25 April 2012

Summer Preview 2012

Well folks, it's the last summer we'll have before the end of the world and Norwegian Morning Wood will be there to chronicle it. We have epic blockbusters coming out, the Summer Jam Royal Court of Summer, and plenty of wet and wild fun for all.

Now, tracking the Jams of Summer have been some of the worst-rated NMW posts of all time, but they're incredibly fun to do and serve as a nice weekly capsule of Pop Music Life. This year we will not be tracking the Top 8 so thoroughly and have some more room for subjective judgments, including Hot Jams of the Week as well as Old School Revivals. There will also be a greater emphasis on Hot Artists and their careers.

We've also got plenty of big-profile films coming out, namely The Avengers (2012), whose opening next week will officially kick-off the Summer Season the first weekend of May. The other release with the highest profile is The Dark Knight Rises (2012), although there are plenty more that range from the intriguingly thoughtful (Prometheus [2012]) to the retarded (Battleship [2012]). Who will earn the Summer Box Office Crown? It will very likely be someone wearing blue or black tights. Yeesh.

It's going to be some Summer. Ride or die.

15 April 2012

Modal Nodes: Artists With a Single Good Track

This is a fairly random thought. I'm unsure if others experience this phenomenon, but it seemed to crop up every once in a while in my pop culture tastes. There are a handful of musicians who I absolutely despise, yet I give them credit for a single decent track. These aren't one-hit wonders or anything, but established, popular musicians who I typically cannot stand. Somehow they let that gem slip by though:

#4: "Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews Band

Many nights I stay up in bed thinking, nay, believing that mine will be the last face seen by Dave Matthews as my hands tighten around his throat and he lets out his last gasp of air and then expires. I can't stand him or his band or his wishy-washy nasally singing. His voice is especially atrocious, it sounds like Kittens Dying. It's terrible. Their music is pot-music for non-potheads. It's all the mellow of Jack Johnston without any of the humility, self-reflection, or sense of humour. Then again, when "Crash Into Me" comes on the radio my hand hesitates. Do I actually like this song? Fuck, fuck I do.

#3: "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks

I react irrational to all forms of Country Music. It just makes my brain dissolve and I become agitated and ornery. Chairs are thrown across the room and bottles are broken in a blurry haze until the track stops or the jukebox machine is destroyed. This song comes on and I begin my fury but then I hesitate. What is it about "Low Places" that DOESN'T make me want to punch babies until my knuckles are sore and bloodied? It may be Garth's strong blue collar crossover appeal, the ease of group drunken singability, or maybe it's simply the fact that fuck yeah I've got friends in low places.

#2: "Bangarang" by Skrillex

This is actually the track that inspired this post. When I first heard Skrillex I couldn't stand him. He seemed like a David Guetta wannabe with a harder edge, but techno is techno, man. If I'm not watching The Matrix (1999) or zoned out on mescaline I have little desire to go down the electronic route for my music. Skrillex seemed like another overrated "prodigy DJ," which is an oxymoron in and of itself. Then I heard "Bangarang" and instantly got an erection. It's a thrilling track, elegantly mixed and the video above is weird and cool as hell. That's the best word. It's a cool fucking track and I feel like awesome sauce jamming out to it.

#1: "Rockstar" by Nickelback

 Ahh Nickelback. It's nice that I don't have to explain any irrational hatred for these guys. No one likes these guys. They're an absolute garbage band for sure, but have you heard "Rockstar" lately? It's a perfectly guilty pleasure song, four minutes of the perfect Rock fantasy done without any real instrumental or vocal talent, of course. It's a song all about selling out, and Nickelback's accurate portrayal is ultimately a whining satire of Rock Life. It's a great song because anyone who's listened to a lot of Rock Music has listened to it because of every reason Nickelback mentions in this song. It's fucking sublime. Obviously, you take a glance outside this track, though, and you can induce auditory vomiting without the proper precaution (ear plugs).

The Long Halloween Vol. III: Titanic Day

Hello folks, welcome once again to the Third Edition of The Long Halloween, NMW's yearlong look at different holidays for each month of the year. After running through Easter and St. Patrick's Day and Thanksgiving we frankly got a little bored. So for this edition we're looking at some of the more obscure holidays our great nation has to offer.

April is no slouch. There were many choices here, all of them fairly obvious. April 30 is Honesty Day, the natural movie to slide in would be Jim Carrey's Liar Liar (1997) to remind us all of the values of honesty. I'm not sure Liar Liar was really intended to expunge to the world the values of honesty, but it's certainly not the worst way to spend two hours on a Monday.

Why doesn't Mumble ever grow up?
On the 25th the world comes together to celebrate World Penguin Day, to which there are plenty of movies to choose from that honor those dirty birds. Keeping with the Jim Carrey vibe we could watch Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011), but in case you don't want to kill yourself you might pop in either of the dueling animated features Happy Feet (2006) or Surf's Up (2007). I would suggest the latter as the superior movie. Perhaps the best choice though, and the only one to feature actual live antarctic beasts is March of the Penguins (2005) for a dose of bitter winter hardship contrasted with Morgan Freeman's soothing narration. Jeez there's a lot of penguin movies out there.

You can parlay Happy Feet along with something like AVABAR (2009) for Earth Day on April 22. Both films have exceedingly overt environmental messages, although they couldn't take place in more diverse biomes. Throw in Fern Gully (1992) for the original AVABAR plot and you have the environmental guilt-trip trifecta. And we actually shouldn't count out An Inconvenient Truth (2006). See, there are just so many April options it's maddening. That's why we picked a more clear-cut day that has a very obvious ritual, movie, and memories attached.

Welcome to Titanic Day.

A century ago today the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. It's the ultimate real-life example of man's hubris, punishment, class warfare, and battle against the elements of the sea. It was also made into one of the biggest movies of all time, Titanic (1997), directed by Jim Cameron.

Titanic has stuck in our minds for decades. This may be because of what I just said - the cultural scar against mankind, that Mother Nature sank the unsinkable ship has been such a blow to man's ego that we've felt the ripples for a century. It does seem a blow to man's ego more than woman's ego as man built, operated, steered, and doomed the ship while the ladies sat around, drank tea, and then hopped in the lifeboats first. This isn't disparaging them, they didn't really have a choice in any of the matters.

As it turns out, it's all a dream within a dream
Titanic is the ultimate human disaster. Would the Hindenburg make as compelling of a film? That would probably depend on who is in the audience. Jim was able to jump on a surging Titanic interest after the discovery of the wreck in 1985. He also made a ridiculously high-grossing film based on the spectacle of production, astounding technical achievement, and a clichéd love story with two really good-looking actors. I always wondered what Leo's straight-up 90s haircut was doing in 1912.

Titanic is still big, somehow. If you want to celebrate the day right you can go out right now and see Titanic again in theaters in the Third Dimension. I don't really know why you'd want to, but out of all the days in April this one seems to dominate the current conversation, not only because it is the 100th Anniversary, after all. Titanic ultimately did what she set out to do - dominate everything. From conversation, to film, to April Holidays, the Titanic does rule over everyone else. Will Titanic's buzz ever hit its own iceberg and plummet to the bottom of our conversational ocean? I think they have better maps now.

04 April 2012

Movies That Are Really Two Movies

There are a handful of films out there that offer a two-for-one deal when you buy the ticket. These are certain films that take a left turn around the middle essentially offer two high concept premises. Sometimes these are two distinct ideas and sometimes they are variations on a single premise. Mostly these are films that either shift locales or characters, or sometimes big plot revelations. Essentially these are all films with very late or multiple inciting incidents. Now, none of these films are films-within-a-film like Bowfinger (1999) or something. Yes, Bowfinger is the first example that comes to mind. These are contiguous films that have radically different front and back halves. Some are weaker than others, thus in that order we follow: As we're talking about whole film structure here there are certainly some spoilers that follow of any film mentioned, so beware.

Weak: Sports and Training Films

This includes about every sports film ever made, from Space Jam (1996) to The Longest Yard (2005). Yes, again, those were the first two that popped in my head (what is wrong with me). Essentially these films are about a group of people getting together and training, and then the big game. Some films like Beerfest (2006) have very distinct halves, the first gathering a team and witnessing their reactions to their own local, controlled locations. The second half, the eponymous Beerfest, isolates them in a foreign land under a limited period of time, characters, and location.

The Invincible Iron Man faces down Tom Morello
Superhero films also follow this narrative. The modern superhero film, or at least the first installment, follows two major beats - the Origin and then the Adventure. The most clear example of this is Iron Man (2008), which is at first about one white man's escape from Evil Brown People, his training, and then victorious return. The latter half though, becomes a white man vs. white man struggle that is between competing intra-corporate entities as it is among physical rivals.

Less Weak: Two Will Smith Movies

Both I Am Legend (2007) and Hancock (2008) fit into this mold. It's odd that both of these recent Will Smith vehicles have excellent first halves and atrocious second halves. I Am Legend is about the life of the last man on earth...until he meets a useless chick and her son to replace his dead dog (somehow a more interesting character) halfway through. Suddenly the meaning of his work is altered dramatically and while this alternate ending comes close to saving it (staying true to the source material, the title, and giving more meaning to Will's earlier struggles), the ending as it stands makes it a very different film. Instead of adhering to the core premise that he struggles to understand throughout the first half (Will remaining the last man on earth and a "Legend" to the new species that calls it home dealing with his acceptance of that fact), the introduction of human characters and the self-sacrifice of Will makes him a "Legend" to a human race that has little to hope for and in fact moves the story out from a Last Man on Earth-thing to a whatever-living-in-Vermont-thing. It sucks.

This is where the rape scene went.
Hancock is similar. The high concept of a homeless, alcoholic superhero is really interesting. As it stood originally, Tonight He Comes sounds like a fantastic premise, although far too dark for a big budget flick for mainstream audience. Instead, we're taken on this fair ride through PR, a prison sentence, and the socialization of Hancock for the first half of the film. For the second half though, he fights Charlize Theron who he's actually in love with but forgot and she also has superpowers. None of it really makes sense and there's really two films in one here. My personal judgment is always apparent but you can decide which one was more suited for the big screen.

Purposeful Meta Splitting

The Charlie Kaufman-penned film Adaptation. (2002) is an interesting case. This may be one of the most Meta films ever made. Kaufman wrote the film, which is about a character named Charlie Kaufman (played by The Cage) trying to adapt the book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay, as a way to deal with his own inability to adapt The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. When his fictional (in real-life, not in the film), hack brother Donald Kaufman takes over though, the latter half of the film also shifts to accompany his writing style.

What turns into a personal tale of ruminating writer's block and self-pity becomes a suspenseful action thriller. This was done as revelations to characters in the movie create wrinkles in the screenplay of the film itself. Adaptation. in its way offers two films in one - the Charlie and Donald versions of adapting the same work, or one could say the process of adapting the same work.

The Plot Shift in Excellent Movies

There are three more films here that simply have very late or multiple inciting incidents that cause the characters to go on to do something radically different for the latter halves of the film. For those uninitiated to screenwriting terminology, an inciting incident is whatever spurs the protagonist to action. It's Luke finding Princess Leia's distress message, or the government guys recruiting Indiana Jones.

The first and most obvious is Rocky (1976). Rocky takes a surprisingly long time to get going. It's certainly one of those Sports Films that is divided between training for the Big Fight and then the Big Fight itself, but before even all the training Stallone has the most awkward courtship ever with Talia Shire and does nothing for almost forty minutes before he's recruited to fight Apollo. You get a sports movie, but also a great moronic love drama all in one.

This may be unexpected, but Stripes (1981) also fits this mold. Everything anyone remembers from Stripes happens in its first half. Bill Murray and Harold Ramis join the army and proceed with training far goofier than Full Metal Jacket (1987). Once Bill gives one of his greatest inspirational speeches, and then the best graduation march ever it's as if writer, Ramis suddenly remembered he had another thirty-minutes of screen time to fill. So they go to Czechoslovakia and have a minor international incident. It's kind of a bizarre segue, I suppose they figured they needed some kind of action in order to justify their training, although I hate to say that Police Academy (1984) worked the action into a coherent high concept with more skill. Did I just really admit that? Fuck.

Let me guess - "Mother!" (high-pitched cackle laugh)
The final film that is really two films we have for the day is JAWS (1975). The first half of the film centers on the effect of a Shark's attack on a small sleepy summer town. The public reacts, government and law enforcement react, and even science and technology react to the intrusion of the underwater menace. All of these reactions boil down to three men leaving the island with intent to kill the leviathan. Thus, while the first half can be seen as "A Shark's effect on a town," the latter half is "A Team quests to kill a Shark." It's notable that after Quint, Brody, and Hooper leave the dock, land is not seen again, and all interaction flows between the three (four, including the Shark) characters. It takes them out of their element and provides a much different movie.

Out of all the examples listed here, JAWS handles the split-film idea with the most precision. One movie flows into the other, despite all reluctance of some characters like Brody to the contrary. After introducing us to plenty of supporting characters the second half lets us know that these four are the most important and lets them grow off each other in new ways (particularly the Indianapolis scene, which is notable not only for Quint's monologue, offers character growth for both Hooper [increased masculinity, giving his character depth], and Brody [the awkward isolation that Brody feels and his inability to contribute to the dialogue affirms his "fish out of water" {had to use it} status and makes his final valiant stand against the Shark all the more important]). The film splits itself with confidence and wholly separates its two necessary high concepts.

01 April 2012

First Impressions: Wrath of the Titans

Assaulting theaters this weekend with a strong and resounding "meh," Wrath of the Titans (2012) is one of the poorest attempts at franchisization to strike the Box Office in a long time. It tries so hard to walk a line between pulp and legitimacy, like a little brother to a real blockbuster jumping up and down and screaming for attention. It is an inherently flawed film, yet it represents an intriguing case study..

Wrath is a sequel to Clash of the Titans (2010), which was a movie really in its time. It was strangely successful because it proved itself on the cutting edge of a few big movie trends in 2010. It became the poster-child for 3D after successes like AVABAR (2009) and Alice in Wonderland (2010), as well as providing a foundation for the star power of Sam Worthington. It also gave us the catchphrase of Spring 2010, Liam Neeson's proud shouting "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!" Despite its commercial success though, it simultaneously became the bedrock for the faulty 3D post-production conversion process and the incredible blandness of Worthington as a leading man. While a sequel to Clash of the Titans seems obvious, on second inspection it's incredibly misguided.

I want to go to there
I was excited going into this film, actually. While Clash had its problems, it was certainly an entertaining hour-and-a-half and that's about all you can expect from these things. Still, both films are almost from a different age narratively. They are both very much "men on a mission" films comprising of quests or journeys for a certain special item that is the only way to destroy the Big Bad Thing, and once that item is attained the actual final conflict tends to be anticlimactic. Contemporary action films rarely take this kind of premise anymore. Especially evident with the Superhero genre, they tend to focus more on individual accomplishments and quests that aren't so blatantly straightforward. Both these films, whose plot structures are identical, tend to have very clear set-ups that fit directly into a reluctant-but-destined hero kind of broad genre.

This is the major reason why Wrath just seems so bland. There isn't a ton going on here and the beats of the action don't really turn any heads. Still, the effects of this movie are outstanding in effectiveness and scope. That's the one big thing to take out of this film. All the monsters, locations, and big battle scenes look pretty good, from weird, two-headed bat monsters (between these and white apes, March was a great monster month), to intricate labyrinths and giant lava men. There were also those guys whose back was another guy. Pretty cool stuff.

There is a huge scope to this film, which is cool. The giant lava man, Chronos (yes, apparently they translated this dude into a gargantuan monster made out of lava that wants to destroy the world for some reason), is awe-inspiring, spreading cobs of lava over the armies that stand against him. The same goes for his great prison of Tartarus. No, not that dude. I am really hitting the references out of the park today, where else will you find Francisco Goya and Halo 2 mentioned in the same paragraph? But this is undoubtedly a big film, with huge, expansive, and elaborate sets and locations, and stakes that involve the fate and deaths of the gods themselves against the rise of man.

This is kind of why you feel it's all in the wrong hands. Director Jonathon Liebesman really only has Battle: Los Angeles (2011) under his belt, which is another film gifted with a great hyped up media campaign that drove people to see a lousy film. Beyond that...there is no one else really here. Wrath of the Titans isn't an installment in any other actor's best oeuvre, besides perhaps Worthington and Rosamund Pike, who can add this to her Die Another Day (2002) credentials. Crap.

So let's get into these actors and characters for a second. The aforementioned Rosamund does a great "Oh Shit!" face and is a pretty good improvement playing the same character that Alexa Davalos did in the first film. She's far more hands-on, although in the end her character isn't really necessary to the progress of most of the quest portions of the film. Still, it's nice to see some broad get in on the action. She also gets a part of what I'll proudly proclaim as one of the most awkward kisses in movie history. Spoilers here abound, as if you couldn't see this coming, but after Worthington kills Chronos pretty easily, Rosamund gets right back to making a battle plan for some reason. It escapes me why she would do this, as every bad guy is dead. As she blathers on and on Worthington walks in, after a film filled with mild flirtation, and plants one on her lips without warning. She looks at him, he leaves. Then the film ends. It's one of the more insane things I've seen on a screen in a while and I'm glad I experienced four seconds of a love story to end this terrible film.

The major difference, I think for the better, between this and Clash was the use of the gods, mainly Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Ares. In Clash, throughout all the crap Worthington was going through, Zeus seemed to always be around but wouldn't exactly help him, mostly because he's a huge dick. The biggest observation these films express pretty well, actually, is that in a lot of Greek Myths as they stand the gods are total assholes. As the people within the films also realise this they begin to turn away, which the films completely justify. Wrath makes the preposition that when their followers do this, the gods lose their power and then die, although it doesn't exactly make sense how or why this happens, or how someone like Ares can die even though plenty of soldiers are still praying to him.

Wait up, Jackass!
Still, Zeus is absent from helping Sam Worthington, even though he grew his curly mullet out to symbolize that he's become a father. This is because Zeus is captured by Hades and Ares. The journey of Hades is kind of wonky, even though he is the Big Bad Mastermind in Clash, he's kind of a puss here. Areas says this numerous times and Hades rebukes him each time, even though Ares is clearly correct. So eventually Hades turns around and teams up with his brother Zeus for no real reason except in return for Zeus' forgiveness, which I guess must be pretty sweet. It was cool to see the two of them kick some ass, although their sudden loss of power seems ill-timed and didn't make sense.

All in all, this film seems to be about the transition between a world ruled by gods to a world ruled by men. It's an interesting bridge from mythology to the modern era, but it seems a bizarre setup to a threequel, Bath of the Titans (2014), featuring Rosamund Pike. They killed all the major gods except for Hades, and he's Perseus' best buddy now. It would seem as though the forces behind Wrath truly believed in the bad press this film would received. There won't be any long lingering love for this film, nor was there actually any for Clash. It's just something that no one really cares about.

So this thing was killed by The Hunger Games (2012) this weekend. No surprise there and it would seem that the public is much more interested in dramatic hot teen future battles than gritty ancient ones. Wrath really just needed a catchphrase - "RELEASE THE...lava man."

"What are you waiting for?!" just doesn't cut it, Sam.
Related Posts with Thumbnails