Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Out Like A Lamb Edition

While upstate New York has burned me before, I’m going out on a limb and say that I think Spring is officially on its way. Thank goodness for that, since though the snow hasn’t been to terrible here, it feels like winter has been going on forever and I’m ready for some warmer temperatures and not having to make tentative plans pending the weather. I don’t do well being cooped up, though it is admittedly good for my bank account. Of course now that I’ve said this, we’ll probably get a foot of snow dropped on us.

So while I hope it’s almost time to put away my winter jacket for the season, get yourself caught up on the pop culture that you might have missed with this week’s installment of the roundup.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Deadpool 2:

 

  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?:

 

  • The Rain:

 

  • Tag:

 

  • Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger:

 

  • Under the Silver Lake:

 

  • Terminal:

 

  • Nightflyers:

 

  • The Titan:

 

  • The Spy Who Dumped Me:

 

  • Into the Badlands:

 

  • Kodachrome:

 

  • Come Sunday:

 

  • Action Point:

 

  • Fear the Walking Dead, season 4:

 

  • Being Serena:

 

  • Succession:

 

  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls

 

  • Troy: Fall of a City:

 

  • Cobra Kai:

 

  • The Devil and Father Amorth:

Music

Theater

Books

Stand-up

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • The Office reimagined as cartoon characters:

 

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt mashed up songs from their Broadway musicals:

 

  • The history of TV theme songs:

 

  • “Feel Good, Inc.” meets The Simpsons steamed hams:

 

  • The Office describes Kanye West albums:

Suicide Squad – A Review

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Where have you gone, Christopher Nolan? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

There was a time in the not too distant past where DC movies used to be the benchmark for comic book adaptations. While the Dark Knight movies of Nolan were enjoying critical and box office success, Marvel was stumbling a bit with films like Daredevil and multiple attempts at The Hulk. It wasn’t until Marvel made Iron Man and started building the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the fortunes of the two companies flipped. Now Marvel movies are almost too big to fail and DC movies….well, DC movies are generally judged on a sliding scale of awful to unwatchable. I mean, I am a person who has seen just about every superhero movie that has been released in the last 15 years, yet I couldn’t even bring myself to watch Batman v Superman. And I love Ben Affleck.

I personally blame Zack Snyder for this turn of events, as pretty much everything that Snyder touches goes to shit. He set the template for the modern DC Universe with the terrible Man of Steel and he continues to fail upward; rather than rethinking how they are approaching these films, DC continues to reward Snyder by keeping him not only gainfully employed but as the de facto architect of their cinematic universe. Though Snyder didn’t direct Suicide Squad (though he did direct one scene), his fingerprints are all over it. That is never a good thing.

Given how loud the bang of the drum has been about the awfulness of Suicide Squad, the biggest surprise was that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Don’t misinterpret that as me saying that Suicide Squad is good – it most certainly is not – but rather that I didn’t hate it as much as expected. There’s something to be said for the power of bottom basement expectations; the fact that I didn’t want to walk out of the theater somehow is a win for the movie.

The bare bones plot for Suicide Squad is relatively straightforward – with something of a power vacuum created by the events at the end of Batman v Superman (which came as news to me), intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis – who deserves better) decides to assemble a team of dangerous criminals to send out on high-risk missions. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Corc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) are all recruited, as well as good guy Katana (Karen Fukuhara). In order to force compliance, each criminal has a small explosive implanted on them, which can be remotely detonated.  The squad is sent out under the leadership of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to try and reign in The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who is trying to…honestly it doesn’t even matter. And The Joker (Jared Leto) is floating around the periphery of all this, trying to rescue his lady love Quinn, who he suddenly has an interest in reuniting with. The less you think about any of this, the happier you will be.

Suicide Squad stumbles almost right out of the gate because of the self-created predicament that the writers find themselves in. Part of what makes the MCU work so well is that we get to know the individual characters through their solo movie outings. We understand their personalities, their failings and basically what makes them tick. Hell, even Hawkeye has an interesting backstory. Therefore, when they all come together, it just works because we’ve already spent so much time with these people; what made Captain America: Civil War so great was that it was the payoff of years of groundwork laid down by the previous movies. There can be shades of grey because we understand who these people are. Suicide Squad has none of that history so it has to introduce and establish almost a dozen new characters within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. It’s dizzying and it doesn’t work at all – only a few of the characters manage to rise above the noise to come anything close to a well-rounded character using the most generous definition possible. Even the characters that they spend the most time trying to flush out are problematic; it’s not a good sign when I have no idea if Amanda Waller is a good guy or not. I’m all for complicated people, but even though she gets some of the most screen time in the film, I couldn’t tell you what she’s really trying to accomplish. Had the title not already been used, this movie should have been called The Expendables because I really didn’t give a hoot what happened to pretty much everyone involved. Suicide Squad decided to cut the difference – in theory, the movie is trying to do too much, so their compromise is to do everything pretty poorly. The result is a lot of inconsistencies and a plot that makes little to no sense. The post-credits scene only exasperates this problem; in attempting to lay the groundwork for Justice League, the basic premise of Suicide Squad is kind of called into question. Like, if you know that you have all these potential good guys floating around, why exactly are we trifling with trying to make bad guys do what we want? Batman is a thing that exists in this universe – he’s even in the goddam movie briefly – why aren’t we just throwing up the bat signal rather than forcing these wackos to go against their nature?

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The only actors that are able to make any sort of impression are Margot Robbie and Will Smith. Perhaps the best thing about Suicide Squad is Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The character is a little one note on paper, but Robbie manages to have fun with it and the movie is its most interesting whenever she’s on the screen. She’s the breakout star of this whole mess. Smith also manages to give Deadshot some interesting moments. You get the occasional glimpse of the charming movie star that Will Smith is known as, but even he can only rise up so much from the crap material that he’s been given. Smith and Robbie are the only two that are really given a fighting chance to do something interesting. The rest of the characters are so one dimensional that they barely even registered (an Australian guy named Captain Boomerang – I mean, c’mon!). Joel Kinnaman is a good actor in the right circumstances, but he’s saddled with such a ridiculous arc that there was little that he could do. Walller manipulates him into a relationship with Dr. June Moone – the person who The Enchantress inhabits – because……you’re guess is really as good as mine.

Much has been made of the fact that the ad campaign for Suicide Squad to the contrary, The Joker is really a minor character that has little screen time. I’m not all that sure that is a bad thing, because I wasn’t necessarily buying what Jared Leto is selling. Maybe it was the limited sample size of his presence, but it seemed like that dude was chewing the scenery like his life depended on it. Now, The Joker has always been an over the top, larger than life character, but Leto’s interpretation just didn’t work for me. His presence is really a symptom of Suicide Squad’s inability to focus; he was a rabbit hole that the writers decided to go down I’m guessing hypothetically to flush out Harley Quinn’s character, but instead just interrupted the narrative flow (in as much it existed) every time he popped up. It hardly seems worth the rest of the cast putting up with his method acting shenanigans on set for what he ultimately brought to the table. The rumors of Suicide Squad being reshot to try and capture the success of Deadpool appear to be false, since there are barely any (intentional) laughs to be found.

DC has proven that they can cut a great trailer, but they are stubbornly committed to this crappy trajectory for their movies as laid out by Zack Snyder. I was holding out hope that perhaps the upcoming Wonder Woman would break the pattern, but for now I think I’ve officially given up on Warner Brothers doing anything of interest with the DC adaptations. I mean, I’ll see anything that features Aquaman because hello Jason Momoa, but I’m solely in it for the eye candy. Suicide Squad is the perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the current mindset behind these films. They are sloppy, messy, dumb, and not even fun to watch. Margot Robbie is fun to watch, but the rest of this cast really deserved better. When the bar for success is that Suicide Squad didn’t make me want to kill myself, that’s just a sad state of affairs.

Philadelphia Pop Culture

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This weekend, after the 4th of July holiday, I’ll be headed to Philadelphia for a few days to attend a concert. I’m very excited – not only to see Jay Z and Beyoncé, but also to get the chance to explore a city that I haven’t had the fortune to spend much time in to date. Though Philly is less than 4 hours from Albany, I’ve only been to the City of Brotherly Love twice – once to see a Phillies game last year and once when I was a kid visiting family in nearby Trenton. I’ve seen Philadelphia from the highway on several road trips to Baltimore or Washington D.C., but sadly have never had time to stop. My two previous visits were fine, but fairly narrow in focus – we went to a museum with my family and I only went to the baseball stadium on my last trip. I haven’t even seem the basics, like the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall which is sacrilege for someone who spent a fair amount of time in graduate school studying and teaching the founding period of our country. This time around, I’ve cleared out some time specifically to see more of the city; since it is the 4th of July weekend and the place will probably be crawling with visitors, I’m opting to mostly skip the major tourist attractions and am focusing more on restaurants and breweries this time around. If I’m only going to be in town for a little over 24 hours, I don’t want to spend most of that waiting in line. But I do plan to check out some of the neighborhoods and better orient myself for future visits. I really need to take advantage of the fact that the city is relatively close by.

Though I may not know much about Philadelphia from personal experience, I certainly know about the city’s many contributions to pop culture. As one of the country’s oldest cities, Philly has long held a place of prominence in the world of arts and entertainment. So it’s not surprising that there are a lot of connections to the city in recent pop culture. A city that gave us the cheesesteak certainly has a lot to offer.

I’m not a local, so I’m sure that I’m missing some major Philadelphia related pop culture – for that I apologize in advance. One thing I do know is that you don’t want the good people of Philadelphia mad at you 🙂 But as a pop culture connoisseur, when I hear Philadelphia, the following things immediately pop to mind:

The Roots

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Arguably the greatest house band of all time, I was familiar with The Roots before they teamed up with Jimmy Fallon but there is no doubt that their stints on Late Night and The Tonight Show have opened them up to a wider audience. They are ridiculously talented musically – that was never in doubt – but the real surprise was just how darn funny they can be. My love for Jimmy Fallon is well established, but even I recognize that without The Roots by his side, his show wouldn’t be nearly as good; they provide him a deep bench of talented people that he can draw on for a musical number or a sketch. They are so versatile and can seemingly do anything. The Roots proudly represent their Philly roots (ha!) and often make reference to their hometown. They are great ambassadors, since they are now the first thing I think of when I think of Philadelphia. In fact, I’ll miss the free concert that The Roots organize every 4th of July in Philly, but I’ll get to see them Labor Day weekend in Boston at a music festival.

Rocky

Rocky

I don’t know how it is possible to think of Philadelphia and not think of the Rocky films, since the city was basically a character in so many of the films. While I do plan to skip a lot of the more touristy things that the city has to offer, I think I will make an exception to run (or walk – depends on how humid it is) up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and check out the Rocky statue. I may even punch a slab of meat if given the opportunity. Rocky III was probably my first exposure to Philadelphia, so it only seems right that I pay my respects.

 

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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I mean – Philadelphia is right there in the title! This FX comedy may be about a group of terrible people who are friends, but they do right by the city in which the show is set. There have been several Philly specific storylines over the years, mostly having to do with the local sports teams. The opening credits of the show also highlights the city; it was shot on the cheap using a handheld video camera as they drove around the city and they haven’t’ replaced it since the show has become successful and has a real budget. Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olsen even co-own a bar in Philly, though sadly it looks a lot nicer than Paddy’s Pub.

 

Will Smith

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“In West Philadelphia, born and raised” is more than just lyrics to the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; actor and former rapper Will Smith is from Philadelphia and often pays tribute to his hometown by wearing Philly sports attire or dropping a reference or two in his songs. Of course, the theme song is probably his most notable Philadelphia pop culture reference as he turned life into art by making his fictional character on the show hail from Philly. The great store Pop Culture Lab even has this print for sale, commemorating the epic journey of young Will.

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Hall & Oates

Photo of Hall & Oates

I have no idea why I know that Hall & Oates hails from Philadelphia, but I do and know you do too. Recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (introduced by fellow Philadelphian Questlove), Hall & Oates dominated the airwaves in the 70s and 80s with some of the catchiest tunes of the era. That’s right – I like Hall & Oates, which only furthers my obsession with questionable music. I dare you to listen to “Rich Girl” and not sing along and God help you if you hear “Private Eyes” and don’t clap along. And they seriously had some of the most glorious facial hair in rock and roll. During their induction speech, they lamented the lack of Philadelphia representation in the Hall, an omission that seems ludicrous to me with all the musical talent out of the city.

 

The Philly Phanatic

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The Phanatic may be the mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he is an institution upon himself. I’m not a huge fan of mascots – blame that on the Yankees not using mascots for most of their existence – but I’ll be damned if the Phanatic hasn’t won me over. He’s probably my favorite sports mascot behind Bernie the Brewer. I have no idea what it is about the Phanatic that appeals to me; he is definitely among the more spirited of the mascots out there and he just looks ridiculous, which perhaps I find charming. Whatever it is, I can’t think of Philadelphia without thinking of this green guy.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s plenty more Philadelphia inspired or connected pop culture. There’s the Oscar winning film Philadelphia, which was just too depressing to include on the list, as well as Silver Linings Playbook, which uses Philadelphia for its backdrop. I can’t wait to see what else I uncover during my weekend getaway. What’s your favorite Philly pop culture? Sound off in the comments below.