An All-American Pop Culture Weekend
By Chauncey Telese
Hello everybody, happy Tuesday, as always I sincerely hope all is well. After a very depressing weekend in the news with the tragedy in Norway and the death of Amy Winehouse, the week started off with some positive news, granted not positive enough to erase either story but something we can rally around, and that news is, FOOTBALL IS BACK!
Finally after so many months of velvet ropes and posturing we can finally get the 2011-2012 season underway with free agency, rookie signings, fantasy drafts, and Sundays spent at All Star busting each other’s chops while watching games. It isn’t all sunshine and lollipops though, because the one unfortunate side effect of an NFL season is that once again we have to suffer through Brett Favre rumors. That’s right, even though the man is older then Eric Northman, he’s once again being linked to signing with an NFL team, this time the Philadelphia Eagles. I know that the Eagles will probably trade Kolb by the end of the week, they still have Vick and Favre is nobody’s back up. I know Vick has never been proven to be durable but c’mon do we really need to go through this again?
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Oh well, its still absolutely amazing to be talking about things other then collective bargaining and union meetings, September 8th can’t come soon enough! That isn’t all that went down this weekend, however. Normally I’d be bragging about all of the cool stuff I’ve seen or heard at ComicCon but I couldn’t go and tried to abstain from the internet all weekend because reading about it would be like reading texts from your buddies reporting on a bachelor party you couldn’t attend. But, I couldn’t help myself so here are the highlights:
- There were clips from the first “Beavis and Butthead” episode since 1997 and it is awesome to know that they won’t just be making fun of music videos, but UFC, YouTube, “Jersey Shore,” and other facets of reality TV. The kid inside of me is brimming with joy.
- Steven Spielberg attended for the first time and announced that “Jurassic Park 4” is in development and will be in theaters in three years. The kid in me is shaking with glee and the adult in me is shaking with cynicism.
- Michael Kenneth Williams who played Omar from “The Wire” and now plays Chalky White on “Boardwalk Empire” is going to be the biology teacher for the third season of “Community,” which will be tremendous.
- They showed off the first footage from “The Amazing Spider-Man” and from what I heard, as good as the cast is and as cool as Andrew Garfield was during the panel, the footage itself left a lot to be desired.
- The trailer for “Knights of Badassdom” (available on YouTube) looks to be the movie that “Your Highness” wanted to be.
- “Cowboys and Aliens” premiered and blew the roof off the place and makes me excited for the midnight show on Thursday.
- X-Box showed off their new R2D2 console.
- Francis Ford Coppola made his first appearance as part of the panel for his horror movie “Twixt”.
- “Family Guy” announced that not only will Ricky Gervais, Cate Blanchett and Anna Kendrick guest star, but there is a movie in the works.
- And while Disney and Marvel decided not to attend, they did show off the concept art for “The Avengers.”
There was a ton of other stuff that happened there but those were the 10 things that stuck out to me and I will do everything in my power to go next year so I can have a real report, not just what I cherry-picked from the internet. In other pop culture news, Bush released their new single and it is outstanding and it’s nice to hear Gavin Rossdale making good music again (same goes for his wife, Gwen Stefani).
As I mentioned earlier, on Saturday Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 (making her part of the 27 club as you’ve probably heard by now) and while it isn’t a shocking death, it still caught me by surprise. She had her demons, but I always remained hopeful that she’d eventually get herself together because she was immensely talented. I, like many people listened to her album “Back to Black” on my iPod and man, it is jarring how cool an album that was. Like all premature music deaths, this was a real shame especially because she’ll be remembered as an addict first by most people instead of as a gifted singer. The one silver lining though is that it prompted Russell Brand to write a very poignant piece on the enablement that goes on in the entertainment industry.
Anyway, enough of the somber stuff and let’s just delve into our Made In America edition. All five reviews are American made (though some feature foreign talent) but in a sense they all ooze copious amounts of Americana. We’ll go the movie route first and start with the number one movie of the weekend (I totally whiffed on it beating “Harry Potter”) and one of the best movies of the whole summer.
“Captain America: The First Avenger”
It’s been 11 years since the first X-Men movie sparked an ongoing boom of superhero properties becoming movies or TV shows. In that time we’ve had four Spider-Man movies, five X-Men movies, two Incredible Hulks, two Iron Mans, two Punishers, a Daredevil, and an Elecktra. It’s been a pretty good decade for Marvel and with the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, a morose decade for DC. Marvel got bought by Disney two years ago and that move panicked nerds everywhere because they thought that everything would come with mouse ears but it ended up being the best thing to happen to Marvel. The reason being is that with the exception of properties that were owned by other studios (Daredevil, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Punisher) all of Marvel’s heroes were under one roof and that meant that they could do something truly groundbreaking and that is next year’s “The Avengers” which teams Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Nick Fury, the Black Widow, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Captain America. This may seem like a lot to do, but Marvel expertly started the process in 2008 with “Iron Man” and not only made Robert Downey a star again but showed their ambition by having Samuel L. Jackson show up as Nick Fury and recruiting Tony Stark for the Avengers initiative.
This made the internet explode and with “The Incredible Hulk,” they had Tony Stark ask about the whereabouts of Bruce Banner. In “Iron Man 2” they featured the Captain America shield, Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow, and set up “Thor” by having the hammer land in New Mexico. In “Thor,” not only did they introduce Loki and Hawkeye, but they name-checked the Hulk, and set up the cube that is in Odin’s weapons chamber. The synergy in these movies is unbelievable and not only that, but the movies all stand on their own (give or take).
The last in the series is “Captain America: The First Avenger” which, unlike the other movies, exists in a totally different era. This movie is a throwback to old school adventure movies that were the model for the “Indiana Jones” series but contains enough SciFi to not be a straight period piece. It also features the best overall ensemble you can ask for in a popcorn movie and the writing snaps with humor and heart without ever being cynical (even though ironic hipsters will try to peg it as a parody of propaganda movies, but its not). But I’m getting ahead of myself because I realize that not everyone is familiar with Steve Rogers and how he saved the world from the Nazis.
The story starts off in Germany with Johan Schmidt (an exemplary Hugo Weaving) who leads HYDRA, Hitler’s deep science division, finding a mythical cube. This cube comes from Odin’s weapons chamber and is the source of unlimited energy which Schmidt knows will win the war for the Nazis.
Cut to Brooklyn in 1942 as scrawny Steve Rogers keeps getting beaten up by bullies, but won’t back down. He is rejected five times from joining the Army because of his size and laundry list of health issues, but he tries under different aliases, failing every time. All he wants to do is serve his country like his friend Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). One night at the Modern Marvels Expo (think World’s Fair) which features Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) prototype for the flying car and yet another recruitment center.
While trying to enlist, Steve is seen by former German scientist Abraham Erksine (a brilliant Stanley Tucci) who notices Steve’s massive heart and tenacity and offers him a chance and brings him to boot camp. Colonel Chester Phillips (a top-notch Tommy Lee Jones) thinks he’s too small and weak for what Erksine wants to do. He also meets SSR officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who he takes a liking to.
Rogers can’t keep up in drills, but his fight to do so is reminiscent to “Rudy” and ultimately proves his bravery by jumping on a dummy grenade. Erksine keeps telling Phillips that the perfect soldier needs to have more intangibles then tangibles and convinces him that Rogers is the perfect candidate to be that soldier. The night before Rogers undergoes his transformation, Erksine tells him that it is of the utmost importance that he remains the same person despite the gifts he will receive. He shares the cautionary tale of Johan Schmidt and how he took the serum when he wasn’t ready (more on that later). Rogers assures him that won’t be an issue (again, more on that later) and he successfully becomes tall, buff, and very handsome.
Immediately after the procedure, Rogers discovers his gifts after stopping a German assassin and becomes the poster child of the government. He is forced to go on USO tours (allowing the movie to poke fun at the old style costume) despite wanting to actually be overseas. Meanwhile, Schmidt has tapped into the power of the cube and uses it in all of the weapons. He and his toad-like assistant Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) go rogue and decide to break away from Hitler, embracing his enhanced gifts becoming the Red Skull (whose makeup and visuals look fantastic), and plotting to destroy America.
Obviously I’m not going to give away the whole movie but I will say that in the beginning they sort of tell you where the story ends up anyway; just realize that “The Avengers” takes place in our time and Captain America is on that team, so there you go. Everything about this movie clicked for me, it is paced well enough so that it can’t possibly drag for anyone (unless you hate action movies, in which case why are you there?), the production design is incredible and effectively reminds is that it’s the 1940s without being obnoxious about it, and the score (done by Alan Silvestri, no less) fits the movie like a glove.
There is a ton of action to be had, and Captain America gets a plethora of opportunities to use his shield and the Red Skull blows a lot of stuff up. As I mentioned earlier, every actor in the movie nails their assignment with ease. Evans nails both facets of Steve Rogers; he is believable as a scrappy kid who gets beat up and the scrawny kid with the gifts to fight back. Weaving is great as the Red Skull and the movie does a great job showing how they are complete opposite sides of the coin. Atwell makes Peggy Carter a very well-defined female character that can handle herself and not need to be saved like so many other superhero female characters. Their eventual romance is very believable and the ending is earned instead of cheesy.
I highly recommend this movie and I say that without any qualifiers (like I would a “Transformers 3”), it is enjoyable on its own merits, is the best movie I’ve seen all summer and one of the best superhero movies in a while. For everyone in my age bracket, it will prompt you to sing the “Team America: World Police” theme song, I promise.
Moving on from the movie world, let’s venture into TV territory and another aspect of Americana and that is our real life hero fire fighters, specifically the fire fighters of 62 Truck, more specifically, Tommy Gavin.
“Rescue Me: Menses”
So, we’re now two episodes into the final season of “Rescue Me,” last week Colleen got engaged to Black Shawn and went on a bender leaving Tommy to pick up the pieces. This week is about Tommy’s relationship with women and how he’s virtually powerless, despite his attempts to be the alpha male. I liked this episode better then last week’s episode (not saying much I know) even though it is less on plot.
Basically, Tommy tries to assert himself as the head of the household after being upset at Sheila allowing Jimmy to be included in a 9/11 tenth anniversary special. He makes her and Janet cry, causing Colleen and Katie to cry. He tries to patch things over and decides to go out, gather groceries and feminine hygiene products (Tommy is almost as awkward doing this as Hank Hill was) and ends up running into Kelly (Maura Tierney) who we haven’t seen since season 5. Kelly has breast cancer and has clearly gone through chemo (yes, just like Maura Tierney did in real life). They have lunch and Tommy is asked to not treat her like she’s on death’s door and that allows him to be somewhat charming for the first time in a while.
Meanwhile, Lou doesn’t want to get his physical because his health issues (weight, blood pressure, etc.) will surely get him kicked off the crew and Franco decides to help him by getting the rest of their crew to do the physical for him. It was stupid and moronic, but I laughed a lot especially at Sean and Mike because they manage to bungle the urine sample and psychological portions, respectively. They get their first fire soon after and relish in it after being essentially grounded for the whole winter due to no fires taking place. This was a more laid-back episode with only two real developments, the upcoming interview which promises that Tommy will lose it on camera, and Black Shawn accepting Colleen’s re-proposal.
That was a special moment for me because he tries to ask Tommy for his blessing which predictably he denies, causing Black Shawn to accept it anyway right in Tommy’s face. That was a classic “Rescue Me” moment that I wish would show up more often. As I said last week though, this show is like a chore to get through now and depending on how the finale goes, I might just eschew my plans for an awards column. I’ll cut this one short and move on to the greatest melting pot on TV (though the New York in “Ugly Americans” is no slouch), Bon Temps, Louisiana.
“True Blood: I Love You, I Hate You”
Last week gave us one of the more humorous episodes in quite some time and last night gave us its spookiest. The show doesn’t go to the spooky well very often but when it does it can be reminiscent of horror movies. Last week ended with Tommy being basically taken prisoner by his parents Joe Lee and Melinda, and it begins with Tommy killing them in self defense (and thank God, I didn’t want to have to go through the dog fighting again).
Then we see a sleeping Sookie, and looming over her bed is Eric who can’t bring himself to feed, until he is approached by Godric who tells Eric he’s a monster. Eric and Godric proceed to feed on Sookie prompting him to wake up (classic “True Blood” move) and actually visit Sookie. He asks her for some comfort and she agrees, permitting he keeps his fangs to himself. She laughs at the idea that a year a go she wouldn’t have even considered lying in bed with Eric Northman. He begins asking about the kind of person he really is and if he’s evil, but she just assures him that underneath the evil exterior, he was always a decent person.
The witch stuff is really getting fun because now we know who the witch is and what exactly makes her feared by vamps via a great scene featuring the remaining Louisiana Sheriffs. We learn that vampires traditionally would ingrain themselves into the trusted institutions in order to lure people, so back in the day of the witch (whose name was revealed to be Antonia), they were high up in the Catholic Church. Bill then quips that today vampires exist in Fox News and Google. Upon being burned at the stake, Antonia used her powers to get every vampire within 20 miles to burn along with her, so naturally Bill is right to be worried.
Bill via some vampire SWAT team action arrests Marnie, who is clueless how to reverse her spells, much to the chagrin of Pam and Bill. It was creepy to see Bill glamour Marnie because I was thoroughly convinced Marnie would panic and do something to Bill but she didn’t. Still, it was a nice moment and contained a lot of tension. Speaking of tension, it was pretty cool seeing Sam and Tommy have to dispose of the bodies together and in the process try and dodge Andy who pulls them over. When Andy walks over to inspect the van containing the bodies, again the tension builds and even though the nerd in me knew they wouldn’t be caught, the nerd in me hoped they would.
Sure enough, Tommy turns into a gator, scaring Andy and they go on their way. Sam teaches Tommy (and probably the rest of America) that gators like marshmallows which he uses to lure the gators to eat the corpses, mission accomplished. As predicted, the Jason/Jessica/Hoyt love triangle was set in motion with Jason having a humorous love dream involving him and Jessica (side effect from drinking her blood) and his guilt about hooking up with Hoyt’s girl. The best thing about Jason is watching him rationalize things when he is clearly not self-aware that it’s his own stupidity and not God that is the cause of all his issues. Listening to him talk to Hoyt about his problems caused me to just shake my head and smile because it was vintage Jason. As far as the love triangle, I’m not exactly enthused, but who knows, maybe it won’t drag on all season.
Sookie takes the witch issue into her own hands and visits Marnie’s shop (before she’s arrested) and goes into her blonde bumpkin routine in order to get a psychic reading and read Marnie’s mind (it’s been awhile since she’s really used that, by the way). Marnie contacts Sookie’s Gran who both Sookie and Marnie hear her tell Sookie to run because Marnie’s dangerous. Sookie splits and realizes that like every other supernatural problem she’s faced, it will get worse before it gets better. Jesus and Lafayette decide to go to Mexico because they are still convinced Eric is out to kill them. Jesus happens to have an uncle that is a shaman and can help them. We learn Jesus had to sacrifice a goat on his ninth birthday because he had a gift, but his mom stopped him before any magic could go down and he never saw them again. I really want to see where this goes and hope they stay in Mexico for awhile.
Tara’s identity is discovered by her girlfriend and she immediately goes to Sookie for some ice cream and comfort. This lead to our annual Tara getting mad at Sookie storyline because Eric emerges from the basement scaring the crap out of Tara, who tells Sookie all of the things Eric has done to both of them. Eric realizes he is perceived as evil and Sookie tries to tell him otherwise leading to them FINALLY kissing (seriously, this should’ve been done two weeks ago). The other big event that goes down is Pam spilling the beans about what really happened to Eric, causing Bill to go to Sookie’s house.
I mentioned that things got creepy and no moment exemplified that more with me then the now interesting Terry/Arlene/evil baby mess. Terry and Arlene get their house exorcised by the Revered and Lettie Mae which was beyond hilarious, leading to my favorite exchange of the night, when Arlene asks why he didn’t use the white church and Terry responds: “They’re livelier and they sing”. Thinking the house is now safe Terry and Arlene enjoy peace, that is until matches levitate and spark (Alan Ball revealed at ComicCon that we now have ghosts in Bon Temps). It was a legitimately creepy moment and reminiscent of movies like “The Changeling” or “Poltergeist” and, I for one, hope it doesn’t veer into “Ghost” territory. All in all another great episode and next week brings us to the halfway point of the season so I expect some other craziness to go down in the bayou.
Lastly, we go back to Albuquerque for the modern western “Breaking Bad”.
“Breaking Bad: Thirty-Eight Snub”
Last week, Walt and Jessie witnessed Gus slit Victor’s throat. This week we find everyone who was there in that room (except Gus) struggling to cope with that event. The episode begins with Walt in a motel room looking at guns (his salesman, by the way was played by “Deadwood” alum, Jim Beaver). The salesman gives Walt a small .38 snubnose with the serial numbers scratched off and Walt keeps insisting that it’s for defense. The man isn’t really convinced, and neither is Walt, but he tries to convince both of them, to no avail. He holds the gun to the mirror and tries to draw and naturally he sucks at it. He is told to practice and that cross drawing is only effective when you’re sitting down.
Jessie tries to cope by not being alone and he does that by inviting Skinny Pete and Bader over to show them his new LCD stereo system. They start doing drugs (poor Skinny Pete, he was 12 weeks sober, oh well) and after Badger and Skinny Pete have a heated debate over zombies (great “Walking Dead” shout out) ranging from “Resident Evil” to Nazi zombies even though Pete tells Badger: “Zombies are dead. What difference does it make what their job was when they were living?” An annoyed Jessie interjects and they decide to have the skeezy version of Katy Perry’s “T.G.I.F.” video.
Skyler keeps trying to get Walt to buy the car wash as a way to launder money (no pun intended, I swear) and even though she does all of the accounting work the owner and determines the value, the owner is offended at her offer and asks for ten million. He tells her that Walt quit without notice, cursed at him, broke things, and grabbed himself. Remember in the show all of these events from the pilot until now take place in the same seven months. I like that they harkened back to the pilot. He then believes that Walt was too gutless to face him in person so he tells Skyler that he will accept $20 million.
Marie is growing continually frustrated at Hank’s attitude towards her. She sees that he is enthusiastic with his physical therapist and when she tries to be positive with him, he’s just dismissive. In a moment of pure sadness and desperation, she half-jokes that the physical therapist should move in. He sees through the joke and just promises he’ll be back the next day. She also is growing angrier at his obsession with collecting blue minerals and almost blows up when 30 boxes show up at the door but she manages to hold it together.
Jessie and his poor Roomba (from whose perspective we see the party - pretty cool) clean up a little bit, but Jessie decides to give Pete and Badger money to get more booze and food so that the party can continue while he’s at work. Walt and Jessie are loading their batch at the lab and in a moment of classic “Breaking Bad” tension, Walt puts his gun in the holster as a figure (possibly Gus) walks down the stairs. Walt is prepared to draw and the figure is revealed to be the new guy; who along with Mike, do another measure of the batch to avoid skimming (poor Jessie). I thought it was an awesome moment and the nervousness in Walt’s face said it all.
Jessie goes home and sure enough, there is still a party and once again through Roomba vision, we see this party unfold until Jessie’s doorbell rings. He is visited by Andrea who asks him if he left her a huge envelope of cash, and he tells her it’s so her and her son Brock can get out of her neighborhood. She asks if she should be afraid and he tells her she’s fine (though it’s clear he’s not entirely sure). It was sad to see Jessie push the only positive part of his life while he spirals downward, but that’s Jessie. The party continues, with pizzas from a place whose gimmick is to not slice their pizza because somehow that’s passing the savings onto the customer and leads to Badger attempting math in order to justify ordering said pizza. The party ends at dawn and everyone leaves, despite Jessie trying so hard to get them to stay.
Badger had the best line when he tells Jessie: “I have this like cat that I think I need to feed.” Jessie is left alone with the red glow of the stereo to keep him company and the poor Roomba to roam the floor trying to pick up the mess. Seriously, if we lived in a “Brave Little Toaster” world, the minute everyone left the Roomba would’ve made itself a scotch because that house was a disaster. Things don’t go well for Walt either and in the best scene in the whole episode, he creeps up to Gus’s neighborhood with his gun in his holster. He flashes his most intense of faces when his phone rings and when he answers it, it’s Gus who simply says “Go home Walt,” and we just cut to a commercial. Next we see Walt go to a bar to visit Mike and he buys him a drink. Walt tries to convince Mike that he can take out Gus because after the Victor incident, no one is safe. Mike pretends to listen for as long as he can before pummeling Walt and leaving and the episode ends.
This episode didn’t have much going for it in terms of forward momentum but it did a great job conveying how everyone is struggling to cope with the events around them. Walt is grasping at straws and uses the gun as a last refuge of control, Jessie can’t be alone because that would make him reflect on his reality and nothing good can come from that. Also, Marie is barely containing her anger but hasn’t found an outlet for it unlike Hank who is keeping himself occupied studying blue minerals (I’m still convinced that he is trying to find out what goes into Walt’s famous blue meth). Skyler is coping with Walt’s criminal life by trying to use her financial acumen to do something positive with it while protecting her kids. Sadly, the only appearance by Saul was a commercial that played at the bar but a little Saul is better then no Saul (plus the commercial was reminiscent of something Bob Odenkirk would’ve done on “Mr. Show” or something). The camera work was very sleek with Roomba vision (too bad they couldn’t have had worked in the DJ Roomba Tom invented on “Parks and Rec”), the perspective from the baby as she watched Skyler scout the car wash, and Walt’s perspective as he watches the figure walk above him. Another outstanding episode in what will be a tremendous season I’m sure.
Whew! Okay, well thank you all for reading and stay tuned as this Friday actually, I return with “Cowboys and Aliens”.