Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Vacation Booked Edition

I have commitment issues. This has manifested itself in many aspects of my life, but most recently reared its head when it came to planning for my upcoming vacation. I am, by nature, an organized person. For me, sometimes planning a trip is almost as fun as actually going on the trip. I love exploring the different things to see, eat, and do when I am away from home. I have the Pinterest boards to prove it.

But getting me to actually commit to flights is always a struggle. When it comes to airfare, I’m always playing a game of chicken, hoping that the price of flights will drop further before I am willing to book. I’ve known that friends and I are going to Austin for months now, but I was convinced that I could get a better deal (not only do I like to maximize my time, but my dollars as well). This strategy is nerve-wracking and I wind up booking when I finally stress myself out enough to make a decision. This week, I was starting to put myself in a panic as flights were actually getting more expensive – not the trend I was looking for. I was worried that I was going to blow my travel budget before I even got to Austin, but then, like an angel from above, I found a tremendous deal. Even then I briefly hesitated, wondering if something better may come along. Much like Alexander Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler, I’m never satisfied. But then common sense prevailed and I made the purchase. Now my vacation is real and I can finally let myself get excited for it. It’s only three days off from work, but man do I need them.

Something else to get excited for – this week’s pop culture roundup. As always, I’ve tried to bring you the best that the world of pop has to offer. So while I scout Austin for the best breakfast tacos and BBQ, get yourself caught up on what you may have missed.

Television

 

Movies

Trailers

  • It:

 

  • Game of Thrones, season 7:

 

  • A teaser for The Defenders:

 

  • Dimension 404:

 

  • Preacher, season 2:

 

  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword:

 

  • Silicon Valley, season 4:

 

  • War Machine:

 

  • Claws:

 

  • War for the Planet of the Apes:

 

  • Alien: Covenant:

 

  • Girlboss:

 

  • Ingrid Goes West:

 

  • The Mummy:

 

  • Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets:

 

  • Berlin Syndrome:

 

  • I Am Heath Ledger:

 

  • Unforgettable:

 

  • Get Me Roger Stone:

 

  • Annabelle Creation:

 

  • The Book of Henry:

 

  • A Dark Song

 

Music

Books

Stand-up

Theater

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • Jack Nicholson getting mad montage:

 

  • It meets Cat in the Hat:

 

  • A side-by-side comparison of It (2017) and It (1990):

 

  • A soap opera comprised of only Katy Perry lyrics:

 

  • Chris Evans in a trailer for the fake biopic Dennis:

 

  • Billy on the Sesame Street:

 

  • This Spider-Man: Homecoming homemade trailer is pretty darn close to the original:

 

  • The Muppets cover 50 Cent’s “In the Club”:

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon Edition

I like to tell people that I enjoy the works of William Shakespeare. I think it makes me sound smart and cultured and there generally aren’t a lot of follow up questions. That statement isn’t exactly a lie, but it isn’t 100% the truth either. I have really enjoyed the plays that I’ve read and I have gone to see Shakespeare in the park on numerous occasions in Saratoga. But Shakespeare doesn’t come effortlessly to me; perhaps if I read it or watched it more regularly it wouldn’t be such an issue. Shakespeare is work for me. When I read it, I have to start off very slowly to adjust to the dialogue and speech patterns. I usually have to re-read passages a few times to ground myself. This problem is exasperated when watching the plays performed; without the luxury of rewind or control over the speed of the dialogue, I often feel like I am drowning in the beginning if it is a play that I am unfamiliar with. I feel a little overwhelmed and panic – maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am – and worry that none of this is going to make any sense. I usually get only the broadest of strokes and can’t appreciate the smaller points, let alone the beauty of the language or Shakespeare’s wit. It takes me about an act to acclimate and then suddenly everything falls into place; the part of my brain that knows how to process Shakespeare kicks into gear and it all makes sense to me. Jokes are funny, sonnets sing and I no longer feel so completely lost. Shakespeare is so good that once I settle in I tend to forget the earlier struggles – until the next time I spend some time with The Bard and the whole process repeats itself.

This is where I found myself the other night when I decided to beat the heat at the local art house theater for a screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. I had heard wonderful things about this adaptation and though I am not a Whedon disciple – I’ve never seen Buffy , Angel or Dollhouse *gasp* – I generally like his stuff that I’ve seen.  He has a way with dialogue that led me to believe that he would do some interesting stuff with Shakespeare. Filmed in black and white, Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing used the original language but it is placed in modern day; the actors are not wearing period costumes or in courtyards. They are clad in suits and dresses and the majority of the action takes place in one home (Wheadon’s). The pace is quick and his adaptation firmly embraces the more screwball aspects of the play while staying true to the darker moments as well.

The cast doesn’t have any real stars, but are familiar players in the Whedon universe. The biggest name is probably Nathan Fillion, but he has a smaller role as Dogberry and serves primarily comic relief (which he completely nails). A black and white adaption of Shakespeare featuring a cast that is unknown to most of America might seem like a risky gamble, but everyone seems to be having so much fun that their excitement is palpable. Even if many of the actors are not household names, they do a fantastic job. Amy Acker is simply spectacular as Beatrice; she delivers Shakespeare’s words so effortlessly that it sounds like the way that she naturally speaks. Alexis Denisof is dreamy as Benedick and serves as a nice foil for Acker. I was beyond excited to see Reed Diamond as Don Pedro; he and I go way back to his day as Mike Kellerman on Homicide: Life on the Streets (one of the best and most underrated shows of all time; watch that thing!). Sean Maher is deliciously dark as Don John; it took me until halfway through the film to figure out that he was Simon on Firefly. One of the more interesting choices was to change the gender of Conrade – as written, he is Don John’s evil henchman but in this version Conrade is a henchwoman and Don John’s lover (played by Riki Lindhome, who is one half of the funny musical comedy folk duo Garfunkel and Oates – check them out!). The cast compliments each other so nicely and as so many of them have worked together in the past there is an ease and familiarity in their interactions. It’s all very entertaining to watch and is really, really funny. The audience was laughing out loud as much at Much Ado About Nothing as almost any comedy I’ve seen this summer.

I won’t get into all the twists and turns of the plot – if you are unfamiliar with the play watching it all unfold is half the fun – but it features some developments that are familiar in the works of Shakespeare: a misunderstanding, people meddling in other’s business, people plotting against each other and faked deaths. You know, the usual. For the people that think Shakespeare is boring, rest assured that daytime soap operas have nothing on the works of good old Billy Shakes. You haven’t seen some diabolical plotting until you’ve read some Shakespeare.

Some other thoughts:

  • This project allegedly was born out of parties at Whedon’s house where he’d get his pals together, drink some adult beverages and recite some Shakespeare. That might not sound like the wildest party, but I have a sneaking suspicion that with this crew things would get a little rowdy.
  • I love that Don John is willing to ruin lives just because he can. There isn’t much of a backstory on why he’s a jerk and there doesn’t need to be. Sometimes it is nice to not have everything explained.
  • The following happens in the span of thirty seconds: Profess love for first time-recipient questions love-proclaimer swears to do anything to prove it-request is made to murder. In the words of the wise philosopher Ron Burgundy

Boy-That-Escalated-Quickly-Anchorman

  • This movie is simply beautifully shot. The cinematography is simply amazing. Black and white was an inspired choice.
  • The next time I’m bored, I’m going to take a cue from this film and just start messing with my friend’s love lives. Much Ado makes it seem like it’s really easy to make people fall in love and I want to try some sociological experiments to put this to the test. Of course, this won’t work on the people who read the blog and will see this coming. The lesson here is that failure to read my blog is justification for me to play God with your personal life. (Aren’t you glad you’re reading it?)

Once I got myself back in the Shakespeare groove, I really enjoyed this interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing. The contrast of the Elizabethan language and the modern attire and locale as well as the vivid cinematography and sparkling cast made Whedon’s adaptation so enjoyable. It took me about twenty minutes to get the lay of the land but I’m glad that I kept trying and stuck with the film. It was worth the extra effort; it might not be for Shakespearean purists, but with a little bit of work it is accessible to newbies. Sure a lot of the plot is based on simple misunderstandings that could be cleared up prettily easily, but it is so pleasurable watching it all unfold that it doesn’t really matter. Other films should hope for the chemistry that this cast has; Joss Whedon has basically made a really expensive home movie and we are lucky enough to view it.

Pop Culture Commencement

This past Memorial Day weekend marked the REDACTED anniversary of my graduation from college. I always thought it was funny that commencement was on a holiday weekend, since our fall semester used to start on Labor Day. My alma mater was apparently hell-bent on eating up as many three day weekends as possible.

Commencement ceremonies are boring; I don’t think I’m saying anything all that shocking with that admission. It’s a lot of sitting around and waiting for either your turn to walk across the stage or to clap for the people that you know that are walking across the stage. I would have skipped my Masters graduation ceremony altogether, but I was getting an award from my department and they led me to believe that I had to be at graduation to receive it. I didn’t – there was a separate departmental ceremony that I could have shown up for later in the day – and I wasted three hours of my life (and my family’s life) sitting in a hot gym being bored. It’s all pretty mundane and most commencements follow the same basic formula, though I always appreciated the bagpipes at my undergraduate ceremony. Bagpipes are almost always a welcome addition in my book.

The only thing that can really liven up a graduation is a solid commencement speaker. Bringing in someone who is famous or exceptional and that is capable of giving an engaging and entertaining speech can make a real difference. Unfortunately, I have never actually been at a ceremony where this took place. When I was an undergrad, my college frowned upon paying a lot for someone to come speak. They were under the delusional idea that coming to speak at a small liberal arts college in upstate NY was compensation enough. I was nominally involved in student government in college and I remember that we even offered to use a big portion of our operating budget to bring in someone more prestigious (I think it was a Kennedy – though for all I know it could have been actor Jamie Kennedy. I didn’t pay a lot of attention in these meetings.) The college turned us down. My commencement speaker had something to do with politics in Ireland, which was way too heavy for a Saturday morning. It was boring and ultimately most of the day was pretty forgettable. The college has since changed their tune on commencement speakers as this year they had Deepak Chopra. So not fair.

This year, lots of pop culture figures donned caps and gowns to give the keynote address and collect a made-up degree. These speakers were both entertaining and insightful and while I don’t know that anyone could have livened up graduating in a parking lot (they’ve since moved commencement to the soccer fields – everything got better after I left), they certainly would have helped make my ceremony a much more enjoyable and memorable experience:

Joss Whedon – Wesleyan University Commencement:

 

Stephen Colbert – University of Virginia Commencement

 

Anders Holm (Workaholics) – University of Wisconsin

 

Eric Idle – Whitman College Commencement

 

Jimmy Kimmel – UNLV Commencement

 

Kerry Washington – George Washington University