30 August 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. III - Frankenstein Day

As we near the end of August it's time once again for an installment of The Long Halloween - Norwegian Morning Wood's glance at all the great holidays and what TV Shows, Movies, or Music would be a perfect fit with them. This year, though, we ignored all the so-called "popular" holidays and instead went for the really insane, obscure ones. The best ones. Today, August 30th, is National Frankenstein Day.

So what to watch on Frankenstein Day? Well, you watch the original film from 1931 for starters. Or, if you're feeling spicy you could pop in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974). But ultimately, we really want to get down to what Frankenstein really means to all of us. But why this day? August 30th is the Birthday of Mary Wollenstone Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818. Supposedly it was written as a sort of consequence of the Eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. How's that for a butterfly flapping its wings?

Frankenstein and his eternal struggle with his Creation, have become a template for sci-fi / horror for the greater part of two centuries. Many stories have echoed or paralleled a human affront to God through their own creation. There are plenty of obvious parodies, but any film where we are destroyed by a creation fits a nice little Frankenmold. Like this Summer's Prometheus (2012). Of course, both Ridley Scott's film and Mary Shelley's novel are oblique references to an even earlier Greek tale warning of the hubris of extending oneself to manipulate forbidden technology. I'll even stretch out to a flick like The Cable Guy (1996), where the protagonist creates a friend who then stalks his life searching for meaning and acceptance, eventually taking over his girlfriend and family in a warped attempt to fit in and gain acceptance. These are all basic Frankenvalues. Sorry, it's fresh on my mind. The point is, any tale can be a Frankentale. Take films like Blade Runner (1982) or Robocop (1987), which feature creations searching for meanings to their tortured lives, the latter also crafted from spare parts, and ultimately kill their creators.

More traditional (yes, somehow) adaptations include The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Plenty has been written about this crap. I'm more curious about Frankenstein's weird role in pop culture, where he does everything from fight Spider-Man to Conquer the World. The creature (he is the Monster, after all, Frankenstein is the Good Doctor), it would seem, is capable of just about anything. Even being played by Robert De Niro, which could be his second worst role.

There's only two Frankenstallments I really care about - and that's watching Mary Shelley's Frankenhole while eating Frankenberry. Now, obviously it's not as good s Fruity Yummy Mummy, but for National Mummy Day we can do what he wants to do. Frankenhole is a brilliant show by Dino "Starburns" Stamatopolis, and Frankenberry is a fabulously mediocre sugar cereal. Combined, though, they make for a perfect way to celebrate National Frankenstein Day.

Let's spend a moment talking about Frankenberry. I never thought I would write that sentence. Anyway, a simple Google Image Search presents many many artist interpretations of this, one of the first openly gay Cereal Box Mascots. You've got the ironic tough Frankenberry, the psychotic Zombie Frankenberry, the Realistic Frankenberry, or just the Even Gayer Frankenberry. The applications are almost as endless as with Frankenstein himself. I suppose it's just because both the idea of Frankenberry, and the actual appearance of the guy is so tremendously stupid. It's perfectly acceptable to display this retarded mug in just about any variety possible.

So what about Frankenstein himself? The poor lonely Creation's character is probably most authentically represented in Frankenhole, which is another reason to watch that show (as if you needed it). It's a bummer being alive, especially if you have an Abnormal Brain. Frankenstein is always on the border between life and death, just as Frankenberry is always on the border of hungry and the desire to not eat Frankenberry Cereal. And so, as we dance, life twirls on.

He also kicked ass in Van Helsing (2004).

27 August 2012

Summer Jam Week 16: Green Day, Cher Lloyd, and Brandy - Yep.

Today we bring you the penultimate Summer Jam post. It's a sad thought that our Final Summer is nearly concluded, and perhaps more so that this was clearly the Summer of Call Me Maybe. That's alright though. Every week this Summer we've counted down the hottest jams just for you - After Labour Day we'll start tallying things up and let you know how everyone stacks up. For now, though, we've still got some fresh beats to drop:

Hot Track of the Week: "Madness" by Muse

This is an exceptionally groovy track with a pretty fresh sound, if kind of wacky. The coolness of the song breaks down as it goes on, but those first two minutes are extremely jam-worthy. As with every cool and innovative jam though, there will be haters and this track hasn't gotten the amount of love it should. Still, it's a nice change of pace from all the pop I usually place here...

Coke Nightmares: "Oh Love" by Green Day

I can't picture three bigger douchebags than the dudes who make up Green Day. They all just need showers really badly. This video looks like the biggest strung-out coke party this side of Studio 54, but they don't really have anything critical to say about that. It's full of kind of hot chicks, though, who are clearly just sitting around waiting for the chance to blow a rock star. Green Day has three albums coming out in the next three months, but none will approach the greatness of their work before American Idiot (2004). That was the tipping point where the band passed the barrier from punk-pop with underground credit to mainstream pop-punk that desperately tried to retain an identical credo that just didn't apply any more. They're pathetic. I'm going to stew some more and play "Basket Case" on repeat now.

Bitchin: "She's So Mean" by Matchbox 20

This is a nice contrast to Green Day here. Matchbox 20 has somehow managed to release a song exactly as good as their earlier work as well as preserve their musical persona and perception while doing so. It's a fairly standard alt-pop track that's still a pretty fun way to close out Summer. No sign of Sinbad here, but Rob Thomas is still belting out one of the more classic 90s rock voices here.

Still Finding Work? "Put it Down" by Brandy ft. Chris Brown

I can't believe this song exists for two reasons: 1) Brandy is still alive and 2) Women are still willing to work with abusive douchebag, Chris Brown. Nevertheless, this is your smooth R&B jam of the week. It's not an especially good song, but it's got a bit of cuteness to it. Until of course you realise that as soon as Chris Brown falls in love with you he'll probably start beating you.

Oh Jeez: "Want You Back" by Cher Lloyd

I can't get enough of this shit. To some extent, it's just too easy to make fun of. There's hardly been a more manufactured attempt at a pop hit since One Direction. First of all, the diner in this video is the exact same one as in Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You," which just makes it all the more clear it's a set somewhere in Hollywood. Second, there's this weird fake attempt at giving Lloyd this aggressive punk attitude, but she's still a teenager cooing about her ex-BF, which really results in tremendous cognitive dissonance. To add to this, I'm not sure a Dirty Version actually exists, which I confirmed from checking out the lyrics. This means when she sings things like "I don't give a shh / no one else can have you," a version does not exist where she swears. It's all part of this huge attempt to sound dirty and edgy when she's really not at all. It's so fake and uninspiring. But she is kind of cute and the song is catchy - so obvi a hit here.

Canadian Bacon: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae

Is...Carly Rae Jepsen a shark?
I think this buzz is finally dying down a bit, and it couldn't really be timed more perfectly with the end of Summer. The Rise of Carly Rae Jepsen is unparalleled, which is both innovative and challenging to the entire music industry's standards of traditional promotion. The Summer of Carly Rae should be known not only for this kind of inoffensive flirty song, but how she revolutionized how producers can make a hit. Surely the waters have become much more random in who gets picked up - but with this kind of democratization can we say it's much worse than just what jams tickle a producers' ear? Let's be more specific - what tickles Simon Cowell's ear? Then we'd have a whole Summer full of Cher Lloyd. Suddenly I'm grateful that Justin Bieber made that single tweet that launched Jepsen's career.

Making Clits Glow: "Whistle" by Flo Rida

Flo Rida storms the castle this week with a great showing. Summer is always a better Season for Flo than any other. When else can he strut around the beach showing off those massive pecs and precisely manicured beard? I was thinking this week about how much Tallahassee's flow rips on Nelly's sing-song rap style and how that really bridged the gap between hip-hop and pop music where Flo has found a nice profitable niche. I think he's a poser when he tries to do much more than that, but as long as he stays in his niche, he'll be fine.

Purple Power: "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

Katy never seems to be out of the spotlight for long. I already wrote a long diatribe on my problems with this song, but once again it claims the top spot for the week. She sucks. I'm not sure what to make of this song, to be honest - it's as if Katy has the power now to make a top single without even trying or really even wanting to. She's got some loyal fans, to be sure, fans who she tricks into thinking are nice and unique for listening to her, when you just can't get more mainstream right now. That's why she's dressed as a magic Druish witch, of course.

Next week...

This is it, folks - another long Summer in the can. Expect more of the same next week, with the possible addition of this new 50 Cent Jam with Alicia Keys. On Monday, things will go as normal, then on Tuesday we'll conclude this series of posts once and for all. Crank up the knobs and stay tuned!

26 August 2012

The Best Brians in Media

Well folks, it's my birthday today. As far as egos go, mine is huge. In honour of that, I thought I'd take a moment today to talk about all the great Bryans in popular culture. Now, the actual count of properly spelled "Bryans" is painfully low. Luckily, my name is so cool I can pass off as a 'Brian" without anyone knowing the difference. Still, to some extent, masquerading as a "Brian" makes me feel gross and dirty inside. Just the way I like it. Let's put it to it!

Fictional Characters:

There are plenty of crappy Brians out there. There's Brian Fellows, Brian Piccolo, and Brian Flanagan. Don't know Brian Flanagan? It was Tom Cruise's character in Cocktail (1988). I had to look it up myself. I know what you're thinking, a pretty pathetic group here. I also just found out that Brian Piccolo was a real dude. Our numbers of great Fictional Brians decrease even more.

But wait - what's that? Brian Griffin comes to save the day! Peter Griffin's Dog and Lifemate from Family Guy is a cultured mutt and ever social drinker - a true testament to Brians everywhere. To same wit goes Brian Fantana, Paul Rudd's character from Anchorman (2004). The flowing locks and thick stash makes all us other Brians proud and envious simultaneously. To round out the drug abusing Brians, Jim Breuer's character from Half-Baked (1998) is another Brian who we can all aspire to. It's like our dreams have come true.

We next move on to two of the greatest Brians. The first is Brian Cohen from Life of Brian (1979), played by Graham Chapman in perhaps one of the greatest comedies of all time. As a child I often thought that the film was somehow about my life. In many ways it is about the life of all Brians. The other great Brian is of course Brian O'Conner from the Fast and Furious series of films, played by Paul Walker. Is it wrong to hold both of these Brians in identical esteem in the same paragraph? Probably, but a Brian action star is a rare find indeed. It kind of plays into his underrated white boy character in the first film. No one is going to respect some scrawny white boy named Brian who is trying to race against the Diesel. That is of course, unless he blows his NOS in epic fashion. We salute you, Paul Walker, for Brians everywhere.

We will also gladly lay claim to Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Because in our growing Brian Army, we need one of the Greatest Wizards of All Time fighting alongside Paul Walker and Brian Griffin. That's a sight to see, baby. Imagine the bar at that battle, to be honest (or at least the flask use), between Griffin and Fantana. Dumbledore would probably jump in on that, too. Get a little saucy and awkwardly hit on Brian Cohen, making him squirmily uncomfortable. These are our people. It's awesome.

Real People:

We have some pretty good real life Brians to help fill out our army. First we've got Brian De Palma, director of movies like Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission: Impossible (1996). Not bad. From there we have character actors Brian Doyle-Murray and Brian Cox. Doyle-Murray had roles in everything from the Bill Murray movie Caddyshack (1980) to the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day (1993). But really, of all the Murray brothers who aren't Bill, Brian Doyle- is the best. That's with a nice acknowledgement of Joel Murray's excellent role in God Bless America (2011). I do feel like I'm overly dissing Doyle-Murray here, he has some great stand-out roles in a few Vacation movies and as Captain K'nuckles in The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack - great show.

We can round out our Brian Brigade with Brian Posehn and Brian O'Halloran. The first is a big giant comedian who loves Metal and is a hilarious part of the Comedians of Comedian quartet that also includes Zach Galifianakis. The latter is that dude from Clerks. (1994).

The Bryans

Like I said, this is all well and good, but something just doesn't feel right honouring all these Brians. It's like homo sapiens honouring Neanderthals. We're pretty close but for a chromosome or two - and that makes all the difference. There are only two really great real-life Bryans and a single great Fictional Bryan that I found after literally minutes of IMDB searching.

The first is director Bryan Singer, who has created such epic films as The Usual Suspects (1995), X-Men (2000), X2 (2003) and...other films like Superman Returns (2006) and Valkyrie (2008). Even on his mainstream misses he gets points for pushing a more classic narrative in ways that buck against current trends, so we can take him in for it.

The other actual Bryan is Bryan Cranston, who is hotter than Hansel right now. He had us as Tim Whatley on Seinfeld twenty years ago, but in other roles such as Hal the Dad on Malcolm in the Middle and as Walter White on a little show called Breaking Bad, he's got us hook, line, and sinker. Even as the Colonel with one arm in Saving Private Ryan (1998) and as the old mechanic dude in Drive (2011) he's shined. Actually, you notice how every good movie suddenly has Bryan Cranston in it now? Or at least, every movie that's trying to be good because it has Bryan Cranston in it now. This ranges from Contagion (2011) to John Carter (2012) to Rock of Ages (2012) and Total Recall (2012). Wow. Actually about 3/8 of those are terrible (we still want to give John Carter some credit...). He's coming at us again in Ben Affleck's Argo (2012). Sounds good to us.

Well, our massive list ends with the greatest Bryan of all, Bryan Mills, more properly known as Liam Neeson from Taken (2008). He is quite simply, the coolest Bryan of all time. And he spells his name correctly, which is a plus. Not only is he a complete badass that simultaneously emits insane intense anger towards his enemies and warm daddy hugginess towards his family, but he's fully capable of killing anyone ever. He might as well be featured in that upcoming Deadpool comic where he kills the entire Marvel Universe. He could do it. Or at least deal out some flesh wounds. What a time to be a Bryan. Bryan Mills will lead us. Possibly to a drunken orgy if Dumbledore get his way, but hey, you gotta be one with your inner Bryan.

Celebrate me with me - watch some Taken.

25 August 2012

Because it was on TV: The Brilliance of The Cable Guy

If you're like me, that is, living the same exact life I am, then last Thursday night you of course found yourself enjoying a nice does of The Truman Show (1998) on AMC. As expected, a sincere delight. If you're also like me, then when that, perhaps the finest of Jim Carrey's performances concluded, your eyeballs remained on the television for a rare airing of The Cable Guy (1996). I had never watched this film before, for good reason. When it originally came out in theaters I was one enthralled by the Carrey classics that appealed to my demographic, that is, an 8-year old boy obsessed with farts - Dumb & Dumber (1994), The Mask (1994), and the Ace Ventura franchise. This new scary dark Jim Carrey had no appeal to me. When it premiered it was universally reviled. It almost wrecked Carrey's career - in fact, one could argue that his career has never regained the momentum it had in the early mid-90s.

So, 16 years later I actually watched this thing. And I was impressed. By all standards, this should have been a comedy dream team. Directed by Ben Stiller, written by Judd Apatow, and starring, in addition to Carrey, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Leslie Mann, and Matthew Broderick. It's incredible. With Andy Dick, Janeane Garofolo, and Bob Odenkirk, it reunites just about the entire cast of The Ben Stiller Show. So, what happened?

First of, The Ben Stiller Show, though revered in some circles, was never that great. This was also the Judd Apatow who was just starting to branch out from a successful TV career, making movies more like Celtic Pride (1996) than The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005). This was also before any of the aforementioned comedians had really honed their talent or found a niche that supports them. Jack Black in this film plays an athletic friend of Broderick's who is instrumental in suspiciously snooping out Carrey's stalker character. He doesn't even scat. The "Jack Black" persona is totally different than what we see in this film. He's present but any actor could replace him. Ditto with Owen Wilson and Odenkirk. None of these guys are supposed to be playing anything funny.

This brings us to the major caveat with this film - it's not supposed to be funny. We can talk about comedic personae here, because at this point, Carrey was the only one with a very well defined one. The thing about this movie, and what also makes it great, is that Carrey is totally exemplifying that persona. He's loud, goofy, friendly, smart-alecky, and full of silly faces, insane body movements, and oodles of pop culture references. The difference is that no one in this film likes him.

Now, in a movie like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), no one also likes his character. Yet there are a few who inexplicably put up with him. Hell, he even bangs Courtney Cox at the end. In The Cable Guy, he plays almost an identical character, except he has a lisp, and he's painfully, pathetically lonely because he's so abrasive to every other character that no one can stand him - except of course for those he manipulates. This is in fact, simultaneously a much more realistic of what effect this kind of character would have on the world around him, and a critique of the Carrey Comic Persona.

This has happened with other stars, tho perhaps not as publicly. In Adventureland (2009), Ryan Reynolds plays the kind of witty charming sleazeball who hits on underage girls, almost identical to the character he played in Van Wilder (2002) and Waiting...(2005). Except this character isn't actually likeable in real life, nor is it as cute, cheeky, and cheerworthy as his other films would have you believe. He's a mysterious scumbag in Adventureland, which is exactly how everyone should feel about the Classic Ryan Reynolds character. You can also see Seth Rogen doing this in Observe & Report (2009), and to an extent Adam Sandler doing this in Funny People (2009). Yes, 2009 was a big year for this. None of these films did very well, and they are all widely hated, but that's mostly because they upended expectations and none of them were very funny. That however, has nothing to do with whether or not they are good movies, merely only if you're disappointed in not getting the laugh you expected.

The Cable Guy does the same thing, and for a major A-List star to have this huge Fuck You to his established comedic name at the peak of his career is groundbreaking. It broke so much ground that Jim Carrey's star hasn't really shined nearly as well since. Sure you've got your Man on the Moon (1999), Bruce Almighty (2003), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), but none of these are really the insane stupid majesty that Carrey established doing rounds on In Living Color.

What's also interesting to me is that though they were all contemporaries, this film feels like it was a bunch of rising stars with an established teamwork working with one Megastar. It was the Ben Stiller Crew holding up Carrey. The only other example of this I can think of is the aforementioned Funny People, which had the established but relatively new Apatow Crew centered around Adam Sandler as their comedy legend. I think in both of these cases we ended up with great films, but probably shitty comedies.

Under new eyes and a fresh understanding of Carrey's career, I think we should all take another look at The Cable Guy, with the understanding that none of us would like this man in our lives - but with the understanding as well that this is the same dude from all of Carrey's early films. Maybe that's why we hated it so much - it made us realise how awful this dude is in real life, thus dampening our earlier great experiences. There's no reason why we can't separate the two though. Plug in The Cable Guy again - I think you'll be surprised.

24 August 2012

The Road to a Blockbuster: Brother's Justice Reborn!

In this long Final Summer before the World Ends in 2012, we have gone through a lot of movies. Every Friday as part of the Road to a Blockbuster series, we determine the potential cultural, critical, and commercial impact of every wide release. The Summer Season is just about over this week, as we can tell from the torrid string of releases this week. Somehow by mid-August every great part of Summer dries up and everyone starts taking that big breath before the plunge into Fall. That said, today we conclude our Road to a Blockbuster with a look at three movies that will probably crash and burn at the Box Office.

The first is a horror movie, The Possession (2012). Oh wait, I mean The Apparition (2012). The Possession, which looks like a Jewish version of The Apparition, comes out next week. The Possession actually looks kind of cool, old creepy Jewish Mythology like the dybbuks and golems. My primary understanding of dybbuks of course comes from A Serious Man (2009) and Rugrats. I'm not the only one, either. Of course, this film doesn't even come out this weekend. The Apparition looks fairly dumb. Draco Malfoy is in it, though! Late August tends to be a dumping of Horror films for some reason, though. This happened for a few years with Rob Zombie's takes on Halloween as well as those Piranhia DD flicks. And recent Final Destination installments. It's kind of wild, actually. Why not come out, you know, during Halloween? Who knows. What's more likely is that studios need a dumping ground for these kinds of horror franchise films and when a few flicks did well, it was time for everyone to try their hand. It sucks.

I don't think The Apparition or The Possession will revolutionize horror films or films in general. They're very forgettable, interchangeable horror experiences. These kinds of films haven't done well financially, either, and August is typically anemic to these kinds of flicks - even if some of those franchises mentioned earlier did comparatively well.

Moving on, we have the bikour movie, Premium Rush (2012). Is "bikour" a word yet? Can I claim to have made that up? It's a portmanteau of bike and parkour - doing crazy urban movement tricks on your bike. Sound cool? Then we're not going to get along. If anything though this should contribute to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's strong case for becoming the actor of 2012, what with The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and two other highly anticipated upcoming films, Looper (2012) and Lincoln (2012). Channing Tatum better watch his ass or he's going to be upended as the most overexposed actor of the year. Gordon-Levitt is 2012's Michael Fassbender. It's also cool to get a preview of Take Shelter (2011)'s brilliant Michael Shannon as a big bad before he goes all Zod on us in Superman Lives (2013). Or what was it? Man of Steel (2013)? Gotcha. Yep. No Nic Cage in sight. He's a perfect nasty bad dude though, and he ought to be the shine of this film.

But this won't really do that well. It will probably be remembered as that obscure bikour film that helped Joe and Mike get a couple good roles down the line. It's not that interesting a premise and Joe doesn't really have enough star power to carry a movie yet. Then again, there's the possibility that no one does these days. Still, it's an original story in a bit of a dry spot of the year - it could do decently. There is a bit of intrigue in the marketing, but it's not all that compelling. We'll see how it ends up.

That all brings us to Hit & Run (2012). If any of you have seen either Brother's Justice (2010) or read its well-articulated Wikipedia page, you ought to be pretty excited. Hit & Run returns almost an identical cast, made up mainly of Dax Shepard's friends. For some reason, these friends are like, Bradley Cooper and Tom Arnold. It's kind of a bizarre comedic troupe that I could see making a lot of crazy obscure films that no one can figure out is tied to the equally obscure Brother's Justice. The marketing has been interesting, and this could be a bit of a hit, but it's in about the same league as Premium Rush in being an original story landing in late August. So it has little chance of really landing.

Hit & Run actually came out on Wednesday for some reason. It debuted at 8th place for the day. I'm not sure what we can exactly gleam from this - as it's not like it was a holiday Wednesday or this was a big hotly anticipated release or anything. I guess it merely means that this probably isn't going to do shit in theaters. You gotta cheer some Tom Arnold, though. He's the guy in the van! He's sick of being the guy in the van!

Well folks, it's been a long and crazy summer. We saw a Big Green Giant punch an alien worm, Bane do his best goatse impression, Adam Sandler teach us how to laugh again, and Drake and Nicki Minaj provide the voices for animated mammoths. It's been...wildly mediocre, to be honest. What was the best film of Summer? Obviously it was Battleship (2012). Maybe Prometheus (2012). The funniest was The Campaign (2012) - sorry TED (2012). All in all, a good Summer. We had some good Olympics, good flicks, and plenty of ice cream for everyone. Now it's time to watch some Fall TV...

21 August 2012

First Impressions: The Expendables 2

Well folks, it's time to review the last truly Blockbuster Film of the Summer. Well, it wanted to be a blockbuster. Well, actually it wanted to a blockbuster in the 80s. It actually probably made enough cheddar to succeed in that regard, to be fair. We're talking about The Expendables 2 (2012), the sequel to a terrible 2010 film that very much succeeds where its predecessor failed. Kind of. Keep reading, plenty of SPOILERS ahead (that is, if you even consider The Expendables 2 to be perishable):

The Expendables (2010) was supposed to be the end-all ultimate iconic team-up movie (way ahead of The Avengers [2012]...) - full of epic 80s violence, memorable cameos, and ruthless action. It wasn't really any of these. The violence was bloody but uninteresting, the cameos were memorable but insignificant, and the action was present but uninspired. I was ready for this to be a disaster, but it failed to become the only thing it was trying to be.

The sequel rectified much of this. The action still wasn't breathtaking and the CGI was still awful, but there were some genuinely cool moments sprinkled in between a lot of guys shooting guns. That's something I don't think Stallone quite understands. A lot of guys shooting guns at each other isn't interesting. There are tons of long action scenes in The Expendables 2 that become boring because nothing is actually happening - no plot or relationships are advanced. Relationships are the key to investment in action scenes. Even McBain knows that. Actually - watch that little McBain vid again - notice how similar it is to The Expendables 2? The only character who we're actually pushed to relate to dies and the rest is devoted to the muscular but dumb hero's efforts to avenge him against a much cleverer villain with a vague evil plan and no actual persona vendetta. The Simpsons are now able to parody pop culture twenty years before it happens, or maybe this is just more indicative to how regressive The Expendables 2 tries to be.

There were some good parts, though, right? Yes, let's talk about JCVD. Jean-Claude Van Damme single-handedly saves this film, which isn't really what I'd expect going in. It's like he's the only dude who understands the joke that these movies really are. Let's talk about that for a second:

These films have really only been Stallone's outlet to relive some of his action glory days. The only way to generate interest above a typical action film, then, is to gather up every super action star and cram them in the same film. The first film was a little hokey with this. Yeah, Arnie and Bruce showed up, but who cares. The big stars were Rocky, Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren. Statham and Li already made War (2007), which was a terrible movie, and so it's more like a Rocky / Drago fight with sidekicks. Not what we promised.

The Expendables 2 adds Chuck Norris and JCVD while putting guns in the hands of Arnie and Willis to actually deliver on Stallone's promise of uniting every great action hero (We need Seagal, more on that later). The way the film carries itself, though, it's more a team-up of these actor's collective myths than anything else. Chuck Norris is a great example. His myth is interwoven into this film beautifully. He shows up mysteriously, kills everything inexplicably, makes a joke, offers indispensable advice, and vanishes. It's exactly as much Norris as necessary, because the film actually acknowledges that having him around for the whole time would just be unfair. His myth comes in and blows up tanks, not the man. It's integrated into the story in a pretty cool way.

In the late 1940s, Chuck Norris visited a remote convent
in Tuscany, where he made love to every nun cloistered there.
Their sons would later make up the 1972 Miami Dolphins,
the only NFL team to complete a perfect undefeated season.
Chuck Norris' legend itself is this weird pop culture mix. It's this really cool mix of Bill Brasky-style hypermasculine exaggeration and a simple Walker Texas Ranger Lever that propelled Norris into the minds of millions of young, Internet-adled comedians. Somehow this got churned up with Vin Diesel Facts and presto - we know have the Most Legendary of all the Legendary Legends. And of course, now the joke style is one of the most successful ad campaigns in recent memory. The best thing about Chuck Norris, I think, is how no one dares upset him. Even writing this, I fear that I'm going to open a desk drawer and a Beard will come out and punch me. No one even dares think for a second that Chuck Norris might NOT be the Ultimate Legend or Epitome of Masculine Ruggedness. I'm not sure any part of pop culture has ever been less debatable.

So The Expendables 2 puts that in itself. In its own way it does this with every other character. The Myth of Jet Li is that he can Kung Fu six guys at once and kill them with frying pans. So he does that. The Myth of Stallone is that he slurs his words, weirdly hits on women, and is full of big unrepentant muscles. So he does that. After a certain point in the film, Arnold and Bruce actually reach a point where all they are able to do is shoot guns and repeat their own and each others' catch phrases. Bruce even tells Arnie at one point to stop saying "I'm back." The Expendables 2 is all about celebrating the myths of all these iconic action heroes by cramming them all in a single film.

It's interesting, then, to see what Stallone and JCVD do with this thesis. Stallone is completely reverent, this is, after all, his own Legacy as well - much more so for having his name tied to this stuff as much as it had been tied to Rocky and Rambo (and Staying Alive (1983)? eh? eh?). He is ridiculously self-serious and tries really hard to perform well in a very shitty movie. Everyone else kind of follows his lead, and word on the set of the first Expendables was always that Stallone was god.

JCVD doesn't give a shit. It's very clear by now that the Muscles from Brussels has a fairly accurate understanding of his own career and how ridiculous it was and is. Honestly, all these overly macho 80s and 90s action films were so over-the-top, and more often than not served as blatant overcompensation pieces, how can you not make fun of how goofy they are? In 2008 Jean-Claude starred as himself in JCVD, which was a very refreshing role that turned this kind of weirdly untouchable mythology on its head. He's carried that mythology into The Expendables 2, not they mythology he had built up during his action career. In this way he's very different from everyone else in the cast, and as a result, stands out as by far the most captivating character. He's the only one having fun in an insane movie full of other actors treating the misperceived importance of their legacy very seriously. I mean, he plays a dude named Vilain for crying out loud.

"...and to a lesser extent, the Van Dammes!"
This differentiation comes to a head literally in the film's final fight sequence between JCVD and Sly. It's basically an inverse of the conflict that divides Jerry and Newman on Seinfeld - Jerry has said his character was always meant to hate Newman because was coming on to Jerry's own show to upset him (this discourse is evidence from the fact that Newman is a dramatist who seeks to increase the seriousness of Jerry's comedic show through intensely dark monologues). JCVD works in opposite to make an affront to Stallone's vision. At the same time, more proper than first installment, Stallone's nemesis needed to be an icon, and Van Damme's mythology is always apart from the rest. He's perfect. He offers this silly, goofy character in a movie that's supposed to be really dark and intense. When he takes his sunglasses off and reveals how ugly his eyes really are, that's the final straw. Stallone must kill him. Since this is his movie, he does. It's symbolic of Sly exterminating any remnant of fun in this film.

We can run through the other characters pretty quickly here. Arnold's Hawaiian shirt was weird and unaddressed. He apparently shot all his scenes in four days. My guess is he just showed up while on vacation without going to wardrobe. This film should have served as a nice primer for Bruce's role in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2012), but now it will only serve G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013).

It's good to see Statham doing what he needs to do, which is some actual combat with fists and knives. All the upper tier guys (Bruce, Arnold, Sly, Chuck, and JCVD) can do is shoot guns (tho JCVD worked in three scissor kicks across two scenes - impressive). We need him and the two seconds worth of Jet Li footage in this film to actually knock some people around. What was the deal with Jet Li in this film? Did he not want to be in it, so he just signed up for the first scene? Replacing him with another Asian, but a woman who can't act was atrocious.

Let's talk about her, the weakest point of the film. Chinese actress Yu Nan is clearly a terrible actor, and she stood out as such in a movie featuring these dudes. I appreciate the effort to grab a female expendable - but there are so many great options to choose from. How about Lucy Liu? Oh right, she's too busy doing what looks like a much better film from the RZA. There are actually far too many possible lists out there for a Female Expendables - here's a Google Search for you. There's also the fact that this tends to be if not misogynistic, then at least a movie completely disinterested in any Women's Issues of any kind.

Speak softly
As for the rest, as expected, Crews and especially Couture don't really belong in this movie other than to show off some jacked guys who are actually kind of believable mercenaries. They don't have myths, though. We also have Thor's brother (not Loki - the dude from The Hunger Games [2012]), who has some cool sniping scenes (really sick of the thing where the main character makes a gun hand motion and then the sniper takes them out - that's in every movie - See also: Crank [2006]), but also doesn't add anything to the myth preservation motif of the film.

Dolph Lundgren's character is somehow now an MIT dropout chemical engineer? Why is Lundgren even in this movie? Yeah, he's got Rocky IV (1985) and the ability to smell crime, but is he really on par with the other geezers like Arnold and JCVD here? My guess is no, but he also said yes when Sly asked him. He is entertaining here, though.

Finally, with any movie like this, we end the same as we did the first - who do we need to see in a sequel? The obvious one is Seagal, if he can tear himself away from being a fake cop (he would be right at home in Stallone's aura of self-seriousness). Who else, though? The shortlist obviously includes Hulk Hogan to increase the crazy old wrestler function, Danny Trejo to increase the ugly foreigner aspects, Carl Weathers to be the ironic black guy that Terry Crews should have been, and of course, Shaq. Because Shaq Fu (1994) needs closure. I really can't wait to see how shitty The Expendables 3 (2014) turns out to be.

20 August 2012

Summer Jam Week 15: Taylor Swift, Taboo, and Nickelback?

Can you believe it's the fifteenth Week of Summer already? According to our reckoning, we've only got two weeks left before we all have to shuffle on back to school. No more Jams. No more big stupid blockbusters (just big smart ones). No more sunshine, hopes, or dreams. But we've got two weeks left, so we need not yet despair. Every week in this, our Last Summer before the world ends (tho not if Nic Cage and John Cusack have anything to say about it!), we have counted down the hottest jams in the country. So hot - in fact - that they might just ignite the atmosphere and lead to what the Mayans predicted for us all along. Without further adieu, let us hasten the End of Days by starting off this countdown with some Nickelback:

Hot Track of the Week: "Trying Not to Love You" by Nickelback

This is the first of a few very fresh jams we're seeing this week, this video only came out on Friday. The song is fairly average (though that would make it above average for Nickelback...), but the video is what intrigues me. It centers around Jason Alexander as a talented coffee shoppe employee who tries to woo this girl and then gets upended by a flashy jackass also played by Jason Alexander. It's always weird seeing him as not George, but this crops up here and there (see Shallow Hal [2001], Bob Patterson...), which is actually a shame, because he's an incredible actor that, like every non-Julia Louis-Dreyfus Seinfeld actor, hasn't been able to outrun his most iconic character. What is he doing with Nickelback? Who the hell knows, but I'm grateful no one else showed up here and all in all it's actually a little touching at the end. He frolfs, he scores!

Another Break-Up Anthem: "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift

This is another superfresh jam, with no official video even out yet. There is a certain amount of well-deserved pride in this track in an age where Katy Perry is also releasing spirited cathartic tracks and Cher Lloyd is releasing regretful hook-up jams. We could probably track a whole relationship across Carly Rae's initial flirtation, Cher Lloyd's break-up and back together, Taylor Swift's final determination, and then Katy's maturity in dealing with the personal ramification. Yep, Katy Perry is the most mature one in this group. What are we coming to. Taylor jams are always going to be pretty good, I don't think this will really be a rocking success, but good for her.

Fluorescent 90s Throwback Fun: "Settle Down" by No Doubt

It's kind of weird that this song says to get in line and settle down, when nothing about the beat or rhythm suggests so. It's a groovy jam for sure and cool to see No Doubt get a little hit on their hands. It does sound exactly like their old stuff and probably could have been released seamlessly in 1996. No Doubt is one of those bands that you hear is back and you think "Man, I hate No Doubt!" then you get caught in a little and realise that yeah, you love all their songs. It's okay - you're not alone.

This Jackass: "I Don't Wanna Dance" by Alex Gaudino ft. Taboo

This video was released last Thursday and boy does it suck. There's not a whole lot of chance this takes off, it's so typical and uninnovative that it should be forgotten immediately. I included it here, though, because it primarily features Taboo - who you don't remember until you see this idiot and then remember "Oh yeah, the worst member of The Black Eyed Peas." Apparently this dude is trying to make it out on his own like Fergie and will.i.am did. Isn't that cute. Shut the fuck up and get back to dancing in the background.

Guiding Prometheus: "Some Nights" by fun.

I may be running out of fun. jokes. All I go on is basically how much I hate the punctuation of their band's name and how much the lead singer looks like a young Guy Pierce. So, fun. has had. quite. a fun summer.. - between this. and "We Are Young," they've certainly captured the pop alternative youthful pride / party anthem market. This is a fun song, though, and Guy Pierce's voice is pretty hard to imitate. Yes, I try. Just try to scream "set the world on fire!" and not sound like a jackass. Or rather sound less like a jackass. It's tough stuff. fun. has my respect for that. Not for their grammar, though, it really screws up my writing about them. Jerks.

Metal Pipes: "Titanium" by David Guetta ft. Sia

I heard this jam a lot this week, which is cool after it had been absent but ever present in the background for quite some time. In the pop world, though, it's still more white noise than anything right now. David Guetta's beats are atrociously bland and Sia's voice doesn't really have anything distinctive about it, despite a strong core competency (Unlike say, Cher Lloyd. Or even Rebecca Black). I don't really see them going anywhere, although Guetta's already famous and rich as hell. That really is only because of this weird niche DJ movement going on right now, that is moreover merely loud, flashy, and attention-grabbing than actually popular. It's a great ruse that Guetta actually has talent.

Oh Canada: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen

After securing the longest-running stretch at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week, Carly Rae fell to #2 to Flo Rida this week. Flo Rida is absent from this countdown, however, because we really didn't hear it that much this week, and no one was really jamming on it. It's alright that Carly slipped a bit, she wrapped up the Queen of Summer status a long time ago.

Queen Bee: "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

I think I figured out how to articulate my frustration with Katy Perry's hypocrisy this week: The premise of this song is a regretful alternative look at Katy's last few years of fame since "California Gurls" blew up both her career and her relationship with Russell Brand into the public spotlight. It's about reconciling with her younger self and taking the chance to be mature and do things differently had she the chance to start over - her innocence saves her from the demons of fame and popularity. Bullshit. The video ends with her rising through the stage for her Concert Movie released last month. That's the culmination of this shit - a bigger stage, more fans, and more fame. It's a hoax - fake like every other part of Katy Perry. It's a tease, gurl. Just when we thought there was something deeper she just proves an inability to reject attention. Or maybe that dreaded cycle is the point. Like the ending of The Hurt Locker (2009). Maybe we'll just keep dreaming on that one...

Next Week...

Like I said, we snubbed "Whistle" this week, if it keeps blowing up it ought to be back next week. Carly Rae may continue declining, which is fine, and we'll be looking at Pink and Cher Lloyd's stocks to keep rising. This week was totally absent of hip-hop, and we'll hope someone has a good jam out there, tho all we're seeing right now is 2 Chainz. That doesn't give us hope. Turn up those knobs, people!

19 August 2012

First Impressions: The Campaign

The Campaign (2012) came out last week and made a strong case for funniest movie of the year, if 21 Jump Street (2012) hadn't clearly dominated that category a few months ago. From the obvious premise that politics and campaigns are stupid, this film proves itself successful.

In our preview for this film we talked at length about the contrasting personae of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and they mostly proved to be true. Both actors extrapolate their stock characters to the extreme and provide a wildly contrasting and hilarious film. Will Ferrell's basic character is the outrageous, loud, frat boy man-child. Translated as a politician, he becomes a Democrat with great hair who can't help but stick his dick into anything that moves. A lot of Will in this film is the classic corrupt and lazy career congressman - the drunkenness, the fighting, the horniness is all on display.

Zach, on the other hand, is the meek, oddball, obscure character who cries on a few occasions. He's wonderfully isolated and naïve and makes the film better as soon as he comes on screen. The film does a nice job of showing Will's tired schtick that extends to his characters' worn-out welcome. Zach really goes all out here and is supremely weird and entertaining - a classic outsider cajoling in on Will's well-established position. He's also a Republican, though part of the point of the film is that these distinctions don't matter at all.

You're a troublemaker!
There are a lot of great side characters lined up here. Jason Sudeikis is here again not really understanding what his comic persona should be and in that way he's basically classic Sudeikis. Katherine LaNasa is a superbabe as Will's wife. There's also appearances by Brian Cox, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd, all fairly underused but existing as evil powers behind the political throne. The real stand-out side character here, though, is Dylan McDermott as the insanely intense Tim Whattley.

With the hotness of Bryan Cranston right now, it's tough to believe that name is a coincidence. McDermott's Whattley is a hilariously dark, cool, determined campaign manager, who is apparently is also an evil interntional fugitive, possibly Dermot Mulroney. It's a weird case where he's clearly the straight man alongside the wacky Galifianakis in that he's much more serious, but he's so extreme that Zach is far more relatable. The film succeeds in leaning its deuteragonist structure towards Zach while Will is clearly the more villainous of the two politicians.

What this film is really about, besides the hilarity, is how crooked and insane political battles are. It's especially true in an age where both Democrats and Republicans are so entrenched that we're no longer in an Age of Dialogue. Obama and Romney exchange barbs at each other and at each others' support, but no one is really changing sides. No one gets an advantage and no one's mind is changed. The upcoming Presidential race will likely simply come down to how many counties Republicans can suppress black votes in.

As mentioned, though, in The Campaign, Will is a Democrat and Zach is Republican, but this doesn't matter at all. Campaigns aren't about positions or parties or anything that should matter. It only boils down to how likeable candidates can be. Politics, as is, has no part to play in a campaign. It's all about who can spin shooting their opponent or punching a baby the best in order to gain support. And that support is everything - these men will sacrifice everything they care to get it.

In the film, as Will loses his grip on sanity and Zach abandons every moral he had built up, it's clear that the only thing that matters is winning. In the end, both are well-rounded people enough to reject the system. This doesn't happen in real life. Politicians will do exactly that - sell out anything they can to advantageously position themselves. It's a nasty, dirty business and if anything, The Campaign lays that bare. Then again, as if we didn't already know that.

So what can we do? It's well known that the system is broken and no one knows how to fix it. The media often expresses this sentiment while feeding into the worst facets of its unruly brawling nature, with a 24-hour news cycle that more often feeds a need to watch trashy reality TV fighting rather than inspired political commentary.
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