13 August 2018

August Movie Rundown

Listen, folks - it's come to my attention that I've been hella ignoring most of August's movies. Hell, the only movies I've even seen in the theaters came out in July. Early July. Let me be frank: I really don't care about most of these films. Clearly, nearly does America, since Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) is the only worthwhile film dominating the Box Office right now. Well, The Meg (2018) won this past weekend, but at $45 million I hesitate to call that a big triumph. It seems like August 2018 is without its sleeper hit.

Nevertheless, I feel like it's my duty to go through all these films, why they probably suck, and what cultural impact they might have. I've tried not to look up anything before going on senseless rambles. Please correct me when I'm angry and way off base. Regardless of release date, let's go through the lot:

Family Guy is all over this, right?

The Meg


We've had more a weird Deep Blue Sea (1999) revival than a JAWS (1975) revival in accordance to the release of this Jason Statham Megalodon flick. It's surprisingly hard to pull off a film like this. You've got to go either real self-aware camp like Piranha 3D (2010) or full on Monster mash like Lake Placid (1999). Even the Jaws sequels had mitigating success and failure with striking the right tone. It's weird to me that JAWS works at all, since Shark films in particular seem rife with tonal screw-ups. Deep Blue Sea is amazing, but it's pretty earnest in its ridiculousness. I don't know where The Meg ends up (based on a book...somehow), but it doesn't feel either extremely earnest or self-aware in its camp.

Crazy Rich Asians

The title of this movies just seems really weird. Like a spoof movie or something racist. But it's not... either of those? It's notable for having an all-Asian cast in an American-made Hollywood picture and seems to be getting good word of mouth. It's about a woman who meets a dude who turns out to be the Prince of Singapore or something. I'd be curious if the rich insane people are skewered or not, and what this comedy tries to poke fun at, but either way the cast is full of up and coming talent. I don't really give a shit about fish-out-of-water romantic comedies like this, but since it drops in two days maybe it actually will be that sleeper hit we talked about. It will also likely be pretty good.

Alpha

Also an upcoming release, this is about some dog and caveman or something, I don't care. It's like a sappy pet story - not only that, but the FIRST sappy pet story. First in history. I don't know why anyone would be interested in this.

Mile 22

I know absolutely nothing about this movie except that Mark Wahlberg is in it. Somehow that's all I need to know. It'll probably be some overblown grim shit that Wahlberg is really earnest in, to the point of self-parody. Again, I literally only know the title and Wahlberg is in it. I will not see this movie.

The Happytime Murders

I'm not sure if this looks good or not. I honestly don't know. I feel like the "inappropriate puppets" schtick has been done before, and beyond the initial novelty of the idea, I'm not sure what the movie can really do with it. Generally the whole thing looks like it's trying sooooo hard to be edgy. Melissa McCarthy does thrive better in R-Rated features, but moreso when she's bonkers like in Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013), or yeah, even Tammy (2014). This feels like she's more supporting a zany premise that again, may not stand on its own. Then again, folks seem excited, at least for that novelty aspect. Sleeper.

Christopher Robin

I could give less than a shit about Christopher Robin. I know, I know, this post is coming off as more and more cynical. Like, whatever, I was a big Pooh fan in my youth, but it really doesn't matter how the things we like were created. And it seems like this is a whimsical fantasy more than anything. We're in a glut of this lately, with that fake ass Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) movie last year basically being the same thing. This interpretation of the creative process drives me nuts. Like he had some bro in his fraternity named Tigger or something. It's all just contrived crap exploiting nostalgia instead of innovating anything new or interesting. I'm reflecting with some regret on my vitriol towards what is likely a sweet and innocent movie, but also really sick of people telling me I need to see it.

BlacKkKlansman

There has been this wave of "Spike Lee is back" articles, and apparently this film knocks it out of the park. The first trailer had a captivating hook and cinematically looks like some of the most beautiful work he's ever done. It'll be niche but could be driving some Oscar buzz, which is tight. That awkward spelling, though. I'm excited to see this. See? I can get excited for something.

Slender Man

This has more to do with those girls who stabbed each other rather than the actual Slender Man, right? If a "Slender Man" is really in this, that actually invalidates much of that tragedy and also makes for a far less interesting tale about how we've grown to deal with Internet culture and how we interpret facts and stories in our new shared media. This is all really interesting stuff. Slender Man has gotten next to no buzz, so I think...crap?

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I spend a lot of time staying up at night thinking about Kate McKinnon and her career. She's the current SNL anchor and the first cast member in a while to immediately be able to extrapolate into "She's going to be a star!" It feels like she hasn't found the right vehicle to launch her into the mainstream. Right now she's had the best chances to leap out in Sisters (2015), Ghostbusters (2016), Masterminds (2016), Office Christmas Party (2016), Rough Night (2017), and now this. What you may immediately think is, "Boy, are these a bunch of shitty movies." And yeah, McKinnon is the best part of Masterminds and Rough Night for sure. Office Christmas Party is drastically underrated and she plays against type wonderfully. The Spy Who Dumped Me seems to be trading more on the Mila Kunis Bad Moms (2016) train. She plays a character named Morgan Freeman! How is this not working. Notary Publix. I think this premise is just played out. It's like Knight & Day (2010) or Killers (2010) or Spy (2015) or The Brothers Grimsby (2016) or Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016) or hell, True Lies (1994) even. McKinnon needs a new agent.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I didn't know this was a thing until weeks after it came out. Why does this exist? Mamma Mia (2008) was somehow ten years ago and was pretty popular. I guess more ABBA songs existed? Why is this a thing? Who is into this? I did not see the first one and have no desire to ever sit through an ABBA-based musical. The only ABBA song worth listening to is "Fernando" and I will freely admit that I listen to "Fernando" more than any human ought to. And I know the title is based on an ABBA song, but it totally feels like a Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) kind of lazy sequel title. I can picture saying it with such a sigh.

The Equalizer 2

Here's some trivia for you - what is Denzel Washington's #4 highest grossing film of his career? It's the fucking Equalizer (2014)! I suppose they couldn't make sequels to American Gangster (2007), Safe House (2012), or Remember the Titans (2000), so here we are. I never saw The Equalizer. It just seemed like more aging movie star vengeance Liam Neeson / John Cusack crap. Maybe it's good, I don't know. The Equalizer 2 had the #3 opening of Denzel's career. Suck on that, haters.

The Darkest Minds

How has Hollywood not yet gotten the memo that the YA fad is over? Even the final two Hunger Games movies flopped. Well, maybe $337 million and $281 million aren't flops, but the final installmetn of your epic film series shouldn't be the least grosser. I digress. Someone wrote a book and was really hopeful, and good for them, they probably got paid. No one else did.

Eight Grade

Apparently this movie is really good. I'm kind of excited. Not for the subject matter at all, I already went through Eight Grade, it was really bad. I don't need to relive that again, but I always cheer for competent new voices in cinema. Bo Burnham, better known as a comedian / musician evidently knocked it out of the park. I'm down. See? Ending with something positive. All you need to do is make good movies, people.

What do you think? Have you seen any of this crap? Pumped for Christopher Robin? Leave one below.

12 August 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 14: A New Big Three Takes Over

We're into mid-August now, people, and I'm feeling it. Massive ennui regarding the end of summer and the start of school. Responsibilities. Homework. Leaves changing, an air of death sweeping across the nation as we plunge into a cropless winter of endless black cold - a void to which there is no escape. So let's crank some tunes while we've still got that summer jam feeling in our heart and blood in our veins! Oh yeah!

Hot Jam of the Week: "XCTY" by Kanye



I've had a lot of new crappy Kanye as the Hot Jam this Summer, but not only is this track making a notable splash for Kanye saying he wants to bang all his sisters-in-law in the first line (I don't think it's as literal as that - well, I hope not), but it's a solid artpiece as well. Well, you can always argue one way or another, but it pushes Ye's obsession with using the human voice as a backing beat along with his Yeezy / Poopity Scoop idea of completing breaking down lyrical content. It's basically Cash Green yelling "Nigga Shit Nigga Shit" in Sorry to Bother You (2018) and people thinking it's great rap. The point is in the meta, not reality. Anyway, for a mainstream insane artist right now to be putting out this kind of song (which, by the way, fits its own title / theme of sexual ecstasy constantly and thoroughly) is kind of amazing.

"Youngblood" by 5 Seconds of Summer

I don't know too much about 5 Seconds of Summer because I'm an old man but from what I read in magazines this boy pop band is attempting to mature and make some real music. That's harder to do than it would seem - especially when crafting a more man band image rather than boy band stuff. This track does a nice job and they play instruments and shit, I don't know. Seems fine. Also summer. This jam has been kind of a thing, and more kind of a teenage girl thing right now, but good enough for this week.

"Side Effects" by the Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren

I really like the breakdown of this track. Warren has a solid flow as well throughout the song, although I definitely sense that we won't hear much more from her. Singers on EDM tracks these days seem so interchangeable. I'm not sure anyone besides me likes this tune right now, which is weird because this is totally the kind of song that typically everyone besides me loves. That's all good.

"Psycho" by Post Malone

Post Malone basically has a standing seat at the Summer Jam Table right now. "Psycho" comes in and out, it's gone for a while, comes back on whenever it wants, it's all good. I really dig having so many bottles we can even give some to the ugly girls along with the rest of this jam's flow which is beautiful. It gets points for legs, but hasn't been fresh enough for a while now to really make a Summer Jam splash.

"No Brainer" by DJ Khalid ft. Bieber, Quavo, Chance

It took me a while to figure out that this was actually a different song than the DJ Khalid / Justin Bieber / Quavo / Chance the Rapper song "I'm the One" from last summer. Seriously, it's like the same exact crew. "No Brainer" has kind of been there for a minute, but is a relatively new debut to the Hot 100 and could make a nice splash considering how easy listening it is. Chance does the best job here, naturally, and there are some choice memorable lines. How did Bieber get in with these guys.

"I Like It" by Cardi B and J. Balvin

Before I even really noticed it, suddenly Cardi B, Maroon 5, and Drake took over a swap for the Top 3 spots instead of Ariana, Camila, and well, Drake in the beginning of the season. This is suddenly a legitimate run and we are look to have one of the closest Summer Jam races in recent memory.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

Yeah this song is blasting everywhere. Either way Cardi's having a hell of a summer. I think it has a lot to do with how fragmented everyone's music outlets are. In Summer Jams past we've had only one or two outlets and usually a pretty clear winner that everyone would bow down to. That may not really be the case anymore. Everyone's Summer Jam is different! Should I give this segment up? Probably. Need to make it through 2020, though so we can say he did 10 straight years of Summer Jam Countdowns!!

"In My Feelings" by Drake

Yeah, on to the #1. Upsetting both Cardi B tracks, I actually struggled, thinking this was "Nice for What" this week, but then realized it might actually be a better track. Or it's not and all Drake songs sound the same now. Or my old ears just hear all youth music as the same thing and I'm totally out of touch. I should probably give this up. 2020, baby!!

Next week...

Oh, who knows. Bebe Rexha? This year has been bizarre. Songs I thought would break did not. Songs I wanted to break did not...then did! I'm very excited to see how the next three weeks turn out, and if things stay the way they do, we very may well see the Summer of Maroon 5, which would be crazy. Stay tuned, folks!!

08 August 2018

First Impressions: Sorry to Bother You

Has anyone seen this movie? Because if not, you should go see it. I don't even know how to begin talking about this movie with someone who hasn't seen it. Let's get a SPOILER warning out of the way to discuss this bastard.

Hottest Halloween look this year
I had heard this was a pretty weird flick going in to it, so I was obviously very interested. As the movie progressed it was a little quirky and stylistic but not all that weird. THEN IT GETS SO FUCKING WEIRD. I loved every second. There was one dude in the theater who REALLY loved it, though, and was laughing at literally every line. This was a crazy person, but then again, crazy people made this movie.

This will sound like the whitest thing ever, but I was introduced to The Coup by the movie Superbad (2007). This scene. That's "Pork and Beef" off of the album Party Music, which has the most unfortunate cover choice in the history of music - featuring an exploding Twin Towers. The cover was designed in June 2001 for an initial printing on - wouldn't you know it - September 11th, 2001. That's your Coup trivia for the day. Again, it took my white ass until 2007 to lock in but I've been a solid fan ever since.

I was pretty excited then, when band member Boots Riley finally got to make his Sorry to Bother You movie. The script has been around for a long damn time, and also provided the name for the Coup's 2012 album. If you're still unfamiliar, the Coup is filled with some politically charged hip-hop that defiantly goes against the grain of mainstream acceptance. Riley is a progressive activist with socialist and communist leanings, and frankly it's amazing that he was allowed to go anywhere near a camera to make his cinematic opus.

What works is that the politics here are sly, subtle, and ultimately universal. Regarding Black Cinema we're finally at a point where we're moving away from solely slave narratives that define the Black American Experience and getting into this era of new voices like Jordan Peele and Ryan Coogler who are putting their stamp on popular culture. We even see Spike Lee getting reinvigorated with his BlacKkKlansman (2018) landing this week. Is Black merely a trendy topic right now? Well, this is Hollywood and the goal is ultimately money and nothing else, no matter what you may think about art, so yeah - but if unique and new voices get to tell their personal stories that elevate all of our world perspectives then that's a pretty cool thing.

For a first time writer / director, Boots also does a fantastic job. He's probably a better writer than director - the dialogue and morphing of the plot was a bit sharper than the images on screen, with some off-center frames and other odd choices, but altogether this comes off as a supremely confident masterstroke of cinema. The cast gels perfectly, the colors pop, and the dark comedic tone that skewers everything about the times we live in, from landing a job to media consumption to the nature of art to viral video fame is pitch perfect. I was blown away.

Leading this insanity is LaKeith Stanfield, who after scoring bit roles in every great Black movie of the past five years in addition to being awesome on Atlanta is finally able to anchor a movie. He's a great fit - a sheepish kind of slumped over guy who finds success that totally goes to his head. He doesn't always make the greatest choices and it's until he's met with true horror that he finally recoils. That horror being horse people (I said SPOILERS) but we need to get into the magical realism later.

There's a lot to unpack about his journey. As Cassius "Cash" Green starts off faking his way into a telemarketing job despite the fact that his unscrupulous bosses know instantly that he's faking. In some ways that's all this movie is - faking everything until we find some success. Anyway, he struggles until Danny Glover tells him to use a White Voice. Channeling his inner David Cross he's able to suddenly connect and gain appreciation from his peers and the poor saps he sells shit to. It's an instant indictment of how people interpret Black and White perspectives, the idea being that White People find a lot more instant success and appreciation than Black People. Where the movie finds its niche, though, is how Cash copes with the fact that he's co-opting another race and neglecting his own in order to be successful. Does that matter? Is financial stability and advanced social status worth the personal selling out of one's friends, peer group, and race itself? When faced with no other option but living in a garage and being four months behind rent with no job - is that sell out worth it?

There aren't a lot of other movies that face these questions as frank as Sorry to Bother You. As Cash moves up in the telemarketing world (I've interviewed for jobs in Call Centers like this. It's not great. You really need to leave your soul at the door. This is another aspect the film nails), his co-workers become despondent. Under the leadership of Steven "Glenn" Yeun, they unionize and go on strike. This also presents this massive pro-union angle and again this conflict between working at something you're good at and supporting other people. It's capitalism vs. socialism, for the record. The folks at the top obviously want to keep working and neglect the union - they're rolling in dough. What's important is to note that the only reason Cash finds success is that he sells out his soul and race. There's this idea that success is only reserved for those elite few who find their niche well the rest of the hard-working proletariat suffers through an immense disparity in wealth, working conditions, and daily struggle. So much so that many consider joining the WorryFree organization, a thinly veiled slave-labor commune.

I mean, this has been my go-to video game avatar for years.
The irony of course is eventually that Cash as a "Power Caller" uses his White Voice telemarketing skills to basically sell this slave labor to various companies across the globe. We get a counter glimpse of this lifestyle through Mr. _____ who seems to understand Cash's soul-sucking struggle, but also revels in the advantages being a plugged in Power Caller can afford. As the film goes on though, we actually see a surprising nuance out of actor Omari Hardwick as he goes from being the King of his Element at Regalview Telemarketing to dearly out his element around Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and the real rich, powerful white people in the world. There's a moment where they goad Cash into rapping, and he really can't because he's a multi-dimensional human being and not just a Black Person. Giving up he just repeats "Nigga shit!" over and over, because that's really all that White Rap Fans want to hear. Or maybe it's more that's just what White Rap Fans here anyway. Mr. ____ and Lift himself seem to be the only ones capable of seeing through the facade. Mr. _____ is overcome with his own reflection of his selling out while Lift sees Cash how he sees everything - a way to make money and control people. Mr. _____ also has huge mutton chops, an eye patch, and bowler hat, none of which are ever explained nor should they be ever.

Lift represents this deceptive power structure of bosses and companies that pretend to be your friend but are really just there to make money. His insane science and social control wants to push that further - by yes, creating super-strong Human / Horse hybrids called equisapiens that will be more loyal, whine less, and work harder. It's a damned surreal moment, folks. Knowing that they might revolt, he also wants a faux-Martin Luther King, Jr.-type figure to lead and settle the horse people, tricking them into thinking they've accomplished some Civil Right crusade, but in actuality, it would really just be Cash working for Lift. This was a little (SPOILER) Snowpiercer (2013)-esque and there are class revolution similarities, but these are really different movies.

Got all that? This of course makes implications towards the actual Civil Rights Movement - I don't think Boots is going as far as to say MLK was a fake, more so that we idolize this leader and other Black Leaders like Barack Obama, but it's all an illusion. As long as mega corporations still hold White Interests at heart, Black Interests will be neglected. Some of this isn't necessarily racial in the film, more a class struggle - it's Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) pretending to support the people while ushering in their downfall (for the record, that movie really stumbles with that concept, but whatever, you get what I'm talking about). Cults of personality surrounding one leader doesn't make a difference when it's the institutional systems that are at fault for world problems.

That's a lot to take in. This movie is also a comedy. There is media on an Idiocracy (2006) "Ow My Balls!" level that virtually serves to show people in constant states of schadenfreude. Actually, this movie could have just been called Schadenfreude. Although the biggest bullshit in this movie is that 150 million people would ever watch the same show. There's this running side story of Cash being the unlucky star of a viral video of himself getting nailed in the head by a "Soda Cola" can. It progresses as this flavor of the month that would have only been better if there was some Internet Outrage attached. This eventually works in his favor as he's able to parlay his fame into playing an equisapien clip to the world, thus exposing WorryFree's horrible genetic experiments to the world and ending Lift's reign of terror.

Except of course that no one really cared, WorryFree's stock rose, and investors were excited about both profits and burgeoning gene-splicing technology. That's about how it would work. Cash really needed to get a video of Lift sexually harassing one of the horse-people. That's the current outrage. No one cares if you modify your body to work a little harder. And if they did, another news story will be around in a few weeks that's even MORE shocking and we'll forget all about horse people.

The final major character is Cash's girlfriend, Detroit, who is a performance artist that I'm still trying to unpack. She mostly exists as both Cash's moral conscience as well as his motivation for improving himself. Although, even as he expressly states this, I'm not sure the latter is true because he seems more focused on leaving some kind of mark on the world or existing as a significant individual and Detroit seems to not particularly care about any crap he's trying.

Detroit is played by Tessa Thompson who is crushing her resume right now. As I struggle to come up with what she represents, the simple idea is that her views are never really explained, and ignoring this Black Woman's perspective is the film's one major fault. She is certainly a revolutionary in dress, art, and action, but her seeming comfort in Cash's high-profile scab life (at least at first) seems to indicate that she doesn't necessarily care about what she's trying to care about. Eventually as she hooks up with Glenn (err..."Squeeze"), you get the sense that these two are more right for each other than her and cash.

As for the performance art segment, a lot of it seems overboard - more a way to rile up a crowd into participating in what they think is high special art, but is really just an empty farce. It's another means of control, of faux-revolution - the Facebook era of toe-dipping support of social justice. That fits in line with most of the movie's other messages concerning false prophets, self-deception, and an unwinnable class war.

In that same vein, it's subtly revealed that Squeeze is a guy who more or less goes around to different fledgling companies and goads the workers into strikes and unions. Sure that work has some merit, but he's basically an undercover revolutionary rather than someone organically pushing for change. That topic isn't really addressed again, nor is his hook-up with Detroit (unions and Detroit...a flirtatious yet deceiving and fleeting hook-up without meaningful value - there's the core message of this movie right there), but you know, it had to get in those Horse People.

There's somehow a lot more to this movie than what I've covered here, which I feel is just scraping the surface. I'm prepared right now to name this the best film of 2018 and feel pretty confident that no other movie is going to hit me quite as hard. What do you think? Can you get past the communist leanings? The Horse People? The magical realism? Tessa Thompson's developed but ultimately perspectiveless character? How many Academy Awards will this win? Definitely none? Leave a comment below!
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