27 October 2019

First Impressions: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Once upon a time we wrote these impressions the week we actually saw the movie in question. That's okay. We're here today to talk about Quentin Tarantino's 9th film, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019), hereafter referred to as the incredibly awkward, OUATIH. Happy Halloween!

I didn't really like this movie. That's all the review you need. Unless you'd like to stay around for an excessive amount of additional analysis. Okay, fine.

Bros 4 Life

So, there has been a lot of hot takes on this one. Here is one I like the best. We are getting to a point where shit is starting to add up. I am a Tarantino fan as much as any cinephile should be - he makes well-thought out and well-crafted movies that are staggeringly unique and original in an age where that is a very rare sight. OUATIH on the year is second only to Us (2019) in original ideas at the box office, and 16th on the year. This belies the fact that that's where our standards are. Just because it's pure cinema doesn't mean it's good or responsible cinema.

When I say things add up, it's more than Tarantino's trademark penchant for violence (for the record, this is his most subdued movie ever until the last fifteen minutes). It's how cozy he was with Weinstein, his willingness to hire actors he shouldn't (or is it just a meta commentary on Cliff Booth being hired where he shouldn't?), and willingness to showcase brutal, unheralded violence against women in not one, but his last two films. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Surely this isn't a gut reaction to controversial filmmaking - it's more that it feels unmotivated. There isn't necessarily a strong coherent message here about the irony of violence like in Inglourious Basterds (2009), not does it play with time and narrative in an interesting or charismatic way like Pulp Fiction (1994). It's difficult to suss out what he's trying to do, which leaves his particular brand of violence flat. Even a scene that deliciously builds tension like Cliff Booth wandering through the Manson camp doesn't really have a strong final outcome. It all seems like the master craftsman is at work, but without a really good story to work out.

This of course blends the film into the realm of bad taste. In reaction to this I rewatched The Hateful Eight (2015) because I felt much of the same way after that film. I actually liked it quite a bit more on the re-watch, which also made me realize that that's the most Tarantino-esque scripted film ever, while OUATIH is assuredly the least. I'm not sure if that little bit changed my viewing experience, but I also thought that the film's mode of telling us Daisy Domergue is a terrible person who deserved the brutality she received, instead of showing us her retribution was a fatal misstep. Likewise, the final moments of OUATIH are truly brutal, and yeah, in real life the monsters who carried out the Sharon Tate murders deserved that brutality in kind. The film, however, fails to show us that. All we see are young women getting their faces pounded in. They didn't actually do anything in the movie to deserve their fate.

Tarantino used the kind of Evil Shorthand to better extent in Basterds and Django Unchained (2012), but both of those films also effectively showed us why the cruel horrible people of the past deserved the ret-conned fate Tarantino supplied them. It's harder here because the murderers-turned-victims are really nothing more than weird creepy hippies.

Booth is a tough character to decipher as well. He seems at times to be the ultimate good guy with a strong, loyal code of morality, but also holds on to some incredibly shady characteristics. The parallels to Natalie Wood's death are also uncomfortable, especially as the film seems to deify Booth rather than chastise him and provide a commentary or satire. There are a few key scenes that establish Booth as the ultimate badass, mainly him besting (or at least tying) Bruce Lee, which as a big fan of a lot of his work, I also took some issue with. This all leads to him pretty much in character defending himself, although again it should be noted that within the context of the film's world, he's doing all this horror to random strangers, not would-be murderers.

All this adds up to just bring me out of the movie. When Brad Pitt throws Bruce Lee aside my stomach churns. That just wouldn't happen. In a cinematic sense, it's distracting along with many other little things that make for a movie where I'd have rather been on my phone for most of the runtime. Tarantino's longtime editor, Sally Menke passed away in 2010, and you can't help but wonder if it was Menke that really gave his films such zip and spice for so long. His efforts since her passing have noticeably been long and insane. There's no reason for this film to be 161 minutes (with a 171 minute re-release coming soon!). I'm not against long movies, but there isn't enough here to remain interesting.

I should note that despite at the inherent problematic issues with Pitt's character, he by far does the best acting of anyone on screen and is incredibly watchable whenever he's on screen. He doesn't even do things out of character, but that's also exactly why the film ends up being a bit queasy. Needless to say, this film would fall apart with anyone else in this role.

Moving on to other characters, Leo does fine work, and the story of his fading actor is the most interesting plotline here. It does all feel very "inside" and although it's certainly relatable, part of it feels too much like a personal love letter to this era rather than something of universal value. Leo doesn't quite go big and insane here, but he's able to act out his acting, which is pretty fun to watch and actually an underrated skill.

Rounding out the other top-billed actor is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, who is the most bizarre role of all. She literally just walks around starstruck for the first forty minutes and exists as an object to watch with wonder. Sure, they're pounding it through our head that she was an innocent victim lost to a brutal murder, but Tarantino could have made an effort into making her into a real person for us to understand. Instead, she pretty much just exists until she is not murdered.

There were some good parts of sitting through this thing. It looks gorgeous of course, and the period recreation is impressive, if not wholly necessary. The costumes pop and there are plenty of cameos, eventually to the film's detriment when you see actors billed upfront who appear for two seconds of screen time about halfway through. It's also loaded with small bits of easter eggs and details that are pretty entertaining. Strangely, it's also Tarantino's most straightforward film, and I mean that literally. There are no chapter breaks, interlocking narratives, or other weird games. Just the film! Tarantino's gotten to the point where the weirdest thing he can do is just play things straight.

It's not an entirely coherent look at the Manson Family or its ideology or anything, but certainly an interesting take on the entertainment industry's transitions to the New Hollywood of the 1970s. If that's your bag, this is a cool film. If not, it feels too specific, too thoughtless, and too scattered to be really worth our time.

What did you think of Tarantino's latest output? Will his 10th and supposedly final film be any good? Is it going to be a Star Trek movie for some reason? Leave your take below!

09 September 2019

Summer Jam 2019...A Champion Once Again Crowned!

Ladies and Gentleman, another Season of Summer has come and gone. As we've done for the past nine years for some reason, we've tracked, tallied, and ranked every Hot Jam that blasted across our eardrums for seventeen glorious weeks. Now, here at the end of all things, comes the time to assess what we have wrought. It's time to see who will join this illustrious list of SUMMER JAM ROYALTY!

Past Winners:

2007: "Umbrella" by Rihanna
2008: "Bleeding in Love" by Leona Lewis
2009: "I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas
2010: "California Gurls" by Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg
2011: "Park Rock Anthem" by LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock
2012: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
2013: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell
2014: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charle XCX
2015: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon
2016: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake
2017: "Despacito" by Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi ft. Justin Bieber
2018: "Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

I hate so many of these songs. But that's not for us to decide. We charted a total of 57 Jams this summer. Most are pretty good. Here's #9 - 16, the near cream-of-the-crop that just made the cut in this, our FINAL Summer Jam List:

"The London" by Young Thug ft. J. Cole & Travis Scott
"Money in the Grave" by Drake ft. Rick Ross
"Never Really Over" by Katy Perry
"Cool" by Jonas Bros
"WOW" by Post Malone
"ME!" by Taylor Swift ft. Brendan Urie
"Glad He's Gone" by Toe Lo
"Talk" by Khalid

Alright. Now let's dive in to the real hot stuff:

#8: "Sweet But Psycho" by Ava Max



Weeks on List: 5
First Week: 05/20 (#1)
Last Week: 08/05 (#7)
Peak Position: #1 (05/20)
Average Position: 4.60

This is the official Underrated Song of Summer. It's so listenable and hummable and got in my head so damn easy all summer. It didn't necessarily destroy the charts, but stuck around for two and a half months and hit #1 early on. It will always remind me of a few moments this summer and that's what it's all about. Ava Max is pretty new to the scene, and this kind of dance-pop is decently derivative, but she's got some pipes to rise above the nonsense.

#7: "Dancing with a Stranger" by Sam Smith & Normani



Weeks on List: 4
First Week: 05/27 (#4)
Last Week: 06/17 (#2)
Peak Position: #2 (06/03, 06/17)
Average Position: 3.25

This song was surprisingly only present for four consecutive weeks in May and June, but earned enough points to gain the #7 spot overall. It came in second place twice and never dipped that low. Still, this felt like a consistent song this summer, and narrowly missed out on hopping back into relevancy. It was a consistent depth player this summer and this feels like a natural spot for it. It's seductive, fun, sexy, and salacious. It also was a great leap forward for Normani's career.

#6: "You Need to Calm Down" by Taylor Swift



Weeks on List: 7
First Week: 06/24 (#7)
Last Week: 09/02 (#2)
Peak Position: #2 (0708, 07/22, 08/12, 09/02)
Average Position: 3.17

I sense that I'll always be torn by this song. Its pro-tolerance message ostensibly shields it from any criticism, but it's also definitely a co-option of the LBGT rights movement to fuel both Taylor Swift's personal hater issues and general trolling of female pop queens on the Internet. It's a lot at once but also pretty catchy, but also with a good message at heart. It's just harder and harder to see through Tay Tay's ego these days, even if she's still a master lyricist. This relatively late-breaking jam never hit the #1 spot, but surprisingly had four separate instances at #2, the most of any song this summer.

#5: "I Don't Care" by Bieber and Sheeran



Weeks on List: 8
First Week: 05/20 (#7)
Last Week: 07/29 (#4)
Peak Position: #1 (07/22)
Average Position: 3.63

This was an early contender and held pretty strong through sheer longevity. It did crack the #1 spot in late July, but mostly hung around the middle of the countdown, at one point for five consecutive weeks. At eight total weeks it is actually the fourth most of any song here. Again, I really hated this song. It grated on me after a while. I also think there's something somehow even more shallow when mega-stars team up for a really cheap meme video. It's people just not understand what makes memes funny, and also just seems unfair compared to the folks out there struggling to put out the same quality work. Whatever, it was a jam.

#4: "Señorita" by Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes



Weeks on List: 7
First Week: 07/08 (#3)
Last Week: 09/02 (#3)
Peak Position: #1 (07/29, 08/19)
Average Position: 2.83

Some songs get credit for longevity, this one was all about potency. It is the latest breaking song that still made the Top 8, and had the second-highest average position of any track. If it had debuted a few weeks earlier it would have made a legit run at the Top Three. It's still a fun song to listen to. Camila follows up her 2018 Queen Status with a still impressive showing here. It's also notable that it bowed out at the exact position it came in at, but that's more a cause of running out of weeks rather than anything else.

#3: "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish



Weeks on List: 10
First Week: 05/20 (#4)
Last Week: 09/02 (#6)
Peak Position: #2 (05/27, 06/10, 08/26)
Average Position: 3.89

I was surprised that this ended up in the #3 spot after seemingly spending this entire summer in the #2 spot, but it did have a big break about mid-way through. After six straight weeks during May and June it fell off for a while, but like "Dancing with a Stranger", always seemed on the periphery. Billie Eilish is the freshest new voice in a while and this is an extremely dynamic, unique song. It came back strong in a post "Old Town Road" world at the end of summer that clinched its #3 slot, but also notable for being ranked so high while never hitting #1. This will definitely always be known as the Summer Billie Eilish debuted, though.

#2: "Truth Hurts" by Lizzo



Weeks on List: 10
First Week: 07/01 (#4)
Last Week: 09/02 (#1)
Peak Position: #1 (07/15, 08/26, 09/02)
Average Position: 3.00

What can I say about this? All 10 weeks on the List were back to back. It exploded on the Fourth of July and stayed strong through Labor Day. This song was a little old so I hesitated with it at first, which means it could have racked up even more points. It's still an amazing song to listen to - I'm getting jacked up right now cranking out her jams. Lizzo had a string of hits last year, and even charted, but 2019 is DEFINITELY the year of mainstream Lizzo. It's awesome. She closed out the year with the #1 spot in the last two weeks of summer and earned the second-most #1 spots of any song on this list.

#1: "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus



Weeks on List: 13
First Week: 05/13 (#4)
Last Week: 08/12 (#6)
Peak Position: #1 (05/27, 06/03, 06/10, 07/01, 07/08, 08/05)
Average Position: 2.54

Yep. You could have seen this coming. Not only was this the top song of this summer, this was the top song of ANY summer. We haven't had a jam track for 13 weeks since Iggy Azalea and Robin Thicke both pulled off the feat in 2014 and 2013 respectively. Neither hit six weeks at #1. Under our modern points system we've also NEVER seen a victory by this much. "Old Town Road" beat "Truth Hurts" by 22. Prior to this we had had "Shut Up and Dance" by 16 and "Blurred Lines" by 14, but that's about it. In 2011 "Party Rock Anthem" had 14 weeks on the charts, but only four at #1. The only historical jam that can beat it is the absolute dominance of's 2010 "California Gurls", which had 15 weeks on the Winner's List, including six #1 spots IN A ROW. 2010 was nuts. Lol, remember Taio Cruz?

We have seen a tremendous amount of parity lately, though. It wasn't crazy for a lot of previous Summer Jams to skirt by with only a slight edge above their competitor. 2018 and 2016 were particularly close without a real definitive summer jam. I even still question "Shut Up and Dance" because I feel like no one cares about that anymore, but not in a "Call Me Maybe" no one cares anymore kind of way.

"Old Town Road" is for sure a special song. Not only is it a meld of hip-hop and country on the border of creating its own genre, but its distribution, promotion, and success completely fueled by social media is not so much unprecedented, but its mainstream recognition is. There are plenty of songs on Tik Tok. What made this stand out will surely lead to imitators for years. Constant remakes gave it continued life all summer, even if its peak freshness was probably in the Spring.

Its stats speak for itself. It appeared for nine straight weeks to start off summer, including three at #1 in the peak of early July. After taking one week off, it returned for four straight weeks before finally running out of gas in mid-August. Its run was near perfect. It ate up the meaty heart of summer and never looked back. 2019 will surely always be the Summer, nay the year of "Old Town Road." Congrats.

Next year...

If you're someone who actually follows this weekly column, it's no surprise that it wore on me this year. I was usually late or busy or half-assed. I still really do love doing this, though. Even though we have unofficially tracked since 2007, I first really got into thinking this way in 2008. Since this blog started in June 2009, we didn't actually officially start tracking week by week until Summer 2010. While that technically makes this the 10th iteration, I think Summer 2020 will be a nice final year for this madness. Ten solid years of Summer Jam. That's more than any individual has done ever. So, stay tuned next year, folks! It'll be our last!

02 September 2019

Summer Jam 2019 Week 17: That's It!

Here we are folks. Labor Day. It's the End of Summer and thus, the end of all good things in the world for at least the next nine months. It's always bittersweet. Or just completely bitter. I hate this. BUT we also get to tally up our jams and dedicate our brand new SUMMER JAM ROYALTY! Who will it be?! We'll put one more week in the books then figure this shit out!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Babushka Boi" by A$AP Rocky



I love ASAP Rocky and this song is awesome. It's a Dick Tracy homage for some reason but has a biting beat to go along with ASAP's reliable vocals. Sure he's had some legal issues lately, but I found myself not caring at all about that during this song. The video is also brutal and I'm not sure actually shows an intricate good lesson by the end. It's more insanely indulgent and relishing criminality. Dat beat tho.

"Graduation" by Benny Blanco, Juice WRLD

I like all at once this spin on the graduation song, the blase attitude, and the interstitials, which are hilarious and brutal, and totally feel as if they're coming from some show we failed to watch. Could this be a Summer Jam candidate! No, shut up. It's totally mis-timed with the beginning of school instead of the end, but I would like this to play at mine.

"Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish

Yep, Billie made it to the end here. This is a marvelous feat! Her time at the Top of the Billboard charts ended up being short-lived but I think she has a great career ahead of her. The song isn't really grating yet and she's also cranked out some comparably good tunes. This definitely established itself as a notable Summer Jam and will surely rank high once we tally everything together.

"Lover" by Taylor Swift

So, Taylor dropped one of her most mature songs ever, which is amazing. She seems to be less focused on pouty break-up tracks (which to be fair, she excelled at), and more about consistent, thoughtful reflection. I'm not sure this a totally radio-friendly pop ballad, but it is pretty great. Much too late for Summer Jam status, but a lovely number to waltz around the house.

"The London" by Young Thug ft. J. Cole & Travis Scott

"The London" has been on and off this list all summer, sometimes creeping just beyond the edges, but always a pretty great jam. It gets one more push this week since it's in fact pretty fun, spectacular, and tight flow. Good beats. It's got a tight flow. The flow is tight. I may have just had a stroke. It's a cool song.

Senorita" by Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello

These two are dating, I guess? Sounds good. It's sexy. They're sexy. This is your new Billboard #1, and although that distinction is a little late, it still felt fun and fresh enough this week to earn a spot here. Camila's not quite having the breakout year she did in 2018 but this will end with great overall rankings.

"You Need to Calm Down" by Taylor Swift

This ended up being a pretty notable track this summer and it finishes well. It's stayed in the zeitgeist for a long while and by this point its memorable lyrics are sing-a-longable and I can maybe get past the movement co-option and personal shade and relish in the message of acceptance. Taylor notches two on the countdown this week and actually ends with a damned decent summer.

"Truth Hurts" by Lizzo

For all my hand-wringing about this track being a little old to start summer, we were obsessed with it this weekend and just made it our constant jam. Lizzo is actually having an amazing run at the top and surged like crazy these last few weeks. It's not a legit contender and probably deserves more status than it will eventually get.

Next day...

We'll tally this shit up! Who will be crowned... SUMMER JAM CHAMPION?! Stay tuned, folks!
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