This Week In Pop Culture (10/13/17)

10/13/2017: Sigh ... About The Szechuan Sauce Thing

By Ian Fortey

There's a super fun story going around today about how a fan of the show Rick And Morty managed to trade a packet of McDonald's Szechuan sauce for an entire, functional automobile. Oh man, wacky!

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No. No, sir. You stop that this instant. Do you know what it means when someone trades a packet of McDonald's Szechuan sauce for a car? Do you think it's cute? Awesome? Funny? Dumb? Outrageous? You're all wrong. We're all so very wrong. Rick And Morty fans and Rick And Morty haters, we're all missing the big tragic picture. We as a people bacon'd the shit out of this thing. And McDonald's ends up the winner. Goddamn McDonald's.

No fun inside joke can exist on the internet anymore before it grows into a Frankenstein monster of face-palming douchery that is just unbearable and sad. Everyone loves an in-joke, and that's fine. The first guy who got Rickrolled was probably so blown away that his hair literally slicked back in the wake of some fierce metaphysical breeze. The first person who said "I love lamp!" who wasn't Steve Carell? Goddamn comedy Mozart. But it was ruined. Just like the first guy who decided to do something with bacon besides eat it next to eggs, and instead make it into a towel pattern to sell it on Etsy. The same way McDonald's ruined Dan Harmon's little joke about a bullshit condiment that not one goddamn person besides Dan Harmon even remembered existed.

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The internet cannot let an inside joke be. It can't. We didn't want to write about this. We actively avoided the topic of Rick And Morty and that damn sauce for weeks now. When McDonald's started offering jugs of this shit in bulletproof moon cases for only five people in the universe, we turned our backs. But it won't die! This isn't a Romero zombie that dies with a headshot; it's a Return Of The Living Dead O'Bannon zombie that never dies no matter how much you dismember it. It left the zone of just a fun thing one Rick And Morty fan could joke about with another Rick And Morty fan and became a turd golem. A corporate-sponsored one.

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The fact that McDonald's is producing this sauce now, unbidden, to capitalize on the fanfare of the cartoon should be all the motivation you need to run screaming into the hills. Corporate sponsorship is never cool -- we all know that. Imagine you're at a party talking to a friend, and you mention that you bought a new shirt but it turned out to be too big, and then a random billionaire you don't know pops his head between the two of you and says "That's what she said!" and then laughs, and keeps laughing until it's clear he won't stop until you also laugh. That's what McDonald's just did with this goddamn sauce.

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Everyone wants to feel like they're a part of some kind of group. That's normal. If not a family, club, or group of friends, then even just a community of fans who share an interest in a particular TV show. And to strengthen that feeling of community, maybe you'll share little jokes. Simpsons fans have been doing it for years -- say "You don't make friends with salad" at a barbecue, and someone's going to get you. So Rick And Morty fans do the same thing. That's awesome. Members of whatever subreddit will make narwhal jokes. Frat brothers have a secret douche recipe. It's cool. But when it goes beyond the group into the world at large, it starts to get diluted and ugly. The history isn't there, so it's reduced to a catchphrase, a meaningless meme that fits on a T-shirt. And then, when it goes through one final evolution and a massive corporation grabs hold of it to exploit what you like about it to help boost their bottom line, it's nothing more than a bloated, festering shit sack stinking up the internet and looking pathetic. So for God's sake, stop it.

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Remember bacon-scented candles? Bacon soap? Bacon lip balm? That's all going to come out in Szechuan sauce style soon if we don't stop this cycle in its tracks, and the only winners are the people making money off of inside jokes that literally millions of people all already know.

10/12/2017: I Mustache Why We're Remaking Murder On The Orient Express

By Lydia Bugg

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Murder On The Orient Express is dropping trailers, sneak peeks, character posters, and clips left and right like it thinks it's a Marvel movie. Let me save you some advertising budget here, 20th Century Fox, and just let you know: This isn't The Avengers. You can calm down. The trailer is immediately writing a check it can't cash with a lead-up to the "big" reveal of Kenneth Branagh in a comically oversized mustache. A mustache that I'm mad about, by the way. I'm an Agatha Christie fan. There are no fewer than 12 Christie novels on my bookshelf at this moment. Not a single one of them says, "Hercule Poirot's mustache had the length and girth of a fledgling bald eagle shielding his upper lip with its majestic splayed wings." Honestly, I feel like if you just glanced at this trailer, you could mistake it for a documentary on a 1930s mustache championship competition. Almost every man in the trailer has a mustache. Even Josh Gad. It's a pencil mustache only a few micrometers wide, but it's still there.

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It's not just the mustaches that are frustrating. I couldn't put my finger on why, even though I'm a fan of the book, I just sighed and said, "Nope" after seeing the first trailer. It's because I already know the answer to the mystery. There's no mystery in it for me anymore. The name of the film's genre is now void.

Mystery remakes have been done before, but with this book especially, I feel like the big reveal makes the story. Without it, you're just watching famous people roam around a train in their silly mustaches. To me, it would be like going to see a remake of The Sixth Sense. Unless they did a new twist ending wherein Haley Joel Osment just lives in a town full of gross, bleeding, non-ghost people, what's the point?

Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending of a book that was published in 1934 and went on to be riffed and referenced by every mystery that took place on a train in any medium thereafter. A book that already had an Oscar-winning movie made about it in 1974, with basically the same idea of loading a star-studded modern cast into a fun old story. For the very small Venn diagram of people out there who both care about Agatha Christie and don't know the ending to this movie, I'm sure it will be a really great watch. For the rest of us, we'll just have to be satisfied watching Kenneth Branagh's inexplicable soul patch bob up and down.

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10/11/2017: Hollywood Revealed Weinstein's Assaults Years Ago

By Luis Prada

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Comedians have been telling us about the horrors of Harvey Weinstein for years. Where the rest of the of the entertainment industry feared his wrath, daring not to speak out unless they wanted to be demoted to being the third lead in Uwe Boll video game movies, comedians took note of the deafening silence surrounding the atrocious rumors and responded the only way they could: by slipping in little irreverent jokes here and there which directly addressed Weinstein's sexual and physical abuse. They probably sailed over the heads of general audiences at the time, but looking back, we realize they were hinting at the disturbing revelations to come.

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30 Rock was telling jokes about Bill Cosby's history of rape accusations long before Hannibal Burress made it an enormous deal simply by mentioning it in his standup act. Weinstein's reputation as a guy who refuses to take no for an answer was brought up by the character Jenna Maroney: "I'm not afraid of anyone in show business. I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions ... out of five."

Seth MacFarlane has developed a reputation for not giving a fuck about who he makes fun of, and that includes Weinstein, whom he called out back in 2013 during the Academy Award nomination announcement show, which he co-hosted with Emma Stone. After announcing the nominees for Best Supporting Actress, he dropped this line: "Congratulations! You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein." Uncomfortable laughter rippled through the small crowd. Stone, who was standing right next to MacFarlane, tried to suppress a laugh, knowing that if she let it go, her career would be assassinated by a sniper in the rafters.

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And Weinstein's spontaneous fits of uncontrollable physical violence were captured well on Entourage, of all things. It was a generally vapid show which occasionally, for the briefest of moments, provided worthwhile satire on the bizarro world of the movie industry. One of those moments was when the douche gang took a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, where they had a run-in with caustic independent film producer "Harvey Weingard," who was portrayed as a portly guy with an imposing presence and a short fuse who would beat the shit out of anyone who pissed him off in the slightest. Here's how you know that portrayal was accurate: After the episode aired, one of the costars was approached by Weinstein at a party. Weinstein told him to tell the show's producers that "if they ever mention my name again, they're dead."

If these in-jokes make you feel uncomfortable, there's a good reason for that. It's evidence that influential people in the entertainment industry were well aware of Harvey Weinstein's predatory behavior, but were either powerless or unwilling to do anything about it. It's like the desperate blinking in Morse code of someone being held hostage.

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10/10/2017: How Mark Hamill Became Our Cool Dad

By Lydia Bugg

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If the new Star Wars trailer has made you ask why Mark Hamill doesn't have a more extensive acting portfolio, you're not alone. Was Hollywood simply done with Hamill after the original Star Wars trilogy? Was it a Superman curse thing whereby we can only see Hamill as Luke Skywalker forever? How come Harrison Ford got to go on to do everything from action movies to rom-coms, while Hamill quietly faded away? There's actually a really cool answer to this question, and it has to do with the way that we perceive fame. If we don't see a movie star cranking out blockbuster after blockbuster, we assume that they must be out there auditioning and getting turned down for tons of roles. Surely, if an actor isn't starring in the new Nightmare On Elm Street Lego Movie, they must be busing tables at a Hollywood hot dog restaurant.

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But the truth is that Hamill has had a really cool career, and it seems like it's exactly the career he wanted. Hamill is a huge nerd. If you need proof of this, just watch his Comic-Con HQ show Pop Culture Quest. It's basically nothing but him pointing at all the geeky things he likes, and it's fantastic. Instead of going out and winning Oscars or wooing beautiful but clumsy women in rom-coms, Hamill has mostly opted to do voiceover work -- which, according to a September interview with Starwars.com, is what got him into acting in the first place.

He says, "When I was five or six, I saw Clarence Nash doing Donald Duck. I had never thought about the human actors behind the voices of cartoon characters. A light bulb went off in my head." After Star Wars, Hamill went on to voice characters in every cartoon you've ever loved, including The Ren And Stimpy Show, Hey Arnold, Futurama, Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, The Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, Cow And Chicken, and Scooby-Doo. Not to mention creating the most iconic Joker voice that has ever existed. If you're a '90s kid, the Joker voice you hear in your head when you read Batman comics is probably Hamill's.

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So when you think about it, would you rather be Harrison Ford, constantly stalked by paparazzi and forced into sequels to films you felt pretty meh about in the first place, or Mark Hamill, who can do all of his voice work from home in a Snoke-style bathrobe. Hamill's life is totally the one I would want to have! He gets to be mostly left alone, but also be a part of all of his favorite shows. And thank god he did choose this career, because he's the best, and what would we do without our cool nerd dad Mark Hamill?

10/09/2017: Blade Runner 2049 Bombed (And That's A Good Thing)

By Luis Prada

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I can't express in mere words how happy I am that Blade Runner 2049 is a box office failure. To really convey my joy, I'd have to perform an abstract dance which included a lot of pelvic thrusts, and at one point the Robot. I don't say that because it's a terrible series which I think deserves to fail. I'm a massive Blade Runner fan. The original is in my top five favorite movies, and 2049 is the brilliant, beautiful sequel I didn't know I wanted. But if 2049 had made $200 million this past weekend, we might have gotten even more sequels, which would significantly raise the chances of running a cult favorite into the ground.

2049 really only got made because it took way too long for Ridley Scott to realize he's Ridley "Fucking" Scott. He can do whatever he wants. He's using his newly discovered power to make sequels and prequels to movies he's already made. He's directed two Alien prequels in the past five years, and produced a sequel to Blade Runner. At this pace, I fully expect a Gladiator sequel wherein Maximus starts slaying Roman gods in the afterlife, God Of War-style. If we're really lucky, we'll get a sequel to A Good Year, and we can finally find out how Russell Crowe's vineyard is doing after all these years.

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It took 35 years to make a sequel to a cult science fiction detective movie that didn't do well the first time around and was unappreciated in its time. The original Blade Runner never even had the huge post-theatrical success enjoyed by movies like Office Space; we collectively realized it was way better than we initially thought and kind of left it at that. The original had such a troubled production that it's a miracle it was even released, hence the like 487 versions of it out there. It's even more miraculous that we got a sequel at all, and the fact that said sequel is very good and puts a nice bow on the story is the kind of miracle that can get director Denis Villeneuve canonized.

Blade Runner 2049 tanking prevents the cheapening of the franchise with installments as needless as Blade Runner 2049. Its failure is a blessing in disguise. Besides, it allows us die-hard Blade Runner fans to continue doing the thing we love more than anything else on Earth: being obnoxious movie hipsters who tell people they either have to love Blade Runner or continue living life as an idiot.

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For more check out This Week In Pop Culture (10/06/17 and What Stupid Thing Is Trending Now? (10/07/2017).

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