31 March 2011

Modal Nodes: Ke$ha, Dev and the Dance of the Trashy Girl Goes On

Quite a while ago I made a post about Ke$ha and GaGa and the budding rise of Trashy Chick Pop. Check it out here. I mostly passed it off as an interesting ascension from Xtina to "Tik Tok," but now here in March of 2011 we're assuredly in the midst of a Trashy Girl Music Revolution. It's this interesting bend to Pop Music that certainly was a long time coming but these girls are everywhere.

Now, let's first get out of the way the clear double-standard. These girls are certainly trashy for openly exclaiming drunkenness, loving sex and generally appearing dirty and hungover. Guys in any similar condition are considered hilarious heroes. Anyway, not to get horribly preachy (those...those are my two favourite movies), but those are the facts. These musical girls are horribly, horribly trashy. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. But it is a strange movement.

Let's start with Ke$ha. Ke$ha is terrible. She really lacks a lot of talent and her songs are fantastically irritating. Let's examine her latest single, "Blow."

There is this huge sense of misplaced pride and privilege in this track. First there's the completely irrelevant use of James Van Der Beek. Then there's all these spoken lines like "We're taking over - get used to it." What the hell does that mean? It seems like it's intended as this great Generational Statement but there's no real backing here. Who is Ke$ha's main followers? Drunken girls and high school wannabe drunken girls? Maybe add creepy older guys in that mix. Is that who's taking over? Ke$ha...what's the matter with you? The video is nearly incomprehensible and she appears as a crazy person who doesn't value anything beyond her present. She's also hideous. Does anyone else notice that Ke$ha isn't cute at all?

From Ke$ha we've got Dev, whose lyrics don't include the broad accusations and undue proclamations of power that Ke$ha's do (see also, the entirety of "We R Who We R" which places some insane sense of pride and fashion on ripped stockings, glitter and mindless dancing - along with a proclamation that "the world is ours." I'm calling Shenanigans - you can't exclaim to be taken seriously then exonerate sleeping in cars and dressing down. It's not even hypocritical, it's just moronic) but retain all of the drunken trashiness. If you're not familiar with Dev, she's the chick from "Like a G6," and you may know her as the chick from "Backseat" and her own "Booty Bounce." She has the same very sexual themes in all her tracks but especially in "Bass Down Low," it's almost as if Dev is purposely trying to get a rise out of her listeners. There's this sense that girls can make up for lack of singing talent by grabbing attention through slutty or wish-fulfillment lyrics. Dev really isn't a great singer, uses a lot of Auto-Tune and really isn't that hot, either. She's able to grab attention and distinguish herself from the Pop Mob by going the super-trashy route. Also does anyone notice Ke$ha really just talks through "Tik Tok?"

Now I said earlier that trashiness isn't such a terrible thing on its own. It's not like it's a lifestyle unfamiliar to rock stars and the fact that it's the girls getting hammered isn't in itself a negative. In fact, it's pretty hot (which exactly fulfills my point that these girls make up for their lack of singing talent or otherwise physical attractiveness by just following the whore route). The problem is that an artist like Ke$ha has all these songs that proclaim some kind of new order but she is so obviously corporation-generated and targeted towards such a safe demographic that her message ends up incredibly hollow. Dev is much smaller, her songs come across as just this drunk chick with plays into the double-standard of alcoholism for attention.

These ladies by far aren't the only ones in this movement, though. I mentioned Christina Aguilera earlier who I think escapes this kind of negative criticism for a handful of reasons. Firstly, Christina presented herself to us as a very innocuous pop star. Her forays into sluttiness were shocking but we knew it was evolution - there was more to Christina than Xtina. It also helped that she was married by the time "Dirrty" came out, she didn't rely too long on the image and has now built herself into a respectable career. Kind of. But we reach a similar conclusion that even when the woman is dressed as a literal whore she takes control of a song and uses some genuine pipes. Her talent allows her to rise above any singular identity (not unlike Madonna or GaGa. Not including Britney there). Ke$ha and Dev cannot rise above their own images nor do they seem to want to.

I was also thinking about Nicole Scherzinger and the Pussycat Dolls who manage to rise above the level of trashiness with a good amount of class while still being very sexual. Something like "Buttons" is a sexy track that avoids being trashy that is also aided by Nicole's adept voice. I can say the same for Ciara's "Ride", which is the sexiest video ever, but you'd never call a girl being that sexy here trashy. The competent singing helps but it's more the classy outfits, smooth lyrics and propriety that allows them to retain respect. Ke$ha immediately seems not necessarily bitchy but just another ignorant youth playing for High School allowance money. Ciara doesn't give that impression while being no less explicit in her video.

What else should we talk about? I'm pretty sure "E.T." is about fucking black guys but besides sounding an awful lot like tATu, Katy's retaining the classiness from songs like "Teenage Dream" and "Firework." Katy's fascinating because she's clearly just as interested in exploiting her boobs for profit as Ke$ha wants to be and definitively enjoys her youth as much. Through the occasional slow jam though she's able to craft a more respectable image. Can we also please just skip over Britney's miserably out-dated attempt to jump on the bandwagon? We know you're there, Brit, you don't have to use a cheesy pick-up line as your comeback song of 2011.

Then there's ladies like Adele or Florence and the Machine which find success through a fantastic song alone without a lot of the dressings of fame. There isn't a need for the Girl vs. Boy cultural double standard conflict or the grab for attention to break away from the mold to get a big hit. Of course this is working under the assumption that most of the more popular girls mentioned today are really just acting and conforming to a label's image in order to sell records. There's the very real possibility that Ke$ha really is as dumb and trashy as she presents herself (not bloody likely). You have to wonder how a girl with near-perfect SAT scores and supposedly plenty of songwriting experience ends up spouting the kind of trash she does. The only rational explanation is that she's really sold her soul down the trashy road for some sales in a unique niche of the Pop Zeitgeist.

So like I said, it's not as if it's a terrible thing in itself that these girls are acting very trashy. It's a problem when they attempt to exploit a market that pays attention to them (this article included) and they produce songs without much merit beyond rallying some imaginary group of endless partyers and providing fantasies for old or pathetic men. Dev's flow has some good things to it I believe, but I really just hate Ke$ha. Stop talking your songs.

Long live Xtina.

28 March 2011

First Impressions: Sucker Punch

Alright, I saw this one. Zach Snyder's Sucker Punch (2011) is exactly what you expect from his directorial history, the trailers and hype. You may have a little doubt that it looks like a good movie, perhaps too much style over substance, a muddled plot and lots of sexy ladies. This is all absolutely true. This may have been the worst Zatch Flick I've ever seen (And I've seen all but that Owl Movie. What the hell), but that's not to say it's totally without merit. There are some interesting things going on here, I only wish they could be supported by a good film crafted around them.

I WAS unprepared for a movie this bad

As you're undoubtedly aware, I had a decently dim outlook going into this film and it didn't disappoint. This has become pretty divisive among the same spectrum - ultimately is this flick exploitative of women or empowering for them? Some interneteers strongly fall in the exploitative camp, others side with Zack's female defense. Go read both of those and then come back.

Welcome back. We'll get into that Lady Topic later, but let's first examine this film like any other film. Regardless of its message, it's really just not that good. The acting is pretty terrible and painfully flat, the script has a lot of problems, the dialogue is painful and the narrative is extremely weak, requiring layers and extended action sequences that are essentially hyperbolised metaphors to sustain the running time. It is just structurally a poor movie. This of course hurts its goals of showcasing a strong feminine action romp.

This should have been a great opportunity to display some strong female butt-kicking characters but none exist in this movie. Spoilers aside, Baby Doll, Sweet Pea and Rocket are the only substantial characters. As this film is built upon heavy obvious symbolism and various dream or false reality sequences, it is clear that Snyder symbolises their importance by giving them much more to do in the dream sequences. Blondie and Amber aren't more than plastic dolls, symbolised by Amber existing only to pilot various craft and Blondie having nothing to do ever. Their deaths aren't important. Carla Gugino is also worthless until the end. A film can't be empowering that features exchangeable female characters who die without the audience feeling anything. It's as if Zack is fridge-stuffing for girl power.

Let's even repeat those very distinguishing names again. Baby Doll. Sweet Pea. Rocket. Amber. Blondie. Absolutely interchangeable, mostly pet names (a man, Blue Jones the primary antagonist gives Baby Doll her name) which strongly implies that they are dependent on a world dominated by males. This is of course true in the context of the film, but since Zack's stated goal is female empowerment it's just too easy to call out bullshit. If they were empowered couldn't they very easily give each other different proper names? This akin to Black Slaves rejecting the names White Owners gave them for more African ones (and the brothel the girls perform in is easily likened to slavery - there are very easy allusions to be made here, Zack). I mean, Sweet Pea and Rocket are sisters - why don't they call each other the names their parents gave them? This may seem like a basic complaint, but names are everything, controlling names and world a the most basic forms of power. Thus at its most basic level, the men in this film have all the power. Again, this is clearly Zack's point and his goal is to have these ladies rise up and t
ake that power - but they need to start by changing the basics that the men have laid down.

Meet the disinterest stare of the new action hero
There is so much wrong with this movie. This is going to take forever. Baby Doll herself hardly speaks for the first thirty minutes and there isn't that much to her character at all. She's just this blank, pale slat. This is perhaps why at the end she literally deigns her existence as nothing more than another object to allow a more developed character (Sweet Pea) to escape. She also freely admits that this wasn't her story at all. Good enough - but if this is all true she's still incredibly uninteresting to watch for two fucking hours, Zack. That's one of the core issues here - as any review on the net has said - it's style over substance. The problem really is that good movies in this genre have both.

So at its core, the Characters in this film are terrible. What about the story though? Sucker Punch is a succession of weak narratives and extended metaphors to cover otherwise uninteresting plot points. The film exists as a few overlapping realities that connect to each other through symbolism and metaphors - such as the Map that exists in the same place in both the Mental Institution (Primary Reality), the Brothel (Secondary Reality) and World War I Front Lines (Tertiary Reality). The problem is that the crossover between these realities seems very arbitrary unlike the great importance it has in similar films like The Matrix (1999), Identity (2003) or Inception (2010). Hell, its basically a sexualised and heavily violent and cruel version of I Am the Cheese. I think I read that for my 7th Grade Language Arts class. Remember when English was called Language Arts and History was called Social Studies? Golly Gee.

Anyway, basically, it's very clear that the Primary Reality would have been more difficult to accept than the more real threat of the Secondary. Girls in a Mental Institution have less freedom than those in a Brothel, and it's harder to believe that the girls would have the success in retrieving their necessary items for escape. Actually now that I'm thinking of it, what the hell did they do in the Mental Institution to grab the lighter...or anything - is Baby Doll doing sexy dances to distract the male orderlies in the Hospital? Or is she really just being excellent through an extended Will Ferrell-like blackout. Back on track, all the Secondary Reality seems kind of pointless other than to support a weak core story. Ultimately there isn't much here - the core plot of Sucker Punch is a girl retrieving four objects in five days then sacrificing herself so another girl can escape. The thing is, tho it all seems dangerous, it's really not that difficult to retrieve each object. Thus we can say that the Fantasy Action Sequences while by far the most entertaining parts of the film aesthetically, are equally pointless. It's uninteresting that Amber just leans in and snatches a lighter from the Mayor's breast pocket. If Baby Doll pretends it's a dragon through super-metaphor power though, it becomes much cooler. In all it is really just a blanket for a weak story.

Also subtle Anime allusions
On that note, the action sequences are good but there's hardly any sense of danger. If you take some similar films I mentioned earlier like The Matrix or Inception that rely on dream sequences or otherwise alternate realities, they preserve a sense of constant danger. In The Matrix the Agents and Machines are established to be a constant fearsome threat. In Inception there is also constant danger mostly because the characters don't have super-abilities like in The Matrix or Sucker Punch. Their only advantages are planning ahead, making puzzles and not much else (that's why Inception tho dealing with dreams is still a very good movie - the danger and stakes are always present). Nothing seems frightening in Sucker Punch from the first time that Baby Doll single-handedly whoops the Three Samurai to her killing steam germans (a cool concept) and dragons. The only time it starts to unwind is when the circuitry fails when retrieving the knife and Rocket actually dies (figuratively and actually). This kind of scene should almost have happened earlier instead of later in the movie. That would demonstrate that their plan actually could go wrong and present something other than a straightforward cadence to the narrative. The movie sets up its stones so precariously though that if this were to happen early and the characters responded accordingly, the movie would fall apart. It's just a sign of really terrible writing.

Those are all some major problems. There's nothing smooth here anywhere to make up for it though. Zack goes out of his way to establish that they aren't killing any real people. The German steam zombies, the Orcs, the weird stone samurai and the Mechano-men all come conveniently without blood or guts. Was this to secure the PG-13 rating in an attempt to boost profits that would seemingly be lost if this was R? Studio pressure? It hasn't really had a whole lot of success anyway. The problems with this film are very very deep and the attempt at covering them up is laughable.

Also the nature of the film is very straight forward for the kind of film it is. Again, you're left feeling curious what the point of all those alternate realities were. There isn't a lot of room for ambiguity or a major reason to not believe that the Primary Reality was anything but the truth. The Bus Driver at the end played by The Wise Man is the only thing that may show that there's more to this movie than meets the eye as he exists at that moment outside of Baby Doll's imagination which seems to conflict with the predetermined rules of the movie (or does he? does she fabricate Sweet Pea's final escape? who knows, it's poorly written).

I hardly touched upon the sexuality here - in general, I don't really understand Zack Snyder's accusation that Geek Culture is sexist - they're just afraid of girls, man. Lay off. In my preview post I wondered outloud how this movie would be treated with an All-Male cast instead of an All-Female. Actually, keeping the same exact Brothel idea with all-boys is kind of interesting. Would escape be any less pertinent? More so, likely, but the gay joke would be far too easy in sloppy hands. If the genders were wholly exchanged, well, we know what happens.

Yeah but you should see it in Autumn!

And lastly can I just say this - why the fuck does everything need to be CGI? This flick was ridiculous, at this point I'm wondering if it really helps the atmosphere at all or detract from the suspension of disbelief. I'm really frustrated with this movie. I do think that the cultural concepts of his film deserve some more addressing, which seems to be all over the internet at the moment. As for now, regardless of its message...this is just a terrible movie in every way.

Although the battle scenes were pretty cool.

25 March 2011

Will Sucker Punch Rise to Become the Greatest Jailbait Movie Ever?

Today we see the premiere of Zach Snyder's latest March Opus, Sucker Punch (2011). Needless to say we've been swarmed in their marketing the past few weeks and a few important aspects stand out to me. One is the highly impressive visual feast this flick promises. It looks like a Fanboy's dream: constant slo-mo, ninja, robots, dragons and some kind of classic hero's journey as far as I can tell. This last part is a bit more oblique though - how much of this story is really congruent and makes any kind of sense? In classic Snyder fashion, I doubt the story or characters will have all that much depth. The biggest thing I notice in this film, however, is the simple fact that this is ridiculous jailbait.

It's not just me, right? I'm almost embarrassed to get excited for this movie.There is thus a few things to discuss: First, let's talk about Jailbait. Urban Dictionary sums up the term quite nicely. Let's admit that in some genetic circumstances a young girl will biologically mature faster than her Chronological Age. Thus a 16-year old could really have the body of a 19-year old, but legally that girl's untouchable. Jailbait is thus a great tempter of older men who get these strange feelings in their balls but morally know that they shouldn't indulge (Well...ideally they know they shouldn't). Yes, the best answer is to wait, Ryan Reynolds. There are of course incidents involving men attracted to biologically 16-year olds babes but let's try not to admit that exists (fuck...it does). Let's quickly move on.

Now, throughout this post thus far I've been one-sided in describing the Jailbait relationship. Could this swing the other way - that is, older women creeping on younger guys? Yeah, this happens all the time, they're called Cougars, there's a fucking show about it, everyone's cool. It's an insane double standard to think about, really. Culturally, this practice is not only generally accepted but praised. See? I'm not sure if this facet fits into a male-dominated society, we still shun ourselves when we bang younger, but not older women. Of course in realty legally speaking there is no difference and if you're fucking a 15-year old of any gender, that's bad news bears my friend. Morally speaking as well.

So let's get back to Sucker Punch. The Official Synopsis offers a journey into the imagination of a young girl imprisoned against her will. There are some creepy connotations there but in all fairness it seems like more of a Journey of Independence than anything sexual. Then there's this trailer:

We already know that Snyder is a visual dude. Needless to say this film will rely heavily on the visuals and editing and the trailer's no different. There are many instances in these two and a half minutes of the sexualisation of a young girl, occasionally explicitly in the company of older men (0:22). Boobies (0:57) and mid-drifts (1:53) aside, most of this trailer implies an orphanage (0:44) or school (1:06) over a mental institution. What kind of mental institution has this may babes inside anyway? It's about the reclamation of power and escape from a male-imposed power structure. Part of that power, as I hinted at earlier, is the sexualisation of the girls.

The school girl uniform and pigtails really clinch it here. How can Zach be saying anything different? Now at this point it's worth our while to note that every young lady in this film is in fact the Age of Legal Consent. The youngest stars, Emily Browning and Vanessa Hudgens were born within a week of each other in December 1988 (You're damn right I made sure to look that shit up a long time ago), meaning when filming this flick they were pretty securely legal. What does that mean though anyhow? We have the right to ogle? To put their heads on other chick's naked bodies and sell them to Mr. Skin? Is it still wrong to be turned on by of-age girls clearly playing underagers? None of this gives me a great feeling in my testicles. Actually it's giving them an incredible feeling which is why my brain is so worried. It's basically the same as that Glee GQ shoot. The average age of a typical Glee Actor is closer to 30 than 20 but should I be popping a boner for this? Wait, I need that bigger.

That's better. Should we feel dirty, gentlemen? I'm not really sure. The actress is 24, the character is in High School. Uhhh....I just won't watch Glee. If you recall back in 2004 though, about the same thing as Sucker Punch happened with a little movie called Mean Girls, until recently widely known as the Greatest Jailbait Movie Ever Made. Like Sucker Punch, every girl in the movie is actually above 18 (Lindsay is actually borderline...Consent is actually 17 in New York, right?) and all of them have incredible racks. See - I feel dirty even saying that about a 26-year old playing a High Schooler! This isn't proper ground to tread.

I'm sure I'll get into this more after I actually see Sucker Punch, because it does look like a very cool film if not one that I feel comfortable getting as excited for it as I am. Considering Gender-Swapping, which can be enlightening, a movie about a group of boys that use their imagination to escape a mental institution seems interesting yet familiar. The young girl angle serves as empowerment against a male-dominated institution rather than a couple of boys bruising it out and the idea of an action flick starring a bunch of cute girls that truly isn't a chick flick sounds pretty awesome. I don't think it's truly gender neutral or anything, but like Toy Story 3 (2010) isn't necessarily a kiddie flick rather simply enjoyed by all people. Maybe (See also, Women in Trouble [2009]).

So after all this will the film do well with audiences? Like I said, no matter what the visuals may suggest or what momentous assumptions we may be able to glean from even a couple minutes of trailer footage, this film really doesn't look like it has much of a plot when you get down to it. Someone with...obviously no job actually made a nicely edited trailer starring Disney Princesses to the beats of Sucker Punch, and to be honest it makes an exactly equal amount of sense. Take a look. Love that Zep by the way, can't believe my favourite Zep song fits so well in this trailer. I'm really not sure who Sucker Punch appeals to. Little Girls? College Boys? Creepos in the back row with conveniently-placed boner-hiding popcorn bins? With any luck it's all three! Hey oh!

Sucker Punch opens everywhere today.

24 March 2011

War of the Decades: Best Pictures

With The King's Speech (2010) capturing the first Best Picture Crown of the Decade my thoughts began to turn towards Legacy. I'm curious about Trends in Best Picture winners - which decade ended up truly honouring the films that we still watch and quote with relevancy today. Naturally it's not often the Academy flows in such nice Census-Year lines but it's worthwhile for this debate. Now, the 1920s only have a pair of winners, and neither are that significant (Wings in 1928 and The Broadway Melody in 1929. Both involved significant firsts [The Broadway Melody for example, is considered first complete musical but kind of sucks] but aren't much beyond that). So let's talk about what movies we're still talking about today from each decade:

1930s - Depression...but WE GOT BOOZE BACK!
Time and shifting tastes have hurt this decade, but somehow Gone With the Wind (1939) is still relevant, quoted and parodied pretty regularly. Adjusted for Inflation, it's still at the top of the charts and really unlikely to ever fall at this point. It peaked at this awesome time when everyone everywhere had nothing better to do that go to the movies and it became that epic event movie. It also held the  All-Time Box Office Record from its peak in 1941 until it was surpassed by The Sound of Music (1966). In fact, with a re-release in 1971 it took back the all-time record! When a movie is the All-Time Highest Grosser for 26 years, destroying any other competition, it reamins part of the heritage. Not to mention that when it was first shown on NBC in two parts on November 7th and 8th, 1976 it was the most watched program in US History at the time and got an insane 47.7 rating. Can you imagine any TV movie ever EVER getting ratings like that these days? Of course without video or DVR or anything, when that shit was on - you had to tune in! Needless to say this movie really had an impact and makes up for everyone forgetting the rest of the 30s that weren't The Wizard of Oz (1939) and breadlines.

1940s-  Shit! There's a War!
The 40s had its share of great films but only one really stands out - Casablanca (1943). I suppose that during World War II our country had a few other things on its mind. It also doesn't help that the sheer number of films made in this decade was ridiculous, most of them cheap and forgettable. Casablanca though has a ridiculous ripple effect, you see it everywhere. It's the 40s single entry but it's almost as strong as Gone With the Wind.

1950s- Russians and Elvis
The 50s boast a nice little collection of Best Picture Winners. From Here to Eternity (1953) is apparently slightly more than a beach kissing scene, Brando's performance in On the Waterfront (1954) is still a huge innovation felt today and Marty (1955) has held up remarkably well. As the 50s progressed some of the bigger films such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959) have their share of famous moments that echo throughout pop culture. At least with the Unforgivable Guy. Always good for a lean night.

1960s- Love, Peace and More War
When the 60s roll through we start getting some true classics. I notice based on my own personal criteria of "Shit I Recognize through Parody" we seem to favour the first half of this decade. This is probably because the second-hal of the 60s were Batshit Insane and people were lucky enough if they didn't have their cultural leaders shot or fall off a balcony while tripping on acid much less pay a nickel for the theater. There are definitely some immortal films here though like West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965). In fact I'd say the 60s got a lot of Best Pictures correct in the sense of honouring Cultural Value. We can add Midnight Cowboy (1969) to that list of relevant films as well.

1970s- Let's Go Disco Dancing!
Alright. I'll give it away - it's the 70s. The 70s win. Going through this decade is ridiculous. We start with Patton (1970)'s American Flag speech, move on to The French Connection (1971) chase, too many to count from Both Godfathers (1972 & '74) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). I still don't agree with Rocky's 1976 win over Network, but Rocky's probably the most permeating Best Picture of the decade (though nearly all of Network came true at some point and Peter Finch's catchphrase caught on). 1977's Annie Hall vs. Star Wars is almost the same deal, though clearly Star Wars is one of the most influential movies of all time but Annie Hall still rules. Lastly, The Deer Hunter (1978), that movie was hilarious.

1980s- I'm Paul Allen!
After a couple great decades that really again, rewarded maybe not the best movie of the year, but probably the most immortal of the nominees, the 80s are terrible. All I can gather is Platoon (1986) and Rain Man (1988). Actually I can barely believe either of these are Best Picture winners. The Me Decade has unbridled pretension and really started rewarding typical Oscar Fodder worse than any other decade. It's terrible. It's not like they should be getting pumped for Gremlins (1984), but this was also one of the last decades for really great Tentpole films like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) or Back to the Future (1985). No love.

1990s- My Pants Have Eight Colors on Them Now
Maybe it's just that the 90s were more recent, but I feel like there's a lot more here than the 80s in terms of great influential and deserving Best Pictures. If not for the heavy influence it clearly had on MAVATAR (2009), I may have left off Dances With Wolves (1990) (read: ripped-off). The Silence of the Lambs (1991) echoes through our culture as does Braveheart (1995) and Forrest Gump (1994) very thoroughly. Hell, that flick's still on TV twice a week. I was hesitant but decided that both Unforgiven (1992) and Schindler's List (1993) should barely make my cut, as does American Beauty (1999). And just because everyone has seen it and it dominated so long of a zeitgeist in the late 90s, Titanic (1997) is really this decade's most epic film.

2000s- The Worst Thing That Happened Today was That My Ipod was Deleted.
I actually don't think that Decade we just wrapped up has a whole lot of Best Pictures that will last. I think The Hurt Locker (2009) is debatable if it can ever catch on, because it's an incredible movie and one of my favourites of the decade, but it remains the Least-Grossing Best Picture as far back as these records go. Yeah, without inflation.Other than that we're stuck with the twin blockbusters from early in the Decade, Gladiator (2000) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). The latter is likely the most immortal of this Decade tho the source material sure helps. After that we've already felt some cultural resonance from Million Dollar Baby (2004) and The Departed (2006), and I believe that No Country for Old Men (2007) will also stand the test of time. I really think that the latter two I mentioned are the only Best Pictures of this decade that can stand on equal ground with those of the 70s.

So there you have it. Argue and debate my criteria and picks as you like. In terms of mass cultural appeal decades beyond its time, I have to give the 1970s the prize for the Best Best Picture winners. The rest are shit. As for The King's Speech? I'm going to say that Inception (2010) and Chris Nolan's direction in particular are going to stay with us for much much longer.

23 March 2011

Because it was on TV: ESPN and the Significance of the Sports Documentary

On the Eve of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament last week, ESPN aired a documentary directed by Jason Hehir called The Fab Five, concerning probably the greatest College Freshman Basketball Class ever recruited at a single school. The documentary was excellent and became the highest rated ESPN Film ever. This along with the channel's very critically and commercially successful 30 for 30 series got me thinking a bit more about the Old Boring Documentary. Are they making a comeback? Wait...are they making a...are they popular now?

Let's try a brief thought experiment. Imagine you're invited over to a friend's house to watch some great movie. You get there and it turns out it's a documentary. That's like thinking you're going to get ice cream that turns out to be prune flavoured. It's this bitter tease. Simply put, documentaries make you learn new interesting things. That's terrible. I want explosions, dammit. But these ESPN stories are different and that's the key right here - they're stories.

The 30 for 30 series explored History across all genders and Sports in honour of 30 years of ESPN. The best highlighted events that very interesting at the time but perhaps not well known today. I think that sometimes in the moment a sports season is actually too long to fully recognise what's happening. When the years-long story of a rise and fall of a program can be condensed into a 2-hour doc, it makes the events a bit more pertinent. We also get more angle to the story instead of simply reacting to news stories as we'd do on the outside. In ten or fifteen years we might see a LeBron Leaving Cleveland doc that shows a bit more of his perspective (this could equally damn and exonerate him) and a more rapid evaluation of events. Some of the best 30 for 30 Films are like this ("Straight Outta LA" concerning the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles and "The U" concerning Miami University's success in the 1980s).

There are also films about great Sports controversies (You may also fill in LeBron here) that no one really knew the whole story with until a thorough documentary captured it. One of the most popular films, "Pony Excess," about the downfall of the SMU football program as well as "The Two Escobars" about the rise and influence of the Cocaine Industry on Colombia's Futbol Team fit this bill. It's not totally sports nor is it a boring style of documentary. They tell a sports story without Will Smith or Matthew McConaughey. It's stories over learning that hooks people in. Besides, it's also sports, so our culture doesn't it consider lame to watch. In fact, American Male Culture encourages a deep knowledge of Sports History and these Sports Docs give us a great opportunity to bolster that. This is all to say that documentaries are no longer that lame.

The Fab Five was excellent. As you can tell, this is really not just about sports. It's about cross-societal perception, culture war, race war and the trials of a handful of 18-year old kids who could play a hell of a game of ball that no one cared to give them credit for. It's the kind of documentary that traces the origin of many trends we see today in Modern Basketball and Modern Sports in general. There's the idea that The Fab Five was able to expose more of this newer Black Urban Culture to the Sports World (tho clearly not without stigmatization from the Culture at Large) and beyond that to that broader Culture (exactly why Cranky Whites were so afraid). I still hate Duke. Actually everyone hates Duke.

So, angry Duke tangents aside, there has been a rise in the past ten years actually of culturally influential documentaries, not always involving Sports that make for some good stories as well as boring educational fare. We're transitioning as a cutlrue away from the boring filmstrip to the flashy and edgy infographic-driven doc. Some of my favourite films have been documentaries such as Man on Wire (2008), Why We Fight (2005) and The Fog of War (2003) (yeah! War! And...and tightrope walking). Others have actually left a mark on culture the size of any major fictional picture. These include Super Size Me (2004), March of the Penguins (2005) and Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010). Finally, we've seen some very popular politically divisive docs such as Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) as well as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Have Documentaries become cool yet? I'd say they at least got a 50/50 shot now.

So go tape something. In twenty years that'll be excellent archive footage.

18 March 2011

War of the Months: March

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's the third Friday in March which means it's time again for Norwegian Morning Wood's glance at the trends and best films of each month of the Year. Being March now, we'll talk about March, the month of Irish Drinking, Snow Melting and what I affectionately call the "Halfbusters" at the movies. Let us proceed:

March: Month of the Halfbuster

Now what do I mean by this term? In recent years March is this month of decent business when studios seem to drop bigger films that are very close to being tentpole Summer Events, but for whatever reason are just a shade short.This goes for big but not that big Animated Films like Ice Age (2002), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010) along with subpar blockbusters like 10,000 BC (2008), Blade II (2002), V for Vendetta (2006) and  Knowing (2009). Even something way back like The Matrix (1999) fits this bill, and it blew up huge, later its sequels secured a Summer, then November Release more typical of the Franchise Age. March is like this testing zone for franchises, some of which like Ice Age would be successful and then secure a Huge Summer Release later. Others like Knowing are just awful. Except for that plane scene.

So you see it's this month of quasi-good, kind-of big movies. It's not total schlock like January and February but it's not really sure-thing Summer Franchise stuff. Both this year's Battle: Los Angeles (2011) and Rango are perfect examples - risky (by Hollywood standards - read "original") projects that are big enough to possibly earn a buck if not, the studio hasn't wasted a possibly vital Summer Weekend. All this is perfect for Zach Snyder.

March is the month of Zach, really. His lifetime only film that hasn't released in March and done reasonably well is that Terrible Random Owl Movie, which wasn't very Snyder-like at all. I mean, not one slow-motion bloody death scene? But anyway, in the past half-decade his flicks have defined March. Dawn of the Dead (2004) virtually launched the current Zombie fad, 300 (2007) came out of no where with Macho Awesome and Watchmen (2009)...had a really cool opening credits scene. Needless to say, his upcoming Sucker Punch (2011) seems to fit that bill nicely, though with this one I don't know he's going to make a cent. More on that in a post next week. But if you're trying to picture the perfect March movie, anything Snyder sums it up nicely.

Movies: Zach Snyder (his only film not released in march is that Owl movie), Half-Blockbusters (Halfbusters), it explodes b/c its full of flicks that could be good but not really good enough for a summer release. Same goes with good, bigger kids animated films.

March Bank: It's Ok!

Alright, the top weekend for March All-Time belongs to last year's ridiculous Alice in Wonderland (2010) which somehow nabbed $116,101,023 over here before ultimately cracking a $Billion worldwide. I still don't know how that happened. After that we've got some flicks I've mentioned already that have done pretty well, but you'll notice a steep drop-off. Look for yourself. The Top 10 is filled with Halfbusters, most of them Animated Features from unestablished studios or properties that lucked into a good niche. The one exception is probably Wild Hogs (2007) at #9, which was really an awful, awful comedy that was broad enough to warrant a decent release but clearly the declining stock of its principle actors (Travolta, Macy, Lawrence, Allen, etc) made it less of a sure-thing Summer Cash Cow than something like Grown-Ups (2010) (see also the much worse Old Dogs [2009]).

Alice in Wonderland's success also let March 2010 charge ahead to become the highest-grossing March Ever. Clocking in at $832,265,884 easily lets March take over January and February's averages (tho January 2010 on the wings of AVABAR [2009] still beats it). You can also see that March works on its average rather than its highball. Besides 2010 and 2007 the highest years haven't really had a recent trend. It's been a consistent month for Halfbusters for some time.

Best Movies Ever Released in March:

As we go through this year we'll see the amount of films released per month getting better and better (uh...until September). March actually has some very find movies, here are my Top Ten Picks:

#10: Erin Brockovich - 3/17/2000
#9: Zodiac - 3/2/2007
#8: Dave Chappelle's Block Party - 3/3/2006
#7: Thank You For Smoking - 3/17/2006
#6: The Doors - 3/1/1991
#5: High Fidelity - 3/31/2000
#4: The Birdcage - 3/8/1996
#3: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - 3/19/2004
#2: The Matrix - 3/31/1999
#1: The Big Lebowski -3/6/1998

Honourable Mentions: There have always been some solid March Comedies like Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), I Love You, Man (2009), Blades of Glory (2007), Starsky & Hutch (2004), Liar Liar (1997) and Tommy Boy (1995). In addition we may add the Halfbusters Hidalgo (2004), Enemy at the Gates (2001) and the underrated Wahlberg flick Shooter (2007). There aren't nearly as many romantic comedies, but the genre influencing Four Weddings and a Funeral (!994) as well as Pretty Woman (1990) were both March Releases.

I'm not sure where to put the rest, but for what it's worth the worthwhile The Pacificer (2005), the classic Oscar-Winning Marisa Tomei performance in My Cousin Vinny (1992) and the most insane Horror-Comedy ever, Slither (2006) all found their homes originally in March. You can tell how this is a somewhat experimental month but maybe I should say it's totally risky. Films that come out here usually have a decent chance at a buck but it's more a springboard month for careers in both acting and directing. It's Summer Pre-Season more than anything else; a chance to test the waters, play the rookies, hope for future success.

So go see Sucker Punch.

17 March 2011

The Long Halloween Vol. II: St. Patty's

We come again to another round of The Long Halloween, our year-long second look at the greatest holiday activities you could ever imagine. Once a month we pick a Holiday and tell you what to eat, what to drink and what to watch. And really, there isn't an easier day then St. Patrick's Day in the middle of March.


The big thing about St. Patty's is that you need to lean everything green. As long as you're not Gay or Italian you should be able to fake Irish pretty well, if not, wear some green and start drinking. Your stereo should be pumping anything with bagpipes, banjos, fiddles, accordions and flutes. This time of year I always listen to the two major Irish Rock bands (for lack of a better term) and I'm not fucking talking about Bono. You've got to start blasting either Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly. It may just be my own Irish blood but these tunes just call to me. They stir some very deep urge to drink and fight, which you had better get into this day as well. It's the best way to keep up Irish Traditional Music without being terrible.

Sullivan Flicks:

For many years all we had was The Boondock Saints (1999) but then finally Marty gave us Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006). Any one is a celebration of the Irish-American and requisite Green Day Viewing. While Saints is probably more typically Irish, anything Bostonian this day fits pretty nicely with the city's heritage. The Departed really isn't that Irish, but it does have a lot of Irish-American Gangsters milling about, getting drunk and killing each other. It's like watching Goodfellas (1990) on St. Gerbuzzio's Day, you know, it's close enough.

Gangs of New York might be the closest we get to a true Irish pride movie. It's a look at Irish Classic, an original soothing blend of rabbit and poverty. That's probably the best we're going to do this day.

McDrinks and McMeals:

No, not McDonalds. Mc as in like, the slur. I will jump on that bandwagon that makes fun of the Irish, they're the only race you can still do that with. We don't really care, we're too drunk to notice and too full of pride to let anyone else get us down. Anyway, traditional food this day is Corn Beef and Cabbage, but this may extend to anything green. That's all bullshit. If you want to eat like a true Irishman just chomp on potatoes. Preferably raw. Any stew is good, beef is classic, lamb is probably a bit more accurate. Really just picture the meal that a poor drunken 1840s Dublin dock worker would munch on and you can't go wrong. Make sure the cheese is cheddar and shredded thick and spread over everything, including your chips and beef. It's also the raving lunatic Mick in me that is actually getting pretty hungry describing this.If you're feeling different you're probably a bloody continental bastard and deserve a good fork in yer eye! Oooh...crossing lines now.

As for drinks ye be best with any kind of beer, tho the darker the better (unless ye goin' fer a wee bit of green brew, for which ye'd betta get some emerald die and the lightest suds ye got. Alright I need to stop). Really your only option at this point should be an extremely tall Guinness, and keep it coming all day, starting whenever you wake up that morning. Continue until passed out or arrested. Actually just until passed out. You may drink in jail. There are actually a good amount of other brews to guzzle down, including Beamish, Murphy's or Harp. You may think you're getting away with some Killian's, but no! Killian's is a Coors brand beer, which couldn't be less Irish. So limit yourself to only seven. Other Irish Reds also keep to minimally three or four each. That should leave a nice round twenty or twenty-four Guinnesses for the day.

Well that's about if, folks. For some reason only the Irish have this day. There's no St. Gerbuzzio's day or St. Heimlitchz Day. Those are the best fake Italian and German names I could come up with. There is only St. Patty's and to be a true Irishman drink, fight and wear your finest Green Tunic. Like this guy. Hooray!

07 March 2011

This Week in Sports: The Miami Heat and Jumping on the Bandwagon

I don't talk enough about Sports around here, it's equally as unimportant as Movies, TV and Music and certainly an intriguing bit of Pop Culture Entertainment. I suppose in all actuality there's less to rake from Sports, it's not like Jenn Sterger shrieking at Brett Favre's dick means a whole lot to our Collective Pop Conscious. Well maybe it does...

Anyway, I did think of an interesting facet of Sports this week and that's based off a comment made by some ESPN reporter, it may have been Steve Gottlieb, but who cares, those guys are pretty interchangeable. Except John Buccigross. That guy rules. Back on track then, someone who's not John Buccigross asked if the current Miami Heat is the most hated Sports Franchise of all time. There are plenty of reasons to agree.

I'll add some context to those cinephiles who are lost right now. Think of this as a story, because hell, that's really all Sports are, stories. That's why people follow teams, become invested in games, the season is their narrative and the players are characters, filtered through agents, press conferences and media like ESPN. The Story of the Heat so far is a tragedy, cursed by hubris.

Last summer reigning MVP of the NBA LeBron James abandoned Northeast Ohio where he had played his entire prolific High School and NBA career for the sunny shores of South Beach. He did this after single-handedly transforming a joke NBA Franchise (The Cleveland Cavaliers) into a regular Championship Contender. A Contender only though, never a Champion. This pissed off King James, tho many blamed him for not knowing how to win at the most clutch moments and giving up during the playoffs. They call him a big whiny man-child who was given everything except what he needs to earn on the court at too young of an age. He's immature, selfish and needlessly seeks attention (See: The Decision). He left a city that only had the Cavs going for it in order to bring back a ring with his buddies in Miami. You can see how that turned out.

The thing is though, that last summer many pundits predicted that we'd all hate the Heat because they'd be unstoppable. The first team to go 82-0, automatic championship, blowing out Kobe by 50+ points a night. You'd think they'd be the United States in Barcelona. The thing is though...the Heat kind of suck. They've put together a streak or two this season and were contending for the first place in the Eastern Conference but after a 4-game slide of embarrassing losses and huge comebacks from opposing teams, it's not looking great. I'll say that, they don't look great. They look good, but they aren't great, which was everyone's expectation.

They capped things off this week with a 1-point loss to the Chicago Bulls which cost them second place in the East (to Chicago). The heat are winless against Top Conference Teams (Boston, Chi-Town, San Antonio and Dallas), but did pull off a Christmas Day win against the Lakers. That's it. There's certainly a winning record there but they're practically like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year - they've somehow managed to only beat Teams with worse records, securing their place as Kings of Shit.

With that all said I'll finally move on to the question proposed in the title of this entry - is cheering for the Heat right now really jumping on the bandwagon? A team that everyone in the country universally hates that isn't really even that good? What bandwagon? No one is on the Heat bandwagon. There is no bandwagon. Last year at this time Miami was hovering right around .500 (meaning in the East they were still a Playoff Team that lost to the Celtics 4-1 in the First Round). It's very possible they don't end this year all that different. So why does everyone hate them? They don't have 27 World Series like the Yankees or Three Super Bowls like the 90s Cowboys or 2000s Pats. They haven't won anything!

It comes down to character. That selfish, championship-grabbing character. It's why we can easily cheer against Rapist Ben Roethlisberger or Lothario Tiger Woods. LeBron just seems like a douche. Crying after the game doesn't help. Still, what happens if they don't win? What happens if after all this endless bullshit they don't win? They'd just be pathetic. Can we hate pathetic teams? No one gangs up on the Clippers because they're the fucking Clippers. It's like ganging up on a Penguin with a broken leg. It's just cruel. If the Heat just lose and cry do we hate them? Or just feel sorry.

At this point all I'm saying is that you're not on the damn bandwagon if you proclaim yourself to be a Heat fan and no one likes you. A bandwagon is supposed to have widespread support and love because they're winning. The Heat aren't winning. And because of that Character would winning even earn them some support? Hell no, losing is the only thing they've got going for them right now. It makes them human. This is really why LeBron should have stayed in Cleveland another fifteen years even if he never won a championship there. The city was enjoying him anyway and he brought them a lot of attention. If LeBron wins or not in Miami he's a sell-out to varying degrees of patheticity. Either way I don't understand how this team could have a lot of fans or you could be considered a sell-out for supporting them. It's hype rather than reality that has sold this team. They haven't dominated the sport so much like the Yankees that they aren't fun to cheer for. Neither are they unlikeable because of their fanbase like every Boston and Texan team in history. They're also not as classless as the Jets, as evil as the Raiders or the Flyers or as sad as the Lions or Pirates. See, you can't have your team lose all the time. You need a good .500 team to cheer for (This is basic psychology). And in a Sports World full of Rapists and Murderers, LeBron's just the right level of professional asshole.

So naturally through all this I made my decision of who to support this season a long time ago.

Go Heat!
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