26 July 2010

Summer Jam 2010: July 26 Winners

'Twas a big week for Pop Tracks across this great nation this week. There's some long-forgotten entries making a bit of a comeback, shifts in position around the rest of the board and finally a pretty big shake-up at the number one spot. Let's get into the action:

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

Back again after many many weeks off the list, this song has managed to leak into most Rock Lovers playlists and is certainly one of the greatest Summer Rock Songs to emerge in the past couple years. Actually, I'm not sure if we can consider it a "Rock" Track exactly, but whatever label you want to give it, Alt, Stoner-Rock, whatever, it rules. This is all over Facebook and Radio this week and so it fights back its spot. It really is a fantastic track.

#7: "Dynamite" - Taio Cruz

Holding strong amidst the competition, this is a great Summer Dance Number. It's advancing hard on the Billboard Charts but breaking the Top Three over there is going to be hard as hell. Taio Cruz had a pretty good hit with "Break Your Heart" earlier this summer but other than that he doesn't have nearly as much pedigree as Usher, Katy Perry or Eminem to challenge their top positions. Then again, "Break Your Heart" had a nice little run at #1 (Not against this level of competition). It's a good song though and should continue a good run here.

#6: "OMG" - Usher

Another big bump in the road this week. Again I'm not worried about Ursh falling too much here somehow he's recovered from worse stumbles. Considering how many new challengers have whooped his ass and how even Taio Cruz is chomping for him though, this might be the road Usher takes off this list. It's hard to tell. My guess is he lasts at least through the start of August and then it's see ya later. Who isn't sick of this song yet?

#5: "Ridin' Solo" - Jason Derulo

Stalling a bit and spinning his wheels on the Hot 100, he's done well enough with Radio Play to climb a bit here. Although the best parts of Derulo songs are still the ones he has nothing to do with I will praise this sampling of "Bittersweet Symphony" that integrates well into the song over something like this shitty choppy sampling of "Kids" by MGMT by rapper Chiddy Bang. Wait, Chiddy Bang? Seriously? This somehow makes me run fast back to Derulo.

#4: "Billionaire" - Travie McCoy ft. Bruno Mars

Somehow apparently not going anywhere for the moment, "Billionaire" stays relatively stable. I'm still waiting for this to crash although I'm not sure how possible that is at this point. There's nothing much more worthwhile to this track after the first 200 listenings so it escapes me why it's still relevant at all. I can only guess that it did break relatively later than some of these other songs which may account for its extended lifetime.

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

This week continued "Airplanes" lengthy run in part due to increased airplay of Part II. This of course could likely be linked to Eminem's sudden surge in popularity and searches from his own hit single. This ain't going anywhere soon. There's not a whole lot that can threaten its position soon (Taio Cruz if he gets lucky). In fact, at this point it's more likely that Katy cracks a bit more and this track takes an even higher position.

#2: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoopy

Oh baby. Dethroned. The Summer is up for grabs. Still getting a ton of airplay and still #1 on Billboard's Radio Songs, plunges in Digital Downloads and the Hot 100 brings the girl down. Basically we still heard this track a shitload this week but Slim Shady really effortlessly dominated. It's okay Katy, you still have bigger boobs.

#1: "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem ft. Rihanna

Okay let's talk about this track a bit. It's really an incredibly depressing song but also pretty deep. Em lays these brutal vocals down exhibiting a false sense of control and ownership over his spouse while Rihanna moans this super-silky (she's so good at that) acceptance of the pain he gives her. You feel pity and understanding for their situation, there's this simultaneous sense of a disastrous relationship that is most pained because two people want it to work through the pain (very literal, physical pain) they give each other. The emotions are complex, intense and not cute or nice in any sense of the word. This is our #1 song right now. This really indicates to me that there's hardly a soul out there who pays attention to lyrics but whatever. This song was everywhere this week and it's one of the clearest #1's this whole Summer.

Next week? Don't expect anything other than a Pop Song to last that long. La Roux narrowly missed a similar comeback this week but I'm still waiting for 3OH!3 to jump back into the mix but I'm afraid that if they haven't cracked the Top 10 at this point on the Hot 100 they're not going to. I haven't heard much Enrique at all but Drake's "Find You Love" is set up nicely to do some damage. Stay tuned in!

19 July 2010

First Impressions: Inception

I don't think it takes too much shame to admit being a Chris Nolan fan. More and more however, I do believe that his fanboy-appointed "visionary" status is overrated and overapplied. To date his career best film is still Memento (2000) and it's easy to mistake well-made films for great films in this Age. Certainly his oeuvre contains more merit than some other contemporary directors although it's slowly becoming more trendy to criticise Nolan tropes rather than revere them.

What's somewhat laughable is the notion that Inception (2010) was the cinematic equivalent to the Coming of Christ. For some unknown reason Nolan's films are revered for layers and layers of thematic depth, intense character psychoanalysis and innovative narrative structure. While this is largely true in his best moments his brilliance tends to be overblown. By any standard of contemporary blockbuster his films are fantastic but not the greatest seen on earth. I ranked Memento and The Prestige (2006) as some of the Decade's Greatest Films and I still believe this. The Dark Knight (2008) I also ranked here but that was out of obligation to a massive critical and commercial success over anything else.

So what have we got from Inception? To be fair, it's the best film of 2010 so far besides Toy Story 3. It's very well acted, well thought-out, with a deftly navigated complex plot that certainly leaves an audience with something to think about. However, while it is intellectual and complex, it is not necessarily a deep film. In essence it is almost too ambiguous, distracted with too many ongoing threads to be able to sink into one certain theory or idea.

As I've been treading the internet however, various writers are crafting many different possible explanations and theories of deeper meaning. The beauty and bog of this film is that it's possible to extract almost anything from its narrative. By this point I'm assuming you have watched the film (if you haven't yet, do go see it...tonight) so SPOILERS ABOUND.

Now I'll admit that I went to a pretty late showing of this flick and beforehand I sucked down about four Margaritas at this bar across the street. I had to pee during Michael Caine's scene (still not exactly sure who he was playing) but it's safe to say I got the just of it. So let's go for the most obvious and hackneyed explanation of the movie:

St. Elsewhere Theory - It's all a Dream:

With any movie like this that deals with aspects of mental realms, the most obvious explanation is the "It's-all-in-the-protagonist's-head" twist. While Inception doesn't explicitly take this route, it's still a viable possibility. There's two articles that foster this explanation without so much cliché.

The first is from Cinema Blend, which has many relevant posts concerning this film. Here, Rich Knight argues that each character in Inception represents a Jungian Archetype. Thus the film is actually composed of many facets of the lead character, Dom Cobb (wow what a terrible name, by the way). This is a way for Nolan to get away with weak characterisation for much of the cast as they are all purposely parts of Cobb's subconscious mind.

Along the same lines, Devin Faraci of CHUD.com argues that the film is more about films than it is about dreams. While both of these arguments contend that the top keeps spinning, I tend to ally with others who believe the wobbles would eventually lead to a fall. Of course, the "everything-is-dream" theory supercedes the mistaken properties of the Totem, which is an entire different animal.

The Middle Ground - We Calls Thems As We Sees Thems

This article by Cole Abaius of FilmSchoolRejects acknowledges but argues against these first couple of theories, taking instead a more literal approach to the film. Upon my first viewing this was also my interpretation. I did not believe the film (save the ending) was very cerebral and followed a very straightforward story for a Nolan film (The only more straightforward one being The Dark Knight). While the story and levels are not difficult to follow, this chart can be pretty handy, as is this dandy list of questions and answers, most of which are admittedly conjecture from the same site.

See, the tricky thing about Inception is that nothing is really explained, not even the methods for entering another mind. This works both as a narrative streamline as well as providing hints to the true nature of the film (is the method of investigating dreams in itself part of a Cobb dream that takes up the entire story? Is that how its explanation and technology are taken for granted [by characters and audience] so easily?). As I've begun pealing back more questions like this it's slowly dawning on me how good of a film Inception really is. While it's not politically deep such as The Dark Knight or character-deep like The Prestige and Insomnia (2002), there seems to be a lot more to this film than first meets the eye.

By the Way, Actors and Story:

There are many possibilities as to what this film means and I haven't quite decided what I think yet. For the most part right now I'm taking a literal interpretation because that's all that Nolan really leaves obvious at the moment. This thing is more ambiguous than Blade Runner (1982).

The pacing, action, thrill and acting, though is adept. I can't wait to see more of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in some roles that suit him (anyone for Riddler?). Tom Hardy is also refreshing as is Ellen Page in a very non-Juno role. Nolan does seem to have this great ability to pull some incredible performances out of actors, some even seem legitimate afterwards, others change their image and legacy completely. Leo needed no such boost to his acting credentials but certainly adds a bit to his resume here. Marion Cotillard (who went to the Gerard Butler school of accent-masking) is always a delight and she really shines as the evil bitch wife Mal.

Actually, it's hard to pin down who the villain in this film was. Is it Saito (Ken Watanabe)? Fischer (Cillian Murphy)? Or even Cobb himself and the dangers of his own guilty subconscious? What is cool is how the film strips down its need for danger to GoldenEye 007 (1997) elements. "Projections" of the subconscious continually seek to execute the main posse. What also works is how limited the cast really is (another boost for the "all-a-dream" argument?) while the scope remains humongous.

Before we go, with a flick like this I think there has to be some comparison to other mental-journey movies, the most obvious of which is The Matrix (1999). While there are some similarities (shared pain in a dream world, plug-ins with mysterious machines, debate over what is and isn't real) there is a lot of difference between the films (humans vs. technology? meandering philosophy? sunglasses? pfft). Inception almost works as a streamlined, realist version of The Matrix, best served in 2010 instead of the Turn of the Century.

Of course not everyone thinks this is great. Loaded with pretension, this dude fucking hated it. There are not enough Transformers in his life to say the least. So what's the final conclusion? This is very good film. It's not the best I've ever seen. It could be. There's a lot here that hasn't really sunk in yet (the nature of Inception itself - can we trust what is in our own heads, how are ideas planted and grown through sinister mind-infiltration or maybe just commercials for a consumer-based economy and lifestyle?). Essentially I do not believe Chris Nolan is a visionary or a God among current directors.

But he is pretty damn good. It'll at least do until Step Up 3-D (2010).

Summer Jam 2010: July 19 Winners

Just past the Summer Halfway point now the competition for Jam of Summer is heating up. By now the tracks that are going to last have proven themselves and the reliable ones are sticking around. While the winners may seem set in stone right now it's still pretty easy for a song to upset, especially if Eminem's rapid rise is any indication. Let's get to it:

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

I can't believe this is still around. Somehow this song has bounced back and off this list here and there but is lingering like a cockroach. It's been here for a while now and although it's clearly on its way down (maybe not, I've been saying it's about to crumble for a while) it's proven a bit of its staying power. Outside shot. Way outside.

#7: "Ridin' Solo" - Jason Derulo

Princess Leia loves Ridin' Solo. Had to make that joke. Derulo comes back with a stringent expression of bachelorhood (what's up with that this Summer?) although this is really an incredibly stupid song. Those falsetto notes get me every time, what is he doing? Anyway, there's a lot of competition to crack much higher than this but it's not impossible. Ultimately this song isn't really strong enough to do much else than strut around this position for a while.

#6: "Dynamite" - Taio Cruz

This track is growing on me. It's got a good Summer Bounce to it, great for a Late Night Beach Boogie or a Jungle Adventure. Some of the older weaker songs around it like "Airplanes" and "Billionaire" are ready to be knocked down and "Dynamite," rather than "Ridin' Solo" is the one to do it. As its stock rises and enjoyability stays constant it'll have a nice little run through the Third Summer Quarter. Taio Cruz lays his shit down.

#5: "Billionaire" - Travie McCoy ft. Bruno Mars

This is another one that has outstayed its welcome this summer. After a pretty good little kick it's started a steady decline that should fall off any week here. For now however it's still bumbling around the charts and radio so here it is. A pretty fun song, there's a lot of hope, goodwill and soft moments with this song, which has undoubtedly helped it stick around this long. It's cute but not lasting.

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

Finally Part II is getting a bit of airplay on some good ol' White Pop Stations which is sweet because it's lyrics, flow and content are far superior to Part I. I mentioned a few weeks ago that this competent remix could easily swoop in and give this track a boost over the course of Summer and it looks like that prediction has finally come true. It gives a bit a renewed energy to this song which works pretty well. Also this is in some commercials for Charlie St. Cloud (2010), Zachary Efron's latest opus. So naturally this thing is still going places.

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

Yep. The only song on this countdown that has managed to make every list since we started continues to virtually be the most consistent Jam of Summer. Its popularity at this point certainly isn't going away despite some of my earlier doubts. Ursh just kills it although I'm thinking more and more than bill's part here doesn't add anything worthwhile to this track. Now if only "Lil Freak" can catch on.

#2: "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem ft. Rihanna

This thing has one of the highest debuts of any song this whole summer and for good reason. Very suddenly this track is everywhere and it's in a pretty good position to upset Katy pretty soon and just take over Summer. Like a lot of his dark songs on Relapse and Recovery, this song really isn't a good Summer-y Song though. It's 180 to the bouncy Katy Perry pop. It's a very sorrowful, gravitas-infused song but admittedly one of the best Em has put out in years. There's no reason this song won't carry out Summer, if it manages to go out on top it could have a good chance to grab that King of Summer Title.

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

Have you seen the video for this yet? Go watch it, fap and come back. Boys and girls. That's right. Although it's been risky with overplaying recently my bet moreover is that this track is really enjoying its ubiquitocity right now. It's at the point when everyone knows all the lyrics when its played at the club and can get pretty excited when they hear the first few beats stroll on. Once this feeling crests though this song will tumble pretty hard and Em's all set to roll into his number one spot. Katy's got a few more weeks in her though.

So that's that, the Throne is still wide open and up for grabs, likely by someone in this week's Top Three. Enrique and Drake were left out this week, we'll see if they've got enough power to break in. Some of these tracks are pretty wobbly and there's some good room for moving around. It also seems pretty clear that "Alejandro" will end up as one of GaGa's weaker songs (for shame, peaking at a paltry #5). Her Summer Hit eludes her still, but to no big loss. Crank up those speakers!


16 July 2010

Tops: Four Great Songs in Great Trailers for Cruddy Films

I believe it was all those Terminator Trailers I was watching a while back that got me thinking of this. Sometimes there's a film on the Release Horizon which has some potential to be pretty awesome but there's a lot of doubt until the trailer comes through. These could be a tricky adaptation, an unnecessary sequel or even a wholly new idea that's yet untested. In any event we require some solid trailers in order for filmmakers to sell us on their product.

Every once in a while then, one of these potentially shitty films delivers a trailer that knocks the shit out audiences. What sparked my interest here are four recent trailers that are particularly tied to certain songs, musical cues that pushed them over that edge of doubt. More often than not, the films did turn out to be really shitty. But these trailers and the songs attached are awesome:

Terminator Salvation (2009): "The Day The Whole World Went Away," by Nine Inch Nails

Full Song Here, check out its use in the trailer below:

Wow. This trailer is still awesome. This is one of the most lopsided trailer-to-film ratios I can come up with. Watching this right now actually makes me want to waste my change again to see T4. But I know it's shit now.

This trailer is awesome in a few ways - it introduces a new facet of SkyNet's arsenal against mankind (an unknowing-cyborg Sam Worthington), new huge powerful machines, plausible Human Uprising ("A strength that cannot be measured..."), and lots of explosions and Bale Yelling. There's a sense of danger, a sense of mystery, man vs. technology, John Connor finally becoming the man he was foretold to be, and Nine Inch Nails really fills in the punctuation - melodious humming for the quiet moments, added gripping Ax Riffs in all the right places, wow. It's awesome. Then the Terminator Drums kick in at the end! Holy shit!

McG needs to be burned and then eaten alive for his atrocities against Man and God.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009): "Wake Up," by Arcade Fire

Full Track here, here's its use in the trailer:

Doesn't that look like such a fun movie to go see? It's got this great mixture of adventure, playfulness and innocence with an equal measure of fear and darkness. You get the feeling that it should be this film that really captures the essence of childhood, discovering the world and conquering fears. Instead it's a parable for divorce.

Ahem. I suppose in part it turns out to be a child conquering his fear of pain and divorce, creating monsters and a fantasy world as a subconscious coping method to put the situation of his broken home into more palatable terms. In fact, the film does an excellent job of making the audience feel like they are caught in a conflict that isn't quite understandable. What happened to the wild rumpus though?

Arcade Fire's ups and downs, childlike choir notes and melody that stretches from epic to juvenile all while remaining in the realm of the fantastic make it the perfect track for this movie. It works really well as a counter-balance to everything shown on screen for those two minutes. The film itself, while not meeting expectations for many film-goers, is a beast all its own. If you get what it's trying to do to you and are cool with it, it's pretty enjoyable. If not, sucks.

Watchmen (2009): "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," by Smashing Pumpkins

Listen to the full song here, then take a gander at the trailer below:

Yep. The Watchmen trailer was a true thing of beauty. I believe it was sidled with showings of The Dark Knight (2008), which really fulfilled any Fanboy's fantasies. The song perfectly lines up with the action on screen, even providing pauses for money quotes ("God help us all...," "The world will look up and shout 'save us' and I'll whisper...no.") and money shots (Manhattan's Mars Creation; Dong). It even matches up to an unfurling flag on the grave of The Comedian. It does its job by introducing interesting aspects and relationships of every character as well as providing a pretty real sense of danger and intensity. That shot of Nite Owl screaming in the snow is still haunting.

What's a real shame then is the utterly uninspired selection of songs in the actual film and soundtrack. I mean, one after another. Holy fuck. Clichéd and out of place constantly. Whatever your opinion of this film, it's fair to say generally it sucked a pretty hard dick with far too much teeth for anyone to enjoy. This trailer still pumps me up though.

Pineapple Express (2008): "Paper Planes," by M.I.A.

This incredible song featured here, it's trailer companion below:

Legendary shit. I ranked Pineapple Express as one of my favourite films of the past decade and its status gets bumped up every time I see it. It's a great movie and "Paper Planes" really captures its double-hit of fun, goofiness and some hard action. It's a balance between sincere reality and stoner comedy that makes the film work and the "Some, Some, Some I, Some I murder/Some I, Some I let go" mood of M.I.A. fits in this hazy area really well.

It also paces the trailer really well, the obvious cuts along with the glock clicks and gunshots are key, but as is the redemptive naked fire-carryout along the tune of "Pirate skulls and bones/Stick and stones and weed and bongs" that makes this soothing, take-pot-and-violence-for-granted tone that makes it such a perfect match for this flick.

It's also important to note here that after she was featured in this trailer, M.I.A. blew up huge everywhere. "Paper Planes" became an international hit, she was featured in a ton of other Hip-Hop tracks and then went and got herself preggers. The trailer did it baby, and that's the whole point of his post.

I'm sure there are many other Song/Film/Trailer combos that really worked (or didn't) out there but these are the four that most catch my eye. Willing to here more ideas below:

Happy Listening!

12 July 2010

Summer Jam July 12 Winners

Welcome again to the Summer-Wide Search for the Equivocal Summer Jam 2010! Last week we had some newcomers try to threaten the establishment, indeed this week is a big shakedown. We're finally over a big crest from the last couple months and the losers have dropped out to make room for some great new tracks. Of course, the big guns have hardly changed which makes things interesting. Without further ado let's dive in:

#8: "Dynamite" - Taio Cruz

Building on some success from "Break Your Heart," Taio Cruz goes solo on this one, arguably better than his freshman effort. It's got a lot of potential combining his competent vocals with a good party theme. Perfect for the Summer King? It combined an addictive beat with pretty catchy lyrics that are easy to get stuck in your head. That's really all we ask of a good Summer Jam, I'll be watching this closely.

#7: "Your Love" - Nicky Minaj

Finally Nicky gets to showcase her talents on a single of her own which is getting some good airplay. It's a pretty chill song that demonstrates both her singing and rapping ability which is admittedly impressive. It actually lacks Nicky's classic vocal upraise which was quickly become stale (because she used it on every single track she was featured on ever). This works to the song's advantage. There is also a touch of Auto-Tune but it's actually used pretty well. In fact, this is how Auto-Tune should be used, sparingly to enhance the vocals during the chorus rather than to make up for shoddy singing through the entire song. This is a good one although I of course have doubts over its ability to last more than a few weeks this summer because Nicky for some reason just isn't a bankable name yet.

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

This trainwreck just won't go away. After a few weeks off this list Ke$ha is back with a vengeance, proving somehow that this very irritating song is somehow here to stay. It's so trashy yet slightly better than her collaboration with 3OH!3 which is just an exercise in rampant douchebaggery. And by the way, why the hell is Ke$ha on that track? She has like one line. Ugh, let's move on quickly.

#5: "Ridin' Solo" - Jason Derulo

Derulo's career is quickly becoming interesting. His major tracks so far are based almost entirely on the strength of their hooks and in both cases this is due to their sampling of much more talented artists (Imogen Heap in "Whatcha Say," The Verve in "Ridin' Solo"). His actual singing and rapping ability is terribly sub-par. This song goes nuts, hitting unnecessary high notes about 3/4 in, then moaning some more. As of now though, before much overplay this is my second favourite Solo. Can you imagine Han jamming to this? I can't.

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

This was a close call, "Airplanes" was saved by a lot of last minute plays this week but has certainly tumbled a bit. Its maudlin atmosphere is catching up to it and I'm getting the feeling more and more that we won't hear much from this in a few months. It simply has not been able to really break into that #1 spot to secure its immortality. I still legitimately enjoy this song however, although by now it's for sure overplayed. It'll keep tumbling.

#3: "Break Your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris

Maybe this is just a Rochester thing again, but after lying on the ground miles away from this list for a few weeks, "Break Your Heart" is everywhere again. Almost every time I turned on a radio I've got some kind of Taio blaring on my ear. Not that that's a negative at all, I'm sure it's a spike due to "Dynamite's" growth in popularity but both songs are peppy enough to be great Summer Jams.

#2: "OMG" - Usher ft. Will.i.am

Yeah, what is Usher still doing this high? Katy Perry and him might as well be the King and Queen of Summer, although people are getting sick of Usher far before Katy. It may not chug that much more, victim of its own hubris. Hot damn. Both songs have been able to stay up due to their very Summer-Friendly natures, indeed when you think of a good track to jam to this Summer, only these two come to mind.

#1: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoop-A-Loop

What more can I say? It's the perfect Summer Jam and it's getting its due credit. Very soon however, its position atop the Billboards could be upset, most likely by the Eminem/Rihanna Juggernaut that is all set to break out pretty hard, likely next week. Will Katy's run be enough to get her the crown? Stay tuned dear readers to find out. I mean c'mon - you see that video?!

Whats on the docket for next week? There's a slew of new competitors that edged out some favourites like GaGa and La Roux this week but that's not surprising. "Alejandro" may very well become GaGa's first song in a while not to hit #1, if she hasn't yet she won't this summer. Like I mentioned though, "Love The Way You Lie" is set to break out much better than "Not Afraid" was, of course due to the singing/rapping meld as well as the presence of Rihanna. It's got the kind of appeal that can go far with many different kinds of people. Stay right here to find out what this track can do!

09 July 2010

Because I watched it on DVD: The Competing Realities of Anchorman

Here we are ladies and gentlemen, six years to the day that one of the greatest comedies of the 21st-Century was released upon theaters and audiences, one of my all-time favourite films, the pinnacle of Human Achievement and Evolution, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). Like any self-respecting college student when this feat of filmmaking came out, I watched this movie about once a week for four years straight. I watched it until it became cliché to watch it, I watched it until the clichéof watching Anchorman became cliché, clearly, I have no shame.

Now, as I watched this film on repeat the past few weeks I've discovered some very interesting properties. The most significant of which are the many different realities that every character in the film inhabits. This is to say that almost every character in the film has perceptions, beliefs and actions that indicate that they exist in separate realities from each other.

A few weeks ago the New York Times ran this article by Academy-Award Winning Filmmaker Errol Morris which concerned the nature of incompetence. For those of you too lazy to wade through a lengthy, psychology-minded treatise on stupidity, the part of the article that concerns us divides our possible knowledge in Rumsfeldian Terms of "Known Known," "Known Unknown" and "Unknown Unknown." Essentially this simply means that there are things in this world that we know we know, things we know we don't know and there really are things that we don't know we don't know. When attributed to the Iraq War these terms seem ignorant, unprepared and frankly, incompetent. When applied to knowledge and philosophy however, they can be enlightening.

This has to do with Anchorman: The summation of Morris' article is that coinciding with "Unknown Unknowns" those who are incompetent or stupid have little awareness that they are such. Thus we may think of them inhabiting a different reality. Their perceptions, biases and opinions are skewed from an accepted norm (an inarguable array of realities). Akin to the Perception of Art we may argue that those with widely varying interpretations of the world around them inherent inhibit different realities.

The basic premises and themes of Anchorman belay this idea. There are many competing realities on a few different levels both within the world as well as with the audience. Let's start small - the characters. Taken with a grain of salt (that is, accepting the characters and their world for what they are), the character interactions are confounding. It's important to note first of all that there is no real villain in Anchorman. This is pretty innovative. Certainly Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) is an antagonist to Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) but he doesn't actually do anything to really threaten the underlying motivation or even appears in many scenes.

The villain of Anchorman then is likely either Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) who represents the greatest threat to Ron's former way of life, or really, Ron himself. Ron self-destructs and messes up his own life more than anyone else. It's still blurry however, which is funny because even films like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) and Step Brothers (2008) had pretty defined villains. This is the first step of Anchorman's messing with reality. With no true villain, the good characters themselves are allowed to grow and bounce off each other, using their expectations and realities to create conflict rather than an arbitrary outside force (see first shades of brilliance here).

Now, what further complicates things is that there is barely a straight man in this film. In most comedies like this the villain is the straight man (see Dean Wormer in Animal House [1978], Dean Pritchard in Old School [2003], probably some non-Dean characters somewhere). Everyone in this movie is insane. The major competing newscaster villains (uhhh...Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller) all have pretty high levels of ridiculousness. People who should be in the straight man position like Ed Harken (Fred Willard) have their own insane moments ("I'll stop by the school a little later, Sister Margaret") which in turn are ignored by every other character. Harken exists in his own reality that serves jokes to the audience and the other characters in the film ignore. This could attest to the large egoism presented by characters in the film, but more likely it speaks to different realities. No one ever asks about Harken's problem children, they are focused on their own conflicts. Their realities are separate. You may think that Garth (Chris Parnell) is a straight man but his "Poop!" screaming denies this fact.

Besides the side characters, all of the four major parts of the Channel 4 News Team exhibit very distinct and specific realities. There are these moments like Champ Kind's (David Koechner) love confession to Ron that seem to be on the verge of threatening the reality of the group at large but everyone is able to shrug it off pretty easily. Every character is like this.Brick Tamland is certainly the biggest culprit, truly existing in his own world where all his friends keep his company yet mostly overlook his severe retardation. They accept his dumbness on some level but moreover treat him with equal respect as they would in their own realities rather than accepting the pain of his twisted one. I mean, Brick killed a guy! His murder is not mentioned again for the entirety of the film, it really serves only as a joke and then that reality is done with. Anchorman moves at such a quick pace that any significant drags on reality are quickly dealt with and we move on. This includes many fights, hair insults and time lapses that are quickly implemented and then slid under the door.

The nature of Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana is interesting. When examining them we start to get into the main theme of the film. At the news station and in the world in general they exist in a male-dominated reality. The basis of the film involves female intrusion into this male-centric existence. In Ron and Company's Reality, women have a very specific place and any movement is considered a big enough threat to cause fainting, anger and tantrums ("I DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE YELLING ABOUT" - this is a huge point - Brick serves as a meta-parody of his own situation, his continual non sequitur commentary exists as a means for the writers to comment on the stupidity of the situations contained within the shared reality of Anchorman). This female vs. male reality exists mostly subconsciously in the factual world but working with that understanding of Anchorman great increases its impact.

There are many many scenes in the film that fulfill this point. When viewed with the lens of competing realities ignoring eachother, Anchorman as a whole becomes a much more interesting film. Whether it's Ron's unawareness of "When in Rome," the use of "Fuck" ("I WOULD NEVER FUCKIN' SAY THAT!") or Brick wanting to drink milk with Ron on the street, there is little to indicate that any character accepts or understands another character's reality, much less even has comprehension that they exist. Thus the "Unknown Unknown."

There are rare moments where this is untrue. Ron and Veronica's sex scene demonstrates a deep connection between the two characters (namely, that both would equally fantasise about such a Pleasuretown). Of course, their own grips on reality come into question with the mere fact that they express their love in this fashion rather than the accepted way. The mutual love of Suit Purchases also shows a good connection between the Fab Four.

There are also many elements of the film that plays with the audience's reality. While the Narrator is never named explicitly in the theatrical or DVD versions, in deleted scenes he is revealed to be either an old anchorman (Bill Kurtis) or Ron's son who developed an early baritone voice. Yeah, Ron's son. Watch it. It's weird. Either way, it makes a transition between omniscient narrator to actual dude which messes with audience expectation.

Pushing this a bit further, we can even examine the names of the characters. They all have that ridiculous edge that harkens (pun intended) to an age when our greatest newsfolk and humans had names like "Wes Mantooth" and "Brian Fantana." It helps further the illusion of the period. This isn't a reproduction of the Seventies. This is a reproduction of how a few people remember the Seventies. It's our collective consciousness. There's not even trends or popular music featured diagetically like in Starsky & Hutch (2004). This is a 70s film through its subject matter, fashion, names and Soundtrack. It's certainly a different reality than factual Seventies Reality. Ron's Scotch Chugging pre-Air seems more reminiscent now of a Mad Men culture rather than his time period. Part of Anchorman's theme, of course, though, is that Ron is a bit out of the times, even for an outdated time. His personal reality doesn't even line up with the fake reality conceived within the context of the film. This is crazy.

In addition we must also address Wake Up, Ron Burgundy (2004), the companion piece to Anchorman, strung together from deleted footage that did not test well with initial audiences. It presents an entirely alternate story that the same characters take part in, truly proving how flighty their realities are. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy may compete against Anchorman just as its internal characters compete against each other for for recognition and acceptance of their realities. This is all mildly interesting stuff and watching both films gives a great impression of all the people who almost don't seem to realise that they're in films with any other character. It's as if while each character is integral to the story, they individually do not realise this and exist only to service their own realities.

Overthinking it? I hope so. Happy viewing, dear readers.

05 July 2010

Summer Jam 2010: July 5 Winners

Here we go again, the ongoing process to determine who will be the Final Champion, the King of Summer Jam 2010. We had a bit of a shake-up this week with a few new debuts and a few big falls. Let's get the party started:

#8: "Impossible" by Shontelle

This is a typical meandering Female R&B song but has gotten a good amount of airplay this week. It's kind of catchy and may rise up the next week or two but for now this seems more like a flash week than anything substantial. This is Shontelle's time to shine rather than the beginning of her ascension.

#7: "Hold Yuh" - Gyptian

This track has been all over the clubs and Hip-Hop stations, but has got to be just pleasant background noise for white audiences. It's sung in very heavy Patois, even looking up the lyrics doesn't really shine light on what the hell Gyptian is saying. So like I said, this song has a pretty engrossing rhythm and melody despite its oblique vocals (for the first two weeks I heard this I thought he was singing "Warrior," not "Hold Yuh"). It should remain popular but its fringe-worthy enough right now to stay low.

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

This edges Ke$ha this week after a great weekend of constant radio play. It's starting to become my favourite Summer Track actually, a great jam sesh, although its lyrical content is actually a bit despondent - predicting a future break-up. I still read deeper though, in that it's about the girl who will bang the dude even though she knows he will break up with her. And isn't that really what Summer is all about? Certainly. Also motorboating is awesome.

#5: "Billionaire" - Travie McCoy ft. Bruno Mars

Tumbling a bit after some strong showings, this is the victim of some severe overplay the past couple weeks. I bet it'll hold on for a bit but this is the start of a big tumble. Some of the build-up of this song and its mellowness is pretty sweet, but overall its beat really isn't that interesting. The recent melding of smooth vocals and rapping is really evident though. It's emblematic of a growing sub-genre that we will see more of.

#4: "Alejandro" - Lady GaGa

GaGa was way down on the charts this week as well as slightly down on Rochester Radio Play. At this point I'm having concerns about this track's legitimate chances at Summer Jam-Hood but I will concede that anything by GaGa has enough crossover to reach a much wider range of demographics than anyone else on this list. That is to say, the average twenty-something white male may not be that familiar with bippy-boppy Katy Perry or silky Usher, but whether he wants to or not, he knows GaGa. This is her only key right now to emerging as Queen of Summer.

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

See? I told you this would jet back up there. This is a very good Summer Track and one of the only ones really on this list that has a good Summer Feel. That is to say, it's not mournful or slow and has pretty upbeat lyrics and content. This and "California Gurls" are the only tracks on this list that are really positive, Sunny Songs. Usher lays it down.

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

This was "Airplanes'" week, it was Rochester, NY's winner for airplay, which means I heard it an average of thrice a day on radio. It's a very good song which had a bit of a bump this week, although on the Hot 100 it actually fell a spot (to an innocuous Eminem debut that doesn't mean anything) although its held a strong position on the Pop Charts. Its credentials as a good song amidst a sea of shit should also help its Summer Throne Chances.

#1: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry

Katy Perry recently bought a cat. She named it Kitty Purry. That's really all you need to know about this girl and her music, once again "California Gurls" is the number one song of the week and building an incredibly strong case for the Summer Jam Title. The video is a perfect combination of surreal, ideal, innocent and ridic sexy. The perfect Playful Summertime Showcase. While some of its novelty is wearing off, I'm unsure any other track can break out to really take this chick off the top ladder. For now, Kitty Purry rules supreme.

So what's up for next week? "Beautiful Monster" is pretty much bunk and "Rock That Body" keeps trying and coming up short. Right now I'm looking for Taio Cruz to double up his Summer Hits like B.o.B has with "Dynamite" which is pretty hot. We can also look for Nicky Minaj, Jason Derulo and 3OH!3. Oh Doggy.

04 July 2010

The Long Halloween: Independence Day

Welcome once again to Norwegian Morning Wood's Yearlong look at the Greatest Holiday Television Specials Ever Conceived by Humans. Now that we're well into Summer it was a bit more difficult finding a good episode that really captured the American Independence Day, the Fourth of July. Hot dogs, air explosions, beer and freedom - there's not much more needed for a good Fourth Celebration but due to normal American Television schedules more often than not there are no new episodes aired at this time of the year.

So after some good searching I found a pretty good episode to a great series that has a couple minimal references to our Nation's Birthday. I present to you the Final Episode of The Wonder Years, "Independence Day" (S6;E22).

It's really the finale of a Two-Part Episode, the first being "Summer" (S6;E21), also apt for this time of year. If you're unfamiliar with the show at all you might want to check that out first for some background. Both episodes are the culmination of the ultimate growing-up show and takes the nubile young Fred Savage to some adventurous dramatic heights. A lot of this does tie in to Independence actually, so keep up-

Fred Savage throughout the series always had a few things constant for him - a loving if not pressuring family life, a nerd best friend and a perfect babe girl-next-door on-again off-again GF. Winnie Cooper filled the socks of any boy who discovered himself in the early 90s and Fred was tappin' the shit out of her. Righteous stuff.

Eventually as he mused about the world, what he wanted to do, what he wanted to be, he made the hard choice to quit work at his dad's Furniture Factory and explore the world on his own looking for his Dream Girl, Winne Cooper. It's an important episode that balances dreams, expectations and reality as well as providing a necessary tether to independence. See, like this great country of ours, Fred Savage rejected his home land, where things were safe and warm to strike out in Independence, despite unsurity if he'd make it. He strikes out anyway though, because he needs to. He needs both to find himself as well as finding the world around him.

What he finds is not what he expects. Winnie Cooper, a lifeguard at Summer Camp barely speaks to him and Fred later sees her smoochin' on some bro. What the hell, man?! So Fred freaks out, gets them both fired and ends up hitchhiking to who knows where. Ironically he's picked up in the same car is Winnie Cooper. They argue, are kicked out and exclaim that they hate each other.

Then it starts raining so they bump uglies in a barn. Hardcore hay bale shit. Wet and wild. So they make up and come back to their hometown on the Fourth of July. Thus they celebrate a kind of mature Independence, Fred gains the respect of his father with a bit of needed distance instead of his bratty rebellion featured earlier. He separates with Winnie Cooper amicably and they become true lifelong friends, although they do not marry (which supposedly upset some fans - I think it's great they didn't go with the obvious - it makes Daniel Stern's narration that much more meaningful that he has such fond memories of this chick who's not lounging off quaaludes in the other room).

Ultimately Future Savage sums up Independence Day - it's about coming home to a Family each year, but feeling a bit different. Our perceptions of this Summer Landmark inevitably change as we get older. As we change. Like Winnie Cooper says, "I don't want it to end." The way we move on is a signifier of our integrity and character. The Fourth is about family and home, which in the best situations remain similar as we go out in the world and find ourselves to be the ones that change. Beyond the beer and hot dogs, even the jingoism, that's what Independence Day is about. True, mature independence within yourself. That's real freedom.

Above is a friend of mine from college. He looks exactly like a fat, hairy drunken Fred Savage. He really loved that nickname. Whether or not he ever laid someone like Winnie Cooper all I can say is...no. No he did not.

So go out and celebrate your Nation's Heritage by blowing up a small part of it. I know a guy who can get some fireworks...

02 July 2010

Profiles: Kristen Stewart, the Anti-Princess

With the first weekend since the premiere of Twilight: Eclipse (2010) upon us today we're looking at the only interesting part of the production, writing or ensemble, Kristen Stewart. Natural annoyance of the Twilight brand aside, I do respect Kristen Stewart as and actress and what she represents - as this brooding, moody brunette alternative to the typical Hollywood Blonde. Let me explain:

Kristen's been in a many many films actually, mostly to critical acclaim. The Twilight movies are her only real blockbusters and the rest of her resume is pretty impressive (well...besides The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas [2000] and Zathura [2005]...woof). She typically has this natural ability to star as this tough drama'd chick while also displaying a lot of hints and vulnerability and humanity. She acts this way in most of the major films of her oeuvre, to varying degrees of moodiness (Twilight) and rebellion (The Runaways [2010]).

So, she's in a ton of these little films, for the purposes of this article and Norwegian Morning Wood's insane obsession with popular appeal and culture, let's focus on her most notable, wide release roles - Panic Room (2002) (yeah she played Jodie Fisher's little boy...err...girl), The Messengers (2007), all the Twilight Shits (2008 - Forever), Adventureland (2009) and The Runaways. In Panic Room she played a little dying kid pretty well I guess but certainly was more of a MacGuffin than an important character. The Messengers is like, a whatever-Horror film, typical February release, who cares. So we're really only analysing a  handful of roles here.

Did You Remember to Wash Your Neck?

I've never seen a Twilight film, but like anyone else in our zeitgeist I've absorbed enough of the plot to understand what's going on. There's a cute vampire boy at school and this goth bitch wants to jump his bones. Cool. From my understanding this carries on for some time. I have my own issues with Summit selling sex to preteens through the films but whatever, they're the kind of cultural trash that has always existed in our society and nothing to really get up in arms about like some internets do.

This is one of the most brilliant Twilight Parodies I've seen. Somehow Taylor Swift absolutely catches the Kristen Stewart vacant stare, hair brush and brooding temperament. It's clear her mannerisms really are that easy to replicate and of course her actual performances in the Twilight films are relatively forgettable. What she represents in Young Hollywood is what should last.

Kristen has done a fantastic job creating Bella as this angsty twisted brunette in a field that only a few years ago might have starred a pre-meltdown Lindsey Lohan or a post-jailbait Brittany Snow in the role. That's what I'm getting at. She's not a nice, sweet angel girl. There's nothing innocent about her. Following some strong new Trashy Role Models, Kristen always looks dirty and used, perfect for Modern Princess that is no princess. She's got this awkwardness to her, an imperfection that is refreshing in a Hollywood typically filled with young starlets groomed to say everything expected of them. Just watch how dumb and awkward she appears on Letterman. Because Bella is such an icon (at least among girls under 16), it's really a treatise for how Hollywood could showcase its young actresses for the next decade.

Youths in Trouble

Kristen's best roles though have come in two films in the past two years, last Summer's vastly underrated Adventureland and her biopic with Dakota Fanning, The Runaways. She's got this great sweetness underlain by anger and distance in Adventureland. After so much schmaltz in Twilight it's neat to see her in a much more organic budding relationship with Jesse Eisenberg. She pulls off this "finding herself" innocence while simultaneously expressing a darker maturity beyond her years with Ryan Reynolds (who bar none is the best performance in that film). There's this part of her that tries to be very sinister and "grown up" while she really is merely ultimately still a kid like anyone else in the film. It's a complex character that Kristen nails.

In The Runaways she also shines as Joan Jett, rebellious but driven guitarist/singer of the eponymous band. While this film may really just live on as having a kind-of-ok Smooch Scene between Kristen and growing jailbait Dakota Fanning, her performance is the best part of the film. Like her other roles she just aces that tough front with a genuinely vulnerable side. She can get hurt but she doesn't want anyone, not even herself, to know it. Dakota Fanning is basically in "I want to grow up" mode (see also, boozing it up in Push [2009] and for some reason most of the Twilight movies). Kristen though, just flows, channeling a lot of her own rocker personality into the picture. Sweet.

If The Runaways can be a feminist "Girl Power" movie, Kristen is Susan B. Anthony. It's true Chicky Rock exemplified through girls who don't need men. Twilight can be argued both ways - while Bella keeps swooning over Lautner's abs or Edward's brooding stare, she's able to control both by manipulating their own obsessions over her. In Adventureland while Ryan Reynolds seeks to dominate her, her natural attitude gels better with a wiener Jesse Eisenberg who'd rather take her in partnership. While in these two films the "empowerment" is still defined by her relationship to men (positive or negative), The Runaways presents a much more fiery, truly independent girl that Kristen seems to really be able to run with.

As for her face and hair, still truly Rat-like. This isn't a girl worried about looking fake and pretty. She's a real girl for the iGeneration. Awesome.

01 July 2010

Because it was on TV: The Resurgence of Futurama

Last Thursday one of the greatest Turn of the Century shows of our time returned to the air with new episodes designed as direct-to-TV episodes for the first time in seven years. I speak of one of our Greatest Animated Sci-Fi Shows, Futurama.

Futurama has had a storied run, first on the Fox Network alongside fellow creation of Matt Groening, The Simpsons. While the show at its best easily matches The Simpsons' writing, it never had the mainstream, massive cultural impact its predecessor had. The reasons for this are obvious, as Futurama really is just an incredibly incredibly nerdy show. So from 1999 - 2003 it had some great seasons over on Fox then was mostly screwed over, switched time slots, subverted for Sports Games and never allowed to grow the way it should. The real shame is that in its original run by the Fourth Season it had really hit its stride, that season is easily its best.

After its cancellation in 2003 nerds around the globe despaired. Alongside fellow prematurely cancelled Fox animated show Family Guy, though, DVD sales and repeats on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim sparked interest in its revival. Family Guy fast-tracked this revival, easily securing a new deal on Fox by 2005 and holding very strong ratings, mostly out of college drunks, every since. Seth MacFarlane productions now dominate Fox's once creatively lucrative Sunday Animation Line-Up which basically means anyone sensible should now stay away. I can't believe these shitty shows are still allowed to air, it's a crime against God.

See, Futurama is that rare Second Show that works. It works because its humour is similar yet distinctive from its predecessor. Both Futurama and The Simpsons are highly satirical, primarily of American Pop Culture and Institutions, but the beats are different. The source is also slightly different. Whereas The Simpsons relies on Family Lifestyle Humour, a highly episodic structure with an extremely slight arching narrative and bouts of insane "Flexible Reality," Futurama instead is mostly City Bachelor Humour, thorough arching storylines and the insanity is more grounded in actual reality rather than stretches of momentary goofiness. I think what works best to distinct the two however is simply the Suburban vs. Urban parody. This is all to say simply that Futurama has always been able to stand on its own ground.

Anyway, Futurama's history went on in a more roundabout fashion. After a good run on Adult Swim parallel to Family Guy it shifted to Comedy Central, where it was really given a good home. Comedy Central has been pretty keen the past few years picking up some quality shows like Ugly Americans, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and of course, Secret Girlfriend. Somehow their pulse has been on a higher caliber show than Adult Swim, including their proclivity towards securing syndication rights for shows like Futurama then actually treating them well. Hell, Futurama's practically on equal footing as South Park is now.

So there were these long years where Futurama built a DVD cult as well as successful runs in syndication. From 2007 - 2009 four Direct-to-DVD movies came out, each followed by a run on Comedy Central split up into four episodes. They all did well (Into the Wild Green Yonder [2009] being by a large margin the best one) and so Comedy Central began production on a Sixth Season (the movies being the "Fifth") for a genuine return to scheduled episodic storytelling.

So last week the new episodes premiered. They set a high bar for what's to follow. They were also markedly different from the first run as well as the four movies. Besides an edgier tone (the move from Network to Basic Cable allows them to get away with a whole lot more) with a whole lot more sex, violence and partying, there was also a very different kind of story being told.

Before we go any further, I gotta talk about Sex in Futurama, the animators must be so damn horny, every chick is so busty and usually has barely anything on. This goes for the men, too, there's so much nudity in this show already, in the New Season there was even more than expected. We've already seen every major character completely naked, then Leela and Zapp Brannigan for almost an entire episode. It's so insane.

Back to point, these episodes were decidedly more nerdy with a heavier bent towards Sci-Fi storytelling than previous incarnations. It's as if the producers are now feeling they can tell a much more determined story to an audience that they can rely on to tune in each week. They aren't fighting for viewership or backing from Fox anymore, they've secured their brand which allows them to throw as much Nerdy Sex into the pot as possible. The two episodes definitely emerged more as science fiction short stories or thought experiments with a couple good jokes thrown in to keep it light than mainstream Americana animation.

Thus we're seeing the early stages of Futurama's full blown Cerebus Syndrome. It has become a much more character-driven dramatic show than absurd flighty cartoon and if upcoming episode previews are any indication this trend should continue, likely to great critical and commercial success.

The next wave of New Episodes come on tonight at 10:00 pm EST on Comedy Central. Tune in for a rare treat this summer.
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