Thursday, August 17, 2017

Not all Blogs are Funny

by Stacey Fearheiley

I’m not Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver….obviously.  I bring this up for a reason.

POPeration! came about because of a desire to entertain people…especially Eric and myself.  To talk about stupid stuff that is popular and makes us laugh.  For me, entertainment should be first and foremost ENTERTAINING.  If I learn something, great…but I better be entertained.  So, when POPeration! calls itself entertainment…it better be just that.  But sometimes…with certain subject matters…that’s hard.

This is the part where who I am NOT comes in.  The grace, class  and dignity that the aforementioned entertainers continue during their shows (for Stewart, when he had one) cannot be matched by me.  They are able to go beyond the immediate headlines, no matter how disgusting, depressing or grave, and find hope and most times at least a kernel of amusement.

This week’s POPeration! episode about “hot button topics” included the topic of race.  It was taped a couple of weeks ago.  Before Charlottesville.  Before the U.S. President sat quiet, then read a statement he didn’t write, then went back and basically condoned not only those actions taken by, but the organizations themselves, representing white nationalists…Nazis.  I’m not sure we could’ve talked about the subject with as much levity if we were taping now.



Race in America is a thing.  It is a HUGE thing.  The movies and television shows we discussed (Get Out, Dear White People) tell us that, while it MIGHT be getting better, we still have a VERY long way to go.  And, frankly, it’s on the white folks to push the effort a long.  Because it is we and our legacy that are the heavy anchor dragging on its speed.

I will not go into a long lecture here.  There are plenty of people more eloquent than I who are out there doing it.  But I will say this:  popular culture aspects aside, this needs to be fixed.  The fact that in the last several years there have been movies and tv shows depicting race as being the central theme to their stories should tell us what we need to know, as white people.   1.  Racism is still here. 2. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and 3. It’s past time to fix it.  We should be  mortified that we haven’t fixed it yet.

Not convinced?  I dare you to watch these:  MoonlightGet Out, Dear White People (Netflix), 12 Years a Slave, Birth of  a Nation (2016), Do the Right Thing, In the Heat of the Night, Hidden Figures, Mississippi Burning, The Butler, Selma, Glory, The Color Purple, Amistad, The Help, blackish, Key & Peele, and even Blazing Saddles

These are only a small portion of what is out there. If you’ve seen them before, watch them agaim.  Challenge: if you are white, watch them as the black people depicted in them.  What do you come away with then?  These pieces of art and pop culture are also a mirror to our society…where we come from and where we still are.  These are the artifacts that future generations will judge us by.  That in the 21st century the same problems are being “debated” that began centuries before is shameful.

Eric and I are not shy about letting people know where we stand on certain topics.  So we understand if some listeners stop listening because of our opinions. We love pop culture.  Love pontificating about it.  But we also love our country and to ignore what is happening with silence is part of the problem.  My hope is that POPeration! continues to be entertaining…but I want us to be valid as well.

My last word on racism in the country is this…it is NOT an opinion.  It is a fact.  And it is a fact that needs to be changed.  And it is a fact that until all citizens, no matter what race, are safe and treated equally, within the law and practically, we will not be able to make American great again.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Current Binge

by Eric Peterson

I had a great time discussing how streaming TV is changing the way we're watching television on this week's show. We also talked about the "binges" that we've really enjoyed in the past, including my personal favorites, Jessica Jones and Happy Valley.

There's another show that's captured my imagination recently; we didn't talk about it on the show because when we recorded that episode, I hadn't seen it yet -- but my current binge is another Netflix show: Ozark, starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney.

Jason Bateman & Laura Linney in "Ozark"

One reason why the show is so good is its premise -- a financial advisor from Chicago who somehow got mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel makes a deal that involves moving his entire family from their urban life to the Missouri Ozarks. If it has any legitimate ancestor in television history, its closest relative is probably HBO's The Sopranos. With a dash of Green Acres.

Like The Sopranos, it flip-flops effortlessly between crime drama and family drama, focusing much of its energy on an anti-hero patriarch who does very bad things while at the same time trying to be a good dad (he doesn't expend nearly as much effort in the husband department, but there are reasons for that). But unlike James Gandolfini, you spend the first half of the season wondering why the hell Michael Bluth is even here. And eventually, yes -- we get around to that. He's perhaps not quite so miscast as he initially appears; in fact, he's pretty darn wonderful.

And while the very first episode had me worried that the amazing Laura Linney would be simply "the wife" in a story that belonged, in every way, to her character's husband, she very quickly came into her own, playing a character that is worth an actor of her considerable talent.

Julia Garner
While I'm gushing about the cast, I also want to say one tiny word about Julia Garner as local criminal genius Ruth Langmore. When she appeared in Ozark, I thought I'd seen her before and couldn't quite place her; a quick trip to her IMDB page reminded me that she was the granddaughter to Lily Tomlin's acerbic grandmother in Grandma (a terrific little indie if you love Tomlin or sharp-tongued grandmothers or both). She's just as good here, if not better.

Like any good binge, each episode ends with a moment that makes me hunger for more. Sometimes, it's a genuine cliffhanger, other times it's just an "oh-shit" moment that nonetheless incites a viewer's curiosity; I tune in to the next episode as soon as I can because I just have to know what happens now. The final shot of the very first episode simply shows the newly relocated family standing by a lake in Missouri, surrounded by trees. The camera moves back, to reveal a puzzle of forests and lakes that's so expansive, it seems never ending. Also, you can't help but notice that the cliff they're perched on is a lot higher than you originally thought it was. A bit obvious in its symbolism, maybe -- but it served the story and worked for me, and I was immediately hooked. The second episode ended with a simple declaration of fact, spoken by Laura Linney to her two children. It's only shocking because most television mothers would have lied at this particular moment, and she doesn't. And I couldn't click on Episode 3 fast enough.

But mostly, I think this show succeeds because of a singular artistic vision. As I've just noted, it's very aware of its episodic structure -- at the same time, it feels more like a 9-hour film in ten installments than a series of 10 separate episodes about the same people. And it does things and goes places that a 2-hour film just can't. Jason Bateman probably deserves most of the credit for this; he's an executive producer on the show and directed 4 out of the 10 episodes. In addition, the show's creators (Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams) along with two other writers (Paul Kolsby and Martin Zimmerman) do the lion's share of the writing. Other writers have popped in for an episode or two, but these four were involved in scripting all 10 episodes of the first season. And that kind of consistency matters when you're telling a story about characters you think you know, only to find out three episodes later that there's a side to them you had no idea about.

If you're watching Ozark, leave a comment, here or on our Facebook page, and tell us what you think. Or, tell us what you're binging these days and why. After I finish the last couple episodes of Ozark, work my way through HBO's Big Little Lies, then polish off Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I might give it a look.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movies I Forgot I Liked: Sports Edition

by Stacey Fearheiley

I never go to "sports" movies...on purpose.  Watching something go round and round on a track, either biologic (horses or people) or automotive (cars) makes me dizzy.  I have LITERALLY gone into comas in front of a screen showing a golf movie.  Football movies tire me.  Boxing/karate films lose me around the climactic slow motion final punch moment. (That goes for hockey, too.) Soccer and basketball and tennis have too much back and forth...it hurts my neck.  I am going to ignore the surfing genre.  But the most avoided sport subject matter in film for me is....dunh dunh dunh.....baseball!

Don't get me wrong...I like watching the sports of swimming, racing, football and hockey....in person. The problem is the movies tend to follow the same trope.  Each sport has its own cliche's...but cliche's they are.



Thus it was a surprise to me that I LOVED A League of Their Own.  As the lights came up during the credits in the theatre, I was still crying happy tears.  It was a movie that did what it was supposed to do...make me feel better after having seen it.

But if I'm honest, I will admit that there have been some other movies that were the exceptions to my  "never do sports movies" rule.  When I generalize, I tend to forget the times I actually enjoyed myself watching fictional jocks athlete (making it a verb) throughout a scripted storyline.  Sometimes it makes the sport better...or at least more watchable.

While we're on the subject of (ugh) baseball movies, we all have to agree that America has an obsession with the sport in film.  THERE ARE SO MANY!  Throughout the ages, baseball movies have ruled the sport film universe.  Horse racing and football follow pretty close, but baseball is king.  I think it is because there are so many, the quality of those movies tends to be better.  Remember, I don't like baseball movies....except the ones I like.

#1 Baseball is A League of Their Own.  Hands down.
But a close #2 is Bull Durham.  This movie came to closest to turning me into a baseball fan.  There is  nothing sexier than Susan Sarandon talking about why her character likes the game.  Kevin Costner talking about what he believes in made many a woman sigh.  And I still think of this scene when I see ANY postgame interview with a jock.


Honorable mentions in baseball: Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out.

In football movies any guy will tell you that Rudy is no. 1.  Possibly Bryan's Song.   For me, Remember the Titans (dude, Denzel!) and the Blind Side.  I also liked Burt Reynolds' The Longest Yard and Jim Thorpe: All American.   Honorable mention in football: Jerry Maguire and Radio.



What about racing movies?  Chariots of Fire is surprisingly moving in the human category,  and Seabiscuit and Secretariat do well with the equestrian side.


As for soccer movies...I'll be honest, I've only seen 2.  I really liked Bend It Like Beckham.  



I saw Shaolin Soccer.

 

The only car racing movie I've liked is from Pixar.  Cars hit it on all cylinders for me. (Get it?  I'm talking sporty.)  Honestly, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Tom Cruise all tried to get their favorite sport on film but car racing just doesn't seem to translate to celluloid for real live people.


Hockey actually has a pretty good showing.  Both The Mighty Ducks and Mystery, Alaska were really enjoyable.  I would watch either again, as long as I had a sweater.  Props to Miracle as well.



Boxing has a lot of good ones.  From Rocky to Raging Bull, from Million Dollar Baby and Creed to The Champ and The Great White Hope.  Boy we sure do love an underdog with a mean uppercut.



Even almost 50 years later....same story!!!!!  (#Sadblondewhiteboys)



Ok...so I lied....sometimes I DO go to sports movies....on purpose.  And sometimes I like them.
I guess, if the story is interesting, the writing is on point, the directing is compelling and the acting is good-- a good sports movie is really just a good movie.

Sometimes I "profile" movies and that's not fair.  It's generalizing to categorize all sports themed films as nothing I want to see.
But...on the other hand...I've never seen a tennis or golf movie I was particularly fond of.  I'm ok generalizing about those.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Just one look....is all it took....

by Stacey Fearheiley

How long does it take to fall in love?  Some would say there's no such thing.  Others would say long enough to know each other's faults and not care.  And still others would suggest that it can happen in an instant.

One thing I noticed about the movies Eric and I talked about this week...movies from 1967.  50 year olds.  All the couples seemed to jump into relationships very quickly.  Whether it was the rebellious fling of Bonnie and Clyde, the mad lust filled affair of Ben and Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, or even the sweet but complicated adoration between John and Joey in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, it happened FAST!  Too fast?




In this day and age of television series that arc across time continuously, we are used to stories and relationships created like old school soap operas...some relationships take YEARS to materialize. And that's ok.  We have the time.  We have 6 to 23 episodes to get there.

Sure, a la GOT, there are "relationships" that happen in an instant, but even there...any emotional bond is a gradual evolution.  Again, we've got time.

But in the movies, before there were sequel upon sequels that were planned from the first line of the first film, you have 90 - 120 minutes to get your story told.



If you were a good film maker, you did so through showing not telling.

For John and Joey, I was convinced, as most of the relationship had happened before the movie started and off screen.  The skill of the actors showing what the emotions were and proving their affection.

For Ben and Mrs. Robinson?  Well, we're bending the definition of "relationship" to call what they had that.  But his "true affection" for Elaine?  Did I believe that?

Bonnie and Clyde had barely any real lines between them before she was hopping into his car and they were off.  In my 21st century vision, it was jarring.



In the end, I suppose, when we look back at movies "of a certain age" we have to view them in the time they were created.  It's not fair to expect films made in the past to take into account the skepticism and snarkiness of future audiences.

How long does it take to fall in love?  You can ask Bonnie and Clyde, you can ask Edward and Vivian from Pretty Woman, you can ask Vianne and Roux from Chocolat, and you can ask Bridget Jones and Mark, and they will all give different answers.    How long does it take to fall in love? Probably the best answer to the question is...as long as it takes.


Bonus:


Thursday, July 20, 2017

That (Thirty) Million Dollar Smile

by Eric Peterson

Thirteen years ago, archeologists in Bulgaria uncovered a female skeleton that turned out to be 9,000 years old. That’s a find under any circumstances, but what made this discovery particularly extraordinary was the skeleton’s perfectly straight, perfectly shiny teeth. The scientists named their discovery “Julia Roberts.”

If right now, someone asked you to close your eyes and picture Julia Roberts, and you followed along (go ahead and try it, right now), she might have blonde hair or auburn, she might be formally or casually dressed, but chances are she’d be sporting her trademark smile – warm, generous, full of joy, existing for no other reason than that its wearer feels authentically, buoyantly happy.

Rumor has it that Julia Roberts has insured her smile for thirty million dollars, and it’s easy to see why. If something – anything – were to happen to those precious chompers, it would greatly inhibit Julia’s ability to work, or at least to get the twenty million dollar paychecks she received for some of her biggest hits.

Stacey and I recently devoted an entire show to Julia Roberts’ career, and of course we talked about the smile – that iconic moment in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere snapped a jewelry box just as she was reaching toward it, causing a spontaneous moment of laughter (you know the one), and what it feels like to be denied the smile, in a serious film like Mary Reilly.

When Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly reviewed Mary Reilly in 1996, he didn’t much care for it – using EW’s “letter grade” system, the film earned a C-minus. In his review – in the very first paragraph of his review, in fact – he writes, “Anyone eager for a glimpse of the famous Roberts smile — those luscious wax lips come to life — had better look elsewhere. In Mary Reilly, the lips are taut and nervous, drawn into a stoic line of woe. Her eyes gleam with trepidation.”

The moviegoing public didn’t much care for Mary Reilly either, or at least most of them didn’t buy a ticket. It cost $47 million to make the film, and it made only $12.3 million worldwide.

As I mentioned on the show, I remember seeing a line chart in a copy of Entertainment Weekly after the film’s release (I searched online when preparing this blog entry, but couldn’t find it) detailing the correlation between the number of times that Julia Roberts flashed her multi-million dollar smile in some of her more notable films and the amount of money each film made – and there was a direct correlation. More smiles, more money. At least in the eighties and nineties, no one was interested in a Julia Roberts that was somber or scared.

Nearly twenty years later, Julia made August: Osage County with Meryl Streep, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more. In it, Julia doesn’t smile much either. The film didn’t break any box office records, but it did make a profit, and it fared better critically (a 64% score on “Rotten Tomatoes” compared to 26% for Mary Reilly). The world, it seems, is finally ready for a Julia Roberts that is something other than a bundle of joy – her performance as Barbara in August: Osage County is a study in a woman’s anger; in fact, it’s difficult to even call it anger; rather, she’s ROYALLY PISSED OFF in almost every scene.

Perhaps it’s because she’s no longer an ingénue. If I were optimistic, I’d suggest that perhaps our society is becoming less sexist and is finally allowing women to express emotions that might threaten or shock people. And while I’d like that to be true, I somehow doubt it. Whatever the reason, it’s entirely possible that what lies ahead for Julia Roberts the actor might be twice as exciting as what we’ve previously witnessed in the career of Julia Roberts the movie star.

And all the same, if we remember her 9,000 years from now, we’ll probably still be picturing that iconic smile. And maybe that’s okay, too.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sounds of Summer

by Eric Peterson

Stacey and I had a blast creating our Perfect Summer Playlist during this week’s podcast. Admittedly, we spend most of our time on the show talking about movies and TV, so we were itching to talk about pop music and this seemed like a perfect time to do it.



It occurred to me about five or six years ago that “summer music,” like holiday music (aka Christmas Carols) was a thing. But just as the B-52’s remind us that summer has a taste (specifically, “orange popsicles and lemonade”), I’ve become convinced that summer has a sound – or more accurately, lots of sounds … but sounds that particularly belong to this sunny season.

SONGS ABOUT SUMMER (duh)

The obvious place to start is songs that specifically reference summer, or where the word “summer” is right in the title. Other tunes, like Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” don’t quite sound right when the tulips are just beginning to pop in April or when the leaves are falling in mid-October, but couldn’t sound more perfect on a hot, July day.



SONGS ABOUT WARM PLACES

The Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric is a favorite summer tune of mine, probably because the first verse casually name drops both the Bahamas and Tahiti. Any song called “California Girls,” whether sung by the Beach Boys or Katy Perry (featuring Snoop Dogg) is bound to sound a little summery. I’m not sure where the Mermaid Café in Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” is supposed to be, but it’s close enough to Africa to get a hot wind, and close enough to the sea to put beach tar on Joni’s feet; it’s a classic summer tune. And even though the band is practically synonymous with Ireland, U2’s “Where TheStreets Have No Name” is so evocative of a hot desert landscape that it seems right at home on a summer playlist. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas is pointedly about a winter’s day, and yet it just sounds like summer.



REGGAE

The syncopated counterpoint to a bass and drum downbeat is really all it takes to send a listener on a direct route to Jamaica, home of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. The lyrics can be about injustice, intoxicants, or three little birds pitched by my doorstep – it’s bound to sound just like sunshine and a sandy beach. On the show, I picked a song by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, comprised of four of Bob & Rita Marley’s children – and I like them so much, here’s another one.



LATIN MUSIC

Like reggae, songs either sung in Spanish or featuring a delicate Latin guitar can transport a listener to another land, and to a white kid from the Pacific Northwest, it often feels like the musical equivalent of a frozen margarita. My favorite new song of the summer is “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi (featuring Daddy Yankee, not featuring Justin Bieber). In it, Fonsi sings, “Despacito/Vamo a hacerlo en una playa en Puerto Rico/Hasta que las olas griten "¡Ay, Bendito!" … which is basically an invitation to get down and dirty with Fonsi on a beach in Puerto Rico until you scream to a higher power. Yeah, I’m just going to let you ponder that for a while ... (translation: hold on a minute; Eric has the vapors).



SUMMERY ARTISTS

Anything by the Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, TheGo-Go’s, or Jimmy Buffett sounds like summer. Period.



ANYTHING FROM THE SUMMERS OF YOUR YOUTH

Music has a strange ability to attach itself to memories in a powerful way. So the perfect soundtrack for your summer, no matter what Stacey and I tell you, are the songs that take you back to the summers you remember, particularly the ones that remind you of long summer vacations, for those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed those. As a child of the 80’s, that can sound like a little Toto, a little Joan Jett, a lot of Madonna, and maybe a splash of Def Leppard.


To listen to POPeration!’s “Perfect Summer Playlist,” go to Spotify or iTunes, fire up the grill, mix up some Piña Colada’s and think of us. And in the meantime, don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review. See you next week!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Here's the playlist ...

Tiniest bloglet ever, but we said we'd share the playlist we put together via our blog. It's on Spotify here, and it's on iTunes here. If you're on Google Play, go here. And to listen to the show itself, ABOUT these songs and why we chose them ... here you go:


Don't forget to subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, and we'd love you if you took a minute to rate and review us while you're there. A longer blog drops on Thursday, as per usual. Watch this space!