29 June 2015

First Impressions: TED 2

Welcome to Norwegian Morning Wood's 666th post! That is a tremendous amount of posts, actually. That's really pretty absurd. I wanted to do some post about Hell, maybe a list of my favourite Satans, or just that the weirdest Will Smith movie role ever and have it at that. After seeing TED 2 (2015) this weekend, though, and owing you all my take on it, I really thought the upside-down stars just lined up perfectly. And it's not like I didn't enjoy TED 2, but it was an unequivocally bad movie, and by its nature, enjoying it certainly condones a trip to the Warm Place. Let's get toasty!
I do like how they brought back this actress (Jessica Barth),
for a major role spun off of a joke in the first film

First of all, anyone going into TED 2 had better know what they're getting into. If a long history of Family Guy and ten-thousand other terrible animated shows haven't demonstrated Seth MacFarlane's crass blend of shock humour, consumer comedy, and esoteric vaudeville yet, then certainly the first TED (2012) should have. TED hit like a lightning bolt, a decidedly un-PC look into typical white male Boston life that's...pretty damn accurate, if not exaggerated to the pleasant point of demonstrating on screen a live action cartoon.

That is one thing that both TED films do pretty well; hold up a nice slick look and solid production value. Both films having a slew of A-list stars, this latter one even more so is a treat. It's almost nice to see Seth MacFarlane getting the chance to do real Family Guy-style reference humour, only with live actors like (SPOILER, I guess), Jay Leno and Liam Neeson showing up as themselves to make the joke instead of an animated caricature spouting Seth's malleable voice.

This is actually where TED 2 works really well, and it's also where years ago I realized Family Guy works well: as a sketch comedy. Many moons ago I found myself in a Family Guy YouTube clickhole slugging clip after clip, because it works so well in short little bursts. Little jokes or scene set-ups are fantastic, some with actual insight into either the hypocrisy or just the pop culture dumbness of the age, but rarely do a string of these form any sort of coherent television show. TED was this in some way, but it mostly had some kind of narrative. TED 2 has an extremely loose plot, even if its Civil Rights angle would seem like an important driving force. Instead, this film relishes in getting side-tracked just following its characters' lives. This isn't always terrible, mind you, and a lot of it remains pretty funny, but there's nothing deeper to gain here, despite what should have been a fairly prescient setting ripe for satire.

Seth MacFarlane's humour has been analyzed and criticised pretty thoroughly, so I won't get into that here. Heavy on pointing out references and providing shock value under the guise of knowing better would be better if they weren't winking at the audience so much or did a better job selling their characters as satire. Peter Griffin isn't Archie Bunker. There's no comeuppance or foil, or even consistent characterization to assuage the rampant intolerance that's spewed on a regular basis, even if they pretend to get the audience on their side. And this works when it's funny. TED 2's terribleness works more often than it should because the jokes land really well. But intelligent satire has stronger staying power when it presents something to reflect on, which this film is more than eager to just brush by the wayside.

I can hardly tell which side of the audience MacFarlane is on. He'll straddle bro culture, making a pot-centric Boston asshole movie, but open with a garish musical number that made me think of The French Mistake, because that's my only reference to this kind of thing. But that was broken up by cowboys, because Mel Brooks favors the silly over just fucking with the audience. MacFarlane just likes fucking with the audience and indulging his own bizarre Old Hollywood sensibilities.

There's a lot more to this movie that just ends up kind of off. Amanda Seyfried is regularly refreshing, but in no world would it make sense for a first-time lawyer to whip out a bong and start smoking in front of her first prospective clients. I'm also glad she's become MacFarlane's go to girl for big eye jokes, after she had a similar jokes at her expense in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014). The pop culture virgin was a nice touch, especially as a foil to the non-stop reference spouting Ted and Mark Wahlberg.

On the latter of that duo, you've got to give him some credit for really going all out in this movie. Being covered in semen, a revealing porn addiction, getting frightened on his way home, and generally acting like a big softie doofus, Wahlberg's John Bennett character is a fairly epic teardown of one of our cooler actors.

There's lots of other little bits here. The Hasbro plug was kind of weird, because even though they may have enjoyed their blatant product placements it was fairly negative. I mean, yeah, Hasbro had a huge part to play in the story, but they were the damn villains. Giovanni Ribisi's return was almost pleasant, if not just for the chance to see him do his signature dance in a full Raphael get-up. That was also the only part of the film that reaked of the plot of its predeceessor, though, which was simultaneously disappointing and a relief that for the most part, they struck new territory.
Thunder buddies for life

The Comic Con scenes in general laid it on a little thick and seemed to be overtly catering to the nerd culture of the day, although they attempted to contrast this through general apathy through Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn who gave us a quaint meta moment by dressing them up as characters they've both played before, The Tick and Worf. Their weird apathetic gay love was again kind of a miss, and their blatant bullying seemed in bad taste, only because none of it was really funny. I'm all for gay bully jokes, but they've got to be funny enough to transcend the offense. Like Bob & Cedric. Without some kind of inherent goofiness their jokes came off mean instead of funny, which isn't great.

And this is perhaps the most frustrating thing about MacFarlane - he knows goofiness! He has such a high capacity for irreverence and silly! But he waxes his films in these weird tones that stretch too far into territory that can't balance out his shock humour to make it palatable. Despite some terrible editing, strange tones, and next to no plot, I did enjoy TED 2, because it is pretty funny. Sad suggestions at the improv may be the greatest idea ever, but it's jokes like that that are just uproarious with no bearing on character or plot that ultimately bring the movie down. That's the great irony. TED 2's funniest moments invite its doom.

What did you think? Are you all about this foul-mouthed Bostonian Bear or are you over it? Leave a comment!

Summer Jam Week 8: Newcomers to the Party

Hey Folks, we're nearly halfway through Summer now, which is horrifying and unbelievable, but as June gives way to July we have a whole host of new tasty Jams to sink our ears into. I like doing this every once in a while - we need a totally bonkers shake-up to dust the cobwebs off. After all, we here at Norwegian Morning Wood are only interested in the most cutting edge hot jams there are. Or something. So check out these fresh new tracks:

Hot Jam of the Week: "One Man Can Change the World" by Big Sean ft. Kanye West & John Legend

So, in our week of super-hot jams, this is the hottest. It's not a totally flashy song, but a landmark song for Big Sean, who usually just croons about asses or other trivial shit. This is a fairly introspective track, though, more in vein of what Drake has been trying to do as well - turn from rap novelty into something more substantial. It echoes in simultaneous melancholy and hope, even if that weird Jim Carrey anecdote about 2:20 in doesn't quite land. I dig this, though.

Lana Del Ray by Way of Selena Gomez: "Good For You" by Selena Gomez ft. A$AP Rocky

I previewed this track last week, and even though we don't have a video yet, this was worth it enough to mention today. This is a surprisingly mature jam for Selena Gomez, who I've always thought kind of sucked. She still looks like she's twelve-years old and is apparently from the Ariana Grande school of looking way too young to be sexy. This is totally a dark, blase track that sounds totes like Lana Del Ray, though, which isn't really a terrible thing. A$AP Rocky is also proving himself more and more to be one of our more talented up and coming rappers, and he adds just as much as he needs to here. So the first two songs this week were decided downers, let's keep this Summer Rolling!

The Cruel Irony of Dichotomy: "Grass is Always Greener" by Ludacris

Luda has attempted to make a splash with a few singles off his latest album, Ludaversal, and I'd say he's had more misses than hits from it, but this presents an interesting inner conflict. TWO SIDES! Luda's sort of moved away from his Area Code and Ho-loving past into some more sophisticated music, starting with Release Therapy, although that was actually like ten years ago. He's arguably even more famous now for being in Fast and Furious movies, and he makes a nice acknowledgment of that here, even his mysterious six-pack in Fast and Furious 6 (2013). I'm not sure what'll happen with this song, it's not quite catchy enough to really take off, but it's a groovy listen.

Use Your Cheer Voice! "Cheerleader" by OMI

Alright, this track is a little old, but it's been surging just lately. It's a lovely faux-reggae song in the spirit of last year's "Rude" by MAGIC! It's a pretty chilled out tune that I don't think has quite the same instant hook that "Rude" had, but it's definitely on an upswing. There seems to be so many funky trumpets in pop nowadays, and "Cheerleader" also totally works that angle hard. It could bump up pretty nicely. Stay tuned!

Praise Jeebus: "Hallelujah" by Panic! At the Disco

I really can't stand Panic! At the Disco, actually. They're probably the epitome of terrible aughts emo bands that just grate my soul each time they put out another horrible overplayed affront against God and man that they call albums. This ain't so bad, though. It's got a nice epic ascension to it, although it is totally trivializing prayer in a weird way, just because the song isn't actually religious at all despite just repeated calls of Hallelujah. I dunno. Trumpets! Summer! This could catch on.

French Bonnaroo: "Hey Mama" by David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and some other assholes

This jam continued its somewhat not so surprising run and could be Nicki's lasting contribution to the Summer Scene. She really has actually been a consistent presence for like the last five years, but has never quite had the surge necessarily to earn that #1 crown. I don't think "Hey Mama" will do it for her, although this is totally a fun, ripping song that earns its stripes completely on her flow, which just gets tighter and more mature with each new song. It's exciting to watch. It's also really weird to see Nicki have such a detached presence in the video while having such a domineering presence on the track itself. David Guetta sucks.

Show My Moon: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

I may be reaching my peak with this jam. It's been ranked so damn high each week because it's still crazy fun and fairly popular, but even listening to it now I think I might finally be over its refreshing glib cuteness. Then again, it's tough to replace. Big Sean? A$AP Rocky? Nicki? Now's the time. Until we really get someone else significant, this is still going to be the song to beat this summer.

Mother Chucker: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

Yep. I finally gave it up to "Bad Blood." The track is still on its way to reach maximum life saturation and I'm still in a mood of liking this more and more each time I see it, which is a rad feeling. The timing, attitude, and even every subtle facial expression is just perfect, even if this video doesn't really go anywhere. The plot is a super-vague excuse to have fun with all Tay Sway's celebrity friends, which is fine, really, because it IS super fun! Summer! Hoorah!

Next Week...

I promise I'll have some R&B jam for you next week. Probably. Other than that, we'll see how all these newbies do in the time being, and maybe try to steer back to what's actually popular rather than just the eight songs I liked most from the week. Nah, fuck that, you know why you're here. Stay tuned to see who gets that Fabled Crown, folks!

26 June 2015

Road to a Blockbuster: TED 2 Shits on the World

The clock has once again struck Friday, and considering that weekend real estate is a precious commodity in the Summer months, we've got another big flick premiere on our hands. It's time to assess the critical, commercial, and most importantly, the cultural potential of this weekend's releases. Big budgeted, high profile blockbusters by their nature have a lot more weight to throw around than any other film, and even though we're also seeing Max (2015), which is about some retarded dog or something, if it doesn't have a "Mad" in front of it, I'm not totally interested. So we're talking TED 2 (2015).

Comedic sequels are difficult for every Waynes World 2 (1993) or Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), there's a Caddyshack II (1988) or Evan Almighty (2007). That's really just the tip of the terrible comedy sequel iceberg. That iceberg goes really, really deep. It destroyed the Titanic! And that's an even more suitable metaphor by the fact that it's not funny at all.

Why do comedy sequels suck so much? It's probably because they lack that critical impulse of surprise that the first one pulls off. The sequels I named above came pretty close to matching their predecessor, mostly from taking their great characters and sticking them in slightly different, but still believable (for the characters...) situations. I still call Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) one of the rare sequels that actually improved upon its original material, but I'll also recognize that I'm virtually alone in that assertion. On the other end of the long-range sequel is Dumb and Dumber To (2014), which I harshly criticized for doing the exact same shit as the first movie, which spat in the face of how well Anchorman 2 handled itself.
I do love how this joke turned into a
well-balanced, rewarding marriage.

TED 2 is of course an entirely different animal (a bear!) because it's coming out relatively quickly after its predecessor, TED (2012). TED was really notable as Seth MacFarlane's first foray into live action writing and directing after basing the majority of his career making terrible, terrible cartoon shows. TED was also hilarious - in a completely uncompromising, terrible, "Hey Norah Jones, thanks for 9/11" sort of way. It had a confidence and fearlessness that is lacking in plenty of comedy these days that's more comfortable getting a quick laugh from a reference or complacent silliness than anything edgy.

Of course, there's difference between crass shock humour for the sake of being shocking and something that's actually satirical or says something interesting about its topic. TED is also full of consumer comedy, which often blends in horribly with its shock humour, resulting, for example, in creating a pretty awful Asian stereotype for sake of completing a Flash Gordon (1980) reference. It's an odd film but a pretty successful debut for MacFarlane by all means. It made a ton of money, was liked by critics...as much as they were ever going to, and was pretty damn funny.

In the years since MacFarlane churned out A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), which was much of the same brand of half-reference/half-shock comedy, wrapped in a Western shell which was all kind of weird, but not nearly as awful as most people thought. In the past year it's been outgrossed by Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), Dumb and Dumber To, The Wedding Ringer (2015), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015), and even Let's Be Cops (2014), which doubled its domestic gross. And if you're thinking "Damn, I forgot about that movie," or even "I've never heard of that movie!" rest assured, that's the point. A Million Ways came and went with the legit threat to put an end to MacFarlane's career. It'd be different if it were just a terrible movie that bombed, but it was a terribly offensive movie that no one liked. I mean, I don't have a problem with a film being offensive, but there has to be some redeemableness, sympathy, or satire there for the offense to work. A Million Ways just kind of offends and then smiles hoping you'll get it.

This would again be acceptable if it were funny. It's biggest showpieces just don't land with the unprecedented hilarity they need to to keep the film's steam up. Now, I've shit all over this, and I said earlier that it doesn't deserve its reputation, and hopefully this explains a little bit why it gained that awful reputation. I'll just say that it isn't any worse a comedy than Horrible Bosses (2011) or We're the Millers (2013) or any other forgettable comedy that's done well. It just bombed critically and commercially because of little ways it pushed things over the edge.

To be fair, no one is ever doing this with E.J. Manuel.
TED 2 is really MacFarlane's last hope. It's back in his wheelhouse - trusted material he kicked ass with before along with making a ton of money. By all means fucking this up would be a disaster. I don't know why I'm still cheering for him, actually. I hate Family Guy and pretty much everything else he's done. I did love his Oscar hosting, because that room needs its balls busted. And I do love his fearlessness. I guess I just wished he could craft a better joke or outlet that strayed farther from consumer and more into character. I mean, he has good characters! And he crafts good stories! We know you can write, Seth, why do you just go the lazy way out all the time?

Critics have already savaged TED 2, but who cares. Culturally, I can see this adding to the mythos of the first film, but not really branching out on its own, although at first glance it would appear to be striking out on its own rather than re-hashing the same shit. I'm also curious whether or not that hyped up Tom Brady cameo falls on its face in the wake of Deflategate. Nah, to New Englanders it doesn't matter. He still has glowing junk. Commercially it's hard to say. We've been kind of starved for good R-rated comedies this year, and there's nothing really in its way for a while, so it ought do do well. That is, if it can actually escape the rather large shadows of Jurassic World (2015) and Inside Out  (2015), the latter of which has had some of the best word of mouth of the year. You know, those crowds may not be too similar.

What do you think? Seeing TED 2 this weekend? Or time for another crying sesh with Inside Out? Leave one below!

24 June 2015

Sequels Begetting Sequels: How Billion-Dollar Advertisements Make Me Less Pumped

I couldn't quite encapsulate how I felt about Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) until I saw Jurassic World (2015), for one pretty simple reason. At the end of Jurassic World I was bursting with excitement and pumped to see what more could come out of this world. By the end of Age of Ultron I was exhausted. I sort of acknowledged to myself that that might be the last Marvel movie I see in theaters, unless of course, something really catches my eye.
Pucker up, toots

I realize that I'm also one of the only people on the Internet who enjoyed Jurassic World. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I don't get caught up in overblown nitpicking disguised as feminist-bending criticism. Maybe I can kind of tell exactly what Jurassic World was going for in its hypocritical takedown of big blockbusters while acknowledging its own inevitable failure to live up to Jurassic Park (1993), while ironically also striving to be the blockbuster whose mentality it decries.

And let's just get the feminist bit out of the way right now. I don't know how this happened, but I feel like I'll be decried if it goes on unaddressed. A lot of the argument for Jurassic World's rampant "70s-Era Sexism" (thanks for that nomenclature, by the way, Joss Whedon, who hasn't done anything better with his run on two Avengers films) boils down to either Bryce Dallas Howard running in heels or her conversion from independent businesswoman to someone whose life is incomplete without children. Both of these assertions are moronic.

Nitpicking movie things isn't creating a feminist argument. It's not important that BDH runs in heels. What matters is that she's running to save the damn day. Chris Pratt, who I admitted was a pretty one-note character, for all his dripping machismo, doesn't really have any great ideas on how to save the day. BDH is a damn hero. Now, I don't wear heels and I can't pretend to know what that's like at all, but I wouldn't really want my feel to get dirty walking around outside there. And I'm not a stuffy businesswoman! It's totally in character and in service of her character doing something more important than many women do in four-quadrant action movies.

I also literally never got the impression that her life needs to be complete with children. That's not how her arc ends at all. Her arc ends with her loosening up and becoming a more well-rounded character than the stereotypical shrew she begins the film as. She's super competent at her job, by the way, and I'm not sure why that's also a complaint. And besides, all my stupid married friends are always telling me to have kids. That's what people with kids do, they just want to spread the misery around. It's not really a weird thing for her sister, Judy Greer to get all upset that she's devoted to business instead. That's actually the moral of just about every movie ever. What, should your job win? Is that really what we want to do here? Listen, Jurassic World isn't going to be the first movie to say "Hey, you know, work really IS more important than family!"

So, whatever, I'm grotesquely off-topic, but those are some things I really needed to address after loving a movie and then seeing it get trashed all week for reasons that seem to more indicate what people wanted to read in to and gripe about than actual unbiased criticism. And maybe I'm way off, too, but that's what makes movies awesome. We can debate what we got out of it, and Jurassic World is inspiring a lot more discussion than Age of Ultron.

Let's get into that. It's been about six weeks since Age of Ultron, which was easily positioning itself to be one of the biggest, craziest, greatest movies of all time. And I really liked it as I watched it. I even pointed out how I really dug The Avengers (2012) when I first saw it, but on repeat viewings all I could see were more and more cracks. But that took years. I'm totally over Ultron already. How did that happen?

I suppose I've just had enough. The honest prospect of Infinity War (2018) right now sounds EXHAUSTING. I don't know if the problem is lack of stakes, or repetitive plots, or just the unmemorableness of any action sequence. It's tough to name an action sequence in Ultron that really made you step back and say wow. Even reaching to Furious 7 (2015) I can think of like, three, even though they all involving cars falling off shit. Jurassic World is much more recent in memory, but I remember a few times being pretty gripped with fear and tension. Did Ultron make anyone FEEL anything?

That might be because nothing matters in Ultron. Let's look at some of the significant sources of conflict. The Hulk on the warpath is a good one, but that's really got to end two ways - Hulk winning, destroying Tony Stark and continuing to rampage until he wanders off, or him losing and being re-incorporated into the team. You'd think dealing with the fallout from the latter would be interesting, but he doesn't really change the outcome of the battle when he comes back, so he might as well have jetted off a lot earlier.
You had such a solid metaphor going with the
puppet thing. Don't you know audiences like
smart movies?

We can also look at the tension between the Avengers and Stark for him creating Ultron, but there's again no real repercussions for that. Maybe there will be in Civil War (2016), but who cares about that? The point of movies shouldn't be to continue plot points into other movies. I don't want to sit through a whole other film because at this point it's clear that it'll never be completed. That movie is going to lead to another and another and whatever. There is more hope than it seems in the future because there's actually more "original" films than not on the horizon, introducing plenty more characters to the Universe. As I've said, though, that well is going to dry up fast.

It's inevitable that Jurassic World will get a sequel, and the film points in several obvious directions. It's unclear what form that movie would take, and if it could develop any other significant themes than the "man shouldn't fuck with nature" riff that this franchise has done to death, and it's also doubtful that the next film is able to be so self-referential, and if it is, that in itself would be a failure to innovate. To be honest, out of the big films this year I'm probably most excited for the prospect of Furious 8, because even though that series is ridiculous and insane, they tend to be really damn fun. And they're actually experts at creating characters we care about, even if it's just from laughing at how ridiculous grumbling Diesel is. And each film has the freedom to subtly shift genres, doesn't have to pretend to cater to lofty expectations or nostalgia. You know, the Fast franchise really is awesome, isn't it? Its completely improbable success continues.

At this point I'm not sure I'm pumped for any sequel any more. I like seeing creative things on screen, and I like participating in solid nerddom, but why bother? It's chasing a dragon you'll never catch. Big blockbusters are like fucking heroin. Fun to write about, though. They trade in culture more than any small film can, which makes them worth discussing, so see which properties can throw the most cultural weight around. That's still really interesting to me.

So, what do you think? Did this have a point? Are you still in the big blockbuster game?

22 June 2015

Summer Jam Week 7: Madonna Is Terrible

If you'll believe it, we're almost rounding out June, which is a staggering crazy thought. The Sun has been out for far too long as the bacchanalian solstice orgies are commencing with full unrestrained glee. School is about to be out for little brats across the country and it's a glorious time for everyone. So what songs ought to be on your graduation or wedding soundtracks? What jams will you forever link to this hot diggity June of 2015? Keep reading and crank them speakers to find out:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Feel Right" by Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal

Where has Mystikal been in like, the past fifteen years? I love how Mark Ronson seems to keep trying to bring funk back and he's doing a damn good job of it. This video is also incredible. Is that one of the Young Versions of Cee Lo from "Fuck You?" His head is huge. And yet, he somehow does an uncanny Mystikal impression. I actually really like this song and video, although I can't see it really gaining significant traction or anything.

Dud of the Week: "Bitch I'm  Madonna" by Madonna ft. Nicki Minaj

This is probably the video that got the most  hype this week, but it's objectively so damn terrible. It just reeks of complete desperation. Madonna, you're the reason why any of these young pop superstars are here today sounding like they do. Don't try to imitate the artists who have been imitating you for twenty years. The crazy party dancing all seems kind of out of place for Madonna at her age, and that's not to say she shouldn't be making music at her age or anything. Just that it's really weird to hear her trying to reclaim her status as Pop Queen with such a club-minded song. She does still look pretty good, actually. I also love how terrible the "cameos" are, when clearly no one but Rita Ora and Chris Rock (who seems to be the only one who got the memo to have fun with this) bothering to show up in person, including Nicki Minaj, who actually puts in a couple rap verses. It all just seems like she's trying to ape Taylor Swift's cameo-heavy "Bad Blood" video but she puts out a much more terrible version, which is awful. How can Taylor Swift know more people willing to actually show up on set for a video than Madonna? Sorry to shit all over this, but I was just crazy disappointed by this this week.

R&B Jam of the Week: "Me U & Hennessy" by DeJ Loaf

In keeping with my solemn vow to break another cool R&B Jam each week I bring you DeJ Loaf today, who is like Meatloaf, but slightly more chill. This is actually a fantastic love-making song that oozes sonic sex. I'd call it a perfect late night bad decision Summer Jam, but like most of our R&B Jams this summer I don't think it'll reach a truly mainstream audience.

Desert Tracks: "Hey Mama" by David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and AfroJack

No, you don't need to list everyone who helped produce a song in the song's featured credits. I had David Guetta so much. It's telling that the beat is the weakest thing about this song, which is awesome more on the backs of Nicki's tight vocals and Rexha's bellows. Do you think that Nicki Minaj turns down any song offer ever? Evidently not, because this is the second jam this week that features her appearing but not actually present with anyone else in her video. This has had some impressive weeks lately and it could stay around for a while.

Aha: "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker" by Maroon 5

This thing finally makes an appearance on our list. I'm trying to figure out what the clean version says. "Aha?" "Like a Mother-Aha"? I don't know. I love how Maroon 5 is basically on a streak where every song they drop is significantly worse than the one before. They're still virtually one of the most popular bands on the planet right now, enough so that people apparently didn't quite mind them ruining their weddings a few months back. This jam could crawl for a while, and while Maroon 5 is typically a presence on any Summer Jam list, could this be an explicit Summer-based attempt at gaining the top honors? I don't think they'll pull it off, but stay tuned.

Fab Action: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

The strength of this song and video is that it's still growing. I haven't gotten totes sick of it yet, and actually I keep getting into it more the more I listen to it. I started really cluing into Kendrick's lyrics, and while they're probably the worst he's ever written (if he wrote it), but his flow makes it pretty ear-pleasing. I do like his quick reference to "Backseat Freestyle," which was really how his whole connection with Tay Sway started, with her posting pics of her jamming out to it in her car. I do like how this jam keeps rising until it pops and how the video mostly features Taylor maintaining her "Shake It Off" adorkableness with a mix of badassery, always with little touches of fab, though. It's wonderful.

Neil Armstrong: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

Get at me, 80s. I thought this song was getting a little weaker lately, but here we are again with it clocking in pretty solidly. We're a third into the Summer Jam Season now, and this has virtually dominated so far. I think it's got a few more weeks left and it's so stupid fun that it's tough to count it out for long.

Ode to Staying at Home: "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammer

For the second week in a row I have the week's prize to "Honey I'm Good" while feeling kind of wretched about it. There wasn't really a more ubiquitous song in my life than this, although I did start to turn the channel when it came on the radio this week. That's probably an indication that its annoying levels have reached peak saturation and it's time in the sun is over. I'm still waiting for that really definitive break-out Jam, which had better drop any day now.

Next Week...

Selena Gomez and ASAP Rocky dropped a pretty sick track today which I'm going to keep my ears on this week. I'm also curious if Maroon 5 can keep rising, if Andy Grammer can stay relevant, and what the hell we're going to do with Madonna. We're really in the thick of it now, folks. Stay tuned to keep up to date with all the hottest jams!

19 June 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: Inside Dope

The calendar has ticked to another Friday, and since it's the Season of Sunny Days and Smiles, that means another gigantic cultural event is hitting the cineplexes. I've grown pretty apathetic to the rest that Hollywood has to offer this summer, but of course we'll still be talking about it, because it's fun! And easy! Today there are two major films being released, although in a much more accurate sense, there is one major film being released. Let's talk about the critical, commercial, and cultural prospects of Inside Out (2015) and Dope (2015).

Is it even fair to call Inside Out an original film? I mean, the story is, but the Pixar brand has been so thoroughly developed and canonized that it feels like at the least a spiritual sequel or some kind of thematic or visual extension of everything else that they have ever done. Speaking of which, whenever a new Pixar flick comes out, we have a need to rank them all, and because this is bullshit, here is my list:

14. Cars 2  (2011)
13. Monsters University (2013)
12. Cars (2006)
11. Ratatouille (2007)
10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
8. A Bug's Life (1998)
7. Toy Story (1995)
6. The Incredibles (2004)
5. Brave (2012)
4. Up (2009)
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
2. Finding Nemo (2003)
1. Wall-E (2008)

When their films are all ranked out like this a few things are suddenly clear. Pixar really does have maybe four or five (however you slice it) really great films, probably three or four more that are really actually pretty terrible, and then five that are pretty good, but not totally much better than Monsters, Inc (2001), which I'd consider the bar to good Pixar movies in the sense that it's not totally awful but not totally awe-inspiring either. If it's better than Monsters, Inc, we can be pretty happy.
So fucking adorable.

So how will Inside Out rank? Early estimates put it somewhere from the middle to the top, which is good. It's also the first original Pixar film in three years, which came at us pretty suddenly. And just think, it's only the second original film in six  years. And that's with us calling it original, which I already said is debatable, just on the sense that we're already totally comfortable chatting about Inside Out as part of a defined brand instead of its own merits.

What are those merits? Besides a perfect, if not obvious cast, it's also being praised as one of Pixar's most creative ideas yet. Apparently, no one ever watched Herman's Head! I guess I knew that. It's sort of like how everyone was blown away by Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) when it's really just The Road Warrior (1981) with higher production values, but no one remembers the damn Road Warrior.

I don't know why, but I was never hooked by the premise of living emotions, despite this film's apparent awesomeness. I was hooked by robots in space, and by the Scottish arrow-shooting princess, but this is totally an ABC Family in 2018 viewing thing. I was the same way with UP actually, although that film turned out to be fucking spectacular, so who knows. Maybe I suck.

Culturally usually Pixar films can make a solid splash, unless they're pretty awful like the last couple of needless retread sequels. No one is really adoring any memorable scene from Monsters University. But take Anton's monologue from Ratatouille, the tear-jerking prologue from UP, just about anything from Finding Nemo, and you've got some monumental cultural landmarks. I'd have to think that Inside Out has something to contribute to that conversation. Amy Poehler is way to eager to be in a Pixar movie to not give the joyous vocal performance of a lifetime.

On the other side of the coin, Pixar is constantly known for slugging out some crazily high box office grosses in addition to their critical and cultural lauding. Cars 2 is their only film since the 90s to not crack $200 million at home (poor thing only got to $191 million), and every flick since Ratatouille has nabbed at least a half-billion worldwide. And I don't think our standard is Jurassic World (2015), which can do that in a single weekend, but there's no reason why Inside Out shouldn't do the same. A long production cycle that builds hype, trust in the brand, and the return to a new and unique premise ought to be pretty healthy for ticket sales. And even though it seems like everyone, no matter who they were, saw Jurassic World last weekend, it's a very different genre that's coming with good timing after a lot of action-driven franchise event films and revivals. No matter if you've seen every big movie this summer already, you're still going to feel good sitting through Inside Out. Kids have been starved of good animation for a while now, too. The last one we had was Home (2015), which actually somehow quietly actually made like $172 million. That was three months ago, though.
This movie also features A$AP Rocky, Tyga, and Kap-G,
which is incredible

So things are looking pretty solid for Inside Out, what about one of my most anticipated summer films, Dope? I get kind of a Dear White People (2014) vibe from this, with its comedic look into the intricacies and hypocrisies of black culture through the lens of an awkward young dude. I was really impressed with the snappy trailer and the tight cast, including Tony "Zero Moustafa" Revolori, Blake "Workaholic" Anderson, and Zoë "Toast the Knowing" Kravitz. I suppose that doesn't quite work because no one knows Zoë Kravitz's character name in Fury Road. It was Toast the Knowing. You got it.

This isn't going to do crazy box office numbers, and it's getting a pretty restricted release compared with everything else big studios are launching. I still have hope that it can be pretty spectacular, though, and the charisma of relative newcomer Shameik Moore is palpable. Maybe we'll see him in Star Wars someday, that's how these things work, people. He just needs to get some alien fighting under his belt somewhere.

So what do you think? What will you be watching this weekend?

17 June 2015

First Impressions: Jurassic World

If only Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) hadn't dropped a few weeks earlier, then we'd sure be praising Jurassic World (2015). Or I would at least. I'll inarguably call it the second-best blockbuster film of the year, and so far out of the "Big Three" dropping in 2015 (the others, by my count, being Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), it's definitely the most enjoyable. SPOILERS abound from here on out, so if you're looking for a long, thorough discussion of this flick's awesomeness, stay tuned.
Just a boy and his Raptor best friend.
Or my dream since I was six.

First off, Jurassic World is an odd movie. It's actually really odd. It's got a lot going on at once. It's an update of an earlier, landmark blockbuster than tacitly acknowledges the impossibility of topping its predecessor while steeped in transparent thematic irony trying to do so. It's at once an obnoxious monster-mashing blockbuster that's trying to have restrained character moments and recapture a sense of wonder so often lost in these kinds of films. At the same time, its characters are clear audience surrogates, who struggle re-realizing the specialness of the situation they're in. It also is successfully able to expand upon the general themes of the original - man's futile attempt to wrangle nature and the slow descent into chaos. And of course, when that happens, woman inherits the earth. So let's dissect this a little more, talking about the most obvious meta-theme.

Jurassic Park (1993) has a legacy that's nearly impossible to live up to, even if its immediate successors are generally acknowledged to suck balls. Colin Trevorrow and company seemed to have a tough time reconciling this and decided to work it into the script. Jurassic World the park is basically a substitute for the changing blockbuster landscape of the past twenty years. The effects of Jurassic Park were groundbreaking and mindblowing, but now they can be done on a laptop. CGI is ubiquitous, and as such, we tend to forget that these new worlds we discover in film are supposed to be special.

There's scant directors other than Spielberg who are good at imbibing films with that sense of wonder. There should be some kind of character reaction to the fantastic, which sort of gets lost when to us (and filmmakers), the fantastic becomes standard. Jurassic World tries hard to bring that wonder back. It fumbles in some part with say, the rather staid introduction of our girl, Indominus Rex, but the intricate world-building, especially seen through the eyes of young Gray (wtf name?) Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), while his older, jaded brother rolls his eyes. In-world it's almost a time where the existence of dinosaurs has become blasé. That's an easy metaphor for how different audiences may look at a film like this. For littler kids, Jurassic World is going to be their nostalgia trip. For older folks who grew up with Jurassic Park, been there, done that.

So the park heads in the same direction as movies have in the past twenty years. The same old stuff is never enough. Audiences always need more and more, until it's become unsustainable. The big first trailer moment is designed to shit on Spielberg's JAWS (1975). You thought great white sharks were scary? Well, here's a big fucking Mosasaurus who chomps that like a snack. It's a fantastic introduction to hook the movie audience into the heightened spectacle of the film, but within the meta-narrative it's also the first inkling of our need for our movies to be bigger, badder, and crazier, even though that doesn't really make them better.

Trevorrow wraps a lot of the same themes into the Indominus Rex. She was created to appease audiences by giving them a spectacle they've never seen before, to please the park owners by increasing profits, and even to cheer up the apparently secret military investors who really just want that thing to fuck up Iran or something. The flick does a fairly deft job of rolling it all into one, and then showing us that no, our desire for this new crazy thing is going to turn around and eat us.

The film's conclusion then reverts to normal, although it gets a little muddy. The final Dino-Battle is loaded with symbolism. Claire Dearing (BDH) unleashes the original T-Rex (yes, there has been acknowledgment that somehow this IS this girl. I don't know how long T-Rexes live. Plausible, I guess. She still likes goats), and she goes to town on the new, sexier model. On the way she also blasts through a Spinosaurus skeleton, which is a neat dig at Jurassic Park III (2001). I really love films like this and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) getting to the point where they are just like "yeah, the last sequel sucked. Sorry 'bout that."

She eventually needs to team up with her arch-nemesis, the Raptor to bring down Indominus, which comes immediately after Indominus fights two raptors at once, which is exactly like the ending to Jurassic Park. It's still not enough, though, and only the tricky placement next to the Mosasaur tank is enough to take it down. Did anyone else think of this when that happened? But if the T-Rex represents the Old School and the Mosasaur and Indominus both represent New School, what does it mean that the Mosasaur is the one to bring down Indominus? I don't know. That was the moment where the brilliant metaphor kind of skipped a beat. To be fair, I have no idea how the T-Rex could have beaten the Indominus - but shouldn't she and the Raptor be better than the monster that is a genetic combo of both? That's also kind of the point of movies. How is Star-Lord supposed to beat Ronin? I dunno. He just does, and it's an awesome moment. The T-Rex needed a great finishing move to make this whole meta aspect come full circle. The roar at the end reclaiming her place as Queen of the Castle works though.

As we continue to inevitably compare this to the original, a few important things fall into place. It's curious how much the film honors John Hammond, which you've got to think its more for Richard Attenborough than for his character, who was really deeply flawed with sharing his vision with the world. His successor, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), is actually somewhat more sympathetic, even if the legacy of Hammond gets deeply twisted with the creation of Indominus Rex.

Then again, B.D. Wong is there, as a villain this time, which is one of the more interesting turns for a character who was in Jurassic Park for two expository seconds, to tell us that this is all genetic engineering and Indominus isn't an abomination crime against God more than any of the other things they have created. It's also a great way to battle against the film creators' negligence in giving anyone feathers. No mainstream audience would want to see a T-Rex covered in feathers. That's not what the Jurassic World parkgoers want either. It keeps feeding into the idea that all this is designed to just placate these idiot masses to maximize profitability.

I also like how Dr. Wu succeeded in taking embryos off the island, which is exactly what Nedry failed to do like twenty years ago. Apparently, that's the direction that sequels will head towards. I don't have a huge problem with that. New is always better, and as fun as T-Rex rampaging through San Diego was, I'm not sure how sustainable that is on a mainland full of tanks and guns.
You know, this actually isn't the first time Jurassic Park
has spliced different Dino genes together...
I seriously had an Ankyoranodon.

Speaking of the military, the Raptors-as-military weapons is sort of a ham-fisted idea that doesn't totally gel with the science-as-commercialism-leads-to-hubris aspects of the rest of the film. It's not the totally unreasonable assumption on the part of Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'onofrio) that this is possible that some reviews whine about, but it is a fairly played out trope. I mean, the only real way that would work is if we eventually had Raptors with robot brains. Or we literally just drop them in a combat zone and watch them eat everyone. That could work. Then again, rocket launchers. Then again, Zerg rush...

I did like the role of the Raptors in this film. They were almost allies of the humans, which is a cool spin on these guys who have been so integral to the franchise for so long. They always seem to be getting more and more human-like, or at least their relationship seems to grow from antagonist to quasi-ally film to film. I think some may believe that's over the top, but it presented some really tense will they or won't they scenes (that is, will they or won't they eat Chris Pratt), and pushed the narrative. It was sweet.

This film also boasted some spectacular villains. Hoskins is this terrible bloated mirror of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who also loves Raptors but for the completely wrong reasons, and has no effective relationship with them, despite wanting one much more badly than Owen. I wish he had had a more iconic death, though. No death is really as classic as Gennero on the john or "Clever girl." Or even, "Thank goodness, Mr. Arnold!" The one brutal death is really uncalled for - poor Zara, the cell phone-obsessed millennial gets bobbled by Pteranodons before getting swallowed by the Mosasaur. None of that felt really kosher, even though it was during one of the more effective scenes of mass panic.

See, this film has a much slower chaos burn than the first. It's more a domino effect of one thing going wrong after another, all thanks to Indominus. The humans keep trying to tighten their grip to control the situation, but it just keeps getting farther and farther out of hand. It's really well constructed. And I loved Indominus as a central villain, who is like the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III (2001), except more thematically important, cooler, and much more earned. Like I said, a more iconic entrance and exit, that thing would be truly classic. I also kept getting a constant Star-Lord vs. Satanus impression, which is always solid.

As for the sexist claims, I really think after watching this that they were unwarranted. BDH's Claire is pretty well-thought out with a specific personality who at the end is more clever and heroic than Chris Pratt's Owen, who is really just an exposition machine. "She's killing for sport." "She's the new alpha." "She's deranged from being raised in captivity without a social structure." It's like he's the only one who is qualified for his job and knows what's going on. And what is his background? Just the navy? Does he have any animal training experience?

I was also sort of put off by his hyper-masculinity. He totally just spends his spare time chilling with a Han Solo vest, drinking tequila, and working on his motorcycle in his spare time. It's almost over-the-top without being real blatant about it. Claire, on the other hand, could be seen as a stereotypical uptight businesswoman, but so what? Women can't be busy running successful theme parks? The Playlist suggested we'd have had a much more interesting movie if the characters had switched genders. I'm sure we wouldn't criticise Olivia Grady for being a manic pixie dream girl at all.

I thought about her pumps a little bit during some of those running scenes, but not as much as some people. It's really getting rough out there, folks. I mean, it's kind of weird, but why would she take off her shoes? There's sticks and broken glass and dinosaur teeth out there, man. Sucks she didn't have time to grab a pair of sneakers in her office, but I guess when she dressed like an office professional for the day she didn't anticipate all hell breaking loose on the Dinosaur Island she worked on. Alright, maybe she should have been on guard a little.

The kids were fine, even if they kind of stopped having things to do after a while. Again, let's look the other way - "A Unix system? I know this!" People get angry at this kind of stuff, like, how their characters don't do shit after a while, but don't totally think of the alternative. The adults should be in charge. Did anyone notice that the older one was kind of a cad, like not saying "I love you" to bae, and checking out other chicas the whole time? Might I add, THANK GOODNESS THEY USED TO FIX UP OLD JEEPS.

This brings us to the film's heady nostalgia-tripping, although it's mostly kept at a good distance, with enough clever callbacks without exactly being overwhelming. It's cool that the park itself has a constant effort to forget the failures of Jurassic Park, while the film ironically wants us to keep remembering Jurassic Park. There's some cool tension there. The ghosts of Jurassic Park keep haunting them, from innocuous T-shirts to how, albeit delayed, Jurassic World faces the same fate. I wonder how that would look on Claire Dearing's resume for future job applications. There are so many direct parallels we don't need to list them here. You can read them here!

I also liked Jake Johnson as a sort of anti-Nedry, a nerd with a messy workspace and glasses, who is a little bit less of a sociopath and one of the braver characters rather than the most cowardly. It's another way this film runs in parallel that's really impressive. That boyfriend scene was killer, but not totally something subverted in Wet Hot American Summer (2001) an age ago.

The fully functional park adds so much more pressure with this descent into chaos. It's also great to see what this place may have looked like if Hammond's grand idea succeeded. The film does an exceptional job of building this world to be real, from the crowds to queues to the whole corporate atmosphere. Even Jimmy Fallon as the tour guide is a canny touch, because even though in the theater I was like "wtf Jimmy Fallon?" I guess he actually is the tour host on many Universal Studios tours and rides. So if you've ever been there seeing him on your Jurassic World gyroscope is pretty natural. Or something.

Even though there a few flaws here and the ending gets an otherwise solid theme muddled, I really enjoyed this flick. I'm curious how long this new era of self-commentating blockbusters can last (I might call out Chris Pratt's other vehicle, Guardians of the Galaxy [2014] for its much more blatant deconstruction, although it wore its goofiness on its sleeve much more than this, which tries to keep its commentary through metaphor rather than spunky dialogue). It weirdly felt more Spielbergian than J.J. Abrams' best attempts, and I wonder how he feels about that. It's more Spielbergian than even Peter Jackson, actually, or any of those proteges or heirs to the throne in the past few years. This is apparent even if the CGI really isn't as impressive, and the use of animatronics and puppets, which is really the reason why Stan Winston's Jurassic Park remain so sticky, scary, and feels real, is largely absent.

And not like I even need to mention it, but this film made half a billion dollars in three days to come to the highest grossing opening weekend ever. That's nuts. This was an underdog amongst the Big Three in 2015. Will Star Wars shake it down come December? We'll see, baby!

15 June 2015

Summer Jam Week 6: Summer, I'm Good

We're hitting mid-June is perfect stride, and as school begins winding down for many young minds across the nation it's time to really amp up our Jamming. There's some slight shake-ups and I'll admit I ended up pretty hip-hoppy this week. Still, pay some respect and take a listen:

Hot Jam of the Week: "La La" by Childish Gambino

Alright, so this song doesn't actually have a title yet. It also doesn't exist other than this grainy video from Bonnaroo. It certainly hasn't appeared on any albums, music videos, or radio play yet. It'll drop officially pretty soon though, and it's such a departure from Gambino's normal motif that it's fairly notable. And I thought I heard this at the end of Jurassic World (2015)...

R&B Jam of the Week: "Million" by Tink

This has some real potential if it gets exposure but it ultimately isn't pop enough to really blast off to capture mainstream eardrums. Tink totally follows that Jhene Aiko school of coo-singing, and she adds enough legit rapping skills to really emerge as a talented artists here. It's a fun song with a nice mix of longing and loving. Beyond highlighting it here, though, you're not going to hear it again. Great, we got through those two obscure jams. Hot shit!

Dance It Off: "Watch Me" by Silento

I'm not sure if this even has an official music video, but here are some cute little girls dancing. You want to talk about a perfect choreograph-ordered song that's rising a bit high in hip-hop circles to spill over into pop? Right here. It may be a little tough for white people to catch on and hit those moves, but I might actually praise this jam's potential. I mean, it's no "Go Kindergarten." It's been around for a few weeks now, but I definitely clued into it the past few days.

HEYWHASSAPHELLO: "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap

I think Fetty still has the distinction of being one of the freshest current rap artists, and even if the sheer novel newness of this jam peaked a few months ago I tuned back into it this week after somehow hearing a spike in airplay and general discussion. Hahaha! I forgot about his weird eye! I really don't know what all the cooking metaphors are doing here, actually. Anyone clue me in?

Holo-Boobs: "Hey Mama" by David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and AfroJack

David Guetta looks like Tim Roth. I love a lot of things about this song, but as is typical with Guetta collabos, the beat is probably the weakest. I don't understand how he's a really "cutting edge" DJ, which is also a complete oxymoron. Nicki's range and Trinidadian funk save this jam, although she's weirdly detached from the video. You know she just wasn't available for all the Mad Max / Burning Man scenes, so had to holo-in from a remote location. It doesn't quite work. But I do like this jam.

Tay Slay: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

Can we say it? Has "Bad Blood" peaked? I guess I was anticipating just a monster, landslide, non-stop assault for the entire summer, but I'm not even sure it actually deserves to be this high. It's totally still a great, complex song, with a truly epic music video (even if it actually just focuses more on cameo character introductions rather than furthering any semblance of plot or theme), but is it really taking charge of the country? I wounder if Tay and Kendrick fans were a bit more mutually exclusive than either would like to admit. I mean, there's me, who was a big fan of both prior to this collabo, but anyone else? Maybe not, and this hits a wall.

Shut Up and Prance: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

You know, those first few chords really feel like the start of an 80s Movie. Like a little Say Anything (1989) or something. This is still a fairly engaging jam, although its ubiquity may have dropped a bit this week. It's still left a pretty solid impression and while some of the other early leaders have fallen off, this jam continues to ride its irreverence, oddness, and 80s-ness to eternal glory. Will we look fondly on this as a postcard from 2015? I'm not sure, but it's got a strong case so far.

Wait, What? "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammer

Yes folks, "Honey I'm Good" surges to the number one spot this week. I really just ended up hearing and humming it more than any other jam, despite my continual belief that it's not that popular and ought to fall off any time now. It's a pretty engaging song, and even if its content is fairly conflict-free milquetoast, it's an adorable positive sing-a-long on a hot Summer Night.

Next Week...

You know, I thought "Bad Blood" would be our It Song, but I think we're still waiting for it. We got plenty of time left, but I think the Race for Summer Royalty is still wide open, folks. I'm curious if Childish Gambino's song gets a name or even any other listen beyond this week. We'll see. Stay tuned, people!

12 June 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: Hey! Dinosaurs!

When I first watched Jurassic Park (1993), I'm not sure I even realized it was a good movie. I mean, some part of me must have known that it was one of the greatest blockbusters of all time, but I was probably 6 years old, almost 7. I feel like I saw it in theaters, in which case it was probably the first PG-13 movie I ever saw. And when I say I'm not sure if it was even good, I mean I really didn't give a shit about anything besides dinosaurs.
If this had come out in 1993, I would be a
 paleontologist right now. Or a motorcycle stuntman.

My generation was overwhelmed with schuppigegefühle, which if you don't know, is a German term that has no real English equivalent. It may be surmised as humans overcome with Dinosaur-based emotions, and directly translates to "scaly feelings." We had schuppigegefühle, and we had it hard. For years after the film, during every recess we weren't playing "dig in the dirt" anymore, which had been our most popular game. We were playing Jurassic Park, regardless if any of the other kids around it knew it or even wanted to play. It was a hazardous time for everyone involved.

That's the thing about the original Jurassic Park, though - it captured so much of the zeitgeist. Not only did it make Dinosaurs really cool via actually instilling them with intelligent, dynamic movement (which owed a debt to the most important pop cultural dinosaur ever, Deinonychus), but it jumped on contemporary scientific theories, namely the postulation that dinosaurs evolved into birds. We've extrapolated that today to the extent where it's possible that even mighty T-Rex may have been covered in feathers. Jurassic Park took us out of this era of looking at dinosaurs, thank goodness.

On a cinematic level, though, it was also extremely advanced. While CGI had done some great stuff, with Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) wowing audiences a few years prior, Jurassic Park was an absolute showcase for the new technology. And it almost didn't happen. Steven Spielberg was looking into animatronic/stop motion before producer Kathleen Kennedy accidentally caught someone playing around with making a running T-Rex on the computer. The rest is movie history.

Besides all this it's also a fantastic engrossing story with chills, thrills, and spills galore. It's the most fantastic example to date of a movie that departs significantly from its source material in character and tone, improves on scientific accuracy, and even just straight up plays with plotholes so effectively you don't even care. Yeah, a giant pit comes out of no where, but it makes that scene awesome, and yeah, somehow a T-Rex, whose footsteps shaking the earth is a huge iconic moment, gets to sneak up on the gang at the end, but when the result is this? No one minds.

So clearly this is one of those rare moments where everything clicks together and you get a full-fledged phenomenon firing on all cylinders surging towards near unanimous critical, commercial, and cultural success. So why won't Jurassic World (2015) fare the same? I said it.

Part of that has to do with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001), which were both fucking terrible. And who is Ian Malcolm's daughter's mom? Not like I'm racist and Ian can't have a black daughter, but he sure as hell can't have one with Julianne Moore. And that daughter must have been alive during Jurassic Park, right? Dinosaurs are still awesome, but they've become less awesome in the wake of their ubiquity. How come the dinos in King Kong (2005) look worse than Jurassic Park?

That's a complicated question. I'm sure some of it is just nostalgia. The other part may be that that Business Insider article up there is right - there was all that hoopla for really just four minutes of screentime. The rest are practical, real-world effects - implication, shadow, animatronics, and reactions. The result is that your brain paints over what is real and what isn't and you're more likely to just accept the whole thing as real. This is a lesson that scant blockbusters have learned since. I'll throw in another Cracked article to follow that up, which actually very summarily tears apart what little we've seen of Jurassic World.

Can Jurassic World pump new life into the franchise? It's tough to tell. Spielberg in '93 was already one of our most accomplished game-changing directors. Colin Trevorrow has one full-length feature under his belt, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), which is a dry and sly character study taking place in an isolated small town with extremely limited special effects. Who knows how he got the Jurassic World job.

Apparently, Jurassic World also ignores new science instead of pushing it like Jurassic Park did, but I really care less about that than I do about story. And evidently that story is pretty decent, which is gratifying. And that first teaser sure had its share of wow moments. We've never seen an actually functioning Dinosaur Theme Park before, which is a good way to push the franchise forward in time while walking that balance between giving us something new while sticking to what has worked in the past. And after all, who cares if it sucks, because it's not like the franchise will be ruined forever. That already happened. I mentioned earlier that I had no idea whether or not Jurassic Park was a good film or not, because at that age it was tough to tell what a good film even was. I do, however, have a distinct memory of watching Jurassic Park III in the theaters and it being one of the first films that I watched and actively thought as I was seeing it "Wait...this makes no sense. This is terrible. Ellie! The River! She can't know to send a SWAT team in from that information!"

The cast for Jurassic World is impressive, lead by Vincent D'Onofrio, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Chris Pratt, the latter of which couldn't be hotter right now. This is far from the playful tone of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), though, which seemed like the perfect vehicle for the doofy star. This is a big moment for just about everybody involved. This is absolutely the #3 most anticipated film of 2015, after Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron has obviously crushed some huge numbers (although right now it's actually one spot behind Furious 7 [2015] worldwide all-time, but I've got to imagine that changes. Right? Fuck, maybe not.), but I'm not sure it's had quite the critical adoration or cultural reaction that The Avengers had, even if personally, I thought it was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.

Anyway, what do you think? Will you be catching Jurassic World this weekend? Or will you stick Jurassic Park in your videocassette player? Or better yet, split the difference and watch like, the Compy scene, the Raptor tall grass scene, and the T-Rex vs. San Diego scene from The Lost World? Leave one.

08 June 2015

Summer Jam Week 5: Hey Mama Takes a Plunge

Good Monday, Planet Earth - it's time again to countdown the hottest jams of the week, and things are consolidating pretty damn nicely for the Summer. We're starting to really amp up into June, the Cottonwood's out, the Water Parks are open and it's time to get wet and weird! Let's dive in to the Hottest Jams of the past seven days!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Go Big or Go Home" by American Authors 

There were a lot of pretty shitty new songs floating around this week, but I decided to go with this shitty song. Nah, it's fun and catchy enough and it totally attempts to gain ownership on a nice vague phrase. After you listen to this embedded track you'll never hear this song again, and that's comforting, in its own way.

This Body Talks: "Talking Body" by Tove Lo

This track took a hearty dip this week, but it's still fairly ubiquitous. Like I started to do last week I've reached the saturation point with this jam where I'm actually getting past the peppy beat and pop-fueled chorus to understand how actually deep and desperate this song is. It's full of a lonely regrettable kind of relationship that gives into physicality while emotional states deteriorate. Let's put on some Andy Grammer instead.

Your Summer Ho Down: "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammer

See? These songs couldn't be more diametrically opposed. This is all about unrelenting positively and relationship satisfaction, which is kind of nutty song material. Usually love songs are about yearning, or courtship, or break-ups, not successful long-term steady couplings. That's messed up, man. I don't think this has the legs to cruise through the Summer Season, but for at least one more week, it shows its cheering face.

Your R&B Jam of the Week: "L$D" by A$AP Rocky

I'm not sure you'd call this traditional R&B, but I made a solemn vow to include at least one smooth jam on this countdown every week. This has a bit more intensity than say, the latest Montel Williams jam, but I actually dig it a lot. A$AP Rocky has a new album dropping and he's grossly underrated amongst our latest crop of rap gods. This is a sweet song that radically shifts course midway through and becomes something else entirely. Worth a listen, people. As for Jam Status? Well, we know it won't really appear again here.

Quarrelsome: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

While this is still crushing music video views, its spot on the Hot 100 actually dipped a place this week. It lost a bit of its novelty, but is still largely fantastic, and its position as Taylor's most pop song yet is a clear signal of her role as one of the hottest stars of the moment. The video is obviously extravagantly elegant, and I'm still excited that I only recognized Lena Dunham and Mariska Hargitay the first time around. I think this is still in a solid position to reign supreme this Summer, but it's getting to the point where it's going to have to act fast if it wants to do so.

Who Is Worth It? "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink

Yes, I am just as surprised as you are. This track was everywhere this week after I had figured it to be largely dead. I still don't totally know who this video is intended for. The song is so steeped in meaningless pop with a vague female empowerment note, but the chicks, who all sound exactly alike somehow, are really just reduced to interchangeable sexual objects here. So, should young women be into this? Should young men? Old men? Probably old men. I love the dueling "worth it" songs going on right now, the other being The Weeknd's "Earned It" with its "Girl you perfect / You always worth it." Clearly The Weeknd is talking to Fifth Harmony, saying she's worth it, and she's like "yeah, I am."

Behold a Man: "Hey Mama" by David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack

You know what this is? A Nicki Minaj song. Why can't I just say "Hey Mama" by Nicki Minaj? I always complain about the amount of DJs and beat producers that soStmehow now work themselves into song credits. It just makes writing these things up a pain. I haven't even tracked this song yet this summer but it exploded this week on a variety of radio stations and the video's taking off pretty solidly as well. Dave Guetta has stiff planetary douchebag competition, but it feels like it's been a while since Nicki dipped into vocals this good, letting her Trinidadian girl out a bit. It's mad tight.

Redheads Come Home: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

So once again I give them the top spot, because even though another week has gone by and this song is still as ubiquitous as hell, I'm still liking it more each time I hear it. When we reach the point where that's the other way around, things might change. For now, though, we can all relish in the 80s-tinged pop-rock glory of this epic ode to not getting hung up on the little things. What a summer release! Leading the way for Summer Royalty right now, we won't be crushing to this nearly as hard come July, but right now it's tough to argue for anything else.

Next Week...

You know, "Uptown Funk" really made a comeback this week. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that it hasn't quite left yet, and I really should acknowledge that this should be somewhere on this countdown if it wasn't already ANCIENT. Speaking of ancient songs, I also wanted to tout this Vance joy track, which is getting some traction this week and although a weaker song than "Riptide," is totes enjoyable. I also left off "See You Again" this week because it has always felt past its prime, but was still getting played a ton lately. It kind of dipped this week and that was enough for me to spend valuable time talking about A$AP Rocky and Fifth Harmony. Stay tuned for more jams next week!

05 June 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: Spies and Douchebags

We have another Summer Friday upon us, folks, and once again there are three excellent films counter-programming each other. Also once more I most likely won't be seeing any of them, but my opinion doesn't matter. What's important is you, the people. Oh, people, what do you want this weekend? Diminishing returns horror? Female-centric comedy? ...Male-centric comedy? Your options are endless. Let's talk about each movie in order of what I just did.
For the first time ever, a young girl is scared in a horror film.

First we have Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), which by all accounts so far seems...not that bad. The Insidious franchise is pretty notable for being amongst the best of contemporary horror films, even if the first one slightly eclipsed the second, and this third one doesn't return many of the original actors. As if that ever matters in a horror franchise. These flicks are also actually known for raking in a ridiculous amount of change, mostly during Summer, which is kind of goofy.

There's no reason why Insidious: Chapter 3 shouldn't do pretty well financially, but then again, that's also because it doesn't have to make $200 million to do so. It's all about perspective, people. It also seems to be getting some fine reviews so far, which again, with perspective is all about "It's kind of not that sucky," which is truly, a great accomplishment for any summer or horror film that's not The Conjuring (2013) or the original Insidious (2011). I mean, it really is easy to throw together some demon possession shit and scare the hell out of somebody, but to do it with nuance and depth is another thing entirely. This is horror writer mainstay Leigh Wannell's first directiorial effort after birthing the SAW franchise all those years ago. The director of the first two Insidious films, James Wan, also cut his teeth on SAW (2004), but I think he's doing alright now.

As for our long-term cultural memory the best we can hope for is probably something like "wait, was that demon sequence in the second or third one?" It's all aggregate. It adds to a cultural experience, and for most film buffs who aren't really horror buffs (like me), it's more like "Insidious, oh yeah, that was that paranoid demon haunting movie exactly like all the others but actually good, right?" That's kind of where Insidious: Chapter 3 will fall, and again, with lowered expectations across the board for this one, that's perfectly fine.
More spies need Archer-level undercover moustaches.

Moving on, we have the latest Paul Feig gender stereotype busting movie (which is getting to be decently odd that he's just making a career out of this. And it's working really well, likely due to his talent), SPY (2015). I really wish SPY had a better title, because it's totally bland and hard to reference and know exactly what it means. It's also really shitty to Google. Specificity, people!

When I watched the trailer for this, my first reaction was a loud, resounding "meh." The jokes landed fine, but nothing was totally compelling or gut-busting enough to make me need to see it. I tend to always cringe at Melissa McCarthy's forced schtick, even though when I actually sit through it it's always awesome. Bridesmaids (2011) was spectacular, and then I kind of rolled my eyes at The Heat (2013), but then watched it and was blown away. Commercially she also tends to kick ass, even if last summer's Tammy (2014) landed with a thud. That was more because no one had any fucking idea what that movie was supposed to be about, though. SPY is far more clear and focused.

Early reviews consider it a spectacular send-up of espionage films, probably the best since Austin Powers (1997), and dish out praise to McCarthy in particular, who apparently demonstrates some ample range beyond what she's accomplished so far. It could be a pivotal film in her career that expands on her normal "be outrageous and swear a lot" routine, which is a good thing for everyone. I'm also keen on Jason Statham playing the kind of role he always plays but focused around a comedy. It weirdly reminds me of Ryan Reynolds in Adventureland (2009), which placed the kind of character Ryan Reynolds plays in a more realistic movie that just shows how creepy that is. Statham playing Statham in a non-Statham flick is brilliant.

So I still probably won't see this this weekend. But I'll see it eventually, and it looks like it is possible it has staying potential, and will almost certainly win the weekend this week, if it can hold off San Andreas (2015). Of course, there is one more film on the opposite spectrum.

Does anyone out there actually still care about Entourage? Yes, actually, the douchebags who loved Entourage are all talking about how pumped they are for the movie Entourage (2015). I have never actually seen the show and really just have a scarce passing knowledge of what it's about. It's Mark Wahlberg's life if he got to play Aquaman, right? And then there's this (4:25 in). Yep. That's the summation of my knowledge of Entourage.
Actually I can't tell if this is a still or a promotional pic.

I'm not sure Entourage really has a place in a liberal society any more for dozens of reasons. I mean, the Internet was outraged about barely substandard issues with Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), for goodness sake. What will they think when this flick that trades in misogyny and broisms drops? I wouldn't actually be too surprised if it slides by, because it's just not on the radar of many authors out there. There just isn't really anyone who cares, and the people who are watching this movie don't care. Not to say it won't be terrible, because it will be, but our standards based on media salience are all screwed up.

This gets to its culturally potential a little bit, but along with its commercial potential, this just isn't dropping at the right time. Entourage's peak popularity wasn't even during the end of its run, which was like four years ago. I'm also always still tickled by the critical irony of Entourage, that in a show about a bunch of dudes trying to get famous, none of the actual actors got really famous. It wasn't the big break for any of them that it should have been. Dems the breaks, bra.

So, what do you think folks? I'd probably lean towards SPY if anything, but I think it's a good weekend to save your money for Dinosaurs next week. Or better yet, Dope (2015). But that's for next week. What will you catch this weekend?

01 June 2015

Summer Jam Week 4: Survivors and Stretchy Hearts

It's almost unbelievable, but we're about to close out our first month of Summer. Today marks the beginning of June, the time when we truly dip our toes into the glory of freedom, sunshine, and irreverence. We have a few more weeks of drudgery to go, but that first step into the Month of Cottonweed is a momentous one. There are some new weirdos this week and some old favorites. Did any of your favorite jams make the cut this week? Read on to find out.

Hot Jam of the Week: "True Survivor" by David Hasselhoff

I had a tough time coming up with the Hot Jam of the Week this week, and well, this is the result. "True Survivor" dropped a little over a month ago without any real context other than being a surreal Hasselhoff video, which was fine and all, but luckily, Kung Fury (2015) debuted this week, which made this video make a whole lot more sense. I won't totally jump on the Kung Fury bandwagon, because awesome does not equal great, although Kung Fury sure is full of awesome. This is the perfect song for the short film, and well, any excuse to embed this video on my site is good for me.

Your Weekly R&B Dose: "I Bet" by Ciara

I think this should really become a weekly thing - you need at least one smooth R&B jam to get you through the week. "I Bet" has been around for a while without me realizing it was Ciara, but I'd like the chance to talk once again about how I don't quite understand why everyone doesn't love Ciara. I mean, people like her, but she doesn't have Rihanna or Beyonce love, despite being just as talented, and for my money, the hottest damn pop star out there. We tend to give her a collective culture "meh" though and I don't really know why. Perhaps there's some irony here. "I Bet" is totally a more conservative song than "Bitch Better Have My Money" or "7/11." Maybe Ciara just needs to loosen up and make herself more adorable. I dunno. I love Ciara!

Rubber Band Girl: "Elastic Heart" by Sia

This song/video is actually a bit old, but I didn't hear it until this week, and it also seems to be finally overtaking radio play, so fuck it, here you go. Sia continues her already legendary partnership with crazy expressive dancing girl Maddie Ziegler and adds Shia LeBeouf in...his best acting ever? How is that possible? I mean, not that he was better in Constantine (2005), but where was he hiding this level of expression and open pain all these years? It's a pretty great song and Sia's making an incredible career out of not showing her face. It's really all about the music, people. It totally doesn't matter what you look like, although Sia's brand is still really strong. Actually this video makes me want to cry more than "See You Again." I also really like how it isn't afraid to continue while the music stops. Brilliant on such a simple level.

Still Trying to Bring Do-Wop Back: "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor

This track has also been persistent the last few weeks but I also started really cluing into it these last few days. And I do get irritated by Meghan Trainor, mostly for assuming the worst from her audience, or maybe that's just me because I don't think I am her audience. "All About That Bass" was critical of haters before they hated and this song kind of puts down men for being men when our dumb asses never even got a chance to screw up in the first place. And I get it, I get it, gender politics really suck and we need to encourage more strong independent women to balance a tremendous amount of culturally-institutionalized sexism in this country, but alienating sympathetic dudes like me isn't the way to go about that. Let's hear from the haters, now.

Day Drunk Into the Night: "Talking Body" by Tove Lo

Last week I suggested that this jam may have peaked and that's definitely true heading into the rest of summer. I still got this track stuck in my head a few times this week but I heard it a lot less. It's still a fantastic song with a compelling, addictive melody that showcases Tove Lo's growth as an artist as well as hopefully solidifying her future as a mainstream pop star. Naaah, I never want her to be mainstream. Keeping that edge sharp, sister.

Monogamy Hee Haw: "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammer

What more can I say about this one? I think it's also slipping a bit, because it's so weird and cheerful and kind of dumb, but it's still so unique and positive that it keeps trucking along with exuberant glee. It's a fine combatant for the cultural cynics out there, a sincere song without being traditional or reactionary. I might call its ascendancy halted and ready to be replaced with grungier Summer Jams, but until they rear their head, Grammer for all!

Pass the Tissues: "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth

This must be some kind of Summer Jam record - this is the only song here with a featured artist? That's nuts. Are we sick of this, yet? Somehow not. I actually had a death in the family this past week and it's corny but listening to this song for the eighth time in a row on the radio brought up extra-Paul Walker-based tears that are especially reflective and positive considering the circumstances. Has anyone ever received a better eulogy? This is the modern-day Funeral March for Queen Mary.

Keep Your Eyes on Me: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

I kind of thought I was getting sick of this track and it was fading out this week, but I still heard it like fifty times and it's actually hitting its stride where every time I listen to it, I like it a little bit more. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of a delusional long-term relationship contrasted with that declaration of zeitgeist-y living in the moment irreverence. "SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME!" For my money there's not a better summation of relationships for a generation of over-thinkers and worriers. I'm okay with this getting some legs, though once again I don't think it'll be #1 forever. After all, that's the job for "Bad Blood."

Next Week...

Yep. Left off "Bad Blood" this week. I just didn't encounter it enough. And I wanted to get some random rants about Ciara and Meghan Trainor out of my system. It'll be here next week. And probably for the next thirteen weeks after that. Other than that I was kind of surprised that Maroon 5's "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker" didn't prove to be the surging force of nature it should have been. Maybe the F-bombs were too much. I mean, it's not really a good track at all, but c'mon, that's never stopped this shitty band before. But I'll be keeping an eye on that, too. So, that's done. Did your jams make it?
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