31 May 2010

Summer Jam 2010: May 31 Winners

Back again is our on-going examination of songs contending for the covetous title of King of Summer Jam 2010. That one song that absolutely defines the current Summer Zeitgeist, the most massive popular Irritating Pop Track that forever will be known simply as THAT song from 2010. This week we've got a bit of shake-ups so follow intently-

#8: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg

Now this has some potential to climb - a perfectly molded boppy California Summer Track with a good dose of Snoop. Supposedly as an answer to Jay-Z and Alicia's "Empire State of Mind" we'll see if it can replicate the latter's ubiquity and claim a title. Combine this and a Lakers win and L.A.'s looking like a good place for Summer!

#7: "Alejandro" - Lady GaGa

GaGa's finally on the contender list as her song is starting to infiltrate our culture a bit better. I still think this is a great summer track thematically and one of GaGa's best efforts in her career so far. It's staying power somehow is questionable, however and it doesn't feel like a "Poker Face" or "Bad Romance," or even "Telephone," a track that utterly dominates Pop Culture. We'll see. For now it's #7.

#6: "Nothing on You" - B.o.B ft. Bruno Mars

Big drop this week, when you stop hearing this song every 15 minutes on the radio, you know it's taken a tumble. This week was the key week after some heavy overplaying and my guess is after a pretty strong start this track won't be King of Summer.

#5: "Rude Boy" - Rihanna

It seems as though "Rude Boy" and "Nothing on You" are still in competition with each other - for lower spots on the charts. The same fate has befallen this song, which hasn't proved the staying power of some of Rihanna's other hits. In fact, it ended up coming and going about as quick as "Hard" did. Massive popularity followed by a massive sinking. It's shit like this that gives me more confidence in GaGa, at least "Alejandro" has stayed pretty much in one spot so far.

#4: "Airplanes" - B.o.B ft. Hayley Williams

After hearing this song get a little more airtime I'm starting to appreciate it a bit more. It has a bit deeper meaning than I originally thought, but definitely too much longing and brooding for a good Summer Jam song. Actually Part II is even better:

I actually rescind my comments last week that "Nothing on You" featured better rapping on B.o.B's part, this is the best song him, Hayley Williams and Eminem have produced in the past couple years. It's interesting how much better Eminem has been lately contributing to songs rather than filling it on his own. We'll see how this does, right now it looks like B.o.B is starting a fantastic career commercially and critically.

#3: "OMG" - Usher ft. will.i.am

By the way, what is up with random periods in artists' names? B.o.B, will.i.am, just go by Bob and Bill, it's not a big deal guys. Anyway, Usher stays in the same high spot while everyone around him changes. Still pretty popular, not popular enough to get that #1. I don't think it's going anywhere soon though.

#2: "Young Forever" - Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson

Now, this song sucked when it first came out, why Jay-Z felt the need to heavily sample it for a Summer Jam I have no idea. I mean, that's why it was ironically used as a hokey slow song in Napoleon Dynamite (one of the best uses of that song by the way - who gives a shit being young forever when you're Napoleon - or is there some meaning there? We can talk about this later). It's real popular now though, and although its winding beat doesn't deserve it, it's being played enough for #2 this week. Man, Jay-Z sucks.

Also can we talk - what's up with rappers fucking up on their track and then keeping it in the final cut? I can't tell if this is purposeful or serendipitous (The Beatles used to do this all the time, leave in purposeful mistakes and laughter), "OMG" has two moments where will.i.am fucks up, including the intro and then Jay-Z here seems to change his mind in a freeflow saying "just let it ride" and shit like he's bossing around the producer. C'mon, just lay the track down and stop interrupting the flow. Dammit.

#1: "Break your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris

Yeah this song got everywhere this week. Not confident about its power to carry a summer, but it's lyrically dumb enough and upbeat enough to do some damage and make a run at it. Ludacris is one of the most consistently good rappers of our day and I'm sure his influence and skills are starting to go underrated amongst the all-time greats. Really Luda makes the song, but Taio's vocal silk sells it to the people. Here you go:

So no room for Ke$ha this week, but I wouldn't count her down for the count. Same goes for "Lay me Down" which had a strong showing and probably has the Rock Track of Summer Title wrapped up (somehow Rock has more staying power than Pop...who could have ever guessed that), and I'm sure it will make a comeback. Until next time, crank up those ears and let's catch what comes next!

28 May 2010

War of the Decades: The Evolution of Video Game Movies

This is a rough topic. But it needs addressing today. This may be the day in history that we see the release of the greatest Video Game Movie every made in human history. As we'll see through this anticipatory post, that really wasn't that difficult to achieve.

Yes, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) launches across the globe today and could very be the most successful film based on a video game both critically and commercially of all time. It already has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of any Video Game film (um...yeah, at 58% pre-release). So, why does this genre have such comically low standards? That's what we're exploring in this long-awaited edition of War of the Decades: The Evolution of Video Game Movies.

1990s: Plumbers and Raiden
There are so many kinds of sources for films. Books, amusement park rides, anecdotes, toy lines, other movies, the list goes on and on. For the most part, these kinds of films based on questionable material are a bitrough. At the same time however, we can call out the exceptions to prove that source material shouldn't really determine the quality of a film. There's one pretty good film made from all these that proves that with the right story, writing and talent it's possible to make a good film out of just about anything. Except video games. There's nothing that compares to the widespread catastrophe that is the Video Game Movie. It's insane.

Video games first became pretty widespread, ie affordable in home domiciles and fully integrated into culture in the 1980s and has really only grown with technology from there. One of the most phenomenally popular early games was Super Mario Bros. (1985), so it made sense that this would also become the first film adapted from a video game in 1993. If you look even slightly closer at the Mario story though, you can immediately see this is a bad idea. It's a simplistic platformer at heart with bizarre enemies, friends and power-ups. None of this is possible to gel into a coherent story without either a ton of irony or massive retooling of source material. Actually to be honest, that 5-minute adaptation is far better than that Dennis Hopper film.

So basically in the 1990s, people didn't really know how to make the movie bigger than the game. They tried attaching loose or weak stories to mediums that worked best with no story. Honestly, who really remembers why the fighters in any Mortal Kombat game were fighting? It's not important - it's not why you play video games. Films lack the level of direct interaction integral to video game experience. Weak stories are supplanted by good gameplay. When this medium is transferred to a more passive film medium without proper adaptation and forced padding, the result is lacking.

Regardless, Mortal Kombat (1995) is probably one of the best video game movies, although remember, the best of this crop is still fucking awful.

Early 2000s: Increased Scope, Zombies and CGI
By the time around Ocarina of Time (1998) came out, video game storytelling was getting to become more advanced. With the increased memory and graphical capabilities of Sixth Generation Consoles, video games started to become more cinematic by their nature. Two games I included on my Top 5 Video Games of the Millennium list, Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001) and Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) included heavy cut scenes as well as a more film-like focus on depth of story, from there the industry changed. I can't believe a Halo movie hasn't been pulled off yet. Truth be told, my guess is that for the most part, the games already simulated the filmic experience. There's not much left for a film to cover after playing these games with both their high-arcing stories covered both in cutscenes as well as actual gameplay.

So certainly video games themselves were moving more towards the quality of film. By the end of the past decade there were easily a handful of video games with stories to rival great films. So how did film respond? By just throwing up the same shit really.

Definitely larger budgeted and more mainstream than Double Dragon (1994), the decade led off with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and never looked back. This definitely resembles a lot of other early 2000s movies like Charlie's Angels (2000) or The Fast and the Furious (2001), just flashy rapid action-humour with a constant nod towards the extreme. It's important that a video game film finally got a big budget and a big, A-List cast, I mean, this film actually made some careers! ...But it sucked, though.

The early part of the decade wasn't all too bad really, you got Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) which bankrupted Square Pictures but is actually a good landmark in film and CGI use. Then there's the Resident Evil franchise which I think is actually one of the best ways to transfer video game action into action movie action.

The Resident Evil films are not really good films by any standard, but they're pretty watchable. They also merge video game and film format to a very high degree. They all have a good amount of wandering and exploring to reach a set goal point, hundreds of enemies that merges the Stormtrooper Effect with common video game tactics of defeating smaller enemies, and the films even have the Big Boss at the end. Again, these aren't great movies, but if you're going to adapt a video game, they pull it off flawlessly. The story doesn't matter at all, but the films are built on a game-like progression, which is cool. To demonstrate that this doesn't come automatically with watchability, just Netflix Doom (2005). I've proven my point.

Let's flash to the future for another film/comic series that seems to have virtually introduced video game-like principles seemlessly into the rules of its universe, check out the trailer for the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010):

Notice a few things - the film (from what it looks like) appears to integrate video game lingo, tropes and styles into an entertaining and refreshing package. Video Game Movies should attempt this level of integration and assimilation, acknowledging their own tropes and strengths rather than bill themselves as something they're not. Innovation, not imitation.

Late 2000s: Utter Shit
Once Uwe Boll threw his hat in the ring things really went to shit. I mean, he's directed 5 video game adaptations and his highest RT rating (by far) is Postal (2007) at a whopping 8%. Beyond this we've got a lot of misguided attempts at making pretty naturally cool video games into forced-cool movies like Hitman (2007) and Max Payne (2008). I'll keep talking about Resident Evil (2002), that film is well cast with characters and plotting that make the film work rather than hokey shit that purports the movie to be more than it should be.

Again, it's tough to make something cinematical out of a medium that more and more is becoming cinematical in its own right. When you're adapting a novel or even a comic book there are elements that are exciting because its source material either exists in a completely mental realm or at least a 2-D, soundless realm. Adapting a complex video game who may make up for its sub-par story and cutscenes with excellent gameplay is difficult, if not impossible.

2010s: Persians!?
So, here we are. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) is a really well done video game. It's well done, however because of the aforementioned cinematic quality. It's scope is huge, gameplay intriguing and characters compelling. As I've postulated this entire post, all this seems to point towards the failure of its adaptability rather than success.

It's funny though, as it seems like the producers are stars are well-aware of this fact. This of course makes their imminent failure slightly more painful. They are trying so hard not to make just another shitty video game movie. At any rate though, this is definitely more Tomb Raider than Hitman. Whether or not it has some genuine action and drama as well as finding something interesting to do with the video game's time-dagger gimmick we'll find out. Gyllenhaal already looks painfully miscast, though and any semblance of plot from the trailers is indiscernible. Also we can talk about Mike Newell turning the best Harry Potter novel into the worst Harry Potter film somehow.

In the end, this still has a good chance to be the greatest video game movie ever made, if only because the two decades prior have thrown so much shit into the wind. I guess we'll just have to find out. At any rate this film's success, critically, commercially as well as how well it adapts its source material, should determine the path of video games as they become even more immersive in the next decade. They've always got some potential, but the mediums at this point seem incompatible.

25 May 2010

First Impressions: MacGruber!!!


One of the most hotly anticipated films of summer, MacGruber (2010) was an epic international cinematic event this past weekend. Literally hundreds flocked to the theaters to see this amazing accomplishment of film. Alright so it was basically pretty shitty even for an SNL movie and about guaranteed another decade absence of that brand from the multiplex. It's not entirely with failure, however and today I'll seek to prove that. Spoilers abound, but who cares:

The key to MacGruber should have been its parodic element. While I already discussed in detail the merits of transforming this sketch into a full length film, the end take was a direction altogether different from the source material. Stay with me here-

The film sought to be this simultaneous satire of both 80s Action Films and contemporary Action Films. The outrageousness of the film certainly met this end in some respects, but in actuality the film is simply far too stupid to have any part of it taken seriously. If you take a film like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) or even Hot Fuzz (2007), the intelligent writing, plot structure and metanarrative belays the film's true intention as parody rather than genre entry. MacGruber never pulls this off exactly - its certainly pretty funny, but too scattered, overly-fast paced, predictable and generally dumb for filmgoers to get any real meaning or smart satire out of it.

But I do think it was pretty funny, I barely stopped laughing the whole time, from the first drawn-out "MacGruber" theme to his sleeveless Monk training and questionable homophobia, MacGruber is consistently hilarious (although this probably has more to do with my own moronic personal tastes than good humour, I mean, I proudly own Deep Blue Sea [1999] on DVD). There is so much awesome crammed into these 88-minutes which should certainly read to our contemporary tastes rather than what we think of the 1980s (see also, Hot Tub Time Machine [2010]). There's a lot set up though, and I could see jokes coming from far away. I don't normally say this about movies because usually I actually can't predict jokes or set-pieces at all, but I could see everything that was going to happen in this one. That's just how predictable this thing is.

There's no modesty and the film pulls no punches. Which is sweet. It's a great entry to that R-Rated Canon of late, the comedies that really seek to go as far as they can to twist and frighten its loyal audiences. The sex scenes were graphic and disturbing (apparently they filmed it on Kristen Wiig's birthday). And it's safe to say that I'll never really look at celery the same again.

Do you want to talk about the characters? I guess, I dunno. It doesn't really matter. Most of the cast does a decent enough job. Ryan Philippe sells his straight man role pretty well but isn't really given anything to do other than...well get the actual job done. Val is fat, old and doesn't chew the scenery as much as he should have. Wiig is back in that subtly funny mode from Knocked Up (2007) and Adventureland (2009) and the rest are pretty ok. But really, this film is MacGruber's.

One thing I liked a lot actually was that that was his only name. Never given a first or last, never referred to by anything else, he is forever simply...MacGruber. Forte really hasn't had any kind of leading man experience and it's sad that the current crop of SNL dudes have about this and Hot Rod (2007) to their name. That's pretty rough. Forte is a thorough and merciless MacGruber, though and say what you want, he does a Cage-like job of selling this character to the max. The whoring, the desperation, the wienering-out of things, the crying, it's all there, paid in full. There really is this intense commitment to stupidity there that in some way is respectable.

The final bomb scene, identical to how the actual skits lay out was necessary. It was actually kind of cool, it's like "This is what usually leads into that Control Room Scenario," the entirely of the MacGruber Mission. Other than that, there's really not that much more here. We could probably get a bit more in-depth with the character of MacGruber, representative of American masculine overcompensation, insecurity and violent wish-fulfillment, but that would certainly be boring -- just simply not the MacGruber way.

God live America.

24 May 2010

Summer Jam 2010: May 24 Winners

Week 2 of our Summer Jam tracking and there hasn't been much mix-up for the top three, but there's some shifts with the rest of the crowd. Trying to add a bit more non-Pop genres here that are looking pretty popular and indicative regardless of this wonderful Summer of 2010. Here we go:

#8: "Airplanes" - B.o.B. ft. Haley Williams

This is pretty new and just breaking but may make some waves in a couple weeks. It's got a lot of drama for a summer song and isn't really catchy and singable enough to be that worthy of a Summer Jam. B.o.B. does a worse job laying down hot spit on this than "Nothing on You," although the Haley soothing vocals are haunting. Summer's not for haunting though. Loosen up, kids.

#7: "Lay Me Down" - The Dirty Heads ft. Rome

This track is a spiritual successor to Sublime in every possible way and feels instantly like a summer song. It's such a mellow, meandering song that seems to belong in the mid-90s instead of early 2010s. It's a great lounging beer sipping song and its summer positioning at this point has only to do with respective popularity.

#6: "My Chick Bad" - Ludacris ft. Nicky Minaj

This track is pretty old but I feel like I saw the vid and heard it everywhere this week for some reason. It's still doing well on the Rap and R&B charts (who decides what genre these songs are, anyway?). It is a fantastic song off a fantastic album and both Nicky and Luda deserve a good summer song, but this won't be it. It's inflated presence this week was more exception than standard.

#5: "Your Love is My Drug" - Ke$ha

After another week of being inundated with this song I've come to realise how formulaic this track's lyrical structure is compared to some other more varied tracks like "Imma Be" or "Alejandro," even "OMG." It follows a very specific pattern and feels much more Pop-ey than even "Tik Tok" or "Blah Blah Blah." There's a focused chorus, hook and moaning chicky tuning. It's not nearly as edgy as some of Ke$ha's other stuff and ends up reading as a weird High School Crush song rather than feminine empowerment. Regardless it gets the spot it deserves.

#4: "Break your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris

I do still love Luda's contribution to this song, but its Electronica influences are also still irritating. It's getting pretty popular but until I hear it every time I step into my car or FYE it'll remain here.

#3: "OMG" - Usher ft. will.i.am

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but I don't think it's really as ubiquitous as that yet. Listening to this thing over and over by now, I'm starting to really like the slow build up of this song - it's a good pump up. There's always new wrinkles added to the beat that keeps increasing as the song goes along. It's pretty generic lyrically and its title capitalises on LOLspeak, which is awesome but the next step here, Usher, is to sing the entire song like you're typing on AIM. C'mon.

#2. "Nothing on You" - B.o.B ft. Bruno Mars

Little shake up here for the top two, "Nothing on You" is certainly still everywhere (Literally this week it was the last song I heard when I turned my car off and the first song playing when I came back two hours later) but I believe the wave is starting to crest and its starting to tip just a bit in favour of the Barbados Chick.

#1. "Rude Boy" - Rihanna

Is this Rihanna's second year as Summer Queen? It's looking like it right now, although like Baseball the season's young and the Nationals haven't even called up Strasburg yet. Anything can happen. Man this song is irritating and I actually don't consider the beat or chorus that interesting or catchy to really prove itself over the long term.

So that's it for this week. GaGa is getting pretty close but I need to be hearing "Alejandro" at least 7 times a day to consider it, also look at Drake and Katy Perry getting their own.

Also, that Eminem song sucks.

21 May 2010

MacGruber and its Place Among the SNL Pantheon

Ah the SNL movie. Of all the spin-off television films, are there any as great? Hell no. Today we see the premiere of MacGruber (2010), another incredible entry into an already impressive line-up. Okay, well maybe not, but I'll defend some of these films more than most. We haven't had an SNL film in quite a few years but this is certainly looking to make up for that.

There was this weird period in the 1990s when just about any sketch that kind-of took off could seemingly be translated into a full-length film. Check out this list right here. With hindsight, it's easy to see what worked and what didn't immediately. Could you have predicted that the Wayne's World's (1992) ode to Metal and Meta would be such an instantaneous hit? Then again, it's the same kind of schtick that fueled Mike Myers' later films in the decade. At the same time you'd think the gender intrigue behind It's Pat (1994) would have had a better storyline. Right. I'll defend a trio of Will Ferrell's greatest supporting character roles in A Night at the Roxbury (1998), Superstar (1999) and The Ladies Man (2000) (the latter I think is one of SNL's best films...for what that's worth). He is really pretty awesome when he goes nuts and supports the story rather than carries it, which is a testament to his talent.

Let's get back on track. SNL in the past decade has been on and off at best. They lack a "glue," someone who can keep the sketches and people together. It's the anchor. Phil Hartman filled this role in the late 80s and early 90s, later Ferrell took the mantle. After his departure however it has been difficult to find that actor to latch on to. Andy Samberg has submitted some of the best work in the past five years although primarily through Digital Shorts, which takes a whole third out of Saturday Night Live. Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader are probably the closest males to this position, but it has been Kristen Wiig who makes the bad sketches work.

This is pretty convenient. You can easily see the widely varying degrees of quality (my best props to the "Twilight with Frankensteins" (S35;E5), "Vincent Price's Christmas Special (S35;E10) and of course, "Potatoe Chip" (S35;E8). Also honourable mention to "Flags of the World" (S35;E15) and "Rahm Emanuel" (S35;E14). There, did all the work for you - go watch those sketches and come back, that's about all the good this season amounts to). We could elaborate on the meaning of these sketches (man, the "Twilight Frankenstein" is so dead-on! Taylor Swift is perfect! And "Potatoe Chip" reeks of some unseen, permeating brilliance) So the show has clearly lost some magic somehow, what is the value in tuning in?

Saturday Night Live has an astounding ability to channel the pulse of the nation. It's rapid turn around and immediate production allow it to capture zeitgeist literally like no other major television show, film, music or video game (Maybe Best Week Ever comes close (wait, is that show still on?), but that's more of a regurgitation. SNL serves as a sardonic running commentary on pop culture that elucidates a deeper meaning than just reporting what happened. It reports the feelings - what IS happening. Whoooooa.

So all of this leads to "MacGruber." What the hell we needed minute-long MacGyver sketches on primetime television, who knows, but he's actually somehow turned out to be the best (read: only good) recurring SNL character of past decade. Will Forte plays the hapless MacGruber, who tends to fail at his job a lot. Considering his job is defusing bombs, this really isn't a good thing. Picture a more carefree version of The Hurt Locker (2008). That's definitely what this film will be. For sure.

MacGruber works though, because its surface parody is just that - only surface deep (see also: The Venture Bros...yes I use them as examples for everything. Go watch that show). Take this clip:

The bomb is essentially almost a MacGuffin. It's completely irrelevant to the story and development of the characters (which they pull off within a minute's time). The sketch manages to unfold an identical driving incident that soon becomes completely unimportant to the narrative. Its only importance is ending the sketch quickly, a problem that has much plagued SNL writing.

We can crank these out all day, here are two more of my favourites. It's like the same principle that lets Kenny continue to die on South Park. It doesn't matter how they got in their locked-door bomb situation, how fast the 20-second time limit ticks or even what happens to the characters after the fatal explosion. The sketch has freed itself from all these typical logical constraints to provide for greater access to jokes, laughs as well as insight to a cultural perception that allows for ready acceptance of the characters and situation without need for backstory.

So, will any of this translate onto film? By all accounts everything that has made the sketch great is impossible to replicate in an 88-minute medium. From what I've read the film seems to be taking a more meta route parodying 80s action films in general (can we examine the 2010 interpretation of the 1980s through this film, Hot Tub Time Machine [2010] and The A-Team [2010]? Future times, baby). Should it work? Is Val Kilmer still a tub of lard? Luckily we'll find out the answers to both these incredibly pressing questions tonight. It should be a fun ride at least and if prior SNL movies are any indication, a breed of uncanny stupidity unparalleled in modern film.

Can't wait.

17 May 2010

Summer Jam 2010: May 17 Winners

Until I get bored with it, at the start of every week this summer we'll be showcasing the hottest Summer Tracks of the previous week. This is basically comprised from close examination of a couple Billboard Charts, Local Pop Stations and my own esteemed personal judgment of Jam-Worthy Tunes. My only real goal is to absolutely bury this obscure online journal. Thus, I give you the Top 8 Summer Jam 2010 Songs for the Week of May 7th to the 14th.

#8. "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum

This song I think crested its overplayed status a few weeks ago but is still generally pretty strong. Good enough for #8 because it's still on air everywhere. It's generally a perfect weird drunken hook-up / regret / drama song or something, should go well with the Graduation / Prom Season then fade after that.

#7. "In my Head" - Jason Derulo

Jason Derulo sucks, but his input in this song is marginally better than his input in "Whatcha Say" (although Imogen Heap's input is far better). Anyway, this ranking feels about right, it's a quasi-catchy dance number but definitely not worth the covetous title of King of Summer Jam.

#6. "Break Your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris

This is by far one of the most irritating Pop songs to come out in the past year. Probably because the Miley has been light as of late. Ludacris' spot is tight, but I keep thinking of either chickens ("bok bok bok bok bok your heart!") or something like, "break break your fart," which pleases me on many levels. But it's pretty instantaneously catchy and if it's not in your head yet, turn on any radio and it soon will be.

#5. "Naturally" - Selena Gomez & the Scene

This song also seems to be on the up, but I've a feeling this is as far as its up will go. We'll see. Think of her as Mexican Miley Cyrus but somehow with less singing credentials.

#4. "Your Love is My Drug" - Ke$ha

I'm looking at Ke$ha's diminishing returns the past couple months. "Tik Tok" was a monster hit, "Blah Blah Blah" was ok and by the time "Your Love is My Drug" has hit us we're like "So, you're pretty trashy. What else ya got?" This is rolling out the same shit and in doing so won't last too much longer.

#3. "OMG" - Usher ft. will.i.am

This was a big week for Da Ush, jumping pretty high on the charts as well as a pretty sudden increase in radio play. This is certainly not the last we've heard of this guy, although I'm surprised "Dick Ridin' Obama" hasn't done as well...

#2. "Rude Boy" - Rihanna

This is fucking everywhere. This will be around for a while and feels more like classic "Um--br--rr--rrella--ella" Rihanna than her other recent stuff. Its subject matter seems decidedly feminine-empowering and anti-gangsta when examined closely (can you blame her? That's going to be on Wikipedia FOREVER). The vocals alone are silky and bouncy enough to keep this song engaged for a good while.

#1. "Nothing on You" - B.o.B. ft. Bruno Mars

I actually like this song, which is unfortunate because its severely overplayed already. In fact, the nuttiness of this song leaves little hope for its ability to carry out the rest of the summer. Enjoy it while you can, for now it's Top Dog.

So that's this week's update on Pop Shit. What have we learned? Well, nothing really, but a few of these tracks are close to decent, so that's something. What happened to rock? Well, it's pretty much out of here (if you haven't paid attention for the last 30 years), but keep waiting for Drake, GaGa and even maybe a little Eminem to cut it up next week.

And with any luck, The Black Eyed Peas will stay down for the count.

14 May 2010

Trends: Robin Hood, the Alamo and Our Bizarre need for Historical Accuracy, 2004 - Present

This has bothered me ever since the first trailer for Robin Hood (2010) came out. The whole advertising campaign brands this thing as a wholly "untold story" presenting a very realistic version of the Man in Tights. What the hell? It's all grimy and bloody and intense. I was pretty miffed by the whole thing until I started opening my horizon a bit and noticed that this trend extends far beyond the Merrie Men. This is a big trend of the past decade, and if 'Hood's success will be any indication, this decade as well. Let's call it Needless Historical Accuracy.

Let's go way back. Commentators on Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) remark that part of the reason the absurd humour works is due to the intense realism of the scenes. Think of the "Bring Out Your Dead" scene. How dirty and miserable that is. The bizarre jokes provide a higher contrast and thus a greater laughing jolt. But we're getting off point, the reason I mention this at all is that the level of realism in scenes like that is equal (or surpasses) many of the films I'm about to mention. Just let that sit a minute.

A friend of mine (you can read him here actually) recently pointed out the differences between the original version of The Alamo (1960) with John Wayne and the more recent "retelling" of the battle with Dennis Quaid (2004). The first film was notable for terrible historical inaccuracies, liberties regarding the premise and causes for battle and generally glorifying American Manifest Destiny attitudes. The second film, while attempting to rectify some of these problems, still had its share of inaccuracy, but purported itself as superior to its predecessor based on its strive for greater realism, both with the battle effects and attention to History.

But The Alamo (2004) is a worse film than The Alamo (1960). Thus we need to ask ourselves: Does greater realism provide for a better movie?* Why bother at all? I remember another 2004 film, King Arthur, which had virtually an identical ad campaign as Robin Hood (plus a blue Kiera Knightly for some reason). Just look at that. The King Arthur media campaign touted the film as the "REAL" story of King Arthur, literally "The Truth behind the Legend!" But of course, try as they might, there really is NO unifying story of King Arthur and his Roundtable, moreover just a wide collection of legends and stories concerning the mythical king. While some Historians for some reason actually defended the research in the film it's stunningly clear that even if the story was remotely true, it remains one of many versions of the legend, all considered legitimate in different circles (side note: while researching this post I found a great piece of King Arthur's marketing program on Wikipedia - take a look).

This trend however, certainly does not extend only to historical epics. The two biggest Superhero films of the past few years have succeeded exactly because of the amount of real they have injected into their respective universes. I speak of the Batman "Nolanverse" as well as the Iron Man franchise. I've already written a bit about how "real world" Iron Man (2008) was (trial and error creation of a suit based on possible technology, fighting ACTUAL American enemies in the Global War on Terror, later in Iron Man 2 [2010] Stark's dealing with some factual political and personal consequences of his reckless actions in the first film). In fact, the largest extrusion of major villain the Mandarin in Part 3 is the fact that his main magic power doesn't click with the establishment of the universe in the real world. Jon Favreau even seems to assume his background will need to be shifted to accommodate his acceptability (some of this is dependent on how Thor [2011] is both treated and received by audiences).

Both Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) succeeded because of their emphasis on a gritty reality that they simultaneously made palatable to audiences. This style has been attempted again and again to lesser effect. Fans now desire villains that could exist in the real world, or at least a realistic treatment of the fantastic. Villains like Killer Croc, Clayface or even The Ventriloquist are certainly out of the question for future Nolan films (meh, they all kind of suck anyway), but even something that barely stretches the imagination like Poison Ivy or Bane would certainly be out (wait...that's probably a good thing...). It's not necessarily filmmakers fault at all, but it seems as though fans want this real-world treatment in order to accept the story. It's bizarre really.

Even the Good Unfunny Comedy I delved into last month tends to show more realistic reactions to situations and violence than prior years' films have done. Let's expand further to incorporate the documentary-style shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation (or just go straight to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [2006] to prove my point).

What did we start this with? Robin Hood? Right. There's no fucking untold story of Robin Hood. The only untold story is some story that some other Hollywood film or TV show hasn't mentioned. Which, if you have a brain you can figure out is any story anybody just makes up about Robin Hood. Men in Tights (1993), THAT was an untold story about Robin Hood. The Crowe Robin Hood may in fact be a very good film, Ridley Scott, if judgment of Robin Hood's trailer is any indication, certainly appears to know how to rip off his own good films. Its marketing is hokey though, and its place within the Needless Historical Accuracy films that place an over-reliance on realism should be assured.

Hey and you heard it here - I warned you guys.


*I'll immediately say a big yes if the film is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) which is a fantastic film (deserved to be on this list) and is supposedly incredibly accurate according to the historical figures' descendants.

13 May 2010

Profiles: Tony Stark - Visionary or Asshole?

After we've spent some time examining the nature of Iron Man 2 this week, today we're focusing in on one particular character, the most important character in the franchise really, Anthony Edward Stark. He's touted as a former boy genius, visionary and radical developer of technology both in the films and comics. His advances have aided both worlds in revolutionising almost everything we know about Defense, energy systems and health care. Is he really a great man with a few slight character defects and a drinking problem though? I think his assholery goes far beyond that. We'll start by comparing and contrasting both the film vs. comic incarnations.

To update any of you who have been away from Marvel Comics for a while, Tony Stark is basically a giant breathing douche. Starting around the Civil War Crossover in 2006 he's been an asshole for a number of reasons. Basically the war started over controversy concerning the Superhuman Registration Act, enacted after the effects of M-Day (Feel free to waste an afternoon on this shit). The purpose of the act was that all superpowered beings were forced to register as "human weapons of mass destruction," in doing so giving up their secret identities as well as becoming subservient to government interests instead of their own. As you can guess, about half the marvel universe vehemently opposed the act, while the other half (lead by Tony) vehemently attempted to enforce it.

So let's get into this: Iron Man is unique among heroes that his alter ego and true identity are synonymous. He says this to some extent in Iron Man 2 at the Senate Sub-Committee hearing, that the suit and he are one. Stark's personal life is not destroyed by the general public's knowledge of his crime-fighting. In fact, it's propagated by it. We could compare this to someone like Peter Parker, whose personal life falls apart when his secret identity is revealed and he is forced to register. Thus when we examine Stark's intensity it's important to incorporate the how easy it was for him to become this governmental weapon rather than go up in arms about it.

This is of course in contrast to the film in which the United States government demands control of the Iron Man Suit and Stark refuses in favour of "World Peace Privatization." Even with this, it's simple to see the governmental connections being made far easier than someone like Spider-Man or Ghost Rider. Yeah. At its core, Iron Man is an essentially conservative superhero.

The whole driving force behind Civil War was this freedom vs. security debate. Iron Man lead the Security charge, recognizing the necessity behind registration while simultaneously fueling his own ego and shifting Marvel's power base into his favour. Thus we can ask ourselves whether it was from selfishness or an ideology that caused his conservative stance? Captain America, embodying very liberal American ideals, personified the Freedom standpoint - this is anti-Patriot Act stuff, independence and choice over control and regulation.

It's possible to read this in an opposite way. Republicans favour small government, Democrats want government to supply everything. This is one reason why the Iron Man films read so conservatively. Stark is a fan of limited government that does not interfere with his business. As Landon Palmer mentions in this article, both films are basically War on Terror wish fulfillment (actual success through superior weaponry, actually being greeted as "liberator"). Stark is also highly individualistic and exceptional. There is no part of him that seeks economic (or even superhero) parity at all. As I mentioned in my Impressions, as well as io9 agrees, there's also the fact that Iron Man actually saves very little people. The relative scope of the films are very limited. The stakes are low, in both films the primary conflict boils down to a villain who has a personal grudge against Tony. Tony must save Tony. It's complete narcissism and ego.

Now let's talk comics. After Captain America was killed, Iron Man secured his victory in the Civil War and was able to tighten his grip on the Marvel World. You can see his desperation and conflict of interest in his Mighty Avengers, particularly the inclusion of Ares. In simplest terms, think of the Mighty Avengers as the remnants of Iron Man's Security-obsessed Conservative Patriot Act side of the Civil War, and the New Avengers (including Wolverine, Spider-Man and Luke Cage) lead by Dr. Strange as the remaining heroes hiding underground trying to honour the memory of Captain America and resist assimilation into the Iron Man's new rigid structure.

Back to Ares. Ares is literally the Olympian God of War, he's a total badass insane combination of Wolverine and Thor (literally according to Stark's rationale for recruitment). I struggle believing that the inclusion of Ares in the Mighty Avengers was a move that aided the aims of the United States Government. I believe it was a Machiavellian move that instead aided the aims of Tony Stark. It's Stark's quick answer to a team of Dr. Strange, Wolverine and Spider-Man, among others. He sells out. In fact, Ares later joined the Dark Avengers under Norman Osborn.

Speaking of that douchebag, let's compare Stark's career here with the Iron Patriot. Osborn at a point after the Secret Invasion (Stark was completely humiliated and dethroned after it was revealed that the Skrulls had secretly taken control of many of Earth's heroes, just so ya know, then Osborn stepped in and took over). Osborn, though clearly batshit insane, was able to play on American desires and nostalgia to create the Iron Patriot persona. You can seem him earlier in this post. Lookin' slick. At the same time though, this is what Stark needed. It's the line between government transparency and plain deviousness. How far are these businessmen willing to go in order to foster an image that will sustain the support of the American Public? It's entirely what Stark played up during the Civil War - using American fears of Superpowered Humans to support his own agenda. If there was any doubt to Stark's honourable intentions, just watch below how self-serving this guy is:

So at this point, from a film context, how do we possibly relate to this man? After thinking for a while I've come to the conclusion that it's basically Downey's charm and innate ability to somehow carry an entire film on his back (See also Surecock Holmes). Stark constantly fights hard for privatisation, non-governmental interference in citizen affairs and property and American defense specifically against Terrorist organisations. Stark's literary counterpart is similar in ideology in that he wishes to protect citizen affairs by issuing greater transparency by extending government control and inherent public ownership towards the Superhero world with a constant appeal towards the fears that Republicans have preyed on since Bush was elected to our nation's highest office.

This Iron Man is looking at some redemption after a few years now of being the biggest asshole in the Marvel Universe through both the upcoming Siege and Heroic Age storylines, the latter of which will see his reuniting with both Thor and Captain America. How they will assimilate their ideologies I have no fucking idea, but basically it seems like Stark's topple off the tower of power snapped some sense into him and he's stopped acting like as much of a jackass.

10 May 2010

More First Impressions: Iron Man Deux

Welcome to the second installment of my Iron Man 2 (2010) Impressions. I've actually seen the film twice in three days now so these might as well by my Second Impressions. Anywho, I focused on a lot of big picture stuff last time around as well as a good look into Stark himself. Today I'm babbling about some of the side characters as well as the film's integral place in Marvel's long term plans.

A Hammeroid Problem:

Let's start with the best non-Downey actor in this film, Sam Rockwell as rival weapons developer Justin Hammer. He's awesome, and his list of awesome films has steadily been growing (somehow still under the radar) in the past decade (he's the best part of Galaxy Quest [1999] and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [2005] and one of many good parts of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind [2002], The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007] and Frost/Nixon [2008] as well as of course, the only part of Moon [2009] which should be considered any actor's Opus). Enough rambling about his resume, though, he's a great part of this film.

I think almost every blog and review I've read so far has mentioned his dance, and it does rule. Just prior to his Stark Expo unveiling the little jig is pretty awesome and his lack of laughs for his terrible joke ("The papers will face a new problem. They are going to run out of ink!" ooohh boy Justin...) is pretty good too. Besides these fun little quirks there's a lot of greatness to this character. His petty squabbling with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is pretty hilarious (they totally have the makings of a classic comedy teams - hey oh!) but he's also got this darkness to him.

I want to point out a similarity between Hammer and Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter Franchise. Stay with me now, I went into this pretty heavily here, but let's rehash a bit: I characterized Malfoy as this brat who always felt he was entitled to Destiny but never really did anything to deserve it. This fueled his jealousy and hatred of Harry Potter. Hammer is the same way. He despises Stark because he desperately wants to be Stark, the problem is that he kind of sucks at it. Stark is charming and holds the crowd in is palm, Hammer makes awkward dances and jokes that fall flat. Stark gets the girl while Hammer fumbles. Stark's tech works, Hammer's pride and glory, the "Ex-Wife" is a dud. The thing is that Hammer is trying really hard to stay in competition, ultimately he fails because he sells out to someone he shouldn't have trusted (Vanko). Whereas I mentioned Stark's outstanding moral fiber last post (which I boiled down to he generally doesn't want to kill anybody), Hammer clearly has no such scruples, rushing testing of unfinished products leading to hazardous pilot conditions, breaking violent criminals out of prison to meet his own ends and it's even a good slice of his character when he calls Gwyneth and Scarlett Jo "bitches" under his breath. This is where he fails but he can never understand that, all he sees is himself coming up short and Stark showing off. The clip above actually does a good job demonstrating this.

Stiff Acting 101:

So Rockwell as Hammer is awesome. Everyone else sucks. Terrence Howard could have done a lot more with the War Machine role than Don Cheadle did. Cheadle is absolutely stiff and just goes through the motions until he's allowed a few loose one-liners towards the end. There's a lot more intensity to all of Howard's performances and I'm not sold on Cheadle as this disciplined Fighter Pilot that can still kick back some beers with his buddy, Tony.

Scarlett Jo is horrendously bland. I feel like some of this was intentional, as even Stark a few times comments on how hard it is to get a read on her because she's so unbelievably uninteresting. I mean, the boobs are there and big and that's pretty cool but there's nothing really she offers that's upstanding. Her boss, Sam Jackson is basically playing Sam Jackson, nothing really new in that run-around. And then Paltrow is really barely given anything to do, she runs the company with supposed incompetence that Bill O'Reilly tells us but we never really see, then is kind of rushed into a romance with Stark that I thought the entire first film was supposed to be building to.

But let's talk Happy Hogan, I loved that Favreau gave himself some stuff to do. His one fight scene was pretty entertaining and his job as a bodyguard / driver (yes, to Iron Man) seemed more defined this time around. It's great that the director allowed both Scarlett Jo and Downey to kick his ass in the boxing ring. Fun stuff.

The Unsurpassed Future of Marvel Films:

This is pretty exciting and if Iron Man 2 did anything, it's laid the groundwork for a lot of other films. Soon Marvel will be at the forefront of a series of interconnected movies unlike any other in history. Nick Fury should be the common thread in many, but there's some not-so-subtle hints at both Captain America and Thor iconography as well as a bunch of map images, some of which are described accurately and inaccurately here (my only beef is that the Europe Circle is clearly around Norway which hints at Asgard more than anything else).

It's really cool and when it's all over there should be at least seven non-sequel films that take place within the same universe (Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk [2008], Thor [2011], Captain America: The First Avenger [2011], and The Avengers [2012], plus a probable Iron Man 3 [2012]) which is pretty sweet. What will be most difficult is the merging of the many different tones in all these films. For instance, the inclusion of the major villain, the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 will likely be predicated by the heavy inclusion of magic in Thor. Otherwise it is difficult to accept a magical villain in a world that so far has been based (relatively) heavily in the real world (see also my take on Iron Man's politics in my last post as well as its reliance on possible technology over the truly outlandish). Even the contrasting directorial styles of Favreau and Kenneth Branagh is pretty interesting. Basically, this could be the most awesome series of films in history or come together as a big stinking pile of shit. Stay tuned and find out, baby.

By the Way, the Ending Sucked:

I feel like a lot of these impressions have probably left you with the impression that I thought this was a really great film, which actually isn't really true at all. While Iron Man 2 is a lot of fun with some cool character development and great acting out of Downey (who is somehow great at playing eccentric geniuses - how awesome is that?) and Rockwell, overall honestly, the film wasn't that great. In fact, it really wasn't even that exciting or thrilling, certainly nothing was really shocking or something i hadn't seen before. I'll contrast this with two films from last year, the first being Star Trek (2009) which had some incredible sequences that were literally edge-of-your seat moments and things I had never seen before. Finally, I have to admit that Transformers: Revenge of the Explosion (2009) at least had a ton of inspirational (if not ultimately hollow) moments a long with these giant set pieces and scope that elevated the picture from a film to an experience.

Iron Man 2 lacks this WOW factor. There's hardly a scene that's like "WOW! LOOK AT THAT!" The final battle between Iron Man, War Machine and a shitload of pissed off Robots comes close, but somehow I'd say there was even more drama when Jetfire gave up his spark to Optimus so he could defeat Megatron and The Fallen. Yes, I just wrote that. Optimus at this point is at least fighting for something. Stark and Rhodes at that point are fighting only to save themselves. That the key, as I said before, they're not saving anything.

The battle's also pretty rushed (wtf Deus Ex Machina Gloves?) and even when big bitch Whiplash touches down it's over really quickly with kind of a "meh" feeling (I'll actually chastise Star Trek for a similar anti-climatic ending and killing of the Big Bad Over here is a pretty good review that sums up a lot of similar feelings on this ending and the film in general.

09 May 2010

First Impressions: Iron Man Dos

The Summer Season is officially upon us! Iron Man 2 (2010) kicked it off spectacularly, giving moviegoers a lot of what they should expect of this ridiculous season. The film is not without its problems but I'll maintain it contains many elements superior to its predecessor and other elements that continues the Iron Man Franchise's elevation over other Comic Adaptations. SPOILERS probably abound so let's get this thing going:

Thematic and Political Divergences from Iron Man (2008):

This sequel was in many ways everything you could expect from a big franchise sequel. The locations were vast and varied (without resorting to China...oh wait that's for the threequel...I'm serious.) The action scenes are more intense (I might argue with myself on this one, nothing in Iron Man 2 is more intense than the initial desert attack that wounds Stark in the first place), more explosions, more characters, more everything. The story is much heavier in its material (drinking, daddy issues, back-breaking competition) and there's a lot more at stake in Stark's world personally and physically.

The first Iron Man should always seem like a staple of its time. It's one of the only superhero films to deal with Real Global Issues. Spider-Man and Batman seem to continually work on fighting petty crime and saving their own neighborhoods, and while Superman probably comes closest to saving the world, Luthor's plans are always fantastic enough to defy plausibility. Really only Iron Man is going out and battling the terrorists and other evil regimes in an effort to attain real world peace. It places Marvel's developing universe (more on that later) in a real-world context which is really cool. After all, Iron Man is the truest American hero. Maybe not (Real quick, can anyone picture Willem Dafoe in Iron Suit Armour? Yeah...). Truly though, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the epitome of the American Dream and not only that, he goes out to the worst parts of the globe and does something about it.

The first film however features most of that. Iron Man 2 while still featuring a variety of locations (Russia briefly, Monaco...Flushing, NY) lacks the Clash of Civilisations or the anti-terrorism in favour of more domestic villains and situations. It's a deeper look into Stark as a character and actually doesn't have a single scene of Iron Man saving innocents from muggers (you can't really picture him in a dark alley, can you?) or saving villages. In fact, the only saving he does comes near the end, and that's even more convoluted (Ivan Vanko [Mickey Rourke] only wanted collateral damage to tarnish Stark's Legacy and Stark himself, not civilians was his main target).

This film also lacks the majority of Iron Man's major moral issue, the whole idea that Stark's Weapons put innocents in harm's way instead of saving them (with Vanko's rogue tech you could argue this is still an implicit theme). The business plan of Stark Enterprises was hardly addressed, in fact it is more difficult this time around to ascertain Stark's motivation other than saving his own life (Another burden he places only on himself, more on that stuff later). I'm glad the film didn't retread too many old routes and it certainly has enough packed in to allow for the exemption of Stark's actual lack of heroism. In fact, that's probably a benefit for the overarching message.

Alcohol, Character and The Superhero Type:

At the end of the first film during a press conference Stark states "I'm just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public." He's very right. The most interesting scene in the film by far is Tony's Birthday. It recreates in part a comic book moment in which Stark gets in the Iron Man Suit completely hammered off his ass, clearly a terrible decision. It's easy to speculate on the reasons for his alcoholism. Stark is a man who has to do everything to the highest degree. He works extremely hard, runs his business hard and parties hard. He has to be the best. It's the pressure that he puts on himself that both leads him to drink to cope with said pressure and to show everyone that he's always the life of the party.

His expectations of himself are astounding. It's easy to see him get lost in himself while simultaneously believing himself better than that. The best small moment is after he fights Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and screams at all his guests who have quickly gone from having a good time (c'mon - how often do you get to get drunk with Iron Man?) to realising that this is not a good thing that is happening (the whole scene including the music selections has a very weird tone which I actually believe is pretty appropriate, it's somewhere between "this is cool action and goofy" and "this is seriously wrong, not in a funny way"). There's this moment where you can tell he's helpless. His ego is too huge to change and even though he knows he's fucked up at this point he refuses to back down. It's the man who truly has everything or nothing. It's a character burdened by every kind of pressure - global superhero, playboy billionaire and eccentric genius all in one. Iron Man 2 dares us to question how this man would party hard and asks us what kind of integrity our superheroes should be made from.

Rhodes tells him he doesn't deserve to wear the suit. Stark's a fool and a waste of talent. What gives him the authority to be our protector? That's what Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Senator Stern (Larry Sanders) and Vanko agree on. For a moment it's not only his rogues, as Rhodes agrees as well. Stark always wants to be everything though (as he says in the first film regarding his missile, "Why not both?") and sees no problem being both the superhero and general jackass that he is. Rhodes is military, he's disciplined, loyal and upstanding. He's the kind of classic character that should be entrusted with world security. While Stark in the big picture has outstanding moral fiber (that is like...he doesn't kill people I guess), his personal life is a mess. The question raised of the character and honour integral to wearing the colours is interesting.

It was Always You, Rusty:

I need to point this out right now. Is not the Tony and Howard Stark relationship virtually identical to Jonas and Rusty Venture? I mean, come on, the genius neglectful father, the son looking up him but never proving himself, death under mysterious circumstances and possible conspiracy - it goes on and on. Both Jonas Venture and Howard Stark had their hands in advanced technology while simultaneously fulfilling 1960s and 70s swinger stereotypes (props to getting John Slattery by the way). Whereas both their deaths and how much they meant to their respective universes is still murkey, Howard Stark at least has directly acknowledged that he is still trying to help is son and though cold when alive, did love little Tony.

Once again, I have run out of room but still have more ramblings. Stay tuned for Part Dos of Iron Man Dos when I'll talk about some of the non-Downey actors as well as this film's place in the emerging Age of Marvel Universe films. This universe actually has a name in Marvel Continuity - Earth-199999. Tight.

The Long Halloween: Mother's Day

Today's edition of The Long Halloween, our year-long look at the best Holiday Television Specials focuses on one for all those very special mothers out there. This took some thinking, but in the end, the choice for the Greatest Mother's Day Television Episode Ever was simple. For grown women with grown women needs, it's "Motherlover."

From last year's standout SNL season, this episode (S34;E21) was one of the best. Let's talk about Timberlake for a second - this cat won an Emmy for hosting this particular episode, and he certainly deserved it. While many heterosexual American males may consider his music "whatever," his comedic talent has been emerging through this SNL outlet for the past couple years. Admittedly half of the his hilarity in something like "Dick in a Box" or "Motherlover" comes from the knee-jerk reaction of watching Timberlake send up his established persona.

Anyway, while the "Motherlover" Digital Short is really the only Mother's Day reference in the episode, it alone elevates the show to represent the whole holiday. It's got every necessary part of a Mother's Day celebration: 1) Forgetting the day and not getting a gift for Mom, 2) Breakfast in bed ("I'm gonna be the syrup, she can be my waffle!") and 3) Honouring those who gave us the gift of life by a good night of sexing right.

"Motherlover" is even funnier than "Dick in a Box" as well. The mutual pleasure the two actors get out of exploiting early 90s cheesey R&B is somehow pretty contagious. It's a nonstop assault of bizarre jokes that are pretty sexual without being really too blatant or dirty (despite the large amount of swears). The best parts really are JT macking on Sue Sarandon with mittens aflutter and then Samberg making sure that the picture of Timberlake can witness the lovemaking to his mother.

JT and Samberg do an especially good job of establishing character very well in a three-minute video. They have this very acute mixture of sleaze and earnestness that makes the video work. There's a bit of innocence to their plan, they genuinely would simply like to please their respective mothers after years of loneliness without sexual pleasure. They are after all, "so cool and thoughtful." So, for the perfect last-minute Mother's Day gift, there's nothing like becoming a buddy's Step-Father and makin' another brother in a brother's mother.

04 May 2010

On Pop Culture

I want to take a moment today and examine some of the foundations for this blog, that is some of my rationale and goals for both myself and you guys, the audience. With the Insanity of Summer looming over us sooner than ever, there comes a huge upswing of terrible, terrible pop culture. Everything fast, commercial and temporary about our culture and collective zeitgeist gets a nice big bowl of crack during the Sun Months, so I felt like this was a good time to preface my extended Pop Coverage with a bit of foreword if you will. Or perhaps a forewarning is more apt.

Let's begin by discussing the natures of Observed vs. Observing Consciousness. This appears in Georg Hegel's (1770 - 1831) Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and is applicable to many instances of culture. In essence, this is the idea that many people understand or express an opinion or ideology but lack the capacity to always articulate it as such. "Observed consciousness" refers to a form of consciousness that goes about its affairs in an unreflexive way - that is to say it lacks the perspective or conceptual tools to judge itself. "Observing consciousness" then refers to the philosopher (or blogger) which may therein provide the theoretical framework to explain the "observed consciousness" attitudes and beliefs.

Let's try to explain with a simple example: A little wiener baby wants a hot dog. It knows it wants a hot dog but lacks the ability to express itself adequately to its parents to demonstrate this want. So it cries and bitches till it gets what it wants. The baby is the "observed consciousness," and the parents who can read the kid's tantrum and pointing are the "observing consciousness." Get it? No? Good, let's move on and I'm applying this to Pop Culture.

I believe in an intake of all forms of Pop Culture, critically good, critically poor, shit aimed at tweens, at fogeys, everything. Everything has meaning. Even if that meaning is useless, there is a consciousness and reasoning behind every action, every song, TV show and film that comes out this Summer. Pop Culture is a means to understand the zeitgeist of our time period, the mental mindset of a people and their capacities, dreams, wants, needs and fears. Most of this however, is expressed through a massive amount of observed consciousness.

The subconscious motives of Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber are fascinating if their music is not. Wbereas they may lack the specific capability to express their own personal philosophy, it is possible to extract a philosophy through a careful examination of both their music and persona (that is, examining the differences between GaGa and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and the needs that cause those differences to arise) with a close eye towards both historical context and precedent. Due to Pop Culture's very nature, comprised of cutting edge broad mainstream media, it is a constant beneficial reflection on mass society and attitudes. Art has always been the key to the mental realm of a generation, just lately this Art has been Twilight and Superheroes.

Grand Admiral Thrawn understood this. Timothy Zahn established this as a crucial part of his educated character and brilliant command style in the first chapter of Heir to the Empire (1991), the first volume of the Thrawn Trilogy, probably the best of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (we might agree that it's the best story with a Star Wars label on it post-Jedi [1983]). I digress. Thrawn believed that if you understood a species' art, you understood the species. As art changes, we may observe shifts in consciousness of the species.

You can see this readily in Modern Art, due to rapid shifts in technology that contributed to constant shifts in generational attitudes (developing even more readily in recent years). Around the 19th-Century every generation lived drastically different than the generation before them for the first time in history. Thus instead of Century-long movements or topics as broad as "Greek Art" or "Roman Art," we have different movements every ten to twenty years, the span of which becomes more compressed into the echelons of the 20th-Century.

Impressionism is interesting to me. While it is a sure reaction to the glorified, perfect imagery of Baroque and Romanticism, it is also a testament to different ways of perceiving the universe around the artists. We started seeing the world faster. Trains and steamboats compressed the world, industry created rapid-moving machines and mechanisms, and finally cars and planes sped us up even more. The fast blurred strokes of Impressionist paintings are reminiscent of train rides or at least the idea that people could only see an image for a moment and then it would pass. We could even extrapolate this to the idea that life itself started moving faster, a fact that I already presented with the rapidisation of art movements themselves. As artists captured impressions of their subjects we can also infer to their mindset that was speeding up, taking the world in as only a brief moment or memory rather than a meditative, fantasized ideal.

Our current time period is no different. Pop culture belays this key to understand our own nature. This blog seeks to be "observing consciousness" and analyze the attitudes and beliefs that artists express without knowing it. I will not dismiss Pop Culture even at its most stupid, because it's the truth and we can never deny truth.

Even if truth is stupid.

01 May 2010

Super-Special Summer Wood Preview!

Boy oh boy!

The most exciting time of the year is upon us - good big dumb movies every weekend, happy jams outside in the park and skirts, oh the skirts go for miles and miles.

This summer is going to be a big one for Norwegian Morning Wood here, so today you're going to be treated to a little preview. Every week in the summer will contain at least three major posts (probably) - firstly, through May at least, there will be a long diatribe discussing cultural trends exhibited by whatever current film is coming out. Some of these include the prestige of Video Game movies to concur with Prince of Persia (2010) or the supererogatory accuracy of recent historical films like Robin Hood (2010).

You'll also be treated to in-depth impressions (for most of which I'll actually have seen the film!). Finally, we'll be keeping close eye on the race for the coveted King of Summer Jam 2010, to follow in the footsteps of such epic artists as Leona Lewis and the Black Eyed Peas. Will it be Jason Derulo? Or maybe Lady GaGa's latest crap? Stay tuned, dear readers for more intense previews of the candidates and how they may rise or fall each week.

Wa-hey! Happy Summer! Go booze outside!
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