Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Back to School edition

In this part of country today is the first day of school, which has little direct impact on my except that I had to avoid school buses during my morning commute and that my Facebook feed is filled with pictures of my friends’ offspring heading off to their institutions of learning. It’s still weird to me to not have a first day of school anymore; when you are a student and teacher continuously from the age of 4 to 32, you get used to such things. I do miss back to school shopping. I may have to buy myself some highlighters and folders just for old time’s sake. Best of luck to all the kiddos and teachers out there for a productive and educational school year and congratulations to all the parents in weathering another summer (and a special shout out to those of you who now have all your children in school and no longer have to pay for day care – the nightmare is over!).

In honor of the first day of school, allow me to educate you on all the pop culture stories that you might have missed while you were looking for the school prescribed type of scissors or haggling over first day of school outfits. Kick back and enjoy the beginning of Fall with your biweekly pop culture roundup:

  • Someone at HBO has been listening to me – next season of True Blood will be the series’ last. They are proving to be smarter than the books.
  • The new cast of Dancing with the Stars was revealed. I knew it was only a matter of time until Snookie turned up, though I wouldn’t have predicted Bill Nye the Science Guy,

 

  • Official Comedy looks at what would happen if Mark Wahlberg got his wish and became Iron Man:

 

  • Clint Eastwood and his wife have separated (I called this when she got her own reality show).
  • This dude made a homemade version of KITT from Knight Rider:

 

  • Here’s a photo of Peter Dinklage hula-hooping at a gay bar in Canada. If this doesn’t make you smile, you have no heart:

dinklage-hula

He was joined by his Game of Throne’s sister Lena Headey. Say what you will about the Lannisters – these people know how to have a good time.

  • This parody site offers suggestions for Robin Thicke for “what rhymes with hug me.”
  • This weekend we had a debate about what kind of tattoos we would get (neither of us got tatted up in college with all our friends). I’ve considered a lot of options, but somehow a Minion tattoo never crossed my mind.
  • Michelle Williams (the actress, not the Destiny’s Child singer) will make her Broadway debut in Cabaret. In other news, someone needs to get me tickets to Cabaret.
  • Aaron Paul continues his general tour of awesomeness with this napkin that he left for a server that he found out was a Breaking Bad fan:

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  • Watch a trailer for the 4th season of Downton Abbey:

 

  • Also on Thursday, Fiona Apple stormed off stage. Seriously – was there a full moon?
  • David Schwimmer angered his neighbors by tearing down a townhouse in NYC that was one year away from receiving landmark status. Their passive aggressive response is outstanding:
Did anyone think he was?

Did anyone think he was?

  • Jay Pharoah does a fantastic Kanye impersonation in his parody of West’s “I Am A God” (NSFW):

 

  • This is ONLY A RUMOR, but Benedict Cumberbatch may join the cast of the new Star Wars film.
  • The director of the Academy Award winning animated short Paperman has left Disney. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors – I loved his film.
  • Internet sensations Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub met for the first time at the Internet Cat Festival in Minneapolis. Yeah – you read that last part correctly.
  • The role of Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones has been recast. Because it isn’t hard enough already to keep all those characters straight when they are played continuously by the same actor.
  • Speaking of parent/child switcheroos, this tweet made me literally laugh out loud:

funnytweeter.com

 

  • This guy definitely sounds like a legit doctor – a dentist who bought John Lennon’s molar at an auction wants to use it to clone the Beatle. Yup – that’s not at all creepy.
  • Damn you to hell, Chase Utley. I have been perfectly content to hate you and your stupid hair since 2009 and then you had to go and do something relatively awesome like answer Mac’s fan letter from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

 

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  • Kyle Chandler isn’t particularly interested in a Friday Night Lights movie (based on the TV show, obviously, since there already is a Friday Night Lights movie in existence). I still need to get around to watching season 5.
  • Muhammad Ali and Liberace once performed together. No, seriously:

 

  • I love this video of a guy dressed up as Spiderman, schooling people on the basketball court:

That was twice as entertaining as The Amazing Spiderman.

  • Further proof that Charlie Hunnam will do just fine in the Fifty Shades of Grey lead – he already basically played the other lead role on Queer as Folk.
  • According to Entertainment Weekly the greatest boy band of all time is……The Backstreet Boys.
  • Someone figured out how to play “Get Lucky” on Mario Paint:

 

  • Simon Pegg and Nick Frost actually do a decent cover of the song as well:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and shupercuts

  • A supercut of near kisses in movies:

 

  • People on The Newsroom sure like to shout:

 

  • Every time Leonardo DiCaprio says “old sport” in The Great Gatsby:

 

  • The new season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia starts tonight on FXX. Watch clips from the show re-cut as a trailer for a psychological thriller:

 

  • Kill Him – the supercut:

 

  •  I was forced to watch a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine while babysitting a dreadful little boy while I was in grad school, so I took particular joy in this mash-up:

 

  • And finally, a fan already cut together a trailer for Man of Steel 2, adding the rumored Brian Cranston as Lex Luthor for good measure:

Now You See Me – A Review

And, once again, the promise of magic lures me into a so-so movie.

As you may recall from my review of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I have a bit of a soft spot for the performance of prestidigitation. If a movie or television show features illusionists, it peaks my interest. So when I saw the trailer for Now You See Me I was somewhat curious, despite the fact that my track record with pop culture associated with magic is pretty mixed at best. The cast was another strong selling point; if you are able to talk Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, David Franco, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine into appearing in your film, one would hope that there is the material there to back up that star power.

Unfortunately, I think there may have been some sort of mass hypnosis to get this many talented people associated with this project. Now You See Me is a harmless film that might be fun if you can overlook the fact that most of it makes little to no sense. There are some interesting twists and good action sequences, but the film is bogged down by terrible dialogue and a half-baked plot that falls apart under even the smallest scrutiny. Now You See Me has some elements of a good caper movie and starts off with promise, but just can’t sustain that energy throughout the rest of the film.

The general plot of the film is as follows: Four magicians (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher and Franco) are brought together by some mystery person for unknown purposes (this all happens before the opening credits). They start performing together as “The Four Horsemen” and during their Las Vegas show they appear to rob a bank in Paris. This captures the attention of the FBI and Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is tasked with figuring out how the foursome could pull off such a caper while seemingly being in another country. Rhodes receives some guidance from ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) who has made a career of revealing how magicians perform their illusions. Is there really magic at work here or is magic just the smokescreen for something else?

As I stated in my review of Star Trek Into Darkness, the part of caper movies that I find most interesting is the assembling the team component. Now You See Me dispenses with that pretty quickly, but it is not surprising that I was more interested in the early part of the film. Unfortunately, because such a little amount of time is devoted to the team building and it focuses more on the types of magic that they perform (sleight of hand, escape artists, mentalist) that The Four Horsemen are kind of blank slates without much personality or development. Harrelson and Eisenberg flesh their characters out the most, but even they are just vague sketches. There are glimpses at backstory – Eisenberg and Fisher used to work together and there are hints at romance – but not enough to be anything substantial and actually just wind up raising more questions than providing answers. The same can be said for Ruffalo’s FBI Agent – he doesn’t have a lot of personality and we mostly see him just look annoyed and confused as he tries to explain how The Four Horsemen have pulled off their accused crimes. This is part of the larger issue with the movie – it never slows down. Between the camera angles and the action, there aren’t many moments of reflection or any breathing room. That may be by design as reflection on this movie will only highlight the fact that a lot of what you are watching makes absolutely no sense. The movie ended and I wasn’t sure what the point was of the last two hours. I have no idea what motivated most of their actions and I left the theater with the sense that the writers had totally cheated in the vague resolution that they provided. The problem with telling a story about magic is that when you explain what was actually done, you are actually trying to impose a logical structure on something that by its very definition defies logic.

Now, logic and action don’t necessarily go together in movies and for a while the illusions and the twists and turns of the plot are enough to be somewhat satisfying in an empty calorie, junk food sort of way. But because so much of the movie is from the perspective of the FBI, we wind up seeing a lot of the same material twice: once when The Four Horsemen are doing their thing and then a second time when the FBI finally figures out how they did it. It gets a bit repetitive. Watching people that are almost always a step behind is not particularly entertaining, especially when you have no idea who you are rooting for. I’m not sure if I was supposed to hope that The Four Horsemen got away or if I was pulling for Ruffalo and company to put it all together and finally beat them at their own game. I had no stakes in the game.

Now You See Me does have some very exciting action sequences that make parts of the film a fun ride. Franco, in particular, gets some pretty exciting stuff to do (eventually – the first half of the movie he is just kind of there). The illusions in and of themselves are also entertaining. Harrelson is always amusing and hearing Morgan Freeman narrate anything is a pleasure (I think they may have put an unnecessary scene in the movie JUST so he could do a voice over).  I like Ruffalo a lot in general so that good will was carried over to him in this film, though it was mostly unearned. Now You See Me can’t live up to its own expectations and grandeur, but it occasionally has some moments that illustrate why so many people were attracted to this film, at least in theory. It’s the execution where the problems lie and even those moments can’t gloss over the plot holes and emptiness of the film.

Some other thoughts:

  • Ever since Jesse Eisenberg starred in The Social Network he can’t seem to shake that Zuckerberg smugness in my eyes. It is channel appropriately in this movie, but I have a tough time seeing him in other roles without that baggage.
  • Morgan Freeman as a magician is a film I would definitely sign up to see.
  • I saw my first trailer for the second Hunger Games film (Catching Fire) and it has me suitably excited for the film this November.
  • Isla Fisher is everywhere lately – She was in The Great Gatsby, the new Arrested Development episodes and now this film. I’ve seen more of her in the last few months than I’ve seen some friends. She’s Hollywood’s redhead of the moment.
  • Michael Caine really doesn’t have enough to do in this film, but it’s always nice to see him.
  • In the card trick that he does in the beginning of the film, the card that the fan picked was actually the same card that I picked from the deck. That was kind of weird.

Now You See Me is simply a mediocre film that doesn’t use this talented cast to the best of their abilities. It has moments where it is very enjoyable and the enduring interest in resolution for some of the big questions of the film kept me somewhat engaged in the proceedings despite the ludicrousness of the story. It definitely has portions that are visually stimulating and exciting, but those moments are not enough to save this film from its faults. Even Woody Harrelson in a porkpie hat can’t make up for a film that’s story feels like a big cheat in a lot of ways. Now You See Me is better categorized as Now You See Me on cable or on DVD.

Now You See Me opens nationwide today.