Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm

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One of the things that is great about pop culture is that there is something out there for everybody. With so many options in entertainment, you are bound to find something that you are into, no matter how off-beat or niche your interests may be. You may not always be in the majority, but thanks to the Internet and social media it is relatively easy to find other people that share your interests no matter how specific your pop culture preferences may be. If you like Victorian zombie love stories (a real thing – I checked), there’s pop culture to consume and a community to discover.

While I fully support people’s right to like just about any pop culture that they want (as long as it isn’t hurting anyone), that doesn’t always mean that I understand it. This goes beyond me having different personal preferences than other people; I may think that Two and a Half Men is anathema to good TV, but I can at least somewhat grasp why some people would like it. There are some things in pop culture that I just can’t wrap my head around; every time I am confronted with these things, I just don’t get it. That doesn’t make these things invalid or bad, they just confuse me.

Adults who are really into Disney

Photo by Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

Photo by Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

Maybe because I didn’t grow up watching Disney movies I don’t have that same baseline level of nostalgia for the product as some people, but I honestly cannot figure out adults that are Disney enthusiasts. I’m not talking about parents of kids who are fans of Disney so that the adults become fans simply by immersion or survival instinct; I mean the full grown adults, many of whom don’t have kids, that go bonkers for all things Disney. I made my first – and only – trip to Disney World when I was in my early thirties and I was bored out of my mind. I didn’t get much out of it, other than finally being able to check the requisite life experience box. So the idea that people are going on their honeymoons to Disney World simply baffles me, as do adults that wear a lot of Disney-themed clothing or who get super excited when a movie is “released from the vault.” Love what you love, but know that every time you bring up some Disney stuff with a little too much enthusiasm, internally I’m doing this:

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Tom Hardy

For the life of me, I cannot figure this guy out. That’s probably a testament to his acting ability and his ability to physically transform himself, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to think about this guy. The first time I ever remember seeing Hardy was in the underrated Warrior. He was all buffed out and was playing an MMA fighter who looked like he could rip your head off. It was then pointed out to me that I had seen Hardy before in Inception, though I could barely place him. Then he was in a romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon and then he was Bane in The Dark Knight Rises – and he looked totally different in all of them. Like, how is it even possible that this is the same guy:

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Beyond his appearance, I cannot even begin to get a bead on this guy’s personality. I can’t tell if he’s a nice guy who says some dumb things, a douche that is occasionally insightful or something altogether different. I dunno – he’s a cipher for me, which definitely speaks well for his ability to play many diverse roles. But he’s also a total enigma.

Reality TV

I used to watch some reality television, so I get why this is a thing in theory, but what perplexes me is how this is still a thing. At this point, we know so much about the production and creation of reality TV that we know that there is very little “reality” in it and it seems to me that it is the same storylines over and over again as they cast for certain types of “characters.” So while there used to be a factor of escapism in it, I don’t really get what people are getting out of it at this point when it’s become fairly predictable and repeats itself. It’s all so manufactured. And we all know it’s a sham – people who win reality show completions, in general, don’t go on to do anything else remotely noteworthy. Couples that meet on reality shows break up almost instantly. I’m unclear what the payoff is here.

Harry Potter

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Let me clarify this – I read and enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books. I even read the final book in a day to avoid spoilers. I want to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios when I get the chance. I’d say I’m a casual fan at best; I didn’t watch all the movies and if you pressed me on any real Harry Potter trivia, I’d probably flame out. I have no animosity or confusion toward Harry Potter in general; I get why people dig it.

What makes me shake my head is the intensity of the passion that some fans have about all thing Harry Potter to this day. Like, I thought real-life Quidditch leagues were a little weird, but whatever. It was an inventive way to show your fandom. Those were popping up not that long after the book series has finished, so there was some timeliness in their origin. But at this point, I feel like there isn’t much more of the Harry Potter world proper that is left to explore, but people are still nuts about this stuff and author J.K. Rowling is more than happy to fuel the flames with revelations and regrets about the books. I have some friends that are in their late 20s/early 30s and I am always slightly thrown off by how excited you can make them by just broaching anything Harry Potter-related. I get that they were kids when these books came out while I was an adult when I read them, but I in no way feel that passionately about anything that I liked at that age. Harry Potter fans also had the benefit of multiple outlets for their fandom thanks to the Internet, but that only seems to have made it stronger. I respect their fandom, even if I can’t say that I fully understand why they still feel so strongly about it. I love Hamilton, but even I’m getting a little tired of its ubiquitousness. And that’s only been a year. The last Harry Potter book came out in 2007; the last movie in 2011. These people just have more stamina than I do – or I am simply not wired for that level of commitment.

Now it’s your turn……what pop culture phenomena to you simply not understand. Sound off in the comments.

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The Revenant – A Review

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It’s kind of hard to believe that people feel sorry for a rich, young, handsome actor who seems to have his pick of roles and supermodels, but that’s the position that we find ourselves in when it comes to Leonardo DiCaprio. While the dominant buzz about the Academy Awards has been its failure to nominate any actors of color, the subplot seems to be concern over whether this is the year that DiCaprio finally brings home an Oscar. This narrative picked up steam after 2014, when DiCaprio was nominated (and lost) for Wolf of Wall Street. People were suddenly very invested in whether he would ever win the Oscar and instantly Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in perhaps the most interesting role of his life – underdog.

I’m guessing that people are as interested in this Oscar storyline as they are because it kind of feels like DiCaprio just should have an Oscar by now. Sure, there have been some clunkers on his resume, but overall he tends to pick quality projects that he’s good in. In fact, looking over his roles, especially of late, it’s hard not to think that his choices haven’t been curated for maximum award appeal. He has notably turned down some pretty iconic roles in blockbusters – smart move in passing on the Star Wars prequels – and instead has carefully selected more “prestige” projects, often with his directorial muse Martin Scorsese (a man who also knows a little something about waiting for an Oscar win). Honestly, it’s a little surprising that his nomination this year is only his fifth acting nod from the Academy – and one of those was for Blood Diamond, which is not one of his best performances. Perhaps the Academy has decided that DiCaprio is already living a pretty charmed life and his Oscar drought will make up for his abundance of riches. Build character. Humble him. It’s possible that we are all far more upset about DiCaprio’s failure to win than he is and that we are projecting on to him our own need for approval and recognition. I sincerely doubt this is in fact the case, but it is plausible. Maybe he isn’t chasing that sweet Oscar gold like we think.

It turns out that whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio’s sense of self-worth is intertwined with validation from the Academy of Motion Pictures is a moot point. Because the first thing that I tell people when they ask my thoughts about The Revenant is that the streak is about to come to the end. By the end of the 2016 Oscar telecast, Leonardo DiCaprio will be an Oscar winner.

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And if he somehow doesn’t win, I don’t know what he’s going to have to do to get one. He may have to literally die on camera.

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The Revenant seems to be a divisive movie; the people that I’ve talked to have either loved it or straight up hated it. I’m something of an anomaly in that I generally liked the movie, but wasn’t blown away by it. The detractors of the film have some points – The Revenant is way too long and the story meanders at a molasses-like pace – but ultimately I think that it is worth the extra effort to stick with the movie. It’s beautifully shot, well-acted and I became far more invested than I anticipated in the story and the outcome. The Revenant is not necessarily an easy watch; it punishes its actors and by extension it punishes its viewers. It is an endurance test for everyone involved. This is a raw story with plenty of violence and suffering, but it’s also a story of survival and revenge.

The Revenant is the story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a guide for a hunting party in the wilderness of Montana and South Dakota. He is accompanied by his teenaged son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who is the product of Glass’ relationship with a Pawnee Indian. The group is under siege by the Arikara Indians and forced to flee after losing many of their men and supplies. The commander of the group (Domhnall Gleeson) puts his faith in Glass for getting them to safety, which doesn’t sit well with trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald thinks he knows better and is far more concerned with their payday than the chain of command. When Glass is grievously injured and vulnerable, Fitzgerald takes advantage of the situation to kill Hawk and leave Glass for dead. Glass, however, isn’t so easy to kill and het sets off to seek revenge on the man that killed his son – assuming that he can survive the brutal wilderness.

What I think is most interesting about DiCaprio’s stellar performance is how different it is from anything that he’s done before. Most of the acting is physical; there are long stretches of the film where DiCaprio utters no actual words other than grunts. His dashing good looks do him absolutely no good in this movie as he is dragging his body across a frozen tundra or trying to survive being swept into rapids. Glass is put through the ringer physically and emotionally, which DiCaprio is beautifully able to convey. It was kind of fascinating to see an actor stripped of all his obvious strengths and give this very raw and primal performance. Shooting this film was apparently hell and while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, the results are on the screen. You can see why DiCaprio would accept this challenge – not just for the potential Oscar bait, but for the challenge of it all. The Revenant pushes him in a way no other movie he’s ever done could.

Tom Hardy is also truly fantastic in this film; while DiCaprio is getting a lot of (well deserved) attention for his role, Hardy is the secret weapon of this movie. Hardy doesn’t have to run the gauntlet like DiCaprio, but his performance as the man who sets everything in motion is just as important. I am constantly impressed with Hardy’s ability to seemingly play everything and he quickly makes Fitzgerald a memorable character. You can’t take your eyes off him and he provides a necessary counterpoint to DiCaprio. He completely disappears into the role. Hardy’s nomination is just as deserving.

As spectacular as the acting performances are, The Revenant is a director’s movie and Alejandro González Iñárritu creates a cinematic masterpiece. This film is brutal, but it is also absolutely gorgeous. Iñárritu’s decisions behind the camera lead to some truly remarkable shots that makes this movie more visceral and intense. The camera occasionally gets so close to DiCaprio that his breath almost frosts the camera and the choices made in the point of the view of the bear attack make that scene much more visceral. The camera work in The Revenant takes this movie to the next level.

That being said, I do think that The Revenant could have been about 45 minutes shorter. There are definitely some slow moments and diversion that if removed would have told a more efficient story. The Revenant is punishing, but I think it would have been just as effective with less flashbacks and long pauses. I’ll admit that there were moments where I was a little bored and my mind started to wonder. Two hours and 45 minutes is a lot to ask of an audience, especially for a move that is as draining as The Revenant. Streamlining the story, just a little, might have pushed this film closer to a masterpiece.

The Revenant is absolutely not for everyone. It is long. It is violent. It is occasionally slow. Animals are killed (not gratuitously). You will probably walk out of the theater somewhat emotionally exhausted. For me, the journey was absolutely worth it. The performances were top notch and by the time the climactic final scene occurs, I was completely stressed out and had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. It’s not a movie I could ever imagine myself revisiting, but I’m glad that I saw it. The Revenant is challenging and draining, but I couldn’t pull myself away.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Early Bird Edition

You’re getting the pop culture round up early this week because I had it done and my schedule this week is a bit out of whack. So rather than sit on this post for tomorrow, I thought I’d give it to you a day early. Change is good. Embrace it.

So take an extra-long coffee break and catch up on things that you might have missed from the world of pop.

  • Marcia Wallace, best known as the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons and her work on The Bob Newhart Show, sadly has passed away. In her memory, here’s a compilation of her character’s sarcastic laugh:

 

  • We also lost music legend Lou Reed. The Artic Monkeys paid tribute to him by playing “Walk on the Wild Side” at a recent show:

 

  • Who knew Regis was a Wu-Tang Clan fan?

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  • Lorde’s “Royals” is the latest to get the country cover treatment:

 

  • I am not ashamed to say that I totally nailed this quiz where you match Brad Pitt’s hair to the corresponding  movie role.
  • A new poster has been released for Muppets Most Wanted:

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  • The full cast for Adam Scott’s The Greatest Event in Television History Part III has been revealed. Based on the photo, I’m guessing they are doing Family Ties.
  • George R.R. Martin has seen the Game of Thrones porn parody and is not impressed.
  • Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” reimagined with Disney villains (and some familiar faces):

 

  • I really liked the song that Howard sang to Bernadette on last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory. Entertainment Weekly has the lyrics, which were written by the musical comedy team Garfunkel and Oates (of whom I am a fan).
  • Triumph the Insult Comic Dog visits The Great American Beer Festival:

 

  • A Star Wars blooper reel was just released:

 

  • Watch Jimmy Fallon and pals bowl against the Nerdist Team in All Star Celebrity Bowling:

 

  • I have no idea if this is actually real, but if this is what Britney really sounds like – yowza:

 

  • Wait…what? Chuck Lorre wrote the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song? This changes everything.

Trailers:

  • The trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past (whatever that means) is finally out!

 

  • A new trailer for HBO’s True Detective. Can’t wait until this starts!

 

  • The final trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

 

  • A new trailer for FOX’s Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

  • NBC has released the first promo for live production of The Sound of Music:

 

  • The cartoon Mr. Peabody & Sherman is heading to the big screen:

 

  • Zac Efron and Seth Roan in Neighbors:

 

  • A first look at the upcoming Justice League: War

 

  • “Blurred Lines” as an Appalachian bluegrass – style square dance arrangement:

 

  • Watch Dolly Parton rap on The Queen Latifah Show:

 

  • I’m enjoying the “What if Walter White Told Stupid Chemistry Jokes” meme on Reddit.
  • Comedian Pete Holmes has a new sketch show that follows Conan on TBS. This skit where he fires the X-Men shows some promise:

 

Mashups and Supercuts

  • Sesame Street did Homeland….and the results are better than the current season of Homeland:

 

  • The Ring meets Seinfeld:

 

  • This mashup from Conan proves that local news anchors didn’t show much creativity in announcing Mike Myers newest offspring:

 

  • And finally, hear Chris Cornell mashup Metallica and U2:

Happy Tuesday!