Pop Culture Roundup for August 2013

Ben Affleck speaking at a rally for Feed Ameri...
Ben Affleck speaking at a rally for Feed America in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Batfleck: The casting announcement of Ben Affleck as the new Batman was the BIG news—if you’re a fan of superhero comics, probably the ONLY news of note. While on the one hand, I understand some of the concern (as well as the anger, hysteria, hilarity and sarcasm) I also think everyone needs to take a deep breath and give Ben Affleck a chance.

Yes, he’s been sucky in some sucky movies—what actor hasn’t?  But he’s also been really good in some really good movies. If you’ve never seen the film Hollywoodland, I recommend it. Not only because it’s SO underrated, but Affleck gives a stellar performance as the conflicted, troubled (sound familiar?) actor who portrayed the most famous superhero of them all, Superman, on TV during the 1950s.

It’s also worth noting that many people had negative reactions to Michael Keaton as Batman, and Heath Ledger as The Joker.

joe-stumpo-10242. Speaking of Michael Keaton: Did anyone else catch the HBO movie Clear History with Larry David? The story is about a man who loses out on cashing in when the company he worked for releases an electric car that takes the nation by storm. Years later, he unexpectedly gets an opportunity for revenge against his ex-boss. It’s a cute riff on Larry David’s already very familiar persona. Not a great movie, but fun, sort of like a stop-gap until the next elusive season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The best part? An almost-unrecognizable Michael Keaton in a supporting role. He’s hilarious. It was such a joy to realize it was him and think “Hooray, someone gave him a JOB!”

Hollywood really needs to make more use of one of our great comic actors. Maybe Tim Burton can stop making bad remakes of cult TV shows and do a Beetlejuice sequel with Keaton instead.

breaking_bad_5.08__span3. Breaking Bad. O.M.G.—BREAKING BAD!!! The first three of the final eight episodes KILLED IT. (Excuse the pun.) The end game is probably the trickiest part of writing and producing a popular TV series. I don’t care if they screw everything up in the final five episodes—these three episodes have already done justice to the entire series. (According to tweets from the actors, they didn’t screw it up, so, phew.)

4. But I’m glad the (in some cases) sexist vitriol against the character of Skyler is finally being addressed. Actress Anna Gunn wrote an op-ed piece about how some fans are not only saying horrible things about the character, SHE (the actress, not the character) has even received death threats. TV critic Maureen Ryan wrote another article on the subject, claiming Gunn didn’t go far enough.

While Skyler was underwritten during the first few seasons, in my opinion the writers eventually turned her into almost as nuanced and complex a character as Walt. Gunn has been magnificent throughout. I can understand how not everyone would care for the character and her dynamic within the story. But some of the hatred has been totally over the top. And it’s insane that any of those feelings would spill over to the actress.

To be clear, I don’t believe all of the anger at the character is solely due to her gender. In anti-hero stories, it’s often difficult to remember that we’re watching an ANTI-hero, not a hero-hero. Readers and viewers sort of make a devil’s bargain by agreeing to go on this ride with the bad guy as protagonist, and after a while can’t help but root for him to succeed.

David Chase, who created The Sopranos, has said that he would have Tony do terrible things just to remind the audience that he wasn’t the hero/good guy. And some fans resented the reminder. I think some fans resent how Skyler reminds the audience that Walt is not a hero/good guy.

5. I did not watch the VMA awards. I can’t comment. But, WOW, Twitter really exploded, and as of this writing, is still exploding. Just from the few photos of the event that I’ve seen, I’m glad I missed it.

divergent-still6. However, I did not miss seeing the first full-length movie trailer for Divergent, the dystopian thriller some think will be the next The Hunger Games. It won’t be. I’ve read the first two books, and they’re good, but not on quite the same level.

However, this movie has a lot going for it: as with The Hunger Games movies, the star (Shailene Woodley) is an already-Oscar nominated, up-and-coming critic’s darling. She may not turn out to be another Jennifer Lawrence, but there’s no doubt she’s good. Divergent also benefits from having the incomparable Kate Winslet in the role of the story’s villain. The trailer looks good—they did a great job of recreating author Veronica Roth’s vision of a dystopian Chicago. It should do well, just not be the same kind of phenomenon as The Hunger Games.

7. Sad to say, another YA adaptation, The Mortal Instruments, did not fare well at the box office. Personally, I couldn’t get into the book, but the series is very popular. Possibly the problem is that urban fantasy does better on television than on the big screen. (Twilight is the obvious exception.) I hope this doesn’t mean Hollywood is put off making more YA adaptations—there are still many good ones deserving of a movie treatment.

natalie8. SQUEEEE!!! Casting for the final two Hunger Games movies (Mockingjay 1 & 2) has started. And, boy, it really started with a bang, with Natalie Dormer (The Tudors, Game of Thrones) cast as Cressida. Nerds across both Panem and the Seven Kingdoms were ecstatic. I have to admit I didn’t care for her interpretation of Anne Boleyn, but my opinion of her acting has totally flipped since she’s been playing the ambitious and sweetly devious Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones.

Also, the character of Annie Cresta has been cast with Australian actress Stef Dawson. She looks perfect for the part and it’s great they went with an unknown. She must have been quite overwhelmed to see her Twitter following increase ten-fold within a few hours of the announcement.

9. NBC is turning the movie Reality Bites into a series. Full disclosure: I once applied for a job as a script reader at New Line Cinema during the early 1990s. They gave me two scripts to cover as an “audition” for the job. One was Reality Bites.

I gave it a pass.

During the interview, they made it clear to me that Reality Bites was a screenplay they had been anxious to buy (another studio got it).

Needless to say, I did not get the job.

I admit I was thrilled when the movie tanked at the box office.

Why, oh WHY would they want to make a TV series out of a movie that was neither a success in its time nor a cult favorite now?

They might as well just remake Friends.

(Dear NBC: I was kidding about remaking Friends. Please don’t do it.)

getshorty10. Finally, we lost one of the great genre writers of this and the 20th Century. Elmore Leonard passed away at the age of 87. His influence on not only the crime genre, but movies as well, can’t be overstated. Few could rival him when it came to dialogue. He also wrote some fantastic Western stories (the most famous became the two movie versions of 3:10 To Yuma). He was also one of the best at melding comedy with crime drama.

Pick up an Elmore Leonard book, you will enjoy it. One of my favorites is The Switch. Or, watch the movie Get Shorty. I never get tired of hearing Chili Palmer (John Travolta) saying, “Look at me.”

In fact, I think I’m going to download one of his books to my Kindle right now.

4 thoughts on “Pop Culture Roundup for August 2013

  1. Wow Deb, congrats on your 100 posts. I am proud to say I have read a lot of them and needless to say…they are very good and interesting.

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