Beatles week at Late Night with David Letterman.
  • As a fan of the original cult classic, I was impressed with this trailer for a fake Warriors reboot:

 

  • There were beer drones? Why am I just hearing about this now that they are grounded?

As always, we end with the Supercuts and Mashups

  • A supercut of Oscar visual effects winners:

 

  • A Superman vs. Jesse Eisenberg supercut:

 

  • Grumpy Cat in Frozen:

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  • This supercut ignores the so-called plot of the first 3 Transformers movies and just focuses on the actual transforming:

 

  • A mashup of every Harrison Ford movie:

 

  • Mr. Freeze sings “Let it Go”

 

  • And finally, a supercut of all of Tina’s moans on Bob’s Burgers:

 

Spring can’t get here quickly enough!

The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

In a lot of ways, The Wolf of Wall is in many ways similar in spirit to my favorite Scorsese film, Goodfellas. Both take the viewer into a world that is unfamiliar to most (the mafia and Wall Street, respectively) and the different codes of behavior that apply to participants in these realms (unsurprisingly, there is more law and order in the mafia than on Wall Street). Both feature narration by the lead character and both lament the idea of being an ordinary person living an ordinary life. Both men rose from humble beginnings and stressed the importance of loyalty over honor. They both run with a crew of guys “from the neighborhood.” Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort may swim in different pools, but they really aren’t all that different.

It’s a credit to the fantastic performances, as well as the direction and cinematography, that The Wolf of Wall Street is so fun to watch with such a slimy unlikable character like Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Based on Belfort’s memoir of the same name, the film is full of a lot of unlikable people doing a lot of terrible things. This is ostensibly a film about Wall Street brokers, but it is really a film about excess. While Goodfellas had plenty of violence, The Wolf of Wall Street is all about sex and drugs – especially the drugs. The amount of narcotics that these characters consume on a daily basis would kill a horse. All the while, Belfort and his pals are making money hand over fist through their predatory and aggressive method of trading and selling stock. Through in some money laundering and securities fraud and you have another day in the office at Stratton Oakmont. The traders engage in the kind of debauchery that would make most fraternity parties look like a tea party; this behavior is not only encouraged but is financed by Belfort and his cronies at the top. Their behavior is repulsive and yet you can’t look away; The Wolf of Wall Street manages to make these men alluring and disgusting at the same time. The fact that I didn’t tire of these characters and their terrible antics over the nearly three hour runtime means that Scorsese and company have put together an entertaining film. The film doesn’t celebrate this behavior; Belfort is not held up as any sort of aspirational ideal.

DiCaprio is great as Belfort; he displays a sort of swagger and bravado that I haven’t seen him possess before. Often when a director and actor pair up for multiple projects, there are eventually diminishing returns (see Johnny Depp and Tim Burton – the latter has pretty much ruined the former); that isn’t the case in the DiCaprio/Scorsese pairing. The duo continues to bring the best out of each other and I would be happy if pair continued to make films together ad infinitum. DiCaprio really brings Belfort to life and while he doesn’t necessarily make you feel sympathy for Belfort – nor do I think that is the intention of the movie – but you aren’t necessarily rooting for him to get his comeuppance either. Belfort as portrayed by DiCaprio occupies the same awkward space as many of the antiheros that have dominated the small screen the last few years – you don’t condone their behavior, but it is also a lot of fun to watch such reckless disregard for decency and laws. DiCaprio’s pretty boy appearance doesn’t automatically conjure up images of him as an alpha male, but he seamlessly transforms himself into a showboating and dominating personality that can rile up an entire company with one of his speeches. He’s never been so heartless and so cold; perhaps he is free to go for broke with this role because there is no effort made to make Belfort to be redeemable or likable. He has to hold nothing in reserve because this man never changes; there are no teachable moments for Belfort. Even when I don’t necessarily like the films that he is in, I generally like DiCaprio, but his work in The Wolf of Wall Street is among the best in his career. My only knock on his performance is that he doesn’t consistently get the accent right.

As Belfort’s schlubby and deranged right hand man Donnie Azoff, Jonah Hill also turns in a hilarious and wonderful performance. Belfort is a terrible guy, but Azoff is somehow even more unbalanced. Hill completely commits to his performance and the unlikability of his character. A lot of the big laughs in the film derive from Azoff’s lunacy; while Belfort occasionally can turn off his bad behavior, Azoff has no such off switch. He is all impulse with no control. Hill and DiCaprio play extremely well off each other and their friendship is completely believable.

The supporting cast is uniformly great as well – Australian actress Margot Robbie isn’t required to do much except be gorgeous (which she is), but she brings depth to her role as Belfort’s trophy wife Naomi; she also does a better job with the Queens accent than DiCaprio. Blog favorite Kyle Chandler (aka Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights) plays perhaps the only likable person in the whole film as the FBI agent that is trying to bring Belfort’s band of merry thieves down. Chandler does his usual solid job, but while morally you are rooting for him to be successful, you know that if he succeeds all the fun comes to an end. Matthew McConaughey turns up in a small but pivotal role early in the film as Belfort’s mentor when he first arrives on Wall Street. He knocks it out of the park as expected and creates a memorable role in his limited screen time; he’s really the catalyst for Belfort’s transformation from a quiet by-the-books guy to the Caligula-like man that he becomes. Jon Favreau and Rob Reiner also turn up in small parts.

Unsurprisingly, The Wolf of Wall Street is gorgeously shot and bares many Scorsese trademarks. The camera angles are used to illustrate points or exasperate behavior and they play with the film speed to simulate some of drug fueled binges. One Quaalude induced scene in particular is memorable; I’ve never taken the drug, but I imagine that they pretty successfully simulate its effects with their camera work. Scorsese and his team are able to make a film about really ugly behavior beautiful to watch. Even if you somehow got nothing out of the acting or story in the film, I think you would still be impressed with the aesthetic that they have put together. I’m always impressed with Scorsese’s choices behind the camera.

Some other thoughts:

  • I knew the guy that played Brad, the Quaalude King of Bayside, looked familiar but couldn’t quite place him; he’s played by Jon Bernthal, best known for his role as Shane on The Walking Dead.
  • Yup – that’s Academy Award winning Jean Dujardin (The Artist) as the Swiss banker. This film is seriously littered with talent.
  • She has a limited role as Belfort’s first wife, but Cristin Milioti is having a pretty great year as well. On the heels of her 2012 Tony nomination for Once, she lands the prized role of the mother on How I met Your Mother and gets to work on a Scorsese film. Not too shabby.
  • I really liked the use of music in the film; the used many familiar songs, but not the version that you are necessarily familiar with.
  • If my review hasn’t convinced you to go see The Wolf of Wall Street, perhaps this GIF of DiCaprio dancing will seal the deal:

leonard-dicaprio-dancing

  • While the film kept my attention for most of its 180 minute run time, I do think that this film would have benefitted from a bit more editing. All of the scenes are good, but I don’t know that all were essential. As excited as I was for this movie, a 3+ hour time commitment (with previews) was a bit daunting.
  • Tis the season to go to the movies with family, but this probably isn’t the film to go see with your parents (unless you want an awkward car ride home).
  • Belfort is a despicable person, but odds are pretty good that I’ll now read his memoir after seeing the film. I’ll just get it from the library so he doesn’t benefit at all financially.

I really had a lot of fun watching The Wolf of Wall Street; DiCaprio is fantastic and is surrounded by a ridiculously talented supporting cast of characters. Jonah Hill continues to show his versatility as an actor; it is impressive that his two big films in 2013 were the very different This is The End and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese in many ways has given us Wall Street for this generation; with the recent shenanigans on Wall Street and the benefit of hindsight, Belfort is not held up to be celebrated as a hero but to be reviled. “Greed is good” is no longer the mantra of our times. The Wolf of Wall Street impressively makes all this bad behavior immensely entertaining, but it is never sugarcoated as acceptable behavior. Definitely one of my favorite films of the year.

Sneak Peek – This is The End

When the end of the world comes, people like to think that they would rise to the occasion. They would be their better selves and find the strength that they needed to act heroically and keep their loved ones safe. They would be brave and band together with others to survive, helping each other out along the way as best they could. This noble impression is reinforced in countless apocalyptic movies and television shows.

In reality, people would freak the hell out and get into petty squabbles over who ate the last Milky Way while holed up in their home. The new Seth Rogen movie This is The End recognizes this and embraces it. This certainly isn’t the best film of 2013, but I’m willing to bet it may be the funniest. It’s silly and profane, but it is also spectacularly amusing. Once the film started, I didn’t stop laughing until the credits started rolling and even then I still had some residual giggles from what I had just watched.

In This is The End, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel play fictionalized (one would hope) versions of themselves. Jay is in town visiting his pal Seth, though their relationship is a bit strained as they have started to grow apart. Jay isn’t particularly fond of Seth’s new posse of friends and reluctantly accompanies him to a house warming party at James Franco’s house. The party is in full swing when the unthinkable happens: the world comes to an end. The ground opens up, the mountains are on fire and chaos rules the night as some people are beamed up into the night sky. The six friends take shelter in Franco’s mansion and do their best to hunker down and make sense of the situation. They are ill-prepared for this sort of situation and soon cabin fever and fear begin to reveal how they really feel about each other.

Written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg – the same pair that wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express (and to be fair, last year’s dreadful The Watch) – This is The End will not be confused for sophisticated or highbrow humor. There are lots of jokes about masturbation, drug use and the like. If that kind of humor offends you or isn’t your thing, than save your cash and go see something else. But if you don’t mind jokes that dip into the crude and inappropriate, This is The End is an amazingly fun ride. Not every joke lands with perfect precision, but the jokes are so rapid fire that you don’t even have time to dwell on the few that don’t work as well. There were probably some jokes that missed that I didn’t even hear because I was laughing so hard at the joke that preceded it and the one that followed it. When the jokes do hit their target, which the majority does, it is some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen on the big screen in quite some time. And as with most Rogen films, it isn’t all poop jokes and related nonsense; underneath all the sophomoric hijinks there is some sweetness and heart.

The cast is outstanding in this movie; it’s a real who’s who of the young comedians working today. The six main actors alone are a Murder’s Row of comedy; any film would be lucky to get two or three of these guys in a movie. Having all of them work together somehow just doesn’t seem fair. This is the most I’ve enjoyed a James Franco performance in quite some time. If he had been this loose and funny at the Academy Awards it would have been a totally different show. It helps that all of these guys are friends or have worked together previously. The chemistry is palpable and they are clearly having so much fun doing this that it is contagious. They don’t take themselves too seriously and are more than willing to have jokes at their own expense, whether it is a reference to Rogen’s “distinctive” laugh to lingering questions about Frano’s sexuality. They just go for it and appear to be having the time of their lives in the process. Add that it is just plain funny to boot and this movie is really firing on all cylinders.

While the leads are stellar, what really takes this movie to the next level are the fantastic cameos throughout the film. I have a sneaking suspicion that Rogen just opened up his rolodex and called a bunch of his famous pals to be a part of this and the film is the better for it. All sorts of funny people pop up and I’m sure that I’ll catch some more people upon repeat viewings. The real scene stealer of them all is Michael Cera. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that I was glad that I had watched all the new Arrested Development episodes before the screening of This is The End as I’m not sure that I’ll look at him the same way again. There is another standout cameo that is also spectacular, but to say any more would ruin the surprise. Let’s just say that you’ll know it when you see it. It’s outstanding.

Some other thoughts:

  • Any movie that reunites all the male Freaks from Freaks and Geeks automatically gets a B+ in my book.
  • I have no idea what Rihanna is doing in this movie. She’s the only casting choice that didn’t feel organic and stood out.
  • I have no idea why, but “sinkhole de mayo” still cracks me up.
  • The idea that Rogen pitches for Pineapple Express 2? I would totally watch that.
  • Rolling Stone did an interview with 4 of the stars (no Robinson or Baruchel) and to say that Hill isn’t portrayed well is putting it mildly. That dude needs a publicist and to remove the stick from his bum.
  • Ha! The ending is wacky, but if you know me (and I’d like to think at this point you kind of do) you will appreciate why it make me smile despite its lunacy.
  • Unless they changed this after the advanced screenings, no need to stay after the credits. We waited around to see if they would give us another morsel, but sadly there was no additional material.

This is The End is a rollicking summer comedy that exceeded my expectations. The theater rocked with laughter at my screening; it was a diverse crowd but everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. If you are looking for a silly and ridiculously funny movie, look no further. I’m not saying I’m rooting for the rapture, but if it was coming This is The End wouldn’t be the worst note to end it on.

This is The End opens nationwide Wednesday June 12th.