Tag Archives: Pop Culture Q&A

Pop Culture Q&A, Vol. 4: What non-existent sequels would you want to see?

This installment of Pop Culture Q&A asks:

  • What movies would you like to see sequels to?

Great question, because it’s challenging to find the perfect movie that wouldn’t be ruined by adding more to the story. The inherent problem with answering this question is that a truly good movie is one that can stand alone on its own artistic merit. It doesn’t need to be enhanced by a prequel/sequel. It always surprised me that Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King won the Academy Award for Best Picture because it was really the third part of a really long movie. On top of that, Hollywood has already answered this question for us many times over by tapping into some great sequel material (Godfather Part II, Back To The Future 2, Home Alone 2).

So here are two sequels that I’d go see.

1. Inception 2

I feel dirty even writing that title out. Inception is the story of dream-planter Cobb and his team of dream-manipulators who have to pull off a grand heist, or rather the inverse of a heist. This movie was from an original screenplay written by Christopher Nolan over the course of eight or nine years. That’s a large part of why I loved it so much. It felt like nothing I’d ever seen before. It wasn’t a reboot of a character or a continuation of a franchise, it was just Cobb and his mission. It was inventive and unique and so complex. And I would love to see what Nolan could do with a sequel. I feel like rather than focusing on Cobb, the emotional pull of the story would have to come from another character, like Arthur or Ariadne. It’d be difficult to hinge the sequel on Cobb again because Inception so perfectly follows the story of his emotional redemption and it’s put a period (at the very least, an ellipse) on his character’s arc. But Nolan is a master film maker and I wouldn’t put it past him to dive back into the dream world and create something equally as stunning and powerful as Inception.

2. The Sting II

Yes, yes, I know this movie was already made in 1983 with Jackie Gleason. However, it hardly qualifies as a legitimate sequel, as the main characters have essentially different back stories, hell, they even have different names (Henry Gondorff becomes Fargo Gondorff and Johnny Hooker is now Jake Hooker? Weird.). This could be thought of as a reboot, and I want to see a sequel. Give me Newman and Redford back in their title roles. I’m not sure where the story goes after The Sting ends; it was emotionally grounded because the con started from a place of vengence but quickly grew into something more important, Gondorff and Hooker’s letting go of the grief over the loss of their dear friend. I’m not sure how a continuation of Gondorff and Hooker’s story could have that sort of emotional punch and this makes me think a sequel would be dead in the water after the opening credits. A major twist to the format would be to pit Gondorff and Hooker against each other in some sort of con gone wrong or con gang war and see how that dynamic played out. Again, these are not perfect ideas and they’d most likely flop, but the joy of seeing Gondorff and Hooker on screen (as played by only Newman and Redford) is just too much for me not to kind of wish a real sequel had been made.

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Pop Culture Q&A, Vol. 3: Best Fictional Concert?

Another stimulating question from the AVQ&A series on the AV Club:

  • What fictional concert would you love to attend?

Lots of great answers from the AV Club contributors, but after doing a fair bit of thinking on it, I think I’d want to most attend Bert’s One-Man-Band show from Mary Poppins.

Street performers are an interesting breed; there’s a serious level of confidence that has always impressed me. You’ve got to essentially bare your heart directly in front of another person and you get to see in real time whether or not they think you’re any good. If they do, you maybe got a dollar or two thrown in a hat or open guitar case; if they don’t, you get walked away on. I would think it’d be even more sobering than putting a performance up on YouTube and letting commentors go crazy on it. In real life, people might not be so awful to you as they are online, but there’s no emotional filter; you can see in their face what they think of your talent. And that’s why Bert’s One-Man-Band would be such a wonderful performance to see. There isn’t an ounce of self-doubt (except in front of the Constable) in what he does. He doesn’t seem to care what you think. He exudes sheer happiness in what he’s doing. The best kind of street performer.

On top of that, he’s a master of what he dubs Comical Poem. He makes up on-the-spot limericks about people in his audience. Normally, if I’m watching a performance, I dislike becoming a part of said performance, but in this case I think I’d be able to deal with it. Bert is such a charmer. He makes his audience feel at ease, never condescending or talking down to them. He is the pure opposite of vicious, with not a hurtful word being spoken to anyone. Nobody’s the butt of a joke. Everybody is just there to have fun, including Bert.

And his music! He’s got a gigantic drum on his back, harmonica/bicycle horn/trumpet/french horn around his neck, cymbals at every joint, and carrying an accordian. He creates this fantastic medley of sounds; he turns himself into a walking parade. I would love to talk to him after the show just to get an idea of how much time and effort goes into becoming a one-man-band.

He’d be a joy to chat with after the show too. Bert is winsome, happy, charming, and as he moonlights as a chimney sweep, you know the guy’s got nowhere to be after his show’s over, so he’d be happy to chat with you. He doesn’t think he’s better than his audience, he’s just happy to get a few quid and in return, you get a soaring compliment and directions.

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Pop Culture Q&A, Vol. 2: Favorite Uses of the F-Word in Media

Another installment in the AV Club’s wonderful AVQ&A series. The question:

  • What are some of your favorite moments in film, television, or music that are anchored by f- you, f- off, go f- yourself/yourselves, or the like?

Quick disclaimer to readers of high sensitivity: I do print the f- word a few times throughout this post.

When I read this question, my immediate thought was the movie High Fidelity. Not even one line in particular, just a variety. High Fidelity was one of the first movies that I actually remember noting the f- word used for more than just shock value. I didn’t hear it and cringe because I associated it with being “bad” and punishment. It was used so artistically, in a way that communicated more feelings than what was strictly spoken. You know how scientists say that something like only 30% of our communication is verbal? The rest of it is all non-verbal: shrugs, looks, sighs, smirks, postures, etc. I feel like the f- word can be used in a very similar way; to communicate more feelings than we often have with regular words. It’s like how certain words in English have no direct translation in a non-Western language, and vice versa. When used sparingly and correctly, the f- word can communicate the feelings that can only be obliquely intimated through regular speech.

High Fidelity was my first exposure to the word’s usage in that context. There are so many good uses of the word in this movie, but I’m going to call out my favorite three.

3. “What….fucking…IAN GUY!?”

Scene: Rob has very recently broken up with Laura, and he’s at work, on the phone with their mutual friend Liz. Liz is telling him that she hasn’t chosen sides between Laura and Rob, that she liked Rob and Laura together and that she doesn’t think too much of this Ian guy. Before Rob can respond, coworker Dick interrupts him to tell that Marie DeSalle, the local musician they just recently saw perform, has stopped by their record store. Rob promptly says goodbye to Liz, goes out and greets Marie DeSalle, then heads back to the back room, shuts the door and pauses a moment with shaking hands before screaming directly at the camera, “What…fucking…..IAN GUY!?” and subsequently destroys his back room office. This f- word has a lot wrapped up in it, mostly angry stuff. It’s anger, betrayal, jealousy. This is the most common usage of the f- word, or at least what it was probably originally intended for; to communicate anger. The current incarnation of the word has quite a myriad of uses, but in this particular scene, Rob’s using it cause he’s got literally no other words that can get across how explosively angry he feels. It’s a perfectly acted moment by Cusack, who holds it all in for an incredibly pregnant 2-second pause before exploding with rage.

2. “Holy shi-ite….what the fuck is that?”

With this line, we’re introduced to Barry, my very favorite character Jack Black has ever played. I’m convinced he’s the biggest reason this entire movie works so well. Jack Black completely inhabits Barry, and provides the perfect character balance to Dick’s too-shy-and-too-smart role and Rob’s reluctantly-defeated leader role. From the get go, he’s a whirlwind, a hurricane of spoiled low self-esteem masked by a shell of pompous indignation at his limited success in life via his very specific skill set. This is one of the key differences between Barry and Rob: neither have had much success, and they both live and breathe within an incredibly niche work environment, but Rob seems slightly more self-aware in his life situation, whereas Barry just blusters on, running over most everyone in his path. Jack Black brings a crazy confidence to Barry and he is absolutely magnetic within the role.

When we first meet Barry, Rob and Dick are listening to a softly complacent Belle And Sebastian album as they’re preparing to open the record store on a Monday morning. You can hear Barry “nair-nair”-ing a guitar solo before he even walks in the door. As soon as he’s in, he stops, listens to what is playing, and delivers his hello: “Holy shi-ite….what the fuck is that?” Rob counters with “It’s the record we were listening to and enjoying, Barry” through a worn-out sigh. Barry puts on his newly made Monday Morning Mixtape and what transpires in the next few minutes is an absolute joy to watch. Jack Black is a fantastic physical comedian and he brings a fiery energy to Barry that is perfectly showcased in this scene.

The other part of Jack Black’s perfection in this role is how unique his speech cadence is. His words roll off the tongue with such a special fluidity all his own. Even if he doesn’t swear, he’s got such control over the volume, speed, and rhythm of his words that it makes him sound unlike anybody else. His noises, his vocal tone; the guy is an aural enigma. And when you add f- words to this mix, it just adds another great layer to an already unique vocal production. He uses the word like a musician. He puts it right where it needs to be and it flows out without effort. He can make it sound so normal rather than curt, like it very often does. And while he uses it to great effect throughout the movie, this instance is probably my favorite.

1. “Is that Peter Fucking Frampton?”

It surprises me that my favorite is a line uttered by not Jack Black, but John Cusack, an actor whose biggest fan I am not. This is a line perfect in its delivery and intent, and the sheer WTF-ness of its f- word usage hits it out of the park. Quick recap of the scene, Cusack’s character Rob, dumped by his girlfriend, is slowing trying to regain some sense of togetherness and walks to a club to meet his record store colleagues to see Marie DeSalle perform. On the way he passes the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was shot and killed by the FBI. He explains to the audience how they were able to catch up with Dillinger there at the theater and says, “You know who tipped them off? His fuckin’ girlfriend.” (Great line, but not the favorite in question.) He walks across the street to the club where Marie DeSalle has already started her set inside. He can hear her cover of “Baby I Love Your Way” on his way into the club, and once he realizes what song it is, he stops by the club’s bouncer and asks, “Is that Peter Fucking Frampton?” and the Dave Chappelle-lookin’ bouncer just slowly nods and Rob walks in. Cusack absolutely kills this line. He’s so defeated. He’s been torn up by his girlfriend leaving (to be fair, he was an awful partner), he’s got no real life plans going forward, his record store is failing, and he’s going to hang out with the two guys who work at his record store that he sees all day every day. And to top it off, the musician he’s going to see perform is doing a great cover of a truly terrible song, a song vilified among the musically elite snobs like Rob and his coworkers. But the way he uses the f- word likes it’s Frampton’s middle name is just so potently sad. Music is the one thing in Rob’s life that he feels control over, it’s the thing he knows more about than anybody, it’s his shield. He’s able to go on with his miserable life because of music. And he wants to cut this song down but he just can’t, because Marie DeSalle is actually a good musician and is creating a beautiful song out of the saccharine mess of the original. All of this is wrapped up in how sharp he hits the -ing of the word and his audible capitalization.

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Pop Culture Q&A, Vol. 1: What albums have you loved the longest?

This post was inspired by (read: ripped off from) The AV Club, a website that discusses and reviews pop culture/media (if you aren’t on their stuff, they have loads of great reads on new and old media, I highly recommend it). They have a regular feature called Pop Culture Q&A, where they throw a question out and have staff and readers discuss. I’m going to take my favorite Q&A’s and answer them in long form here. So my first Q&A I’m choosing is this:

  • What album(s) have you loved the longest?

I had one album that leaped into my head right away, and as I let this question simmer in my brain, it might result in other posts answering it again. But for now, we’ll start with John Mayer’s Room For Squares. I got a hold of this album at exactly the right time, and I feel as though I was exactly the demographic/listener JM was trying to reach with his debut record (although, in terms of reaching an audience, isn’t it the desired output of most pop culture products that every audience member who embraces the work will think it was created for just them?). I was 15 or 16 when I first started listening to this album, and I think Your Body Is A Wonderland was just on the radio. JM was really starting to gain some major traction in recognition, he was landing singles on chick flick soundtracks, No Such Thing had already been a pretty big hit and YBIAW was going to bust the floodgates open.

But when I first heard the album in its entirety, I heard something I hadn’t heard elsewhere: perfectly crafted pop songs with just a hint of a bluesy thread throughout, with lyrics I didn’t have to work to interpret. These were songs that were immediately accessible; lyrically, nearly every song had at least a line or two (usually more) that I felt I had lived, and musically, I couldn’t pin it down at the time, but something sounded different about JM’s music. It was very poppy but it felt somehow better than the rest of the acoustic singer-songwriters around the same time. So not only was there a familiarity to it, the mysterious element of an unfamiliar sound allowed me to look at it with some unknown reverence (as backward as this may seem, I’d attribute Room For Squares for completely blasting my musical worldview wide open, with my musical knowledge/tastes growing exponentially after this album).

Lyrically, JM doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and my hormonal 16-year-old brain connected so much to that sort of unambiguous lyricism. I didn’t want to interpret, I wanted someone to put my feelings into words I understood. My Stupid Mouth sums up this idea better than any other song. “My stupid mouth has got me in trouble, I said too much again to a date over dinner yesterday…” Has a 16-year-old boy ever existed that hasn’t felt like this? He paints word pictures that at the time I thought were revolutionary, “I played a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shakers.” In my defense, I was young. I didn’t know lots of music. I listen to this now and while the nostalgia keeps me interested in it, but boy oh boy is this album lyrically heavy-handed. Yes, there are moments of subtletly that point toward his eventual evolution as a lyricist and songwriter, but for the most part, it gets laid on pretty thick throughout this whole thing. But that’s what I needed to hear in the middle of high school. I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, who I liked, what I wanted to become. In your 20s, your life is jam-packed full of unknowns, much more so than your teens, but in your teens, you’re beginning to just start to realize that the unknowns even exist, and as you age, they seem to pile on at an exponential rate. So this lyrical heavy-handedness, getting slapped in the face by the message or the metaphor, I spoke to me. I needed it and this album delivered it.

Musically, Room For Squares gave me something I hadn’t heard so distilled before. It was pure pop, simple acoustic hooks that played well on the radio and would get the maximum number of ears interested. But the more I listened to it, the more I heard a weird element I hadn’t heard elsewhere, at least in pop music. The foundation of City Love, for example, is certainly no 12-bar blues, but it had this rootsy quality to it that sounded hidden by its overly produced pop feel. It took months of listening to this album for me to start to aurally strip away the production values and hear the music underneath. City Love has a fantastic blues foundation, both in the lead and rhythm guitar parts. Neon has some of the most intricate acoustic skill I had ever heard. JM was able to turn his guitar into not only a melody producer but also a rhythmic base (this skill only continued to evolve as his music grew up). 3×5 was such a musically layered song that months would go by and I’d all of a sudden hear a new electric guitar track I hadn’t before. And again, the production is heavy-handed; listening to it now, it’s a pretty cheesy record. But it was the perfect introduction to what I would eventually get into; it so gently and perfectly led me down roads into new kinds of music I hadn’t heard before.

My Stupid Mouth took me to Paul Simon’s Hearts And Bones. 83 took me to The Police’s Synchronicity. Following JM further took me to Clapton’s Pilgrim, SRV’s Texas Flood, Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love, D’Angelo’s Voodoo,  Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Ben Folds’ Whatever And Ever Amen, Martin Sexton’s Black Sheep, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Common’s Be, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and each of these albums led me to five new albums themselves, and so on. It’s safe to say that JM’s acoustic-pop debut was the gateway drug that got me out of acoustic-pop and into the wildly diverse universe of music from previous generations.

I listen to this album now and can recognize it for what it is, while still enjoying the nostalgia of being in high school. It’s certainly not perfect (“bubble gum tongue…”) but it has moments that could hardly be improved, even 12 years on (3×5). So thanks to JM for writing this one. I’ll probably be listening to it forever.

-Jon

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