30 June 2014

Summer Jam Week 8: Even Worse

It's a monumental week, folks! School is caput - High Schoolers are graduating and yes, all your friends are getting married. It's a wild time to be alive, and since Zeus is cranking the thermostat, it's time to cool off with some slick chill Summer Jams. We're really settling into a gang of four or five summer stallwarts now - who is going to emerge on top? Keep reading, folks.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Something Bad" by Miranda Lambert ft. Carrie Underwood

I'm really not a country fan. Any long time reader of this column should know that I like to present a solid mix of alt rock, chicky pop, and gangsta rap - but I generally shy away from Country. It's just complete anathema to me. But yeah, "Something Bad" is a legit track, and follows more in that recent Taylor Swift tradition of more pop-infused country jams. There's never been a more convincing duo in sexiness in the history of the world here, and this does strangely feel simultaneously like a classic country jam and a much more mainstream pop ballad. But Country is mainstream, right? Hot Jam.

Ride My Bicycle: "Best Friend" by Foster the People

I'm really torn by Foster the People, because they had their hugest jam with "Pumped Up Kicks", which was really a lovely track, but they've got so many other spectacular songs. This one probably falls somewhere along with "Coming of Age" in that it doesn't totally reach as high as they can go. But it's got lots of room to catch on and make some Summer Waves. And that vid's trippy as hell.

Two is Good: "2 On" by Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q

This song was actually in my head all week. I really like its intro that blends into Tinashe's sweet vocals and Schoolboy Q has proven himself an excellent addition to any track. It's kind of too much of a mimicry of Jhene Aiko, who can out-coo any other sister out there right now, but I can still dig it.

Graduation Anthem: "Hangover" by PSY ft. Snoop Dogg

This was another track that got stuck in my head all week this week. It's a fitting anthem to all the life events that inspire drunken antics this time of year and it's also a really funny video and song. It's rewarding both to see PSY doing anything besides "Gangnam Style" as well as Snoop dishing out some pretty heavy doses of doofiness. Solid. I'm not sure if this is actually getting airplay or not, but it sure gets a lot of lifeplay from me.

Mr. Anderson: "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith

Our boy Sammy is blowing up right now and he's somewhat been proving himself more than just another forlorn white boy in the crowd. This has really got some weight to it that's nice to unwind to after that hangover caused by PSY and Snoop. It's the Hangunder track of the summer, folks.

Oh Look - Summer: "Summer" by Calvin Harris

I called this our Hot Jam way back in Week 1 and now it finally seems like this is actually taking off as a good little Summer Jam. Maybe not so little - it's popping at just the right time to go on a serious run at the whole damn thing. I think that Iggy and Iggy especially are peaking right now, and this could very well be the heir apparent. Keep two eyes and three ears on this one, folks.

Spendiferous: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX

I think that "Fancy" has crested, although I've been saying that for the past three weeks or so. It's losing a bit of its novelty and getting pretty dangerously close to overplayed status, or at least "not hot" status, and as a result, I may have to take an axe to it next week. This week, though, it still reigns. Well, almost but for -

None I Can See: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

It was a bit of a toss-up this week until the iHeart Radio show this week that really catapulted it to the top. I think all that iHeart crap is kind of bullshit, but to see Ariana live you really get a feel for that voice, even if her style and dancing is still the most typical pop bullshit ever. Still, this song is an earworm, and by now it's committed a pretty fair case for its inclusion as a serious Summer Jam contender come September. Unless we fall in love when the leaves turn brown.

Next week...

I like getting a glimpse of Shakira's "Empire" this week, even if it landed a while ago, and I was also looking at Charlie XCX's "Boom Clap," although I'm not sure she's as strong a soloist as a hook singer. Anyway, "Fancy" could launch her, but I'll restrain a little before announcing it as a Hot Jam. Stay tuned folks, this is getting really good.

27 June 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: That's Right. Robot Dinosaurs.

Another Summer Friday is upon us, and so it comes time once again to assess the latest big, crass, loud marketing giant that has struck our screens trying to become the next big blockbuster. As always, we are curious of not only a film's commercial potential, but its critical and most importantly, cultural potential as well. This late June weekend is particularly of note, because it usually features crazy big openers like a Pixar film or the last three Transformers films. And we've got one more of the latter this weekend, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014).
To be fair, this is the greatest trailer money shot of all time.

There are a few things on my mind when noting the release of this beast. Okay, there are many, many things. Let's start at what's most pertinent - the fact that the Transformers movie series have become this sort of poster child for everything that's wrong with the modern blockbuster. They're an "updated" re-hash of a mildly popular but culturally significant 80s property (that was originally created mostly to sell toys), they're generally big, loud, stupid, and incomprehensible in nearly every way, from plot to the actual visuals on screen, and finally, they're so massively damn popular that Hollywood can's top cranking them out. When watching a Transformers movie it's hard to even believe that it's real sometimes. This mostly falls on Revenge of the Fallen (2009). Why would Rainn Wilson or Ramon Rodriguez's characters ever act the way they do? They're cartoons. How can the Twins can exist in a movie that came out in 2009 without anyone along the process saying "wait, stop, this is pretty racist"? Megan Fox motorcycle ass. It's astonishing that this was a $400 million meal ticket.

A lot of this typifying criticism is pretty fair - but it's also important to note how much these films get right - by being exactly what they need to be. That happens to be mass marketed 14-year old boy "TOTALLY AWESOME!!!1!!1@!!" material - but they do a spectacular job at that, which isn't necessarily an easy feat. Let's take the sorts of films that were trying to hit that demographic last year - the big loud, stupid films. Pacific Rim (2013) was a bit loud, smart film that domestically earned about a third that Transformers (2007) did. Man of Steel (2013) and Elysium (2013) were plagued by the kind of self-seriousness that Transformers movies shrug off in favor of unadulterated awesomeness, and they also didn't make the kind of money Transformers does. Man of Steel came close - but it could really be considered a cultural failure based on how poorly it was received by serious moviegoers. Now, no serious film lover loves a Transformers movie, but at least they're not really trying to be loved. After that we get into pretty rough R.I.P.D. (2013) territory and stuff, that neither took itself seriously, nor made any attempt at intelligence but failed in every sense of the word. It's not easy to make a good loud dumb movie. Mike Bay can do it.

Age of Extinction has sort of snuck under the radar, though, surprising as that may seem. It's not like it has a ton of competition - last summer in particular was grotesquely overloaded with some big movie every weekend clamouring for people to see it - as a result, things like The Lone Ranger (2013) didn't feel all that urgent and got lost in the shuffle. This year Age of Extinction has nothing in its way. What's on its heels, Think Like a Man Too (2014)? And next week is Tammy (2014)? These aren't necessarily in direct competition with a giant Robots Smash flick. But yet, the marketing has been really subdued for this one. I'm not sure I even cared that much or realized what we had on our hands until Optimus rode a fucking Dinosaur during the Super Bowl then suddenly it was "What the hell is this? THAT'S FOUR MONTHS FROM NOW?"

So, why is there this nonchalant air? Perhaps it's the nature of the "soft reboot," which is a term that I love. It's kind of insane. It's like supposing that anyone actually cared about Shia LaBeouf's story from the first trilogy. Or cared about the story at all from the first trilogy. I mean, I do. Repeatedly. But I'm an insane person. Transormers 2 was the first damn movie I ever reviewed for this site. But Age of Extinction has thrown out (presumably) a lot of the crap that came before it in favor of a slight redesign of the incoherent robots and a whole new cast.

And actually, this all looks fantastic. I mean, you upgrade Shia to Mark Wahlberg? I'm sold. Whether he does this on purpose or not, Mark actually has the perfect blend of a serious character just struggling to hide the ridiculousness of his situation through an over-the-top sincerity to the stupid. Just listen to his delivery of one of the dumber lines from the trailer. It's incredible. Michael Bay already used this talent to aplomb in Pain & Gain (2013), although I still struggle with whether or not that movie was supposed to be genuine or ironic. I just can't tell with these idiots, which makes it fun. Humans = improvement.

Now let's talk robots. Not only will this film feature the Dinobots, which look stunning and ridiculous and fantastically shooting dead-eye towards that 14-year old boy love, but the redesign of all the robots themselves actually seems a bit cleaner and more coherent. That's a huge positive for this series. It's maybe a bit cartoonier, but if it makes the action easier to follow, it's an incredible achievement. It makes me wonder why they don't just ditch elements like this that weren't working for the first three movies. So robots = improvement.

So, again - why so mild a buzz? I think it has something to do with Dark of the Moon (2011). That film could really be considered the most complete Transformers film in terms of the themes it developed, the tone being mastered, and the characters being realized. Before that appears like a trolling statement, it's not to say that it really excels in any of this stuff, but for a Transformers film, it's the most complete. Bay almost seems to have crafted it as a darker and more serious reaction to the zany hijinks of Revenge of the Fallen, even if it's still not like, Chris Nolan serious. But not only is it a pretty fun summer film, but it's got some real stakes, real drama, and some attitude. It also has this air of finality to it, which makes another victory lap, as cool as Mark Wahlberg and Dinobots are, seem unnecessary.

It's kind of the same deal as The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). It really has no cultural cache because no one gave a shit about it when it came out. It's like trying to jerk off more after you've already shot your load. It just chafes, man. At World's End (2007) had that same kind of finality that Dark of the Moon had - that these characters' stories were complete and our time in this world had been really satisfying. On Stranger Tides added exciting but ultimately unnecessary characters and a plot that was more a re-hash without any real significance. Pop quiz hotshot - what's the general story outlook for Age of Extinction? Who's the villain? What's at stake? Fucking aliens, I guess, that's my only answer. Despite Mark and Dinosaurs, nothing has really been communicated as a thoughtful and meaningful reason to see this film. I think it may end up like On Stranger Tides - maybe a strong international success, but even three years out, everyone's forgotten about it.

And who the fuck is this guy?
I don't really think that any of my normal predictions are difficult. How much money will this make? Probably not the crazy $400 million mark, although the road is pretty much paved in their favor for a while. Even when we get into the neck of July, if you're looking at the kind of big, loud blockbusters that Transformers complete with, you've basically got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and uhh...that's it. The key question is whether or not people will actually care, which I think will come from more a novelty standpoint than anything substantial. Critically, this is almost guaranteed a drubbing, or the best it can hope for: "Good...for a Michael Bay movie." Finally, what will the cultural appreciation be for this film?

This is an interesting question, especially this summer where we've suddenly gotten all these retrospectives from other legendary summers. I mean, just look at '84. The cultural density of these flicks, especially the trio of Temple of Doom, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters is palpable. Will we care about Age of Extinction in 2044? Really, think about that - it sounds so far away, 2044. Will we give a shit about Dinobots? I'm not sure why no one ever thinks about these things, or maybe you do - leave a comment! I'm going to say, though, that in 2044 we'll be more excited for the latest blockbuster, Moon Knight 3: The Moonening of Khonshu (2044) than anything produced way back in these "Obamanite Years."

Actually the third Moon Knight movie will probably come out waaay before 2044. Age of Extinction lands today. What do you think?

23 June 2014

Summer Jam Week 7: OK, Go Eazy

If you've somehow turned your eyes away from the World Cup (who are we kidding, Americans, it's just background noise until you hear an announcer excited about a goal), you may be really getting into the Summer Jams this week - with this weekend bringing us the First Day of Summer in a cosmic, seasonal sense, and this being the last week of school for many young whippersnappers out there, it's do or die time for any Summer Jam attempting to become THE big Song of Summer 2014. I think our contenders are pretty set. Let's dive in, shall we?

Hot Jam of the Week: "The Writing's on the Wall" by OK Go

The words "ultimate mind-blower" get thrown around a lot these days, but without hyperbole, OK Go pulls off another insane practical single-take music video that looks like an extreme pain to set up but amazing for us, the viewer. Like most of their tracks, the song itself isn't really anything special - I mean, it's a fun light alt pop-rock jam, but it would probably be ignored if not for how cool all the forced perspective and practical camera tricks of this video are. I actually can't stop watching it. It's very cool. Summer Jam? I dunno, this is really made for visual rather than audial consumption, but it is easy listening that's pretty rad. Go!

That Big Fat Butt: "Wiggle" by Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg

This feels like an older Snoop song - like "Beautiful" or "That's That Shit" (and yes, I can't believe I now consider those to be "older Snoop songs" but jeez, it's like 10 years ago) - it's got that nice ring of misogyny to it that I feel like most rappers can't get away with anymore. It's phenomenally stupid, and Derulo is a tool, but it's also a pretty catchy tune and it took off a bit this week. Still, did Snoop give up on Reggae already? He's still got the dreads, so that's something.

Cartography Lesson: "Maps" by Maroon 5

I get really torn over Maroon 5. Sometimes I really dig their stuff, like "One More Night" or "Misery" but I can't stand drek like "Moves Like Jagger" or "Payphone." I guess I just dislike their more pop-oriented jams, but as any reader of this column can tell, I don't normally have an issue at all with pop music. Anyway, "Maps" is their attempt at 2014 relevancy after not really doing much for a while. It's a fair song, but I can't say it grabs my brain and melts it like some other songs this week. It ought to get enough airplay just from being their next big attempt, but I imagine it flares out after some time.

Dangle Dangle: "Chandelier" by Sia

As far as chandelier-themed songs go, I kid of favor B.o.B., but this rad, too. The video is peculiar - simultaneously intense and irreverent, and it's backed by a slowly building powerful jam that's probably a little better of a song than it deserves to be. But boy is it fun and bouncy. Not actually appearing in this video is a bold move for Sia, who doesn't really have widespread name or facial recognition, yet. As a result I don't think it will take off that much, despite it being slightly more pertinent than the typical summer pop smash. We'll see how it does off of airplay.

The Next Brokaw: "I Mean It" by G-Eazy ft. Remo

I actually really dig both this track and this video. It's hypnotic, from the autotuned chorus to the competent white rapping by G-Eazy. It also has an interesting tone streaking through it, sort of goofy but also pretty focused and agitated. It's not really the best flow out there, but G-Eazy does have a good deal of confidence, and almost sounds like the cadence of an old LL or something. The beat is ethereal but simplistic, but everything combines to end up with a pretty serious track. Somehow. I don't think this will launch G-Eazy into superstardom, but it's pretty cool.

Don't Go Nowhere: "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith

Sam Smith seems like the next big white guy soft rock act to break out, and "Stay With Me" is getting pretty huge as a reflection of that. He's got a nice set of pipes for sure but I'm not sure this track is Summer Jam potential. Maybe like, crying at the end of a bad night of drinking material, but this ain't a party beach anthem. Still, there's always room for this crap and it'll probably take off even more.

Get Special: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX

I think "Fancy" may finally be reaching its tipping point towards becoming overplayed, but it hasn't really reached its super-annoying status yet, which is good for it. I'm not sure this can ever get old and annoying. But a few more weeks will probably do it. It's had such a good run for these first seven weeks - will it hold in our memory by the time Labour Day hits - especially since it really hasn't experienced any success in the heart of Summer, yet? We'll see, baby!

No Problemo: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

This track is really starting to take off, which brings it at an interesting crossroads with "Fancy" - they roughly started picking up steam at the same time, but I'm kind of favoring "Problem" over its second place counterpart here. It's infused with so much more pop energy that makes it exhilarating, I think it will have a bit more legs come July. Still, it faces the same problems - even though it's clearly a contender by now, it hasn't been tested in the depths of Summer. What will come of it? It's tough to tell. Go USA!

Next week...

I'm curious about Florida Georgia Line's continual ability to crossover pop with country with "This is How We Roll" which is set up to do as great as any jam like this can be. Jumping on the Sam Smith bandwagon, I also like his collabo with Disclosure, "Latch," which is nearly fresh enough to break out. And can Calvin Harris' blatant attempt at Summer Jam Royalty "Summer" actually catch on? Stay tuned, folks! We're just getting farted!

20 June 2014

First Impressions: Edge of Tomorrow

There aren't a lot of Tom Cruises left in the world. Specifically, there's one, but despite every other up and coming young white male actor trying to repeat what he's done for the past thirty years, so many random white dude action stars are instantly forgettable. They're the Taylor Kitsches, Garrett Hedlunds, and Charlie Hunnams of the world. How the hell did Tom Cruise take off?

Watching Edge of Tomorrow (2014) helps elucidate this concept. It helps that he's earned his mega-ultra-megastardom by now that an entire movie can be structured around him, but it's a testament to his skill as an actor and his dedication to a role that as he surges into his 50s he can still pull this kind of thing off. Tom Cruise is why you see this movie but it really has so much other great stuff going for it. Let's start with that. Obvi, SPOILERS abound from here on out, so only continue if you'd like to read about and discuss the merits of this whole film.

This is a pretty rare sci-fi film these days - it's based on a book! Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 Japanese light novel, All You Need is Kill. The film Americanizes the protagonist but keeps a lot of it similar, until the ending, which I think was a little botched, but we'll get to that later. It's got plenty of elements of a classic sci-fi flick, a really reliable high concept, mech suits, monstrous looking aliens, and lots of death, action, and slightly future tech. All that junk is done really well, which helps support the story. Every bit of technology feels particularly lived-in and desperate, which may be a call to Aliens (1986), in addition to Bill Paxton's presence as a stingy Kentucky Master Sergeant.

The high concept is a twisted version of Groundhog Day (1993) where the protagonist, Tom Cruise, relives the same events over and over again stuck in a seemingly infinite loop. Groundhog Day by far isn't the only time loop movie, though (indeed, a more apt high concept comparison is surely Source Code [2011]), just the most popular and easily summarised. Whereas Bill Murray seemed to elude death in Groundhog Day, it's pushed farther here where death is essential to the continuation of the loop, which is also essential to the story. See, what Edge of Tomorrow does best is explain away tropes like this in ways that don't really feel forced, clichĂ©d, or clunky. It creates this hero's journey that really makes sense, like, of course this newbie dies his first time out. Every hero should die their first time taking the classic journey. Luke, Frodo, Don Quixote - all these idiots with no combat experience should have been killed immediately. And that's what happens to Tom Cruise. But he comes back again and again, due to the film's core conceit of the time loop.

This becomes this convenient way to express his awesomeness. He's only an incredible hero because he's had hundreds of tries to perfect the run. It's like when Cruise blows the helicopter in Mission: Impossible (1996) - wouldn't it make more sense if it was his 10th or 20th run at that and not just luck? You could say the same for any action sequence anywhere, but Edge of Tomorrow provides this neat basis for these idiots actually being capable of ridiculous feats. It actually all feels much more grounded than some other action films, possibly because there aren't any character shields anywhere - anyone can die at any time, which places this much more realistic focus to the battle scenes, where chaos rules.

This also makes the final sequence where Cruise loses his time warping powers pretty tense-ridden, although a fair criticism is how much it still resembles the choreographed runs that came before it. And this is an interesting theory that basically states that Cruise is lying to both Emily Blunt and the audience. It's a plausible  reading, but too far outside the text given to really be treated more seriously than speculation. There's a way that the film continuously tends to have its cake and eat it too - it can feel perfectly comfortable killing all its grunts and wrecking the entire world to just push reset later. Perhaps you could read it as a statement about blockbusters in general - no matter what city is destroyed, Chicago, New York, or San Francisco, there's always a reset button for the next big film. Whether it be Dark of the Moon (2011), The Avengers (2012), or Pacific Rim (2013). Speaking of The Avengers, at least the hive mind deal with the aliens makes a little bit more sense, although that's still sort of a lazy screenwriting trick. But that's neither here nor there.

Shall we go back to Tom Cruise? He's actually playing a very un-Cruise-like role, in its own way. He starts as this sort of overconfident, smug, and slimy ad exec who has somewhat unwillingly helped the Army's war effort, although he has no combat experience or training himself. He's like Jerry Maguire or Frank T.J. Macky in that he's really just a good-looking blowhard, but unlike those characters threatened with existential or family crises, he's thrown into battle and killed. It's not a role that many actors of Cruise's stature would be comfortable with - Bill Cage is a coward and frankly, a bit of a little bitch, but then he's slowly morphed, after much reluctance, to become the ultimate badass that's more in line with his image.

This is all unraveled by the ending, though, which probably should have been nailed down prior to production starting. Cruise is essentially looped one more time to the very beginning of the film, before he was demoted or met all these people spent cumulative years with learning and training. He smiles at Emily Blunt, and maybe she's the only one who would believe his story, but you've got to think that he hasn't really learned anything by zapping back to the point before he was humbled, even if his memory of becoming less of a douche is intact. His physical position in the UDF remains unchanged, which is problematic from an arc standpoint.

There's a lot more to get into conceptually here. The best the film's structure may be related to is that of a video game, which essentially resembles the "live, die, repeat" mantra of the advertising. Any video game is really a "perfect run" if you take out all the deaths that you, as the character, must face and that's really what is going on here. Let's go back to Bill Paxton - "Game Over, man!" It's an ultimate testament to the screenwriting, actually, that this instrument is very very clear, and plenty of clues are sprinkled throughout the repeated scenes so that we know exactly where things branch off and where we are without it getting too repetitive or boring. The character work in this regard is good, showing how the same characters react to slightly different or altered similar circumstances is a tough feat to pull off, and the flick rolls at an excellent pace.

I was also curious about the nature of the Mimics. One gripe I have with the direction is that you can never really get a good grasp on them and their fighting style. I'm sure that was on purpose to emulate the incredible fast, frantic nature of actually confronting these monsters, who seem to exist without any normal plane of interaction, but from a visual standpoint this simply made the fight sequences difficult to follow visually. Part of the general dimness didn't help things. But beyond the visual design of the aliens (which, even though it was hard to pin down, was certainly original and interesting), they also have these weird properties that influence the film.

The use of Alpha and Omega is obvious. Alphas are one step above the footsoldiers, and killing one / getting covered in its blood will usher in the beginning of the loop. The Omega signifies the end - the end to the war, the end to the loops, the end to the Mimics, everything. It's with some irony, then, that the destruction of the Omega sends Cruise back to the beginning of the film, although this time without the Mimic presence, so ends the narrative when it becomes devoid of conflict. It's fairly unclear how the Omega works save for "It controls time sooooooooo Cruise goes back in time different." This isn't really important to the story, though, and it's not the Omega's fault that its ending pulls the final arc out from Cruise's character development.

The visual and mechanical similarities between the UDF and Mimic forces also contain pertinent themes to discuss. It's clear that the UDF mechs, with their pop up, tentacle-like guns, increased speed, and dark coloring, resemble the Mimics they were designed to fight. It's also clear that the Mimics only win battles (or indeed, only create their entire war strategy) through a trial and error day by day fight led by their Alphas. This is also the only way that the humans win their battles, by stealing the Alphas' power. I'm not sure Emily Blunt's statement that "they let us win" was necessary to infer that the Mimics are trying to inspire hope to ensure the UDF expends all their resources, but whatever.

The point is that, only when the humans become more Mimic-like (mimic the Mimic!) is when they are successful. The perfect, adored UDF Warrior is for all purposes, a Mimic (Emily Blunt, later Tom Cruise). There's something to be said for that - that the UDF and the Mimics essentially end up with the same ideology, which ends up shifting perspectives in interesting ways. If UDF eventually copies Alpha technology (which they are on the right track to do so, thanks to that scientist dude's invention), what's to stop them from becoming the Mimics of the future and conquering subsequent worlds? Perhaps that's the true goal of the Mimics, which is to say that these things weren't even the first Mimics - the ideology of constant fighting survives and in the end, the humans aren't really different from these monsters. Dat's some shit.

The only other thing I'd like to note is that it's awesome to see one of the kids from Attack the Block (2011) show up here. Here's to John Boyega's Star Wars. Edge of Tomorrow is worth it for its humor, coherent screenplay, great acting, and lots of cool sequences. Its ending and themes may be problematic, but it certainly inspired a lot of thoughtful discussion on my part, which is more than I can really say about anything else I've seen this summer. Go for it!

17 June 2014

First Impressions: 22 Jump Street

Welcome to the film least likely to be considered a success if you pitched it to me three years ago - 22 Jump Street (2014), the sequel to the 80s Television Revival Remake Movie of two years ago. This movie has no business being funny, relevant, or successful. But dammit...it's incredible. Well, it is incredibly funny for sure, but I'm actually hesitant to call it a good movie. It gets a few points for being the most meta movie ever, absolutely, and it does have its fair share of canny observations about College life (but not nearly as much as its predecessor had on High School life). My only real problem is, that while it thoroughly acknowledges its repetitive elements, it still revels in these elements rather than surpassing them. It never quite breaks free of what it is making fun of, which is difficult.

It's fitting that this is another Phil Lord / Chris Miller joint, who also blessed us with The LEGO Movie (2014), which also had cock-eyed expectations and was yes, the most meta movie ever up until 22 Jump. The directing pair seem to have a knack for taking these really hackneyed, insipid ideas and load them with subversive and meta elements until they reflect so hard upon themselves that it's tough to judge them as a piece of original text at all. Instead it becomes some sort of otherworldy commentary on the state of the modern blockbuster, while being a tremendous poster child for that blockbuster itself. These Clone High guys are nuts. There will be a nice load of SPOILERS from here on out, so if you're looking for a nice thorough discussion of the film's merits, keep reading, if not, go see this thing and come back.

The meta is the most obvious element here. From Ron Swanson Nick Offerman's first observations that they're moving across the street to 22 Jump Street to both his and Ice Cube's continued insistence to do the same thing again that made them successful the first time to offbeat references to NWA and White House Down (2013), the movie is always playing with itself, its own expectations, and the notion of repetitive sequels seeking nostalgia. See? I could have written this movie.

The major issue structurally, then, is as I said earlier; the film feels such a tremendous need to constantly point out these foibles, and even when the major characters, Schmidt (Jonah) and Jenko (Channing) point out this nonsense, the film is still resistant to changing any of the major beats, even after it rejects the first film's specific plot (which yes, it was desperately trying to emulate). The end result is a bit more hollow than I'm sure the film's creators intended. It's not really enough just pointing out by saying constantly, "Oh yeah we're totally part of a crass, money-grabbing studio system," without taking any actual critical action to correct that assumption, and instead unashamedly relishing in that system.

Now, the film does play with the plot from 21 Jump Street (2012) a little bit, but it's always self-aware. This time, Jenko is the one who is able to get in with the cool kids, even though Schmidt had the more positive previous college experience. There are also big mirrored moments that are played for jokes, like Schmidt attempting and failing to take a bullet for Jenko after the reverse happened the first time around. The final revelation of where the drugs originated is also lampshaded well, although the final result really isn't very different from a narrative stance.

There is still student bonding with cool kids who are dealer suspects and Jenko misses the big game like Schmidt missed Peter Pan in 21 Jump Street. And then, just like last time, they split up and then gear up with some immortal event emblematic to the normative experience of their "peers" that they've missed out on (prom and Spring Break, respectively). Then comes a finale that depends on upending expectations (arguably moreso, even though Mercedes' involvement was a little predictable) and Schmidt sucking it up to get past previous physical failures to save the day. All this happens repetitively, and yes the film is very self-aware of this nature, but that doesn't really make it better writing than say, The Hangover: Part II (2011).

Okay, now that I've shit all over the major structure and meta-themes of this movie, I am actually going to remain standing and tell you that this was a really fun time at the movies. See, that's the tough part about 22 Jump Street - it's really, REALLY damn funny. There are so many incredible moments here, and the jokes land very well consistently and intelligently. The comedic chemistry between Jonah and Channing was a shock the first time around, but here it's fully developed, satisfying, and executed with perfect timing.

Tatum himself has transformed into an incredible comedic talent. He's so game to spoof his image constantly, from botching "cool" action lines, to skewering his muscle-bound persona. I'm curious about this film's varying levels of homosexual tension, to the arguably homophobic counseling session Jenko and Schmidt participate in as a fake couple, to the pitch-perfect homoeroticism between Channing and Zook (Wyatt "Son of Kurt and Goldie" Russell) while working out. There's also an interesting bit where Jenko blows his cover to defend against the use of the word "fag," which is a transformative moment from bro culture to a tolerant culture that works pretty well. I'm not sure all of this is totally gay friendly, but safe comedies aren't really fun anyway, and it never takes itself seriously enough to be mean.

Channing does so much more for this movie. His Spider-Man impression, which I had to post at left, was incredible, as is his heavy use of parkour and other moves that make Jonah look even more pathetic. And that hallucination scene possibly surpasses 21 Jump Street. I could watch them shuffle for hours.

The rest of the cast is absolutely game, which is great. Amber Stevens as Ice Cube's daughter is inspired and a tremendous foil for the overly sensitive Schmidt (whose multiple walks of shame, by the way, are legendary). Jillian "Workaholics" Bell is also tremendous in a role that required her to be both a bit of a priss and then a huge badass. And that Kiss / Fight tension was incredible. H. Jon Benjamin sadly comes and goes without a single Archer reference (seriously, how hard would it be to work in a "phrasing?" into that screenplay), but anyone notice he looked a lot like the trainer he played in Not Another Teen Movie (2001)? Just me? Okay.

This is also one of the richer films in terms of subtle background jokes - from Nick Offerman's picture of himself at his desk behind his desk to weird, blatant bits like the Benjamin Hill Center for Film Studies, the University of College Generals, and my favorite font joke I've seen in a while, the Zapf P. Helvetica Student Hall. There's also the very high amount of red herrings in this film that eventually culminates with football player Rooster's tattoo of his high school mascot, the Red Herrings. It's incredible and worth a few multiple viewings to catch them all. And then there's those lobster scenes, that would appear so random if you haven't seen Annie Hall (1977), which in itself referencing one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time with two bros is really more indicative of the year 2014 than anything else in this film.

Now, I haven't even approached most of the merits of this film. The end credits are entertaining and have certainly gained some fame, but I didn't find them all that appealing coming from a film that never broke away from its own joke. The cameos were appreciated, though, especially when you have some knowledge of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009). In essence, the credits show multiple possible sequels (22 in all), which would be funnier if there will truly be no 23 Jump Street. I don't know, maybe there just isn't enough distance when this film is making fun of the serialization and franchization of big movies like this when by its nature there is no real difference. Sure, there aren't board games or anything, but it's still a studio system movie that has earned its studio a ridiculous amount of money. I'm just not totally on board with the slight hypocrisy at work there.

This film also has less to say about College Life than 21 Jump Street did about High School Life. There is less of that typification of experiences, although there is something to be said about how these two different worlds between the art kids and the jocks emerged, which is probably more reductive than the eco-friendly cool kids vs. the science dweebs of the first film. But we should discuss Spring Break.

I really dig how Spring Break is taking on this life of its own, even if MTV really tried to do that with all this crazy Spring Break programming like ten years ago. Now, this has mostly been either Harmony Korine or a perfect parody of heteronormative macho party standards. 22 Jump Street wisely uses of the all the weapons of spring break during an expertly choreographed fight: a blow up doll, a beer bong, a drunk girl, and finally, some vomit.

So, what's the final impression on 22 Jump? There are some problems with its self-aware and meta-obsessed core conceit that it's a really shallow sequel which it never really breaks the mold of structurally or narratively. But it's funny as hell, the cast chemistry is spectacular, there are more incredible moments to count, and the jokes land every time with many lurking in the background that make repeat viewings a treat. I just wish we could be seeing it for the first time instead of a retread of that incredible film we got two years ago. What can I say? Nostalgia sucks and I was right.

16 June 2014

Summer Jam Week 6: Iggy Nicki Lordie

We're getting into the last week of High School, folks - time for graduation parties, commencement, and a ridiculous amount of poor decisions. As far as Jams go, it's still all Iggy, but the next big track is just out there waiting to drop and blow all our minds. For now, the week is mostly full of retreads. Keep reading an blow some speakers:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Live Forever" by Travis Barker ft. Juicy J & L.I.Z.

In honor of 22 Jump Street (2014)'s tremendous success this weekend the Hot Jam that plays over the end credits gets the spot here. It's a fantastic track and really simultaneously typical of the hard line Phil Lord and Chris Miller run between fresh zeitgeist, irony, and genuine trashiness. It's part of a revelry in the disdained that makes these guys so popular. I'm not sure if Travis Barker's goal is any of that, but it's a sweet jam.

Just Don't Smack Your Face: "Tennis Court" by Lorde

Lorde comes back this week with the irresistible lead track off of Pure Heroine. I don't know how I can instinctively understand what "talking it out like yeaah" means, but part of Lorde's appeal is how she inexplicably can become the voice of a generation, even if she's a generation behind me. Way cray, girl.

For the World Cup: "Trophies" by Drake

A lot of Drake songs sound pretty similar and this could really stand in for anything he does. It's still pretty good, though, so that's a good indication. I can't see "Trophies" catching on the way bigger hip hop joints have in summers past, but it's a pretty fair entry for a rad radio play here and there. Pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Get Dem Ready: "Stay Ready (What a Life)" by Jhene Aiko ft. Kendrick Lamar

It's tough to find a poorly constructed song by either of these artists, and "Stay Ready" bounces with Jhene's coos and Kendrick's flow to make an incredible track. In terms of widespread commercial appeal, I don't think it's going to turn any really crazy heads, but it's tough not to light up, put this on, and have a real, real chill night.

Is it Fun: "Ain't it Fun" by Paramore

Everything about this song really annoys me - I think it's a combination of the vapid lyrics, inconsequential video, and the bet that seems like it's always building upon its earworm contractions but leaves you short of anything really significant. Still, it's popular as hell, probably because it goes down pretty easy by just about any ears in range.

Poppin' Fresh: "Pills N Potions" by Nicki Minaj

"Pills N Potions" gets a video this week that's really surreal and full of all this 90s-level CGI. I don't know what the tone is necessarily going for with the weird still-life rabbits and sexy Minaj spilling all over herself, but it's an interestingly pared down song and video for where Nicki is in her career right now. I'm down, though, and if anything, Nicki merely proves that she can pull off a wide variety of styles and personae.

Dolled Up: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX

I'm waiting for at least one of these songs to break, but it's not this week. "Fancy" continues to be a sick song, even if it may be fast approaching an overplayed threshold. The video also hails to the 90s whose kitsch is getting an interesting rise in appreciation. I'm just waiting for some song to honor the 2000s now. Because damn if we're not getting close to some good ol' 2004 nostalgia.

No Problemo: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

I still think this video is pretty useless, from Ariana's blank stare mugging to those creepy double-jointed dudes who freak me out. Ugh. Iggy is probably most successful here as some 70s bufont with hair big enough to match her attitude. The expression, the trumpets, and Ariana's voice are maxed out here, but is it enough momentum to catalyst it into Summer Jam Royalty? It's tough to make any other argument right now.

Next week...

Did you hear PSY's Hangover song? Did you know that PSY still existed? I don't know if hangover songs are typically popular, but damn I'm just pleased that this is a thing. Did Snoop Lion give up already? And we get to see his eyes! Oh baby! I hope this becomes a nasty hit.

13 June 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: How to Train Your Jump Street

Once again folks, it's a Summer Friday, so it's time to discuss the latest wide releases and the possible commercial, critical, and cultural impact they'll have on our society. This week we have two sequels whose first installments were pretty damn good with this whole thing. How to Train Your Dragon (2010) was one of the first Dreamworks Animation films to really hit Pixar levels of greatness (an argument could certainly be made for Kung Fu Panda [2008]), and 21 Jump Street (2012) was somehow the most incredible comedy of 2012, if only because it came out of no where to be completely refreshing and awesome.

The issue with both these sequels is just that - it's extremely tough for the second go-around to be as new, exciting, and refreshing as the first installment. 22 Jump Street (2014) seems to be heading this one off at he past, with even more self-awareness of how stupid the premise is than the first one. By all accounts, it's also very, very funny, which is a trait that can save even the worst comedies, even if the comedy sequel is a really tricky one to pull off.

Every actor's star has risen since 21 Jump Street, which ought to help it as well, which is thanks in part to that first film. Jonah Hill has had major high profile roles in last year's This is The End (2013) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2014), the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination. He's fast proving himself to be one of the more adept on-screen comedians, who can also really act when he needs to. On the other end of the spectrum is Channing "C-Tates" Tatum, who has also been successfully mixing critical successes in films like Magic Mike (2012) and this year's Foxcatcher (2014) with crazy off-beat action roles like White House Down (2013). 21 Jump Street helped show everyone that he also possesses incredible comedic timing and a swell sense of humour about himself, and probably saved his career from being just another forgettable white guy action star.

How can 22 Jump Street reach the same heights as its predecessor? I'm not sure it can have the same cultural impact just because of its inherent repetitiveness, but if it can cannily navigate the tropes like the marketing material implies it will, it stands a chance. A commercial success its a foregone conclusion, and critically, it ought to be pretty great, although again, this depends on how well it handles its own sequelness.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) lies much in the same boat, although the marketing material hasn't really presented anything to float the film above the first film. The mother reveal given in the trailer seems pretty ham-fisted and there isn't much here to distinguish it as something great. Although the first film was by all accounts pretty solid and iconic, I also always disagreed with the Jay Baruchel casting. I love Jay, but that voice was always distracting to me.

There really aren't enough children's or family fare this summer and I'm sure How to Train Your Dragon 2 will go insane at the Box Office. Since it's not really the same demographic at all as 22 Jump Street, though, both films ought to have some pretty great weekends. The more important question, though, is whether these things can rise above their predecessors, for which I have more hope for 22 Jump Street than How to Train Your Dragon 2. Both films are out today.

09 June 2014

Summer Jam Week 5: High is Better

Things are heating up and we're into the thick of June now, folks. That means it's time again to go over the hottest Summer Jams of the previous week. We've started to settle a little bit, but there is still a lot of exciting things to go. This week we've mostly got a lot of R&B Jams and songs about getting high. It's Summer, babe.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Pills N Potions" by Nicki Minaj

Opening up our Altered States week is the latest jam from Nicki Minaj. Nicki hasn't really put anything out in a while, but this is a nice comeback to her native Summer Jam territory. It's a softer song for her, in line with more "Your Love" or "Right Thru Me" then her crazy "Super Bass" or "Starships". It's always nice to see her taking it down like this and realizing just how talented this girl is. "Pills N Potions" is set to be a great jam, catchy, smooth, and easily listenable. We'll see if it takes off.

Did You Mean Baby: "Come Get It Bae" by Pharrell ft. Miley Cyrus

I don't know what bae is, probably somehow a shortened form of "baby." Pharrell is doing well with this non-"Happy" song and showing he's got another run at a Summer Jam in him after that collabo with Daft Punk last year. Miley is really understated here, which adds to a really fun song in line with just about everything off of GIRL. Not only is this everywhere on the radio but thanks to those incessant Red Bull commercials the energetic little jam is all over television as well.

Late Night Drama: "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" by Arctic Monkeys

This came out last summer, but like a lot of slowburning alt rock songs these days, it's only getting a lot of mainstream airplay right now. The video is sort of all over the place, starting with their song "Do I Wanna Know?" then bleeding into a tripped out night of mayhem version of "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" It's a pretty competent little jam, even if it doesn't totally endorse its behavior. Arctic Monkeys have been taking off lately, although I think this is still kind of a niche group rather than an epic summer jam factory.

Sexy Crying: "Pretty Hurts" by Beyonce

I always kind of chuckle when artists put out their "inner beauty" whatever songs, like Christina Aguilera did years ago with "Beautiful." Come on, Beyonce, you're one of the most gorgeous women in the world, stop whining. There are some serious issues at work here, though, with the expectation of beauty and the tremendous sacrifice made not only by young girls, but everyone in the face of impossible standards of attraction. The song itself is decent, but I do rather favor Bey belting "RIDE 'IM LIKE A SURFBORT" over what she's going for here vocally.

Psych Out: "I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers

Bleachers crawl back on to this list after bouncing around a bit, but this is getting a bit of traction. It's a fun song for sure, even if the video takes a while to get going and has too much talking to really be enjoyable. I'm concerned, though that this isn't really the kind of song we're going to adore a year from now. It seems way too much in the moment rather than something really timeless. Either way, it's a fun jam for the Summer of 2014.

Wake and Bake: "Habits (Stay High)" by Tove Lo

I like the potential of this song. It's sweetly toned even if its subject matter of a tortured addiction may be a bit heavy. There's a lot of passion here, though, along with a pretty high degree of catchiness. I doubt this will ever really catch on and explode, but here's my Tove Lo shout-out for the week.

Mo Money: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

Has anyone noticed that the cadence of Iggy's verse seems a lot like what Nicki Minaj threw down in Diddy's "Hello, Good Morning" a while back? Maybe it's just me. This really has Summer Jam all over it, from Ariana hitting the ground running hard to the cool coos of the whispering chorus, along with the defiant break-up happy content of the lyrics. It's really hot but I think just not quite at superstar status yet. Wait a bit.

Dolled Up: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX

I gave "Fancy" the edge this week, it seemed like it had a little bit more airplay. This song is a giant, although to be honest, it's not completely dominating like previous Summer Jams or even crazy Winter Jams like "Happy" was a few months ago. It also may be cresting that annoyance barrier where the novelty of its freshness starts declining. I think our ultimate Jam starling is still out there somewhere...

Next week...

I'm curious about some artists coming up like Sevyn Streeter, Bear Hands, and Bastille, along with some time honored favorites like Coldplay and Beyonce that keep cranking out potential hits. Like I said, though, no one song is completely dominating or set-up for absolute success quite yet. This middle part of June, though is when we saw crazy crazy Summer Jams like "California Gurls" and "Blurred Lines" debut, so grip your seats tight - we're just getting warmed up.

06 June 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: The Edge of Two Days from Yesterday

It's kind of insane that four years ago this month I offered a brief profile of Tom Cruise, and how he was universally awesome for like twenty years, then had a few moments where we all found out he was crazy as shit, but then he's had some kind of resurgence since then. At least in terms of public opinion. Since Knight & Day (2010), which inspired that post, Cruise, despite turning 52 next month, has settled neatly into an action role with three solid it not completely life changing films: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), Jack Reacher (2012), and Oblivion (2013). All three have also been pretty decent, if not paradigm-shifting Box Office Successes. And we'll forget about Rock of Ages (2012), holy shit.

So here's some more Tom Cruise sci-fi business. He really doesn't do sci-fi that often, it's just that Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005) are some of his most notable and successful films, critically and commercially, respectively. For Minority Report's part, many would also consider it Steve Spielberg's last great science fiction actioner, which is significant. Tom Cruise himself is often called one of the last great movie stars, and with just about every other great standard of the 90s, from Will Smith to Adam Sandler failing abjectly at the Box Office, that may still be true, for a real bomb eludes Thomas Mapother IV.

It helps that he generally makes good movies. I mean, generally good. And he's game for everything. That's a pretty rare trait for an actor. No matter how stupid or corny the role may be, Tom Cruise is all in, whether it be the sophomore directorial effort from the dude who made Tron: Legacy (2010) who is more concerned with apocalyptic landscapes than his A-List megastar or the latest entry in a spy franchise that has felt tired and uninspired for like ten years, but continually surprises and engages. There's a lot of hate on Tommy Cruise but it's just because of an exaggerated public persona that has surpassed the appreciation for his efforts on screen. Amy Nicholson in a recent piece in LA Weekly summed up his career decisions exhaustively, especially in terms of the kinds of roles he would or would not pick, which up until his recent cave-in to all-actioner mode, was often fascinating.

That's just it, though, Tom Cruise is an endless enigma. He built this epic reckless dude persona through Risky Business (1983) and Top Gun (1986), riffed on it through Rain Man (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), then back to a few action flicks before nabbing the lead role in Kubrick's last film and his best role, another riff in Magnolia (1999). His 21st-Century work is far crazier, though, with less clear distinctions between a need to balance mainstream Blockbuster fare and more personal work. Would Cruise appear in Vanilla Sky (2001) today? It's as if he's felt a need to sell-out, even though everyone has seen him as a sell-out for years, but that's not really true. It's just that any project the biggest star in the world does gains this tremendous profile, even his riskier, intimate portrayals of broken versions of the cocksure handsome jock-type he's earned millions of dollars on.

So, Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Director, Doug Liman has a knack for doing kind of everything, from indie creds (Swingers [1996] and Go [1999]) to the film that reshaped Matt Damon's career and produced a massive franchise (The Bourne Identity [2002]) to the film that created Brangelina, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Seriously, his films have launched or significantly impacted the careers of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. That's no small order. Also, Jumper (2008). Jumper happened. By all accounts, these are also four exceptional movies, and despite his on-set wackiness, it's very clear that he had a distinct vision and his stars were on board, even if Emily Blunt was a little less patient than Tom Cruise, though not by much.

What's to say about this thing? It's Groundhog Day (1993) meets Omaha Beach with fucking aliens, it's a trip, man! What is really helping Edge of Tomorrow is its growing reputation for actually being a good film, which is exciting! You don't see those that often! The marketing blitz has been heavy, which is selling this thing as equal parts serious-minded action flick with a sardonic tone, you know, considering how many times Tom Cruise has to die.

It definitely seems like a familiar plot, although time loops can lead to some interesting story possibilities, like Triangle (2009). Still, this is generally new territory for this genre, and Tom Cruise playing basically an incompetent boob that gets killed a lot should have its share of supporters, haters or not. I'm curious if this really takes off because there's not a whole ton of other June action competition, at least till Transformers: Age of OMG DINOSAURZ!!!! (2014). I'm kind of betting though, that this dues about as well as those first three movies listed way up there. Decent, but not earth-shattering. My guess is that's what this thing's cultural influence will be, too. Maybe more significant than Oblivion, but that's not saying much.

Edge of Tomorrow opens everywhere...today!

04 June 2014

Movies Make Us Feel Things, or How Nostalgia is Creatively Bankrupting Hollywood, but Hey, it Always Has

Yes, that is the vaguest possible title for any cinematic post in the history of the Internet. But it's true. I really started thinking about that this weekend after viewing two films on Netflix. The first was a consolidation of Star Wars nerdia exhibited by The People vs. George Lucas (2010). The second was the film version (I feel weird that I have to distinguish that now) of Fargo (1996). I investigated the former because it had been sitting in my queue forever and I was bored, the latter because after developing a heady addiction to the F/X show, I wanted to revisit the source material for a refresher.
Haha! Some dweeby kid had to be Grievous!
Ah shit, he probably liked it.

So, the conceit of this post is going to be sort of everywhere, but I want to focus it through these two lenses - Star Wars and Fargo, because they're the last two movies I've seen. Let's talk by what I mean for second: films of all shapes, colors, and sorts make us feel in a weird way. They're innately hypnotic; even the closest observer for a moment or two may get lost and find themselves transported into another realm consisting of someone else's imagination. It's a trippy concept - the suspension of disbelief. Your conscious brain shuts down, not permanently or significantly, to allow the steady flow of new information in. By the end of it, we're so jazzed up that we want to see the exact same thing again.

That's the important part - we want to see the exact same thing. This brings us back to Star Wars, and why The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was a far more significant game changer than Star Wars (1977) - it was a sequel that did different stuff. See, before then, sequels were just about the same beats from the first popular flick with a new shiny veneer or maybe a new location or a secret long lost brother in there or something. Empire was really completely distinct from Star Wars, and that was important.

Essentially Star Wars did so much to ingrain itself into the consciousness of not only the first generation that witnessed it in theaters, but for generations to come. It was really just the mixture of competent character studies, an archetypal hero's journey that was easily identifiable with, cutting-edge effects applied to B-movie sci-fi, and really articulate and efficient world-building. And they wanted more. So much more so that after the first two films fans descended into creating an incredibly fleshed out expanded universe in addition to re-creating their own scenes just to lay some kind of mark on the franchise. We're at the point that Star Wars: Episode VII, directed by self-proclaimed fan, J.J. Abrams, is essentially a full-length fan-film, albeit with the backing and input by Lucas, himself.

All this is to say that things aren't going to get better than that first time we saw Star Wars for the first time. All these franchises spring up from this urge to replace that initial feeling with more. What we can't understand is that we'll never get that original feeling back. It's tough to do, both creatively and passively, to be comfortable moving on to the next film or whatever pop cultural artifact we can get our hands on.

The notion that sequels serve to deliver the same exact crap that the creators gave audiences the first time around is pertinent, and actually hasn't really changed all that much even in the post-Star Wars era. I've talked about this at length concerning The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover: Part II (2011), but the ironic thing is that when the cast and crew abandoned their premise for The Hangover: Part III (2013), they failed creatively and commercially. And I even gave them a beat-for-beat template. It's not only wholesale plot, but sometimes characters in sequels suffer from returning to the state they were in at the start of the first movie. What we get here are then soulless carbon copies of prior successes that don't actually advance character. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) did this wholesale, as did Star Trek Into Darkness (2009), which really regresses its characters, which was summed up recently in a nice one-year anniversary piece over at The Dissolve.

This is what Star Wars actually does really well - building its characters between each installment. They achieve this through subtle things in addition to character actions, like Luke wearing white in A New Hope, grey in Empire and black in Return of the Jedi (1983). There's also the fan-maligned Han character transition from scruffy smuggler to Rebel General. Honestly, he's a General at the Battle of Endor, how the hell did that happen? He spend the last year in carbonite.

This makes me think of Indiana Jones, too (naturally), and its prequel that is generally hated, but perhaps deserves a second consideration. Temple of Doom (1984) ends up being this red-headed step child because it opens this bizarre way that "Indy shouldn't" and Jones himself acts like an asshole but thats precisely the point of crafting a character arc that leads into Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The thematically safe Last Crusade (1989) is considered the best Indy sequel, and if you take the vile hatred towards Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), it becomes apparent that anything out of the Judeo-Christian wheelhouse established with Raiders is high treason, despite Indy's natural predisposition for self-contained variable adventures. Anyway, all of this is to say that these films exist as an attempt to re-kindle nostalgia, even in the sense that it's merely nostalgia for that elated feeling we first got while witnessing a really engrossing film.
Bilbo and Slingblade team up for Midwestern Mayhem

So that brings me to Fargo. At first glance, the Fargo television show would appear as another installment in the line of cash cows attempting to find its way through mimicry rather than innovation, which is made all the more sadder by the fact that the movie Fargo was an adeptly original affair. As the show has progressed, however, it has taken the tropes of Fargo '96 - the archetypes, the setting, and the tone - and fully evolved them into a complex narrative wholly distinct from the themes of the movie. Watching TV Fargo has surpassed a need to re-hash previously developed stories and feed nostalgia and instead blossomed into an adventure completely enjoyable on its own. It's what every sequel or reboot has tried (or blatantly not tried) to do.

What's the moral of these ramblings? We need to be able to move on. There is room in our pop culture landscape for new iconography and new stories and we need not be bound by a fruitless nostalgic chase after what used to make us happy. It's just masturbation. But this is an old argument. If this year's May is any indication, though, it may be that people are actually getting sick of the same shit, even though it's what they've been asking for, or maybe just that you can't cram these many huge movies alongside each other.

02 June 2014

Summer Jam Week 4: Iggy's All Over June

Welcome again folks to our round-up of the Hottest Summer Jams of the Past Week. June is upon us, meaning that one Summer Month is down and it's just starting to get hot in here. Our quest to find that one immortal Summer Jam is never ending - at least until Labor Day, when it ends. It's probably fair to note too that this list has devolved into really just the top eight songs that I found interesting this week. So let's dig in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Of the Night" by Bastille

The UK is a little ahead of us when it comes to Bastille, and they've had this one since last fall, but it's starting to get more airplay over here. This wasn't as evident with "Pompeii," but Bastille is really mixing in these weird EDM elements and horrible synthed voices here that make an otherwise soft but charming track nigh unlistenable. I can't imagine this really catching on like "Pompeii" did but the band's name attached to it ought to at least carry it a little bit.

Crunched: "Dangerous" by Big Data ft Joywave

Now here is an electronic song with a heavy dose of funk integrated into its beat. It's not really Daft Punk circa 2013 levels, but Big Data presents a pretty mellow crunchy Summer Jam here. It hasn't really broken away from its niche at all yet, but its music video is also spectacular. I can see this gaining a nice following if they can get some traction and radio play, it straddles enough genres to get on more than a few modern rock and pop stations.

Yes it Is: "Ain't it Fun" by Paramore

I've tried to ignore this track because it's really irritating to me, but I need to acknowledge its surging popularity. Paramore has gotten progressively shittier as a band with each new album, and this is full descent into pop nonsense. The beat is virtually nonexistent, and the video has no real significance beyond an arbitrary day of wackiness centered more on the enjoyment by the band members themselves rather than providing a service of being entertaining to fans. I dunno, I really hate this shit. It is catchy as hell, though.

Dangle Me This: "Chandelier" by Sia

Sia is a competent, if not very interesting pop performer, but if this is her opus, we're okay with that. The video is all kinds of wacky with this little bodysuit girl going crazy and it's a pretty fun song, if not a little overblown. I'm down with the line this walks between epic and doofy, although I'm not sure that doofiness was intentional, which is disconcerning.

Don't Break It: "Fragile" by Tech N9ne ft Kendrick Lamar, MAYDAY!, and Kendall Morgan

This track is maybe a little old, but I heard it for the first time this week and dug it, even if Tech N9ne's name is really annoying to type. Even if it was just Tech 9ine or something I feel like I can get my brain around that. Anyway, the minimal beat give support to both the rapidfire lyric deliveries as well as the stretched out chorus verses. It's getting hard to hate anything that Kendrick touches, and he's more in angry raspy mode here than his smooth flowing voice, which is a delight.

Like Spongebob: "I'm Ready" by AJR

AJR is sort of interesting to me - boy band looks and voices but they're actually this little indie band who just mixes their songs in their apartment. This has all the makings of a pretty audience-friendly pop hit, although it lacks anything to make it really stand-out. Still, it's getting pop airplay (of course it is, this should be in the background of doctor's offices for the entire Summer), and could lead to something a bit more significant to obviously a talented group of kids.

Decked Out: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX

This week was ultimately a tough toss-up of Iggy Azalea songs, and ultimately, "Fancy" falls to #2. I maybe like this one a little better, probably because the hard as shit gangsta Iggy voice dominates a little more, while Charlie XCX croons halfways between Gwen Stefani and a completely unrepentant 90s bitch. Of course she is. "Fancy" has already made a strong statement for its case for early Summer Jam Queen, but this list has been so transitory, without much less coming along to dethrone it. It's hard to tell what will happen to this once the big Summer Jam Hits start landing come the next few weeks.

One Less: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

It's maybe unfair to call these two tracks Iggy songs, because really, "Problem" is all Ariana. With a fairly bland video accompanying the song coming out this week we get to see even more of Grande, who's built a nice career starring in a Nickelodeon show (apparently) and had that mild hit with Mac Miller last year. I feel like she hasn't quite found a public persona to match that incredible set of pipes, though. In the video she basically stands around looking cute with her fingers up her mouth, does some whatever dancing, and never really seems that comfortable. C'mon girl, sell this shit, "Problem" is a fantastically enthusiastic song, give us more Beyonce and less Lana Del Rey.

Next week...

I see "Problem" staying here for a while, but anything can happen. This is an integral week in the life cycle of the Summer Jam - college kids have finally stopped drinking every night with their high school friends and are settling into their internships. High Schoolers are just about ready to bust loose or at least start finals, and all the adults in the world can finally stretch their legs as the pollen starts to fall, weddings heat up, and the sun shines. Fuck you, Pitbull, your Jams suck. It's anyone's game.
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