Pop Culture Odds and Ends – So Much for the Lull Edition

I had high hopes that I was going to be able to keep kicking out reviews and posts at the rate I established at the beginning of the year, but sadly the post-holiday calm I was enjoying has evaporated and its back to the usual craziness. Working full-time, teaching, and somehow getting sick again is putting a real crimp in my leisure activities. So there are a lot of posts in the hopper – I just need to find the time to get them out of my head and down on paper. Believe me – I have a lot of thoughts about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

But at least you always have the pop culture roundup. As usual, I’ve spent the last week culling the best info that the world of pop culture has to offer. So get yourself caught up with the latest installment of the week in pop.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Ant-Man and The Wasp:

 

  • Mute:

 

  • The Cured:

 

  • Unsane:

 

  • Hereditary:

 

  • The Ritual:

 

  • Submergence:

 

  • Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again:

 

  • Andre the Giant:

 

  • On My Block:

 

  • When We First Met:

 

  • Looking Glass:

 

  • The Hurricane Heist:

 

  • I Kill Giants:

 

  • Total Bellas, season 3:

 

Music

Theater

Stand-up

Award Season

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • A James Corden/Helen Mirren rap battle:

 

  • The Lady Bird trailer – if everyone screamed:

 

  • Adele dressed up as Dolly Parton – and it was glorious:

 

 

Saving Mr. Banks – A Review

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Alcoholism. Suicide attempts. Special needs children. Child Abuse. Who knew that Mary Poppins brought so much baggage with her?

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story behind how Disney’s beloved Mary Poppins was made. For twenty years, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has been trying to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins so that he can turn his daughters’ favorite book into a movie. The problem is that author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) has been loath to give the rights up; she has serious reservations about what will happen to her beloved characters once they are in Disney’s hands. She finally agrees to a meeting with Disney after she is given script approval and the promise that the film will not be animated; her dwindling funds also make her slightly more receptive to the idea, though once she arrives in Los Angeles it is clear that she is still not convinced that this is a good idea. A total fussbudget, she hates pretty much everything that the team working on the project (Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) has assembled and continues to put more and more restrictions on the process. She is even immune to Disney’s charms, as he puts on a full-court press charm offensive to try and sway her. The labored creative process is interrupted by flashbacks to Travers childhood and her relationship with her adored, but troubled father (Colin Farrell).

I need to make two disclaimers upfront: I am certainly not the target audience for this movie and I have never seen Mary Poppins in its entirety. A Disney film about the making of a Disney film is on paper way too sentimental and potentially schmaltzy for my personal tastes. If the film hadn’t received a Golden Globe nomination and general critical acclaim, I’m not sure I would have even checked it out. On the latter point, it didn’t even dawn on me until I actually went in to see Saving Mr. Banks that I might not have seen Mary Poppins. I am familiar with the songs and have seen clips of the big musical numbers, but it turns out that I never actually sat down and watched the film from start to finish; they referenced plot points in Saving Mr. Banks that I had no idea what they were talking about. Given my checkered history with Disney, not seeing Mary Poppins really isn’t all that surprising and I don’t think it hindered my enjoyment of Saving Mr. Banks. The few references that I didn’t get weren’t a handicap; they were adequately put into context so that my unfamiliarity with the source material wasn’t an issue. But I don’t have a built-in affinity for Mary Poppins that some of the audience might have.

Given these limitations, it is not surprising that I only liked, but didn’t love, Saving Mr. Banks. I thought it was well acted, but I found the story to be very shallow, despite the complex emotional backstory. Thompson in particular was very good; they load down P.L. Travers will so many unpleasant qualities that it is a miracle that you find her likable or sympathetic at all. That’s a credit to Thompson, who finds the humanity in Travers and the inner anguish that her brusque and uncompromising exterior covers. Thompson finds depth that I’m not sure existed in the script and does a nice job showing the damage that was done from the events that we see through the prolonged flashbacks to her childhood. It’s difficult to balance annoying and sympathetic, but Thompson does it. Hanks does his usual solid job as Walt Disney; though he doesn’t physically look much like the famous man behind the mouse, Hanks is able to catch Disney’s spirit and general demeanor. Because this is a film that is done by the Disney Corporation, there is a definite idealization of Disney the man. They certainly make him seem like the world’s greatest boss and father and though I don’t necessarily have any reason to doubt that he was great, you naturally have to assume that some characteristics have been amplified and that the man has been somewhat romanticized.

While the interactions between Travers and the team trying to make Mary Poppins is the main thrust of the film, I actually enjoyed the flashbacks quite a bit as well. Farrell was quite good as Travers’ doting father who whimsical and fun, but who was irresponsible and damaged his family due to his alcoholism. I am often charmed by Farrell – I think it’s his accent – and this role was no different. I would have liked a little more nuance and subtly in his character, but that was a general problem I had with the movie over all. Farrell had very good chemistry with the young actress that played his daughter; there was a definite sweetness to all their interactions and you could understand why Travers adored him despite his flaws.

Saving Mr. Banks was not nearly as saccharine as I feared it would be; there are some heavy issues in the film that are addressed, though in a very cursory way. Everything is addressed in a very family friendly way, which is not unsurprising. Even so, this was a lot darker than I expected the film to be and it did lend some gravitas to what could have been a pretty fluffy story. The Disney veneer to events was too neat and sentimental for my dark and twisted preferences, but at least they didn’t completely whitewash the story. I would have preferred a screenplay with a little more finesse and complexity, but that’s just me. I’m sure a lot of people will like Saving Mr. Banks just fine. Like I said, it just isn’t for me. I’m not a spoonful of sugar type of girl.

Some other thoughts:

  • Luther fans: Ruth Wilson (Alice) plays Travers’ mothers in the flashbacks. Seems weird to see her without her red hair (and not plotting someone’s demise).
  • Paul Giamatti is also good as the driver with infinite patience that is tasked with shepherding Travers around L.A.
  • Walt Disney was a smoker? That’s a surprise!
  • Also unexpected – the woman behind Mary Poppins was Australian, not British. Mind blown.
  • While Bradley Whitford and Jason Schwartzman disappeared a little bit more into their roles, but that just never happened for me with B.J. Novak. Every time he was on screen, my brain went “Look! It’s Ryan the temp from The Office.”
  • If you stay through the credits, you can see photos of the real people that the film is based on and hear some of P.L. Travers recorded conversations with the creative team.
  • Seriously? Travers talked some smack about Dick Van Dyke? That man is a national treasure!
  • The Chicago Tribune has an interview with Valerie Lawson, who wrote Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers, on the movie and how it differs from real life.

Saving Mr. Banks is a fine movie that just doesn’t gel particularly well with my personal aesthetic. It wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea (pun intended) but I enjoyed it more than I thought it was. The acting was uniformly very good, unsurprising given the cast, but I found the story overall a little slow and too sentimental. I’m not sure that the film actually earned the big breakthrough between Travers and Disney; since we know that there is a Mary Poppins film, the stakes are significantly lowered since it is not a question of if the film will be made, but when. Saving Mr. Banks is really the story of a woman fighting for artistic control while confronting her personal demons. It’s less Disney than I anticipated, but Disney enough that the film didn’t completely win me over. It may, however, have convinced me to finally watch Mary Poppins. That in and of itself is something of an accomplishment.

 

Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide today.

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: