Pop Culture Odds and Ends – I’m sick edition

So it turns out, dear readers, that I am indeed a mere mortal and occasionally I feel under the weather. Right now I’m battling either a nasty cold or a light flu; I’m not sure if it has made up its mind yet as to what it is. This has knocked me down for the count – my boss took one look at me yesterday and sent me home, where I slept most of the day and watched a lot of wedding-related programming which seems to comprise a lot of the daytime TV schedule. I’m feeling slightly better today, but I’m also hopped up on enough cold medicine to take down an ox. The good news is that I seem to have stopped coughing; the bad news is I’m exhausted walking from one room to the next.

However, I must soldier on. I couldn’t leave you without your pop culture roundup. That would be heresy. I just can’t guarantee that everything is spelled right and that the order of links makes total sense. I tried my best, but I can’t make any promises as to coherency. So while I try the difficult act of breathing without getting winded, kick back and enjoy the pop culture goodness that I’ve assembled.

  • Charlie Hunnam has quit the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation. I think this was a good career move for him, though he was the only reason I had any interest in the movie.
  • If you love those Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy commercials for Dodge as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that he made SEVENTY of them.
  • Watch Tom Hanks play around on a giant piano keyboard (with a little help from Sandra Bullock):

 

  • Bullock also showed off her rap skills:

 

  • The Simpsons will have guest vocals from Judd Apatow, Channing Tatum, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann and Seth Rogan.
  • File this under things that make you go hmmm….Japanese school kids perform “Day Man” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

 

  • The A.V. Club has a story on an old favorite of mine, Homestar Runner.
  • Britney Spears’ new album has a name – her name.
  • The cast of Modern Family played Family Feud on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

 

  • Lady Gaga and The Muppets are making a Christmas special. This could either be amazing or terrible. I don’t see any middle ground.
  • The showrunner for The Daily Show has left.

Trailers

  • Michael Bay and Starz are teaming up for a new pirate show:

 

  • Sarah Silverman’s new HBO special:

 

  • I’m really looking forward to Will Ferrell’s Spoils of Babylon mini-series on IFC

 

  • George Clooney and Matt Damon head up an all-star cast in Monument Men

 

  • This documentary on Calvin & Hobbes looks great

 

  • The trailer for Avalanche Sharks, SyFy’s newest terrible movie, has been released:

 

  • Ad Week has an interesting story on how much it costs to run a commercial on different TV shows.
  • The guy from Blur is working with actor Idris Elba on new music.
  • Elizabeth Berkley revisited her Saved By The Bell roots on Dancing with the Stars:

 

  • Alexander Skarsgard stars in the music video for Cut Copy’s “Free Your Mind.”

I would totally sign up for this cult.

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts:

  • An Archer/Top Gun mashup:

 

  • Someone mad a Pokemon/King of the Hill crossover:

 

  • And finally, here’s a supercut that theorizes that Tom Hank’s career is just one long movie:

Gravity – A Review

There are people that are fascinated by outer space and all the mysteries that it holds: is there other intelligent life out there? What scientific discoveries do the cosmos hold? Some kids dream of becoming astronauts and going into space; enough people have this dream that many countries and companies have considered venturing into space tourism, which would allow civilians the chance to go into space. Hell, NBC is planning on a reality show that would allow two winners to be launched into the great unknown via a Virgin Galactic flight. To conquer the final frontier and to go boldly where very few men (and women) have gone before is the ultimate quest for many.

To quote the great Bob Dylan, “That ain’t me babe.”

Much like the Olympics, I am a total killjoy when someone expresses an interest in something as All-American as exploring the cosmos. I just don’t care. I think constellations are kind of cool, but I really have no desire to go up into space and poke around. I saw the movie Space Camp as a kid and while that caused my peers to have temporary dreams of becoming the next John Glenn, I thought it all looked like way too much work. I’m sure the fact that my class watched the Challenger explosion live on TV in class didn’t exactly make space exploration appealing to me either; once you’ve watched people blow up, the bloom is kind of off the rose. Plus I tried that freeze dried astronaut ice cream and it was disgusting; I’m not going anywhere that doesn’t have good ice cream.

So when I first saw the previews for the new film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to go see it. “Eh – more space stuff” I thought to myself. Not interested. I’ve tolerated a few franchises that are set in outer space, but they aren’t usually my idea to watch them. I wasn’t sure how they were going to make a movie out of what I saw of the Gravity clips anyway; Sandra Bullock screaming as she drifted off into nothingness seemed like it would be a pretty short film. Thanks, but no thanks, Gravity.

As the release date for the film crept up, however, there was a positive buzz around this film that I just couldn’t ignore. At first, I dismissed this as the enthusiasm of people like I described above – that are fascinated by all things space related. But as the din continued from nearly every critic that I know, I realized that this film was being universally praised. A film that hovers at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes is a film that I can’t exactly ignore. An hour and a half runtime was what finally sold me; on the off chance that I was swimming against the critical stream on the film, at least I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of my time. I could probably handle 90 minutes in space; I needed to see what all the hoopla was about.

While Gravity did nothing to change my opinion about space – if anything it reinforced my feeling that it is a pretty terrifying place – the critics weren’t wrong. Gravity is a visually breathtaking film that is probably the closest that many of us will come to venturing outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Strong performances from Bullock and Clooney – Bullock in particular – paired with the pure beauty and realism of the cinematography and special effects make Gravity a film that is definitely worth seeing.

The premise of the film is pretty simple, yet terrifying: Bullock and Clooney are part of a team sent to space to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Clooney is a seasoned astronaut who is out on his last mission, while Bullock is a medical engineer who is making her first shuttle mission. What should be a fairly routine trip becomes a nightmare when an accident from another quadrant of the cosmos sets off a chain reaction resulting in debris hurling at them and their ship. With their shuttle destroyed and their crew killed, Bullock and Clooney must figure out how to survive with their limited oxygen and limited options.

There is no denying that this is a stunning film to watch. It is absolutely gorgeously shot, with many long panning shots that are technically amazing. The director and cinematographer’s choices really give the viewer the impression of being in space with Clooney and Bullock, and just how terrifying it would be to be lost out there. I don’t know how they did much of what they did in the effect department, nor do I really want to know; the results were so convincing to me that I almost felt like I was floating along with them. Frankly I think the cinematography Oscar race is officially over – just hand the statue to Gravity and be done with it. I can’t imagine anything else that will even be in this league. It’s just so impressive. It’s worth going to see the film for this alone.

Though Clooney receives co-top billing on Gravity, this is really Bullock’s film. I was a little skeptical when I heard that she was cast; I generally like her, but despite her Oscar win I am not totally convinced that she is a great actress. But she is tremendously likable and that works to Gravity’s advantage. You are instantly invested in the fact that she is in peril because you like her and want her to be OK. Bullock totally rises to the occasion in this film and does a tremendous job of taking the audience on an emotional as well as physical journey. She manages to make the viewer feel everything that she is feeling and effectively overcomes a somewhat emotionally manipulative backstory that her character is saddled with. Both actors successfully sell dialogue that is a little hokey and cheesy. I don’t know that any dialogue could really meet the visual splendor and situation that the characters find themselves in, but the writers of Gravity really didn’t appear to try all that hard to rise to the challenge. Clooney, in particular, has to cash in some of his coolness chips to make the quips and wisecracks he delivers not sound completely ridiculous. It all mostly works because of the inherent charm and charisma of Clooney and Bullock, but don’t go into Gravity expecting well-honed dialogue. The script just isn’t all that great.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • It’s a minor quibble, but I am skeptical that astronauts wear as little under their space suits as Bullock had on. I’m sure that it is hot in there, but surely NASA would require more than a pair of boy shorts and a tank top (and no footwear whatsoever). But bravo to Bullock – she’s in fantastic shape.
  • I did not see Gravity in 3-D because I am cheap, but I regret that decision. As impressive as the film is in 2-D, I can only imagine how impressive it is using 3-D technology. This is the type of film that 3-D was made for.
  • That is indeed Ed Harris as the voice of Houston.
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went on a Twitter rant yesterday about all the scientific inaccuracies in the film. He raises some valid points. Always best to defer to an astrophysicist in these matters. Time also weighs in on the scientific flaws of the film, while Mashable writes about 5 things that the movie gets right.
  • This seems like as good a place as any to admit that I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey or Apollo 13.
  • I have to commend the directorial decision to have so much silence in the film. A less disciplined director would want to use a lot of music in the film to lend grandeur or to tell the audience how they should feel, but Alfonso Cuaron is confident enough in his visuals to let them stand on their own. This is a wise choice and only improves the film.

The weaknesses of the script don’t completely handicap Gravity; the extra effort from the leads paired with the simply awe-inspiring effects makes this an enjoyable and impressive film. The corny dialogue prevents Gravity from being a truly great film – next time hire a screenwriter instead of letting the director pen the script – but it is so dazzling that you almost don’t notice these limitations (almost). This is a surprisingly stressful movie to watch and I had no idea how the story was going to resolve itself. If this film can win over my cold, black, outer space-hating heart, it is certainly worth seeing. Gravity is one of the most exquisite films that you will see all year.

The Heat – A review

This hasn’t been a particularly good summer movie season for female actresses. Of all the movies that have been released, almost all of them have men in starring roles; a few indies (Frances Ha for example) are women-centric movies, but other than a few co-starring roles you have to look pretty far down the credits to find anyone with a uterus. Man of Steel, White House Down, World War Z, The Hangover III – all about the dudes. When Fast & Furious 6 and The Purge have the highest profiles for women, that’s not a great sign.

So when The Heat burst on the scene last weekend , this was a big deal; the film not only played with the buddy cop genre by placing two women in the starring roles, but two women over 40 to boot. Directed by Paul Feig – the same man who directed Bridesmaids and apparently the only man in Hollywood that believe in the power of women at the box office – The Heat had a lot of expectations on it in advance of its opening.

And while I didn’t think that The Heat was a perfect movie or nearly as funny as This is The End, it was still very enjoyable. Most of the credit can be given to Melissa McCarthy, who continues to go for broke and who basically willed this movie into being funnier than it had any real business being. She and Sandra Bullock elevated the material beyond what was on the page and provided more chuckles than expected.

Based on the trailers, I was a little skeptical about The Heat. I like Melissa McCarthy a lot – I’ve been a fan since her days on Gilmore Girls – but I was worried that she was being limited to playing the same character over and over. I don’t generally love slapstick humor, which the trailer seemed to be emphasizing. I was hoping that The Heat wouldn’t turn out to be a one-note comedy that relied too heavily on the trope of forcing polar opposites to work together. And while the film is definitely limited by the genre, it is still given enough room to breathe and for McCarthy to flex her comedic muscles that it overcame my preconceived notions.

The plot of The Heat is definitely the weakest part of the film: straight laced and unpopular FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) is sent to Boston to take down a drug lord (or something). When Ashburn arrives in Beantown her investigation insects with that of Boston Police Officer Mullins (McCarthy), who is brash, abrasive and violent. The two are forced to collaborate – Ashburn has the intel and Mullins has the street smarts – in order to bring down the target. Hilarity ensues.

McCarthy definitely has the flashier of the two roles as Bullock is more of the straight woman in this Odd Couple pairing. McCarthy has no fear when it comes to comedy and fully commits to even the most ludicrous material and somehow makes it funnier than it was written. I could imagine many other actors –male or female – making as much out of the role of Mullins than McCarthy. Her delivery is so great that there are some lines that I’m not even sure that were originally conceived of as jokes that made me giggle.

Because she doesn’t get to bring the crazy like McCarthy, Bullock is much more restrained in her performance. She does get a few moments to let loose, but for the most part her character is simply reacting to and acting as a foil for McCarthy. Bullock can be funny, but compared to the powerhouse that is McCarthy it is probably for the best that she is doing her own thing and not trying to compete. The two actresses have nice chemistry together; I’d be interested in seeing more from this pairing in the future.

The Heat is really at its best when these two characters are at each other’s throats; once they like each other, as the formula for these movies dictates, the film becomes a lot less interesting and the problems with the plot become more evident. Buddy cop movies have been done to death at this point, so even introducing two women in the leads can only slightly delay the feeling that this is all very formulaic and that it has been seen before. There isn’t a lot that in unpredictable in The Heat; if you’ve seen any of The Lethal Weapon movies or The Other Guys, you know almost everything that is going to happen before it happens. Other than the exchange between McCarthy and Bullock, there isn’t a lot new here – and even their pairing isn’t all that original.

Some other thoughts:

  • The writers were extremely lazy when it came to McCarthy’s family – they trot out just about every Irish stereotype that they could think of and it all felt very recycled and stale. When you have Jane Curtain at your disposal, give that woman something to do! They totally wasted her.
  • Speaking of McCarthy’s family – one of her brothers was played by Joe McIntyre, better known to millions of women as being a member of New Kids on the Block. “Joey Mac” was my favorite, so it’s always nice when he shows up in something.
  • There are a lot of funny people that pop up in various points throughout the movie; I won’t spoil any of them, but it was nice to see so many familiar faces.
  • The film features an orange cat named Pumpkin, so that made me smile (though that cat seemed much better behaved than mine).
  • The humor in The Heat isn’t all that sophisticated; that isn’t a problem for me, but if you were expecting something different because there were women starring, you would be wrong (and you also probably didn’t see Bridesmaids)
  • I was curious if the paintings favored by the Mullins family are a real thing; if not, I see an artistic revolution upon us.
  • McCarthy is once again reunited with her husband (Ben Falcone) in this film; he played the Air Marshall in Bridesmaids and he has a small role in the bar scene.
  • The Heat ($40 million) did better at the box office opening weekend than White House Down ($25.7 million). Hopefully Hollywood is paying attention.

All in all, The Heat was a fun time at the theater. It’s not the funniest movie that I’ve seen, but it had enough solid comedic moments – thanks mostly to Melissa McCarthy – to make it a film worth checking out. It is hampered not by the performances of the actors, which were great across the board, but by the predictable narrative that is dictated by the genre and some moments of lazy writing. Not all the jokes work in The Heat, but there are enough of them that do to carry the film. The Heat was a pleasant surprise.