Everything we canât stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
[Manage newsletters]( [View in browser]( [Image] with Kevin Fallon Everything we canât stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
This Week: - Going back to the movies, and obviously crying. - âSmelly Catâ is the song of the summer. - The Tony Awards, back with their bullshit. - Important Lindsay Lohan news. - Popping bottles for my hero and patron saint, Guy Fieri. Movies Are Back, Baby! Itâs happened more often than Iâd like to admit in the year/year-and-change/interminable hellscape/however weâve been quantifying time during the pandemic before things started to open up again [in cities like New York](, where I live. [Movie theaters have been closed]( or, when softly reopened in pre-vaccine times, reserved exclusively for crazy people comfortable sitting in an enclosed space with strangers eating popcorn. So until now, all of the films Iâve reviewed or reported on have been viewed alone in my apartment on a laptop. Or, when my luddite self could be bothered with the effort to figure out how to do it, somehow beamed to my television. (It honestly was a miracle any time I got it to work. God is real, and he answers prayers, such as: âPlease, God, get this fucking app to work already!!!â) There are times when, watching these films alone in my apartment, I would laugh. And then I would scream. After so much time in near silence, to hear a voiceâeven my ownâstartled me to the point that my head reflexively whipped around behind me, certain that I was about to come face-to-face with the Babadook. Surely, my house was haunted. Turns out it was: by the human-adjacent husk of a person that was me. Yes, itâs fine and normal and often enjoyable to watch movies at home. But I was at a point where merely laughing at a funny movie confirmed my suspicion that a serial killer had in fact been living behind my shower curtain this whole time because who else could possibly be audibly emoting in my humble abode. That fact speaksâat least to meâto how much has been lost when it comes to taking in the cinematic experience in solitude. I cannot explain how much being around other people at a movie theater used to annoy me. And now I canât believe how much I miss those rude, inconsiderate, armrest-hogging, sitting-in-my-reserved-seat (every time...literally, how?), utterly beautiful trash animals. I miss the communal experience, and I think my appreciation of these moviesâaka my jobâhas missed them too. Last week, on three consecutive days I saw three different films in an actual movie theater: A Quiet Place II, Cruella, and In the Heights. I admit to criticâs privilege here, in that they were advanced screenings and far more socially distanced than any normal showing will be this weekend, when Quiet Place and Cruella open. There were barely two dozen journalists in theaters that seat hundreds, all scattered around in separate rows, cowering in their masks. Call it a slightly paranoid, post-apocalyptic return to normalcy, but a return to normalcy nonetheless. I wouldnât have known it before I watched them, but I canât think of three better movies to mark a return to the big screen and the experience of watching with real people, not ghosts or serial killers who happen to actually just be you. I laughed. I screamed. I cried, kind of constantly. There were moments in A Quiet Place II that explore how intangibly the pain of loss calcifies into something you can actually mourn, grieve, or, in the case of this filmâs characters, avenge. Who knows when the insufferable lens of âgiven the events of this yearâ that I canât help but view things through will go away. (You should have seen the look on the face of an actor from [Mare of Easttown]( that I interviewed for a piece publishing next week as I waxed rhapsodic about how the show could be a metaphor for surviving pandemic life. Deranged.) Nonetheless, there were moments in which the family in the film accepted their loneliness, weathered isolation, and leaned on each other to get through that triggered about 47 different tripwires about the past year. I immediately got choked up. You try looking at Emily Blunt stoically emote into the camera, one single tear dripping down her cheek, without emotionally losing it. Good news, now you can! A Quiet Place II is more of a creature feature than the original film was, but it rises to the occasion and warrants the big swing. There were times when it was so thrilling it recalled watching Jurassic Park for the first time. In a way, too, itâs akin to what Sigourney Weaver pulls off in Alien, with powerhouse actor Millicent Simmonds absolutely owning the movie. Thereâs one particular scene during which I yelped. Well, screeched. Letâs say a cat being dropped into a bathtub would have been more subtle. But the beauty is, so did other people. We were wusses together. Our hearts were racing, but they were racing in unison. Itâs the corniest shit ever, but it felt nice. Cozy, even...as much as that is possible in a film in which you are constantly afraid that Emily Bluntâs baby is going to be eaten by a monster if it so much as cries. Then there was In the Heights, the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Mirandaâs pre-Hamilton, Tony-winning Broadway musical from Crazy Rich Asians [director Jon M. Chu](. Just after about the 45-minute mark of the movie, I started weeping...and then never stopped. And this is a two-hour-and-25-minute film. Hydrate. For as popular as movie musicals have become, with La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and The Prom, there has not been one this heartfelt in maybe decades. Each song is staged in its own inventive way. â96,000,â one of the most athletic dance sequences in a movie musical possibly ever, takes place entirely in a pool. The infectious âNo Me Digaâ makes Greaseâs âBeauty School Dropoutâ look like community dinner theater. [Alternate text] But more than one specific number, itâs the undercurrent of emotion erupting constantly: The joy, the desperation, the dreams, the celebration of culture, the importance of family. The climactic âCarnaval Del Barrioâ is such an exuberant explosion of pride, diversity, and the resilience of community thatâbrace yourself for more insufferabilityâwitnessing it given this last year, tears sprayed out like one of the filmâs broken fire hydrants. Iâm not going to pretend that Cruella rivaled the poignancy of either of those other films. But itâs a ludicrous, ostentatious, enjoyable big swing from a cynical corporate creative entity not quite known for that ambition. Watching it on the big screen was a total delight. I was giddy leaving the theater. The costumes are a visual buffet. The needle drops canât help but lift your spirits. And the Emmas Stone and Thompson are as delicious a duo as they come, doing their Devil Wears Prada/All About Eve best in a film youâd least expect that from. There was a man at my screening with the most irritating banshee laugh, which he would unleash at the most base-level moments of humor. It was the kind that gets louder with every glare, like youâre feeding a Gremlin and making the nuisance more powerful. I hated him. That loathing made me feel so good. Things were normal again. Around this point last year, I was warring with various industry folk from the Warner Brothers, Christopher Nolan, and film exhibitors camp over the dastardly push to [put Tenet in movie theaters]( at a time when any rational person could see it was dangerous, and possibly deadly. It was an unmooring experience, as if I was living in a different reality from these spokespeople insisting that everything was A-OK, so grab some Buncha Crunch, girl, and sit down for some time-bending fun! A year later, the safe return is an emotional one, and a relief. Finally, I no longer feel haunted. The Amusing, Enduring Legacy of âSmelly Catâ âHallelujah.â âFeeling Good.â âBridge Over Troubled Water.â âSmelly Cat.â The most-covered songs of all time are indelible vocal showcases, emotional tributes to the subtlety of the human experience, and paragons of timelessness that, when paired with the right performer, can stir the soul in new and unexpected ways. And then thereâs âSmelly Cat.â [Alternate text] Of course the song, first performed by [Lisa Kudrow on Friends]( before becoming standalone pop-culture iconography, is not literally the most covered. But it is starting to feel that way. You know what? It kind of deserves it. Most of the [one-hour-and-45-minute Friends reunion]( that launched this week was just James Corden eliciting the same stories that have been told hundreds of times over the last 17 years, blooper reels that every superfan has already seen, and a Mad Libs of celebrities stopping by to toast the cast in one of the most overproduced TV events in recent years. But there were some genuinely great moments, too. For the most part, those moments came when the cast was allowed to sit together and just hang. They reminisced, told half-memories while others filled the gaps, and revealed mundane details about their experiences that ended up being the most exciting part of the show. Isnât that what we wanted? To watch these six actors together again, being friends? I was surprised, given how the rest of the special played, that a stunt in which Lady Gaga came out to sing âSmelly Catâ with Kudrow ended up being one of the showâs only celebrity-driven highlights. Gaga was dressed in â90s-era Phoebe kooky drag and sounded great, revealing how the simple chords of the ludicrous song actually kind of rule. A gospel choir came in, and it was all building up to such a level of silly that it risked zooming over the taste-level cliff, but then Gaga brought the moment down to earth. She thanked Kudrow for âbeing the person for all of us on Friends that was the different one, or the one that was really herself.â It was really genuine, and a great point about the ways in which the sitcom had meaning that dug deeper than its jokes, but without being pretentious about it. Gaga now joins Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Taylor Swift among famous music stars who have dueted on âSmelly Catâ with Kudrow. Swift even had the Friends star join her on an arena stage to perform it during one of her tours. Itâs quite a legacy for any song to have, let alone one that was meant to be a silly joke on a comedy series. But it speaks not only to the legacy of Friends, but to the fact that âSmelly Catâ is actually a bop. â[Soft Kitty](â could never. A Musical Theatre Gayâs Angry Screed Over 14 months after Broadway shut down due to COVID and seven infuriatingly silent months after the nominations were announced, a date has finally been set [for the Tony Awards](. The ceremony will be on September 26, overflowing with the usual bullshit youâd expect from the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, which operate with all the efficacy of a clogged toilet on behalf of the art it represents. You see, while there will be a Tony Awards special that airs on CBS that features performances and the three top awards, every other category will be presented in a pre-ceremony that can only be streamed on Paramount+. Itâs a huge slight to the performers and creatives who deserve the recognition, especially as they work now to reinvigorate Broadway after the pandemic. But itâs also a disservice to the people around the country whose only opportunity to bear witness to these artists is during the Tony Awards. The young kid doing school musicals in Maryland (that kid is me) would be devastated by this. The Tony Awards were a passport each year to a fantasy, not just because I got to see numbers from various musicals performed, but also because I got to see the talented people who made their dreams come true get recognized. A child should not need to subscribe to Paramount+ to be introduced to the concept of Audra MacDonald winning Tony Awards! In any case, a virtual hug to all the closeted teens out there in a panic wondering how theyâre going to ask their parents to pony up for Paramount+ so they can watch the Tonys. Merry Christmas to Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan is returning to acting! Nature is healing! Or perhaps it is still very ill and we should probably check on it to see if itâs OK! The star with the troubled career who we all keep rooting for, but only to a pointâright?âwill reportedly star in a new Netflix Christmas movie. [According to Variety](, Lohan will play a, âânewly engaged, spoiled hotel heiressâ (according to the logline), who gets amnesia after a skiing accident and âfinds herself in the care of a handsome, blue-collar lodge owner and his precocious daughter in the days leading up to Christmas.ââ [Alternate text] Yes, that is the plot of Overboard, plus Christmas music. But once upon a time you could have argued Lohan was on a Goldie Hawn-esque path and new ideas went extinct with the dodo bird, so why complain when you can just deck the halls, pour some cocoa, and cozy up for a potential trainwreck? The Richest Zip Code in America Is Actually Flavortown [Alternate text] It was reported this week that Guy Fieri signed a new deal with the Food Network [worth $80 million]( over three years. It is not enough. [Alternate text] - A Quiet Place II: To everyone who hurriedly asked me if this is good: It is! Very much so! (Friday in theaters) - Cruella: I enjoyed it more than pretty much every recent Disney remake/retread/reimagining. (Friday in theaters and Disney+) - Bluey: Attention parents (and, honestly, everyone): The greatest kidsâ show out there is back for season two. (Friday on Disney+) - Mare of Easttown: A PSA that the finale airs Sunday night and it is GOOD. (Sunday on HBO) [Alternate text] - Friends: The Reunion: I love Friends. Just watch episodes of Friends instead. (Now on HBO Max) Advertisement
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