31 May 2011

Another One Down: Evaluating the 2010-2011 TV Season

Well with the biggest shows finding their finales last week it's finally time to talk about this year in Television. There weren't all that many landmark seasons this year but it was certainly enjoyable. There were some significant ending series, about no significant beginning series and some continued greatness from every show that's great.

Goodbye Forever:

Anyone notice Smallville ending? When was the last time anyone watched Smallville? Maybe Tom Welling can have some sort of career some place now. We also lost America's Most Wanted, which means the FBI will have to resort to finding criminals on its own. So we're boned. Lastly Oprah, known for Oprah also bowed out this year, which means that heterosexual male lives everywhere will remain exactly the same. Honestly, does the absence of any of these shows really hurt anybody? I know that Oprah has a huge following for reasons that escape me, but daytime Television isn't that popular relative to anything else and besides, she's trading a single show for an entire channel. It's just not a big deal.

NBC has become the running joke of the year - they had more cancellations than anything else and just can't seem to find that hot show to bring them on par with ABC's Dancing with the Stars or FOX's American Idol. They've actually done well with The Voice, starring Christina Aguilera's Boobs, but otherwise they're putting out such fine programming as The Event and The Cape. This shit isn't even fun to joke about anymore. Yeah those were terrible. Woe to NBC as we also saw the departure of Steve Carrell from The Office, which means we saw the last somewhat watchable season of that show.

Hello, Forever!

There were no good new shows this year. CBS' Mike & Molly and Hawaii Five-0 are probably the biggest freshman hits and it's typical that one's a cookie cutter Fat Comedy and the other's a basic CBS procedural. This is also the case for tons of Cable shows, I can't even name them all. There are a pair of shows that have pushed TV's envelope into awesome new territory, HBO's Boardwalk Empire and AMC"s The Walking Dead. The Golden Globes immediately recognized and nominated both in their first year and I'm sure the Emmys will follow suit next year.

Conan O'Brien returned to television this year with a Late Show that probably lies somewhere between Late Night and The Tonight Show. His appearance every night on TBS is actually legendary and is actually an accurate descriptor of the rapidly closing gap between Network and Basic Cable quality. It's just nice seeing him comfortable and putting out a very funny show that everyone can have fun with. Who the hell is watching Leno? On the topic of Late Night talk, Jimmy Fallon is coming on his own as well, with probably one of his better seasons so far.

Still Here, Eh?

I mentioned this before but How I Met Your Mother on CBS had one of its best seasons and possibly one of the best of the year. Some of the better episodes include "Subway Wars" (S6;E4), "Last Words" (S6;E14), "A Change of Heart" (S6;E18) and "Legendaddy" (S6;E19). They've pushed their characters in some brutal directions but it's all been pretty funny amidst a great amount of depth and growth.

But the best episode of the year was probably Community's "Critical Film Studies" (S2;E19) along with what seems to have become an annual Paintball episode. I think the show's second season was weaker over all but the rising stock of Parks and Recreation is making up for it on Thursday nights. Actually that's about the only show I'm really enjoying on NBC these days, 30 Rock has also declined greatly in quality.

South Park's quality is also retreating as is SNL's, barring a few outstanding sketches. This was really the year of OK Seasons I think. Besides HIMYM and Parks and Rec I don't think a single repeating show I watch regularly did all that well.

This summer I'm looking forward to the conclusion of Rescue Me, the reappearance of underrated Ugly Americans and really having a few nights off from television watching. In general the continued fracture of attention has increased the prestige of appearing on Television. Also the increased availability of TV Shows on DVD and now through streaming services such as Netflix has rendered these programs a little more immortal. As this continues TV will continue to tell broader and grander stories across multiple seasons which should only increase the quality of our screens. It's a great time to watch TV. Now go see a movie this summer.

30 May 2011

Summer Jam 2011: May 30 Winners

Happy Memorial Day folks, time to honour our fallen comrades with time-tested traditions like drinking beer and seeing how man hot dogs one can fit into his or her mouth at one time. I can do seven! So tighten up those red, white and blue undies because the Summer Jam Winners for Hangover Weekend follow:

#8: "Down on Me" by Jeremih ft. 50 Cent

Down a bit this week but still pretty present, "Down on Me" is actually a pretty smooth track. This is actually Jeremih's less dirty Summer Hit. Hearing "Birthday Sex" again now also reminds me how much of a better song that was. I'm processing a lot here, 50 has had plenty of better tracks as well, why isn't this song awesome? I still heard this a lot this week but it's clearly slipping down the charts.

#7: "The Show Goes On" by Lupe Fiasco

This song actually keeps peaking week by week but I definitely heard it less on radio than last week. It's got a good chance to hang around despite the fact that it's been around forever by now. I've really settled into the lyrics at this point though the flawless Modest Mouse sampling for sure is the hook here. I feel like anyone who enjoys hip-hop was all about this track back in March and now the pop crowd is starting to embrace it, which may extend its life for a bit. "Rolling in the Deep" is undergoing the same phenomenon actually, discovery by a larger crossover population is extending its chart lifetime greatly. That's awesome because these songs rule.

#6: "Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars

After disappearing last week, this track has charged back onto the Winners' List with a surge of listens late in the week. I've been weirdly entranced by this song lately, probably because it accurately describes a typical day in my life. The flannel monkeys are kind of creepy in the video though, which is lazy enough to accurately fit the song's theme. To be fair Summer should be a lazy lounging time and this track fits the Warmer Months pretty well.

#5: "Just Can't Get Enough" by The Black Eyed Peas

Ranked #2 on the Pop Charts this song has had some ups and downs since its release but for now it's placed steadily high and staying there. Fergie's baby voice aside this track features some mediocre rapping (a step up from normal B.E.P. production) and less electronica than some of their other tracks (see here). So it's actually a quality song for the Black Eyed Peas, far more restrained than their typical bullshit from the future. Also that weird Asian Guy Who Dances actually does something! This is nothing like any other B.E.P. track. At least until the final minute than it's like they had been holding in their Pop-Techno bullshit and then splooge all over our eardrums. Anyway, it has a good chance to wobble around the middle of the List for a while.

#4: "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears

Slipping a little bit this week, Britney's definitely still around despite the world not coming to an end last weekend. So now we can dance until the sunrise every night. But the world won't end. Not in October, Hal. Anyone notice that Britney is actually looking sort of okay in this song? I like how her entire career has been based on pure sex. I also heard "Baby One More Time" on the radio this week, and we should point out a few things - 1) Check out how flat she is. 2) Is there anyone she's appealing to other than the 40+ year male pervert crowd? and 3) This is the strongest pure Pop-Generated song ever, and she's still doing the same shit today.

#3: "On the Floor" by J. Lo ft. Pitbull

Let the Latins attack this summer! From the State of Miami this song was really wobbly last week, but took over everything this week. Maybe it was a surge with J. Lo on American Idol's Finale, who knows. Needless to say, nothing says 2011 like a Top 10 of the Hot 100 that includes Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Busta Rhymes. What the hell? How have we not moved on? This is a hot Latin Summer Song though the video is incredibly uninspred. Actually this is the only kind of video that Pitbull knows how to make. I hate Pitbull.

#2: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

The Top Two Spots haven't changed for the first Three Weeks of Summer, which is unbelievable considering both tracks were hot topics in the music world months ago. My theory concerning Adele is that everyone with taste discovered her months ago but only recently has she transcended into the Pop World. She was the third most heard radio song this week but slipped on a few countdowns as well as on a few charts such as the Pop Songs, Radio Songs and Adult Contemporary. It's still #1 in most Digital Realms though which means we're really right in the midst of her popularity. This track isn't going anywhere soon.

#1: "E.T." by Katy Perry ft. Kanye West

Did you know that Katy Perry recently acquired a Billboard record by being the only artist to have a song in the Top 10 for 52 Consecutive Weeks? She did this with "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream," "Firework" and "E.T." which is sick, especially considering how different all these songs are. She's not selling sex anymore either, the "E.T." video couldn't be at a more opposite sexual spectrum as "California Gurls." Russel should just be thankful that Katy can actually make some money. Anyway, any week Adele could punk her out but for now the Summer is still Katy's.

So what's next week? GaGa's failure to produce a song to really catch on is spectacular, both "The Edge of Glory" and "Judas" ranked on the charts this week where typically only flavour of the week Glee songs fall. How the hell is she releasing a new single every other week, too? For some reason she also put out "Hair," which seems more like swamping a market already flooded with GaGa in a desperate shot that one of her songs off a Not-Great Album becomes a certified hit. I'm still telling you that the stock of "Super Bass" is rising, "Dirty Dancer" seems shitty now and I can't see much farther than that. "The Edge of Glory" will probably crack this list some time in the next few weeks but I can't see GaGa getting a crown this summer.

28 May 2011

First Impressions: The Hangover: Part II

The Hangover: Part II (2011) is an interesting part of movie history. The first installment, The Hangover in 2009 was one of the hugest surprise hits of the year, and the highest grossing Rated R Comedy of all time, with no major stars or prior brand recognition. It's also barely mainstream, featuring heavy drinking, drug use, sex and tiger theft. Part II (which I need to say, modeling the sequel title after The Godfather: Part II [1974] is brilliantly crass) is virtually a remake, I've never seen a sequel follow the exact beats and plot structure of its predecessor so closely. Yet the plot of the first film was pretty good and the humour is still there, so I'm wondering if the unoriginality alone qualifies this film as shitty. Part II is still hilarious and ups the ante in every possible way even though it is such a thorough retread of the first film. While the first movie was innovative, does that lack of innovation automatically call for a lesser film? Probably, but I was still laughing my ass off so who cares. Needless to say, spoilers follow. If you'll remember, I managed to avoid all manner of advertising going into this one and I can say it made the film very very fun.

Part II is the kind of movie director Todd Phillips could make after making the ridiculous sum of money he made on The Hangover. The scenery is actually breathtaking in some spots, the rolling shots of the Thai landscape are impressive and you can tell it has over double the original's budget. Everything is bigger - the streets are crowded, we trade the Vegas desert for the towers and jungles of Bangkok. This is one thing I'll give the film a lot of credit for - despite its plot rehash, it actually doesn't repeat old jokes or old iconography.

This is Bangkok's movie as much as The Hangover was Vegas' movie. The first installment was so Vegas - the sin amidst the lights and glamour, Caesar's Palace, Luxury Suites, Marriages, sand and Celebrity. There was also accountability with authorities, whether it be cops with tasers or a pissed-off Tyson. In the same vein, Bangkok is Bangkok. It's a whole different animal. The guys don't wake up in their Luxury Suite, they wake up in a dank, dark cockroach motel. It's squalor over glamour - their sins are reflected all around them. The atmosphere of Bangkok is very different from Vegas - there's a lack of accountability from authority figures instead the streets are ruled by drug dealers, pimps and gangsters. This ups the stakes tremendously.

The movie turns on Zach Galifianakis, who is doing his best here to encourage the audience to hate him. He refuses to use his popular Alan Garner character to smirk at the audience or callback what made him great. He just flows into new levels of psychosis, more obsessive over loving Phil (Bradley Cooper) and loathing the Wolf Pack intruder Teddy (Mason Lee, Ang Lee's son actually). I still get upset over Frat Boys suddenly loving Galifianakis here when I stayed up late in High School watching Late World with Zach. Still, Zach plays a dangerous man-child here. He's far more psychotic than anything Will Ferrell comes up with. He's playful and innocent (I still love his reluctance to swear) but destructive, bitter and obsessive. That's part of what makes The Hangover movies work. There's a real danger here, it doesn't let up. The pain and consequences, no matter how outrageous feel so real. When Phil gets shot, we get shot.

The monkey from Night at the Museum's surprise cameo...
One thing that bothered me is that the drunken escapades seemed to weigh heavier on Stu (Ed Helms) than anyone else. He incited a riot, got a Tyson Tat and had willing sex with a transvestite prostitute. Hoorah. It works for the story because he is both the most stuck-up and has the most to lose this time around. Actually it's great how Alan reacts about the same if not worse towards losing his monkey and later his hat and then claims that he is having the worst day. Like the first time around, Phil really has the least crazy shit happen to him, but he's still the Alpha Male and unquestioned leader here. He's the guy who knows what to do when Chow (Ken Jeong) dies and is strong enough to keep the Beta Males together when they're falling apart over Tranny Sex and Monkey Loss.

Ken Jeong is a rising star and his role here is perfect. He's just unstoppable. I thought his death moments after they wake up from the hangover was brilliant but his return was certainly necessary to keep the story moving. That's one thing I love about these movies - they're detective stories. They're stories we all have. Except usually it's like "damn, which ex-girlfriend did I call last night" not "damn, which seedy bar did I burn down to the ground last night?" Chow is nuts and his shift from antagonist to kind-of friend works here.

Justin Bartha is still the most boring actor ever, it was wise for Todd Phillips to keep him docile and let the other three go nuts again (tho in the first film Doug parties equally hard and stays with them all night). Teddy is a good replacement, the set-up of his importance makes his disappearance brutal. The revelation of his lost finger during the end credits is spectacular. Apparently those pics were just the cast and Todd with no other crew wandering around Bangkok trying to find crazy shit.

The women again are pretty one-dimensional but there just isn't room for them in this kind of story. They do what they need to. The crew of Stu, Alan, Phil, Teddy, Chow and an old Monk who took a vow of silence out on the town in Bangkok is incredible enough. The Hangover: Part II doesn't hold back a thing, especially at times when it really should. From the first scene it promises the worst (best?) night imaginable and it delivers, exceeding the first installment in every way. As a side note, three characters say nigger, none of them are black. I wouldn't call Todd Phillips a racist (I'm content with the fact that Tyson could kill him if he was offended) and it adds to the stupidity of the characters more than anything mean-spirited. But what the hell?

So how can they top this for Part III? All I can think of is Amsterdam, baby. Tho Todd seems to say that he would break the mold on the third installment. Why? Keep it going for Alan's wedding, man. That's the way to do it.

Go eat some marshmallows.

25 May 2011

First Impressions: Bridesmaids

I finally got around to seeing Bridesmaids (2011), and it's definitively one of the year's better films so far. I feel like this film has been disguised through advertising towards being the typical juvenile farting comedy with the gimmick that women are farting instead of men. This isn't really true but that works for the better. It's not really the Female Hangover (2009) or the Female Knocked Up (2007) or the Female Wedding Crashers (2005). To be truthful it shouldn't really be described as the "Female" anything. Bridesmaids is Bridesmaids and that's that.

Really we need to talk about the gender thing. Bridesmaids is remarkable. It's truly an R-Rated Raunchy Comedy for women, but it's not so overpowering to be unenjoyable to men. It's not a chick flick but it doesn't cater to a male audience at all. The female characters are live, fleshed out and real. In fact most of the men just float around without much control over their women. Maya Rudolph's (the Bride to be) fiancé doesn't even have any lines. Men aren't important here.

The only controlling influence a man may have is Jon Hamm as a surprisingly charismatic asshole who is trying (successfully) to form a Fuck-Only Relationship with Annie (Kristen Wiig). Annie is never defined by her relationship with him though and she's eventually able to cast off the shackles of his influence and shack up with the much healthier Nathan Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd).

Chris O'Dowd is Irish, by the way. They almost start to explain what he's doing as a Cop in Milwaukee but shy away from it as a joke instead. Annie's roommates are also English, which adds to some confusion - what the hell are all these blokes doing in this movie? I guess it doesn't really make a huge difference but its bizarre. They're all well-cast though (especially O'Dowd) so it works.

The advertising for this movie seems to set up a big insane Bachelorette Party and Zany Bridesmaids Hijinks but that's really not the case. We don't even see a Bachelorette Party (Annie gets them kicked off the plane beforehand - which is far funnier and better for the story than if they had landed and re-made The Hangover) and while the other Bridesmaids are all pretty funny crazy characters they all have their grounded moments. We don't really see that final grounded moment out of Wendi McClendon-Clovey or Ellie Kemper's characters but everyone else is fleshed out enough to be pretty satisfying. Even Melissa McCarthy's insane Megan is brought back around to give Annie some of the best advice in the movie. And Rose Byrne plays a perfect bitch. She really is nothing but excessively nice but does it in a way that's so obviously unlikable to Annie, it's great.

This isn't really a broad comedy (It's a Comedy full of Broads - hey oh!). It's an intricate character study of a single unemployed women. That may be more fitting for an Independent Film than a Summer Comedy. Really, Annie's trials are like Job. Bridesmaids is a constant assault on Kristen Wiig, every possible terrible thing happens to her. She gets through some with a good attitude and a strong support network but these eventually break down as well. It's just layer upon layer of character tests and her strengths end up carrying her through.

This movie basically falls on Kristen Wiig. She's brilliant and just makes this film work. She's definitely playing a Wiig-like character, though. She's passive aggressive yet cheery with a constant subtext of rage boiling under the sunny surface. Her life is marked by so much failure that's really taken its toll yet she strives to remain socially presentable. She folds and unfolds throughout the film, managing to ruin every possible traditional Wedding Activity as well as going on a mean self-destructive streak.

Bridesmaids has been pretty successful so far, assuredly making its money back already and doing really consistent repeat business. It's done that without a major star, brand recognition (besides Apatow) or prior material. It's got a chance to make Kristen Wiig a movie star, tho it's the kind of movie that will be difficult to carbon copy. She's got far more range and depth here than other SNL firstime starring vehicles of the big comedians. Think of the depth of Billy Madison (1995) or Old School (2003) (or was Elf [2003] Will's first true solo flick? Oh wait it was A Night at the Roxbury [1998]. Ouch). Really, SNL alums first Star Vehicles are typically pretty awful. I'll give an exception for Wayne's World (1992) and The Blues Brothers (1980) but with a sea of MacGruber (2010), Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) and Tommy Boy (1995), shit is rough. I actually enjoy all these movies (except...except for Deuce Bigalow. C'mon, Rob) but none could ever be considered as good as Bridesmaids is.

All this praise shouldn't deter from the fact that Bridesmaids is also pretty damn funny. Apparently the more outrageous moments are all from the mind of Apatow himself who pushed the juvenilism, but it needs that edge to escape just being another chick flick. If women are to really be funny they've got to be funny to everybody. That's just how the popularity contest is working right now. It needs to appeal to men as well as women.

On a side note it was cool to see how many random tiny characters from The Office director Paul Feig (who directed quite a few episodes of the show as well as Mad Men - thus Jon Hamm) made an appearance. Besides Ellie Kemper we suddenly saw David Wallace and Hank the Security Guard walking around. Well, that's about it. This was a great funny movie that was mostly great because it's revolutionary without making a big deal about it. Its success boons well for everyone - an original, funny, non-cringeworthy female-centric R-Rated Comedy can sell tickets? Damn, son.

Kristen Wiig has never looked better in Bra and Panties either.

23 May 2011

Summer Jam 2011: May 23 Winners

As the Second Week of Summer comes to a close we're seeing more of the same although there are a few good tracks on the horizon that may be dominating our ears on the way to a Title. Let's get to it.

#8: "Judas" by Lady GaGa

GaGa's first appearance on the Winners List, "Judas" is a really insane song that has a shot to take off, tho I think if it hasn't taken off by now it's not going to in the next few weeks. With her album Born This Way debuting today interest may pick up but frankly, "Judas" just isn't that good of a song. It seems like more a cry for attention through controversially Biblical lyrics and the subsequent video that is really just a reminder that Madonna lived this life better twenty years ago. Actually there hasn't been a whole lot of controversy because it's not all that controversial, which makes it again just seem like a cry for attention. From the heavy 80s influence on the whole album it's clear that GaGa just wants to be Madonna. There isn't a whole lot of innovation in "Judas," it's basically a Jesus-themed version of "Bad Romance." It could stick around but the far better GaGa track "The Edge of Glory" is much more radio-friendly and evidently one of the best tracks on the whole album. In fact, "The Edge of Glory" is so pop-y that when I first heard it on the radio I assumed it wasn't GaGa but rather some other song I had heard months ago. Once that thing seeps into the culture tho it'll be a genuine contender for the Crown.

#7: "Written in the Stars" by Tinie Tempah ft. Eric Turner.

This song doesn't seem to be going away. It's really a pretty irritating song without a whole lot of redeeming qualities at all. It's also what I'd call a secretly popular song - no one really cares about it but it remains on the Winners List because its the kind of song good for backgrounds at parties or Barbe-Qs or other mindless Summer Fun. We'll see how much longer it hangs out here.

#6: "Just Can't Get Enough" by The Black Eyed Peas

This track is a bit of a departure from typical B.E.P. crap. It's less about partying and humping and a bit more genuine. Still it's very Pop Sounding and definitely a safe song for the group. It's pretty popular but it seems to fade in and out of zeitgeist instead of dominating like "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling" did. I suspect it'll come and go for a few weeks on this List but never penetrate that deep.

#5: "Down on Me" by Jeremih ft. 50 Cent

Moving up a few slots this week is "Down on Me" which hasn't slowed down at all despite my forecasting. I am surprised it's still around as it's been on the charts for a very long time already (27 weeks, by far the longest of anyone in the Top 10 of the Hot 100). It doesn't really seem like it can slow down but there should be enough competition soon enough to push this one out of contention.

#4: "The Show Goes On" by Lupe Fiasco

This was a landmark week for Lupe, with a huge spike in airtime as well as a Peak Chart Position. This is one of my favourite songs of the year so far, the lyrics are intelligent, the beat is an excellent sample of Modest Mouse's "Float On" and Lupe is a talented singer and rapper. This is definitely an old song though and I wouldn't expect it to flash around much more like it did this week. The way this song was everywhere this week was strange tho it did find its highest lifetime charting so who knows, its popularity may just be peaking now.

#3: "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears

What a fitting song for the supposed Rapture this weekend. Holding at #3 for the second week in a row is Britney's Ode to Doomsday Partying. It's nice to see her a bit relevant again and I would expect this track to hang out on the list a while longer but I'd be very surprised to see it any higher. Nicki and Ke$ha own the Remix tho, which is interesting for the artist's true popularity and talent right now.

#2: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

This song is long overdue for being overplayed. Yeah she's a fat and ugly female pop star with a hell of a set of pipes but "Rolling in the Deep" has been everywhere for far too long. Although it was ranked again #1 on the Hot 100 I just didn't think it was absorbed everywhere the way "E.T." was this week so they've flip-flopped positions.

#1: "E.T." by Katy Perry ft. Kanye West

We do need to talk about this video here. What the hell? Honestly I have woken up to vH1 every morning this past week to this fucking thing. I call it bizarre without any real merits with a very strange ending (half-Katy/half-Deer about to bang the Robot Albino Black Guy) and a huge departure from Katy's more typical sexual and cute videos. The whole song is drastically different from other upbeat Katy tracks of yesteryear, "California Gurls" obviously being the most prevalent. Her string of hits off Teenage Dream is remarkable, not only for their consistent popularity but the fact that "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream," "Firework" and "E.T." are all very different sounding songs. Katy's proving a monumental range here and making the kind of videos and pushing the kind of songs she wants to after years of selling sex and getting hits.

Like I mentioned, there are some big songs just waiting in the wings. In addition to "The Edge of Glory," which will be huge, I've got my eye on "Dirty Dancer" by Enrique, Usher and Weezy (a legendary trio comes together for an average song), "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO, "Give Me Everything" by Pitbull and of course the still climbing Nicki Minaj effort, "Super Bass." We'll see how this turns out, there are a lot of eager Summer Anthems out there and if the rain holds off for more than an hour this week we might actually feel like we've earned it!

20 May 2011

They Make Books on Paper, Now?! Impressions of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I don't read many books around here. Maybe it's my generation raised on a thousand television channels and then introduced to the unlimited shores of knowledge and internet everywhere but I don't pick up anything with a cover that often. Generally after reading a book anyway I retain about as much information as I would with a recent skim on its Wikipedia page.

On this note there aren't a whole ton of legendary authors or world-changing novels out there. We lack a Hemingway or a Steinbeck or a Shaw. This may also be attributed to a generation more concerned with Twitter than sitting down through an entire book. It's a flash-memory, instant gratification society, to which books deliver neither. I'm clearly no better, I respond much better upon visual stimuli rather than verbal input. To my credit though, over the past seven years I have managed to complete the following books all on my own:

Earth: The Book by the Daily Show
Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
Why We Suck by Dr. Denis Leary
The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox
Silent Bob Speaks by Kevin Smith

Impressive, I know. But I did manage to race through a book very speedily recently and it was super-awesome so I felt compelled to respond here. I speak of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. The most interesting thing about this book lies beyond the obvious knee-jerk reaction upon hearing the premise and how good this thing really is. It should remain a staple of the Mashup Literary Genre.

This is a strange genre. It almost seems too easy to do but when authors pull off the intricacies involved it becomes a fulfilling means of injecting humour and modern attitudes (probably post-modern attitudes is more apt) into stuffy literature that has been so overdone to become the originator of many tropes today. As the Mashup exposes the tropes and folds them over upon the tropes of a drastically conflicting genre we gain immense reflection concerning the nature of storytelling. Awesome.

The genre began with a simple idea from Seth Grahame-Smith himself, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It works from the jarring title alone, there's an immediate interest spike from both Jane Austen fans and Zombie fans. Those are two crowds who should never mingle with each other. Actually they should mingle all the time, the results would be spectacular. Following this were tons of imitators but none were really that exceptional. Until Grahame-Smith returned with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is actually equal parts biography and fiction. It succeeds because of how much Grahame-Smith plays it straight. It doesn't deviate from the character of our 16th President, who was often melancholic with a hard, frontier attitude. Simply put, the book presents Abe following his life but whenever there's a little discrepancy or room in the record, Grahame-Smith throws in a Vampire Hunt. His mama died strangely when Abe was 9 years old, eh? Vampire. Abe mysteriously broke off relations with Mary Todd right before they were first to be wed? Vampire. This sounds worse as I'm writing it as it really is - there is enough background and development that the vampires eventually appear to be a constant threat to Lincoln's happiness and also tie themselves inexorably with the cause of the South and Slavery, which just fits perfect.

The book deftly presents itself as part-Secret Diary, part-Primary document and the remaining account reads not of sarcasm or snarky reluctance but as a genuine historical account. It's no different in structure or even tone and theme from a normal Lincoln biography. The only fantastic elements are the vampires and they fit in surprisingly well. It's the true sign of a master of the Mashup craft that it is not a random collision of genres. The Vampire Hunts are well thought out and integrated into a very accurate chronicle of Lincoln's life.

Anyway, I'll admit that I didn't like the ending. Since it's tougher to read a book than watch a movie I won't actually give it away here like I usually do on these things. If a movie has been out a few days you should have gone to see it already. If a book has been out a few years, well that's understandable you need some time to get through that sucker.

So that's it. This is a very well written tome and I hope that this genre works in this vein more often than a simplistic pasting of something ridiculous onto something chaste. That doesn't really work. The careful integration, clear historical research and flawless presentation makes the gore and insanity within all the more acceptable as fake true fact.

19 May 2011

Profiles: Adam Scott, the Professional/Slacker Pong

One of my favourite rising stars today is a dude named Adam Scott. Certainly one of the least distinctive names of any actor ever, Adam Scott has been a "That Guy" in tons of stuff. After doing some research into his career I actually found out he had been in so much stuff that I had never heard of I had doubts continuing this Profile. That's not the Norwegian Morning Wood way though, so it's time now to only look at a handful of roles this guy has used to craft a bouncing image between the Straitlaced Professional and the Eternal Slacker. Thus we present:

Profiles: Adam Scott, the Professional / Slacker Pong (2007 - Present)

So for those of you still scratching your heads over who Adam Scott is, he's this dude from Parks and Recreation. But you may also remember him as the awkward male nurse from Knocked Up (2007). That's about the first thing I remember seeing him in, which means that's the best place to start. It's the first step towards his conquering of Mainstream Pop Culture. Well, the first step towards his existing in Marginal Pop Culture is more like it.

Adam Scott tends to inhabit a wide range of roles which makes him interesting to examine as a character actor. His lack of fame so far has allowed him to escape typecasting or settling into a comedic persona of any kind. In fact, to call him a comedian at all seems to stretch things because he rarely gives humourous performances on his own. He's usually the ultimate straight man, typically with some kind of good-natured side or sense of humour. He's the perfect puzzle piece to place around a cast of insane characters.

In his first appearance that I care about, Knocked Up, he's on screen for a tiny time as a nurse helping out Ben (Seth Rogen) and Allison (Katherine Heigl) give birth to their baby. He has this smarmy grin on his face the whole time and makes comments weirdly out of place for their situation. This is our introduction to Adam the Slacker.

Shortly after we all saw him as Derek Huff, Brennan's (Will Ferrell) younger brother in Step Brothers (2008). He's a shark, the incarnation of evil in this movie. He's the consummate professional and the laughs come from how much of an unbelievable douchebag he is. He's the closest thing Step Brothers has to a villain though he's not really openly antagonistic towards the eponymous Brothers. He's just kind of a jerk. Part of what made both Step Brothers and the Adam McKay / Ferrell companion piece, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) work so well is their lack of a central villain. They're comedies that feature the protagonists stumbling on themselves, aware of it or not while delivering silly amounts of laughter. Adam as Derek is his sleaziest.

We can move on to what is probably the most underseen awesome Television show of all time, Party Down, which aired two seasons on Starz for some reason. Seriously, who gets Starz? Or watches Starz? It's a great show actually with an impressive cast founded by most of The State and Paul Rudd. Adam Scott is our star here, the main dude Henry Pollard who balances this line between passive protagonist and Catering Company Leader. He's sly and shy but not without confidence. He captures an ennui in Hollywood Society, exposing the hollow gasps for stardom and attention that the rest of the characters working the catering business in the show crave so desperately. It's actually an intricate character that Adam can craft - Henry is very boring on the surface but manages to be proactive in more subtle ways. He's the Slacker who knows the value of hard work but consciously avoids it. The greatest blend of the two worlds.

I didn't see Piranha (2010). I don't care. I think Adam Scott dies in the trailer. I feel like it's safe to say that he gets out of his comfort zone and emotes a bit but then dies. Fine.

Now we arrive at his fantastic portrayal of Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation, which concludes its third season...right now. As you're reading this. Turn of your internet and watch the damn thing. I'll wait.

Alright, nice to see you back! As you just saw, Ben is another seemingly boring character though he's written and acted so well that the boringness becomes funny instead of...well, boring. He's very straitlaced, consistently professional and seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin. As we learn more of his history though we find that as a Mayor of a small Minnesota Town at 18 years old he ran it into the ground. He has that wild side that he keeps in check, requiring a steep learning curve to warm up to people. His sexual tension with Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope has been one of the most organic relationship growths I've ever seen on television. The positive humour on this show vs. the negative, sardonic humour on shows like The Office never ceases to refresh. He has that strictly professional side but is yet able to get rowdy which comes out in small doses, making him a great character.

So what's the future of Adam Scott? Hopefully another season of Parks and Rec, beyond that we can only hope for less success so that he may continue to play integral B Characters everywhere.

18 May 2011

Throwdown! Barney vs. Kramer

One of the more underrated shows on television wrapped up its season last week. It doesn't get a lot of love around the internet or in critical magazines and many would deem it far too mainstream for a blog like this (what?) or too broad for serious comedic appreciation. I'm chatting about the stellar season of How I Met Your Mother and the landmark performance of Doogie Howser as Barney Stinson.

What? Oh right, Neil Patrick Harris. Mostly known for Doogie, Starship Troopers (1997), two Harold and Kumar movies as well as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008), Neil as Barney Stinson this year has moved from the typical break-out B-Character with cringeworthy one-liners to an intricate, well-rounded character. For this reason I'd like to contrast him with another one of the best B-Characters in Television History, Michael Richards' Cosmo Kramer. Thus we arrive at the First Ever NMW THROWDOWN! We're pitting both characters against each other. In a compare and contrast, fairly balanced argument, of course. And possibly a Machete Fight!

Wow they look like they're really in some kind of high conflict there actually. Anyway, Michael Richards, if we can get past the racism (c'mon Mike...why ruin Kramer forever like that), won three Emmys for his work and was nominated an additional two times. Doogie has been nominated for the past four seasons but the award still alludes him.

Both these characters fill a very similar role in their respective shows. In Seinfeld, Kramer was the most outlandish, idiosyncratic and eccentric, in his critics words, a "hipster doofus." I have already posted extensively about his role in the show, eventually serving up any need the writers had for any eclectic interest to fit the story (also an Agent of the Cosmos to increase the Seinfeld Universe's Sense of Irony). He's allowed to be outrageous compared to the more grounded Jerry within the show. His character didn't have to be that deep.

At the same time however, I'm hesitant to call any of the Seinfeld Fab Four undeveloped characters. It's difficult to compare to HIMYM. They are clearly very different shows in tone and character but both have blended single-cam/triple cam techniques, multi-episode and season arcs and a wide array of talented young people amidst a New York City backdrop. The key difference in understanding Barney v. Kramer is the emotional distance the audience has from the character.

Seinfeld throughout its run maintained the explicitly stated policy of "No Lessons, No Learning." It's important to distinguish this from "No Character Growth." The characters were all very defined and had different competing needs and wants that contrasted with the other characters around them, leading to conflict, which makes stories interesting (NMW presents: Scriptwriting 101). As we're focusing on Kramer, he certainly grew from an obscure, shady neighbor to a more loveable and relatable neighbor. I'd almost say that at the beginning of Seinfeld's run Michael Richards played Kramer more akin to Stanley Spadowski than a real human. By the end of the run though, Kramer felt real love (as absurd as a long distance relationship with a girl who lives Downtown may be, it's love baby), felt real pain (kidney stones) and had real desires (The Mackinaw Peaches! Kenny Rogers Chicken!) that were both fulfilled and left empty.

Seinfeld was always able to put up a barrier however, mostly because none of the major characters ever learned a significant lesson. All of the real desires and loves (as I just pointed out), especially in Kramer's context were born of some insanity. Any real life issue Seinfeld downplayed heavily. It was the kind of minutiae like Rent-a-Car failing to hold a reservation or the inability to sit down at a Chinese Restaurant. Many of the characters, especially towards the end of Seinfeld's run often commentated on the flippancy of their own problems. This is why the ending of Seinfeld was so perfect. To me it couldn't have ended any other way. It was brilliant. No one had learned anything the entire serious, there was no darkness, no problem outside of their own group to be concerned with. Even in prison we can see this trend will continue - Jerry's more concerned with George's buttons than their current situation. They haven't learned from their mistakes.

HIMYM is growing on me more and more as this unique show. Its production is far more hybridised than it appears and the characters are all very thought out and developed, far beyond the typical "30-Somethings in NYC" Trope that so many other sitcoms have copied since Seinfeld. This past season was especially bold with all of its male characters (it didn't push its women as far despite its large female writing and directing staff). For the majority of HIMYM's run Barney Stinson played by Neil Patrick Harris has been this one-note joke, typically concerning either womanizing or suits (actually this is a credit to Neil's acting that he so thoroughly convinces us that a Gay Dude can pull this many women. To be honest, all his major roles recently have revolved around this trait) and mostly serving up terrible comic relief lines in light of the other characters who usually had the real problems. In essence, Barney's role on the show was to be the Seinfeld-esque character amidst all the other more dramatic characters.

I'll talk about this in greater detail when reviewing the entire Television season, but HIMYM put Barney through the ringer this year. They dared to challenge his most distinctive traits - the solitude, the womanizing, the classiness yet thrive for awesomeness amidst amoral fortitude, all this came to a halt in a handful of episodes dealing significantly with what makes this character tic. The show's writers gave Barney both a girl that he's actually seriously interested in as well as a newly discovered Father who isn't that interesting. Both of these conflicted with the both the image Barney has tried to present to the world and how he conceives of himself. They did this while maintaining his usual superfluous attitude sprinkled across moments of genuine pain and conflict far greater than scamming the post office.

So I'm not actually going to choose either of these characters as "better" than the other. If the final goal of a sitcom is to make you laugh I think both have done very well, if the final goal is to make you think I also believe that they have done well (as this post in itself demonstrates). They are both well-rounded, interesting characters tho the means through the show accomplishes this is drastically different.

In the Machete Fight I'd pick Kramer. He just has that reach.

You can watch How I Met Your Mother mostly Mondays on CBS...in the fall. Seinfeld is in syndication every day everywhere and HIMYM's getting there so go check these guys out!

16 May 2011

Summer Jam 2011: May 16 Winners

Welcome to the first installment of the Road to Summer Jam 2011! Every Monday in Summer we'll list off the Top Eight Jams of the previous week to find out who ends up as that Summer Jam we'll always remember defined 2011. Previous Kings and Queens include "California Gurls," "I Gotta Feeling," "Bleeding in Love" and "Umbrella." Those are some tough shoes to fill. We'll rank the tracks according to radio play, music video popularity, Billboard Hot 100 ranking and general seizure of zeitgeist. I know you've all been waiting patiently for this so without wasting more time here we go:

#8: "Written in the Stars" by Tinie Tempah ft. Eric Turner

This track didn't make much of a splash but seemed like it was everywhere this week still. It's not a very good song and will likely hover around the 8 Spot for a while before dropping off completely. It's a very pop-y song, very manufactured sounding, which is of course why it's popular. Don't look to it make more of an impact than this though.

#7: "Down on Me" by Jeremih ft. 50 Cent

We're caught in "Down on Me's" downslide this week. It peaked on the Billboard at #4 three weeks ago and has been tumbling since. It may hang around a bit more as radios catch up to its failure but other than that it's in its death throes. I'd consider 50's appearance here one of a ridiculous number of comebacks already this year and it's a smooth song if not an especially great one. It won't last much longer here and isn't a true Summer Contender at all. Has the first installment of the Winners been depressing enough yet?

#6: "S&M" by Rihanna

The status of this song is a lot like "Down on Me" - it has already peaked a few weeks ago and probably won't hold on all that well. It really had a handle on the zeitgeist a few weeks ago as well and is more of an afterthought by now. The ridiculous video tends to hurt its chances at getting a good mainstream appeal, and actually considering the subject matter I'm surprised it has enjoyed the popularity that it's had at all. This seems like the kind of song that Rihanna can do after enjoying a few years of popularity and really crank up not simply sexuality but a great fetish sexuality. Needless to say, Rihanna really belts this one and I find myself liking the Britney Remix better.

#5: "Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars

I'm still trying to figure this one out, it seems like a very indulgent song, wallowing in Sloth without a whole lot of shame. It really pretty accurately describes all my Sundays ever. Bruno Mars seems like the one big artist to emerge from a ton of new musicians from Last Summer, including B.o.B and Taio Cruz as a consistent hit-maker. "Lazy Song's" star is still rising and I don't expect it to wait at #5 for that long. The video is really weird and awful, tho I am a flannel fan. It's single-take quality seems to raise it above the rest but in comparison to other single-take pieces like anything Ok Go has done it seems well...lazy.

#4: "On the Floor" by Jennifer Lopez ft. Pitbull

This track has also been on the pulse, I can't believe in 2011 we're talking about Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Hanson. What the hell did we accomplish in the past decade? This has got the Miami Flavour all over it with the help of Pitbull. It's actually not that great of a dancing song, the beat is generally too slow without enough drums to get a good booty shake on. Also why the hell is Jennifer Lopez, 41 years old, wife and mother of two and star of the most popular show on television singing about getting hammered and dancing at the club? Oh, selling records, I got it now. Can this be a new genre of Mom Music somehow? Even better - Cougar Tunes.

#3: "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears

Let the Cougar Tunes roll on. I actually heard this on the radio a ton this week but it hasn't ranked as well on the Charts. Well, comparatively well. After a string of really terrible songs, Britney seems to be returning to form with this one, tho the remix is far superior. Nicki's addition anywhere somehow improves all quality (see the Heather Locklear/Rob Lowe Phenomenon) and Ke$ha somehow fits Britney's voice better than Britney does. Still, it seems as though Britney has finally evolved into modern pop instead of relying on the styles she employed ten years ago. "Hold it Against Me" was a terribly formulaic song, "Till the World Ends" is much more interesting and varied, and the remix utilises effective collaboration, hip-hop and industrial influences, all key to Modern Success. In fact, out of the Top Eight today, only three are solo efforts.

#2: "E.T." by Katy Perry ft. Kanye West

I don't believe that Katy will be able to hold on to another Summer, but "E.T." has done fantastically. It's bell curve is just about up though and while it was still everywhere this week it has definitely been oversaturated enough to last much longer this Summer. Still, it may certainly be a primer for either Katy or Kanye to jump off with something more significant. No song off Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) that he hasn't singled already is mainstream enough to get a jam going though. Yes, there are plenty off Teenage Dream (2010), tho Katy has dominated hit after hit in the past year, you have to believe her luck will run out.

#1: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

This is a surprise to me as I feel like this song had premiered a while ago but it seems to be just catching on to a wider pop audience now so it could have some life yet. It's a great song with tons of crossover potential, something that really helped Lady Antebellum with "Need You Know" last year. It's the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as vH1's Weekly Countdown, which fuck, is good enough for me despite a more limited Radio Play. I bet it will stick around a few weeks but maybe not at #1. Actually it's hard to predict any other #1 song right now unless "E.T" has some resurgence.

That's it for Week 1. There's only...sixteen more. Stick with us to find out who takes the Summer Throne! I've got my eyes on the Black Eyed Peas still ranked pretty high, along with Ke$ha's "Blow." I'd also love to see some Foo Fighters "Rope" get a chance, tho all of these songs may have peaked a few weeks ago. The Summer is pretty wide open right now, which is exciting. The best I can predict is the rising star of Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" which just had an incredibly hot video premiere. Check it out.

14 May 2011

War of the Months: May

Well amigos, it's the Second Saturday in May, which means another installment of the War of the Months, our Year-Long look at the critical and commercial trends of films released each month of the year. While we've gone through a lot of shit the first third of the year with May we begin the Summer Blockbuster Season, which highly jacks up the Box Office Returns while also typically increasing the quality of films as well. That is to say even the most mindless Summer Flicks tend to outrank the torrid January and February Films. When the stakes increase the quality tends to as well (you'll of course find some Summers like 2010 that just couldn't get anything right). It's not like May is turning out a lot of Oscar winners but usually it involves some of the most entertaining movies of the year.

May: Epic Month

Another classic Wolverine vs. Hulk match
For many years now May has been the Franchise Month. Every Star Wars film has been released in May (There might be some fuzziness with Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) which both had only limited releases in May, however both were #1 at the Box Office that weekend, including Star Wars which opened in 43 theaters). It also will feature the classic Kick-Off movie to get summer jump-started. Lately this has all been franchises, almost always Comic Franchises. This year's THOR (2011) is a great example and I already talked a bit about this phenomenon here. Flicks like Iron Man (2008), Spider-Man 3 (2007) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) have followed this pattern.

So, why May anyway? What makes May so special, special enough to be the Franchise Anchor for the entire Summer Season? Generally it's about extending Summer as far as it can go. College kids are out and for those with jobs, they don't get a break anyway, so at the first crack of warm weather, it's go time. It's also a period when TV is ending, leaving an entertainment gap that movies need to jump on. June tends to be a very busy month with graduations and weddings and crap, so it's not really suited for the biggest, loudest movie openings. Whereas July still reigns as the most ridiculous Box Office Month ever, August tends to be a sliding hangover. That leaves May as the final depository for Huge Movies. May is an exciting month - school is almost out, the flowers are in bloom again, everyone is taking trips and blowing off their winter savings, it's perfect for the Franchises. Then there's Memorial Day, a quirky little government holiday without much more tradition other than getting drunk at a picnic and...going to the movies.* Yeah, it's a Memorial Day tradition to see a big dumb American Movie. May is awesome.


Dolla Dolla Bill ya'll - May is where it's at. Some of the biggest movies of all time have been May openings, including the ridiculous $151,116,516 take of Spider-Man 3. Check the rest out here. It's not unusual for a May Opening to grab over $100 million, tho you'll actually notice no one's cracked the mark since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Rape (2008) did it barely in 2008. Despite this, 2009 was the hugest May ever and the only May to bust over a Billion Clams at the Box Office. Yet no May 2009 Opening was that stunning.

Ah, shit.
Basically that month was significantly aided by five weekends, not four and releases that were big but didn't break records such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine at $85,058,003, Star Trek (2009) at $79,204,289, Angels & Demons (2009) at $46,204,168 (barely beating Star Trek that weekend by a few million, they combined for $89 million), and the one-two punch of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) at $54,173,286 and Terminator: Salvation (2009) at $42,558,390 (combining for $96 million). We conclude with Up (2009)'s $68,108,790. It's still incredible to me that this May beat 2007 which featured Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third (2007) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). This holy trilogy comprise three of the Top Five May Weekends ever, but there wasn't a whole lot else around them. May 2009 had a ton of high-profile releases, multiples each weekend for five weekends. That's unstoppable.

Of the Crop:

Now, let's talk quality. Finding a quality May movie out of this lot is a bit rough. Out of all the films I mentioned in the previous section I'd give Star Trek and Up a boost but nothing else. Still, a month with every Star Wars release is no slouch. Alright, just for the first two. Anyway, here are the Greatest May Films Ever:

#10: Braveheart - 05/24/1995
#9: Star Trek - 05/08/2009
#8: Up - 05/29/2009
#7: Gladiator - 05/01/2000
#6: Back to the Future Part III - 05/25/1990
#5: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - 05/22/1998, I'm not sure how this one snuck in here.
#4: Star Wars - 05/25/1977
#3: The Shining - 05/23/1980
#2: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 05/24/1989, or this one.
#1: The Empire Strikes Back - 05/21/1980

You know who'd be a great replacement? That kid from Even Stevens.

You can see how most of the best May films are the rare better sequel (including X2: X-Men United [2003] and The Road Warrior [1982]), or the ever rarer better Threequel (Last Crusade and BttF Part III). There are also the Best Picture Winning Historical Epics (Braveheart and Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven [2005] also was a May release but did not far as well) and in terms of quality you can see that outside of Pixar and J.J. Abrams we haven't seen much of any in decades.

The Honourable Mentions are tough but I might give points to An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Kicking and Screaming (2005), The Fifth Element (1995), Top Gun (1986) and Spider-Man (2002). Jeez those are all over the place.

Well that about does it for this Month's installment - as you can see, May is nothing to shake a stick at. Only July can really kick its ass at the bank, but I actually think it's fun to recount a time when sequels were actually decent films and May was a time to showcase them. Let the Summer Begin!

*Also ahem, honouring our deceased combatants in war. It's true, we lost over 300 Americans in battle in the Spanish-American War alone.

10 May 2011

First Impressions: THOR, The Cultural Context of an Event Film

Yesterday I talked all about the recent THOR (2011) film but in this day of Tentpole Blockbusters there is a lot more to this flick than just what was on screen. To make an honest splash in a Summer Season full of explosions, 3-D extravaganzas and well-weathered plots it's more and more important for films do do something to stand out. They need to elevate themselves into "Events" - to the point that it appears that viewers would fall into a cultural void if they missed seeing it. AVABAR (2009) captured this better than any other movie in history (probably not, I'd say Gone With the Wind [1939] superseded it as a must-see cultural event). A film needs to really capture the zeitgeist and infiltrate many different and distinct parts of culture until it actually isn't a film any more but it reaches that "EVENT" status.

I've never seen a movie that tried as hard at this as Tron: Legacy (2010) last winter. That thing was marketed to death years ahead of its release date attempting to build a ridiculous momentum that would make it one of the Greatest Box Office Kings ever. The results weren't that bad, it made back its production budget (I can't imagine it made back its advertising budget through it is the kind of film with a lot of toys and other merchandise to support its revenue. Tho its DVD sales haven't been great. I mean, c'mon, it's getting outsold by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [2010]), but it was far from expectations, especially for something that dominated zeitgeist enough to inspire some nice synergy here.

You haven't really made it until your mug is on a soda can.
THOR had a big gambit ahead of it. Somehow a non-A List comic property, non-sequel is a risky enough venture to attempt another form of marketing - the Event Release. Whether I wanted them to or not all my Dr. Pepper for the last month has been THOR Pepper, which I call Thorper. Burger King ran a promotion with some exclusive comics geared towards kids, but I really wanted a THOR Whopper which I also call a Thorper. I mean, we got the barely adequate Whiplash Whopper last year for Iron Man 2 (2010), you'd think they could whip up something incredible for the God of Thunder. And don't give me crap about Marvel's partnership with Disney which would seem to beget collusion with McDonald's because THOR's distributor is still Paramount - same as Iron Man 2 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) which gave us a terrible, terrible movie but a pretty good Indy Whopper. Damn that Indy Whopper was actually pretty good. I'd say it was good enough to warrant the production of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ugh I feel like a whore now. What the hell was I talking about?

In the last few months THOR has built up a pretty respectable momentum. Prior to this summer the biggest credit Thor had on the Big Screen was probably Adventures in Babysitting (1987). Actually what's disappointing with the mainstream debut of the God of Thunder is that this little girl's bizarre obsession feels a bit less obscure now. She wasn't pathetic, she was prophetic. That sucks, THOR ruined Adventures in Babysitting and that my friends, is unforgivable.

Slowly though Thor is suddenly everywhere. From incredible Conan Parodies to incredibly poor Sci-Fi Knockoffs, Thor is on the pulse. It's a tough call between the big-screen debut of THOR and its companion, Almighty Thor (2011) but I think audiences will be able to choose a film not starring Richard Grieco. This site even had a huge Thor Week, from which I found this Thor video which I need to point out as it really captures exactly what THOR wanted to do - become an integral part of the culture that everyone needed to see to avoid feeling left out of the zeitgeist.

A very early trailer debut (10 Dec 2010) along with tons of pictures, news and anticipation thoroughly braced the world for the World of Asgard (I always read that Ass-Guard. A signal of my continued maturity). Marvel needed to intensely sell the epic nature of this film to truly deserve that Summer Kick-Off spot where other flicks like both Iron Man movies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Spider-Man 3 (2007), X2: X-Men United (2003) and Spider-Man (2002) had excelled. All of these were locks for success. THOR was always a bit iffy. It's important that the Summer Lead-Off does well. Studios want to one-up each other and that's an enviable spot on the calendar. You can't waste it (looking at you, Mission: Impossible III [2006]).

To actually appreciate how well THOR has handled its marketing and selling of a strange universe we need only look at the Eerily Similar Circumstances facing DC Film Green Lantern (2011). They're both B-Heroes who exist in a very unbelievable world that contrasts heavily with preestablished worlds in the same universe (Let's say Iron Man and The Dark Knight [2008] respectively). They both nabbed respectable directors to handle the difficult property (Kenneth Branagh and Martin Campbell). Green Lantern went the extra mile casting the very popular Ryan Reynolds in a title role that isn't exactly right for him whereas THOR led with the unknown but better suited Chris Hemsworth. Both also started their marketing very early in an attempt to persuade audiences early that their film is big, loud and important.

Check out Tomar-Re's weird rack

So why did THOR look awesome and Green Lantern looks like a piece of shit? When you trade Skarsgård for Sarsgaard and he looks like this, that's bound to happen. Green Lantern looks to be all CGI, which would be fine if it was impressive CGI at all. The best CGI still lies in that realm of possible. The effects in THOR were mostly lightning storms and stuff which happened too quick to notice anything strange, Asgard, which while fantastic is based on possible structures, and the Frost Giants which did look shitty. The effects in Green Lantern are...everything. Almost every non-human character, all the lantern effects, whatever the fuck this is and worst of all, the main character's suit doesn't seem real. When the suspension of disbelief is destroyed before we can even enter a movie, it's doomed. And I really like the Green Lantern, too. There is also this badass quality to Thor which is lacking in this interpretation of Hal Jordan. You know Thor is just there to kick some ass. Hal Jordan can be awesome but they're not showing it here.

Naturally with any big "Event" Film nowadays there has to be a heavy reliance on 3-D showings. THOR was no different and had a post-production conversion. I refuse to see these mostly because the image typically comes out Dark and Shitty. The 2-D was fine, I'm not sure why studios can't accept that if their product is superior they don't need to bolster it with gimmicks that sacrifice quality for novelty. Maybe I should introduce 3-D type to both all my Jersey Shore posts as well as my Rebecca Black posts - you know, to get more response from my most popular articles and make up for my shitty ones.

So after all this nonsense what was the payoff? $65.7 million. Okay...that's decent. A lot better than Tron: Legacy at least. It's not the best Marvel has ever done but it's enough to ensure that they're making a good investment with The Avengers (2012) but it seems unlikely that THOR will see a lot more adventures on his own. Tho his worldwide total is actually pretty decent. It's an exciting time for Norwegian Morning Wood with this flick honouring our gods and The Troll Hunter (2010) getting an American Release in a few months.

So what have we learned? THOR actually has some pretty good word of mouth so far. It will probably do pretty well as long as people keep drinking Dr. Pepper. Out of all the movies this summer it probably had the most advance marketing and certainly tapped into the most zeitgeist for an extended period of time. It won't be the highest-grossing flick of the Season but it will probably win May, which is nothing to shake at.

So go forth into the world my little Thunder Gods. Go grab a Thorper or two and hold on tight - this Summer's just beginning.

09 May 2011

First Impressions: THOR

THOR. God of Thunder, Warrior of Asgard, Medical Doctor for some reason. Long blond locks, huge muscles and Marvel's best mainstream answer to Superman.

Wait, who?

Thor is awesome. I don't know a single person who is really into Thor comics but he's always been a Marvel mainstay somehow. A founding member of the Avengers, Thor is still virtually a B-Marvel Hero (Who the hell are Marvel's A heros anyway? Spider-Man, Hulk and Wolverine? That's about it) along the lines of Iron Man though much more fantastic. One way the Marvel Universe (DC as well) is unique among Fictional Universes is the presence of Alien Technology along with strong Magical Elements and even appearances by a handful of gods themselves. Iron Man (2008) was Marvel's first spin into serious B-Hero Territory (how did Daredevil [2003], The Punisher [2004] and Ghost Rider [2007] get made before Iron Man or THOR [2011]? Somehow I suppose there's a line between the cheaper B-Anti-hero movie and the tentpole nature that Avengers tie-in films receive) and THOR follows suit with a very well done if not exceptional film.

The difficulty going into THOR is its needlessly complex mythology. The film actually slims his origin down probably better than the comics. In the comic world Thor is banished from Asgard, the City of the Norse Gods that lies in a different Realm than Earth. It's already a little tricky - it's not exactly a different dimension or a different planet, just a different cosmos. I'd liken it to Middle-Earth or something, simply a different world and let's leave it at that. So, obviously Thor's birthplace is already difficult to explain.

So in the comics the cat is banished and sent to earth but he doesn't know he's Thor. He lives his own life as Dr. Donald Blake and eventually finds Mjolnir, his mystical hammer and then only becomes "Thor" when he picks it up. There's a much clearer transformation that isn't really permanent between alter-egos. He's as much Blake as he is Thor (at least until he discovers more of his birthright). This is all pretty retarded. One of the strengths of THOR is grounding a very ridiculous premise and simplifying what could have been a very unwieldy story. There is a shout-out to the name Donald Blake as it's the name of Natalie Portman's ex here that kind of sticks to Thor as a cover for his fantastic true identity. On this note I do find it shady that Natalie ends up naming Thor after her ex, I mean, clearly they're trying to start a relationship by the film's end, awkwarrrd.

So, let's spend the rest of today's post talking about the actual film, tomorrow we'll chat about its context.

I: A Cast of Unpronounceable Names:

Behold! Laufey, King of the Frost Giants of Jotunheim! Volstagg the Voluminous, Lion of Asgard! Frigga, Queen of Odin! What the hell. One thing this film has going for it is an exceptional cast led by competent director Kenneth Branagh. It seems natural that Branagh could attract some big names here but I don't fully understand our general appreciation for his work, he's been in so many shitty movies and directed some crap as well, especially when handling pulp material (I fill with a deep rage when I think of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [1994]). Regardless, he pulled two Academy Award winners in Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins as well as respected stage actor Tom Hiddleston, generally respected Swedish dude Stellan Skarsgård and Rene Russo.

Natalie does a nice job here, she mostly looks cute but is intelligent and well-rounded enough, if not a swooner for Thor's abs (c'mon, who wouldn't be). I think the two of them actually have good chemistry. Thor wakes up from his teleportation to earth with her leaning over him and he's got this look in his eyes like "I gotta bang this chick" and later on she definitely looks at him like "I need to jump this dude's bones." It's love, man. Jane Foster (Natalie's character, by the way) is actually one of the better-established Marvel squeezes, only Mary Jane Watson and Betty Ross have a bigger presence in their respective comics.

Anthony Hopkins gives a good authoritative presence throughout the film and everyone, friend or foe acknowledges him to be the Fucking Man. Odin knows his shit and his Thor Banishment is vital to his growth as a character and essentially the entire story. Tom Hiddleston as Thor's half-brother Loki also bases his entire motivation on seeking Odin's approval. He's adept at being the slimy, silver-tongued villain who is more complex than we usually see in crappy Marvel films. He's a much better villain than anyone Iron Man has ever faced for sure and is actually a good mental nemesis to the Arrogance of Thor, something rare in Marvel Comics. I'm still waiting for the Mandarin to show is face against Iron Man, which needs to happen soon. Loki was also the primary reason for the Avengers first forming and his appearance in that upcoming Opus is apparently assured.

Skarsgård kind of just hangs out then of course starts quoting Norse Myth. Russo does about the same. Kat Dennings provides some nice comic relief but almost seems forced in this kind of movie where the jokes don't come as natural as the charm of a Robert Downey Jr. led Iron Man. The same goes for the rest of the Warriors Three who are just awesome combatants without a whole lot of characterisation beyond being Thor's buddies. It's not like they could have forced that however and they're probably doing as much as they should in a tightly packed film.

Let's talk about Idis Elba as Heimdall for a second, because he's awesome. I first started paying attention to this guy during his legendary shake-up of The Office but he's had some great turns in American Gangster (2007), RocknRolla (2008) and The Losers (2010). Anyway, he's a black guy playing a Norse God here, which has some very insane people upset. Like THAT's the most unbelievable thing about this fucking movie. While I think the casting works well regardless of Elba's colour I still can't figure out why Heimdall is on the poster and has his own Character Poster (at left) because he's really a tiny character. He's powerful and pretty important but his role is miniscule. His poster inclusion seems to be an obvious stab at getting some colour up there among all the white people and demonstrate that the flick's got a nice spectrum. Which of course, is better than most other films this summer. Still, Skarsgård and even Clark Gregg (as Son of Coul again) has a much bigger part which you can discuss the merits of yourself.

So, what about Thor himself? You probably remember Chris Hemsworth for playing Kirk's pa for 10 seconds in Star Trek (2009). No? No way! He was basically known for being huge and looking enough like Chris Pine to play his father. Anyway, Hemsworth is pretty sweet here. He does all that Thor needs to do - be an asshole for the first three quarters of the movie, then channel that assholery into something positive for the finale. You actually won't find a better summary of his character arc anywhere. It's the transition from asshole to okay guy. He also rocks the shit out of that flannel.

II: Tons of Cool Shit Happens All the Time

Future comic films should actually take notes from THOR for its handle of multiple villains. The first baddies are these Frost Giants from Planet Hoth, who are kind of dicks for no reason. Actually they're probably pissed mostly because the planet they live on is fucking terrible. This compares to Asgard which looks...exactly like the kind of city the god would live in. It's incredible. Some of the scenery here, CGI or not is fantastic and beautiful. So these Frost Giants are basically dicks (contrasting with the good CGI of Asgard most of the Giants look pretty crappy. See - that's the symbolism, the bad guys are represented by bad CGI, it's all coming together now), but they give Thor more than enough of a chance to not be a dick himself. Of course Thor basically incites war by invading their terrible crappy world and killing half of them. They're pissed off reaction is somewhat understandable. Anyone starting to see political parallels? Should we have taken George W's magic hammer and sent him to New Mexico for a weekend to learn humility?

The Frost Giants are a menace but ultimately more of an inciting incident then a constant threat, tho they're really only a threat because Asgardians are loth to wipe them out entirely (which apparently they could do very easily). The second major baddie is The Destroyer, which most of the marketing has focused on, as he's an easier ominous villain than the dopey Frost Giants or the Complex Loki. The Destroyer only destroys, definitely a visual feast for the 12-year old Transformers fan in all of us. It's interesting as this villain characterised by his uncharacterisable nature. It's really unstoppable, immortal, only an armour casing and lots of fire. Thor kicks its fucking ass, of course. He's an obstacle, a tool of Loki more than an actual villain, so he's able to slide in without bogging down the story (are you paying attention, Spider-Man 3 [2007]? Not every villain has to have a fucking rationale).

The flick builds really well because the final Loki fight is perhaps the least spectacular but the emotionally most intense. It also signals the final growth of Thor as a character as he's willing to fight his brother in order to save a dangerous race because he's learned the value of life and diplomacy. Cute. I'll mention the site of their battle, the Bifröst here because that was also very cool. I mean, it's tough to make a Rainbow Bridge a cool concept. Or is it? Heimdall's transporting Ion Cannon is also pretty sweet. This film is full of pretty cool concepts and moments all rendered in pretty decent CGI. That's why this is one of Marvel's Heavy-Hitting Tentpoles, because to undercut Thor would do a disservice to his Magical World.

III: Dueling Narratives

So Odin banishes Thor for being a douche and he lands in New Mexico where Natalie Portman hits on him and he must prove himself worthy of wielding his Hammer which will give him the power to kick everyone's ass. The catch is though is that just because you might have the power to kick everyone's ass doesn't mean you should kick everyone's ass. Thor actually has a difficult time learning this lesson.

Much of the film flips back and forth between Loki being a sneaky cock back on Asgard and Thor acclimating to life on earth. Thor on earth provides much of the film's funniest moments (demanding a horse at the local pet shop, smashing coffee cups and then calmly demanding another) but also grounds the story very well. The action is completely confined to a small New Mexican town which wisely simplified a narrative that was already jumping between cosmos.

The costumes and locations are all pretty true to the comics which is astounding for any adaptation these days, much less something like Thor. It really works though, especially when Thor's buddies from Asgard come to visit they're clearly out of place. It was important that these be two very distinct worlds and the audience recognises where it is. Asgard seems much more advanced yet strangely backwards at the same time. The best asset that THOR has is though it may not ultimately be a very deep movie it tends to make cliches fresh with solid acting, interesting concepts and a well-managed story. I hate saying that just because a movie doesn't suck it's good but that's about what we can expect these days. THOR doesn't suck. What could have been a wildly ridiculous story is much more grounded than something as disastrous as Ocean's 12 (2004) or even something that spins out of control like Inception (2010). There is some good action of course, but the characters are thought out enough for a B-Hero and their serious treatment helps raise its profile. I'd say that tho the film treats its characters seriously, it doesn't really take itself seriously, which all provides a very fun, positive Summer Romp.

Let the floodgates of Summer Open Wide!

I do want to talk about the marketing and cultural impact THOR's had the past couple weeks - we'll see if we can't get that out in the next few days.

08 May 2011

The Long Halloween Vol. II: Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day everybody! This the one day a year where we should appreciate those who give us life. Okay, that should probably be everyday but at least take a moment today and thank your mama. Go call her now then come back here.

Ah good to see you again. Mother's Day is not without its share of appropriate TV and Movies to check out to get you in that Mommy-Honouring Mood so let's get crackin'!

Mommy Movies

There's a few ways you can spin this one. You can either check out psychotic mother movies like Mommie Dearest (1981) or the original Mama's Boy, Norm Bates in Psycho (1960) but that may not be appropriate viewing with your mother. I like something like Tina Fey's Baby Mama (2008) for a more positive look at motherhood. Really what this day should boil down to is just whatever your mama's favourite movie is. For mine that would be The Sound of Music (1965). Or Iron Man 2 (2010). I kept trying to convince my mother go to see THOR (2011) to check out Chris Hemsworth's pecs but she just wasn't into it. That escapes me, I mean, look at those pecs. That's a perfect mother's day, spending it with those pecs. You see way more man pecs than Natalie Boobs in THOR. Actually what the hell, why do we see so much Man-Boob and no Lady-Boob in THOR? This is clearly just an attempt to attract some chicks to the flick who would normally have no interest in Norse Cosmology. So, again, Perfect Mother's Day. Anyway, what is far more likely is that your mom's interests are somewhere between one of these extremes, it's her day, so just don't rent Requiem for a Dream (2000) and you'll be okay.

Mommy Music

Who better than Tupac to write a great Mother's Day song? This is actually more endearing than it should be and there aren't a whole lot of other Mommy Songs to blast for your Dearest over the speakers today. I searched Google for "Mom Songs" and ended up with this list, tho this is a site that suggests I might also be interested in Sheyla Hershey's Massive Boobs so I'm not really sold on its credentials as Mom Experts.

Like the Movies though, you gotta listen to whatever your mama wants today. For mine I think that'd be a lot of Maroon 5, OAR and Cee Lo Green. My mom's pretty cool, actually. Then she'll say something like "Oh play whatever you want, I'm just happy if you're happy." That's when it's time to crank the David Banner.

Mommy Foods:

This is tough. We know to stay away from steak, mac and cheese and beans but it really depends on what your mama wants. More than the food choice though is just doing something nice - make your mama dinner for a change, let that chick relax for a night. It'll probably be a salad or something, you can handle that. Maybe.

As for drinks it depends on what kind of mommy you have - some will be fine with a glass of wine, others may want 10 - 15 beers. That's ok. Whatever she wants she gets. And don't forget that EXTRA special present that might be in store for her today. That is truly the gift that keeps on giving, friends.
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