31 August 2015

Summer Jam Week 17: Somehow Not Done Yet

In any normal summer this would be it. Typically we have seventeen weeks to purposelessly analyze and deliberate on the hottest, most gnarly Summer Jams, but in the Year 2015, thanks to an auspiciously late Labour Day, we have one more week. Think of it as a bonus week - a miraculous extension of Summer that should please all involved. Needless to say, we're still getting a little razzled. Stay tuned for the penultimate exercise in Summer Jam Zaniness:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Get Schwifty" by Rick and Morty

Needless to say, this is going out on a limb a bit. But "Get Schwifty" totally has all the elements of a mindless pop megajam - albeit bathed in a surreal satire courtesy of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon's Rick and Morty. But you can imagine any other hot artist this summer commanding us to "shit on the floor" and proclaiming themselves to be Mr. Bulldops. Here's the full, uninterrupted jam.

Drool for the Gummer: "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato

I essentially added this one again because I personally can't stop singing this to myself. It was totally a jam that was still rattling in my head all week, even though it's so clearly out of the running for any kind of Summer Jam Throne that I'm committing a disservice to all of humanity by maintaining a compulsion to write about it once again. Last time. Promise.

Gushing Red: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

This may be limping along, but the fact that it IS still limping says a lot about this Jam's cultural power. I was about ready to give the Jam Title to "Shut Up and Dance" a few weeks ago, but the way this has held on may prove me wrong. It's reached that ultimate saturation level where everyone on earth has heard it and little fringe pockets are still jamming out to the sick beats. It's come full circle and that's a thing to acknowledge. Last time. Promise.

Clearly Roc City: "Locked Away" by R. City ft. Adam Levine

This jam has been scraping away recently and deserves a little shout-out here. It's fairly lame, but has a bit of an uplifting and generous rhythm to it. It's nothing that will change my life, but I'm ever curious what makes a jam like this stay relatively quite while The Weeknd slays the charts. Who knows. Faux Jamaican is so in.

Let's do it Again: "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink

"Worth It" is kind of a default around here, considering the Jam has never really gone away. I can't imagine anyone ever realistically caring about this song or Fifth Harmony, but it is a damn sexy song, considering the majority of the group couldn't buy cigarettes until a few months ago. It's essentially lyrically meaningless in almost every way, and the Derulian Trumpets are obnoxiously derivative. Still, catchy! Last time. Promise. Better than Little Mix.

Ya'll Already Know! "Watch Me" by Silentó

Maybe it's not quite as ubiquitous as it was last week, but "Watch Me" is still pretty strong. At any Fall Wedding this will be the number one white person dancing track on the playlist, and authentic black community dancers may forever regret teaching old white women how to nae nae. It's a great way for suburbanites to pretend to be hood. Probably one of the more inane Summer Songs, this is still totally addictive, and more importantly, pretty fun. It'll end up with a solid showing.

The Future is Soon: "Good for You" by Selina Gomez ft. A$AP Rocky

"Good For You" keeps surging as a haunting Lana Del Ray-esque sorrowful jam that's perhaps more suited for Autumn than the hot licks of Summer. It's a fantastic jam steeped in girl powered irony and a sultry yet uncomfortable lyrical composure that flirts with pop stardom while pulling out a rug of self-tortured compromise. Needless to say, this has been a Jam I've really digged this summer.

I Got That Fire: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

The Weeknd returns to the top spot this week with a Jam that really won't quit in this late season rush. It's a solid Jam that's earned on the back of The Weeknd's surprisingly rising talent. With a couple great songs under his belt already this notoriety ought to do wonders for his career, although he persists in an attitude that doesn't seem to really give a shit if he takes off or not. It's smooth yet energizing, and in essence, a perfect Summer Jam. We'll have to see whether or not it broke too late or not.

Next week...

This is it, people! An unprecedented Week 18! I know you're all bristling with anticipation, but you'll have to be a little patient. Go out and enjoy your Last Week of Summer before all shit freezes over and you're confined to the doldrums of snow and isolation! And who do you think should win the Summer Crown!?

24 August 2015

Summer Jam Week 16: Hailee and Ricky Offer a Random Weekend

We're coming down to the wire now, folks, and I can say that this weekend is full of crazy tracks that have popped out of no where and will have no chance at either becoming Great Summer Jams or make any kind of thoughtful impact on our race at large. But we're still dealing with a fairly spicy lot, so let's dive in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Love Myself" by Hailee Steinfeld

Hailee Steinfeld has sort of a singing talent, and seems to be using decent exposure in Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) to blast this jam off. It's a mildly fresh song, but it also sounds a lot like every other pop song I've ever heard. She should probably stick with acting, although it's getting to be a while since she impressed everybody holding her own against Jeff Bridges in True Grit (2011). I could get behind her charisma and funness, but she needs a better song to fuel a pop singing career.

Tricky Ricky: "La Mordita" by Ricky Martin

When was the last time you heard anything about Ricky Martin? I'm surprised he's still alive. He's apparently just making Spanish music or something, so who cares. This is a hot jam, and you can certainly jam in the Summer to this hot beat, but it's also totally in Spanish, which is a little rough. Ricky's not looking too bad, but let's face it, this is no "She Bangs." Did he get royalties from William Hung? Did William Hung ever realize that he was a joke? These are questions we'll never have answered.

Jeep Driving Music: "Renegades" by X Ambassadors

This track mostly makes another appearance this week after being featured repeatedly in commercials for the 2015 Jeep Renegade. It's really a perfect match I guess, although the most on the nose of any song used in an advertisement ever. This is decent wuss rock, though, and its popularity deserves this additional acknowledgement. And i skipped the official video because it's totes depressing and has a lot of weird talking in it.

Back Again: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

Returning from the Summer Jam Grave is "Bad Blood" which had a bit of an uptick this week for some reason. I tended to hear it a good amount, and people were just talking about it, naturally in anticipation of the VMAs. It's totally insane and iconic by now, although we've basically come full circle in ironic appreciation of Tay Sway's magnum opus here.

Drool for the Bummer: "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato

I swear I'm going to stop pretending this is a real Summer Jam really soon. I don't know, I tend to get addicted to this the more I see it, probably just because of that one sweaty shot of Demi's butt that attracts me hard. It's really not as bad a song as I trashed it when it first came out, but it has just not made any kind of impact at all in any way. I still think that if this had dropped in May or June, you know, when the Summer started, it would have made a bigger splash. I get the impression that Demi wanted this to be really big, that jam that would push her to the next level of Diva Superstardom, but that's just not happening.

Making You Feel Weird and Dirty: "Good for You" by Selena Gomez ft. A$AP Rocky

I literally cannot watch this video. I feel extremely pervy that this 10-year old looking girl is writhing around all sexily and singing a pretty seductive song, steeped in irony as it may be. And yes, I know that Gomez is 23, but damn, this chick needs to age at some point, right? I still like this jam a lot, and it's probably one of my favorite personal tracks of the Summer. She dropped a new vid this week, which features a little more A$AP Rocky, which is nothing but awesome.

Human Scorch: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

Another strong showing by The Weeknd, who is a solid candidate for Best Summer Ever. I think he'll blow up like other recent R&B wuss singers like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, although my impression of him is one of far more apathy than either of those singers who are admittedly pretty apathetic to the general idea of fame. I'm excited for what else he can produce, and if his Beyonce set is any indication, it'll be pretty sweet.

Listen Me: "Watch Me" by Silentó

See, this kid is having the Best Summer Ever. Born in 1998, by the way, which is all kinds of stupid. "Watch Me" is actually killing it in a late Summer Run, and if any Jam has a shot at hanging with "Bad Blood" and "Shut Up and Dance" and making this a three-way race, it's this kid. Also thanks to this jam every white person in America knows how to do the Stanky Leg. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Next week...

The big question now as we have two weeks left in our amazing 18-week Summer, is whether or not "Watch Me" can hold on and continue to make a case for itself. Other than that, it's basically time for any other Jam to reinforce its position and add a few more weeks to solidify Jamhood. It's coming down to the wire - stay tuned!

21 August 2015

Road to Blockbuster: Pothead Bourne Takes Us Out

This is it, people. It'd been a long and zany summer, but we've finally reached the end of the Blockbuster Season. And actually, all this weekend's releases are decidedly minor, so we probably could have skipped this shit altogether. Nevertheless, we'll take you out one last time and check out three pretty doofy movies premiering today. On our way to taking one deep breath before the arduous months of Chilly Prestigious Autumn, let us bask once more in the glory of Stupid, Stupid Summer.

None of these releases are especially great. Late August is a notorious dumping ground for lots of films, mostly because no one wants to go to the movies this time of year. Precious College Students are preoccupied with moving, little wiener kids are trying to get their class schedules right, and the rest of us schmucks are pulled in for the ride. Even us in coveted young-but-not-too young age demographics tend to find ourselves pulled back into an annual work cycle after taking a little time to chill in the Sun because no one cares in Summer. So, okay, American Ultra (2015).
This alone convinced me to see this movie.

American Ultra is a spin on MKUltra, a top-secret CIA mind control project from the 50s and 60s. Here it's applied to Jesse Eisenberg as the pothead spy who doesn't know he's a spy. Think of it as a slacker twist on Jason Bourne, which is pretty great in every sense of the premise. He's joined by Adventureland (2009) co-star Kristen Stewart in what looks like to be a pretty equal role in drug-fueled slackerdom.

These two actors are actually weirdly exciting right now. Eisenberg can apparently play anything, from loser stoner to brilliant supervillain to bureaucratic stooge with relative ease. It's kind of incredible. Stewart has also really managed to step away from her Twilight upbringing, cranking out much smaller indie fair like Anesthesia (2015) and Still Alice (2014). Robert Pattinson, who has become an unlikely Cronenberg collaborator is somehow pushing his acting career into even more unexpected territory.

None of this means a ton when it comes to American Ultra, because even though it's an Eisenberg/Stewart comedy, it's not totally in the wheelhouse of either actor. Perhaps Eisenberg, but with only Zombieland (2009) and 30 Minutes or Less (2011) under his belt as major comedies, it's not like his following is that huge. This flick looks pretty fun and it's pretty distinctive, even if it can be seen as a Bourne riff, at least in plot and pretty clearly not tone or theme. It doesn't have a ton of competition right now because no August release has done very well at all, except for Straight Outta Compton (2015), which I imagine wins the day, particularly because there's got to be a similar audience there.

Next we have Hitman: Agent 47 (2015), whose existence is baffling. Hitman (2007) grossed $39 million domestically ($99 mill worldwide) and has been totally forgotten in a staggering eight years since its release. And it's not like Timothy Olyphant is a major A-list star, and that film may have done better released in a post-Justified world, but there's just no way you replace Olyphant with Rupert Friend (whose name I definitely had to look up) and make a better movie in any sense of the word.

Does anybody even play Hitman video games anymore? The last one was released in 2012, and there's actually a new one coming out in December of this year, but it just doesn't feel at all like a popular enough video game to earn this much of a following. Give me another Mortal Kombat movie, for goodness' sake.

The highest profile actor in this flick is Zachary Quinto in a supporting role, and after that we have a slew of character actors until we hit Dan Bakkedahl. It's an inconceivably bad call from top to bottom to put this thing out and I can't imagine that it earns any kind of commercial success, critical praise, or leaves a cultural footprint worthy of discussion. It'll bomb, but not even in a Fantastic Four (2014) way that will leave us talking for a few weeks. No one will ever care that a few dozen people worked pretty hard to craft this thing.

Lastly we have Sinister 2 (2015). Sinister (2012) is a pretty well regarded horror film, although I've got to believe that Scott Derrickson had a lot to do with that. He's still on as writer/producer but everything about the marketing of this second one has been real weird, to the point of being laughable. Like, almost M. Night Shyamalan The Happening (2008) laughable. "They get the kids!" or whatever. Pass. Kids aren't scary. You can punch kids, or just jump up on a shelf or something and call for help. It's not that big of a deal.

I think Ethan Hawke also anchored Sinister, even though it has weirdly felt like he's been in a ton of these kinds of films lately. I guess it boils down to this and The Purge (2013), but it feels like more. Maybe that's just Getaway (2013), Regression (2015), and the terrifying Boyhood (2014) doing their work. It could also be because he's easily confused with Patrick Wilson. But Sinister 2 has no anchor, and so it's more reliant on its concept and spookiness selling itself, which isn't totally shitty, but it's more like every other horror movie out there, which is far less interesting.

Some horror flicks have had success this time of year, but the critical component is that they're good horror. I don't get that impression from Sinister 2, which actually looks exactly like Sinister. It's getting tough to tell all these films apart from each other. I can't see us bothering with this film at all a few months from now.

So, that's it. How will you spend your final Summer Weekend? We have a few weeks left for sure, but as you can clearly tell, our Era of Blockbusters is over. What do you feel like seeing?

17 August 2015

Summer Jam Week 15: Watch This!

August is gearing up for one of its last laps and we've reached a point where there's actually a lot that could still happen, with how much staying power these late-breaking Jams have had. The Summer Jam Throne is still totally up in the air. Let's recount, for the fifteenth time this summer, the Hottest Jams of Our Day!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Marvin Gaye" by Charlie Puth ft. Meghan Trainor

I feel like I've had a lot of Meghan Trainor slide in the Hot Jam of the Week spot this year. This song is actually a few months old for some reason, but I got into it for the first time this week and that's good enough for me to spread it back out to you fine people. This is a sexy song, but it is fairly tame. It's as much sex as you can sell to pre-teens. This works mostly because Charlie Puth looks like a 12-year old. At this point no Hot Jam is making a run at things, but this could have been a cool song if it were a bit more interesting, maybe if it had more of an edge.

Pick a Culture, Any Culture: "Lean On" by Major Lazer

I really didn't think Lazer would make it again this week but this has grown into a bonafide Summer Jam. The addictive, simple lyrics, thumping ascending beat, and weed-soaked street cred are actually reminiscent of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" a few years back. Although I love this song, it's actually no where near as good as "Get Lucky," actually.

Cripple for the Summer: "Renegades" by X Ambassadors

Who knows why X Ambassadors decided to focus on an assortment of inspirational hand-capable athletes for their music video, but for whatever reason, here we are. This track has been around for a while, playing in Shopping Malls and Doctor's Offices everywhere and it's about time we found a spot for it on this list. It's not totally a super-great jam or anything, and it falls neatly within contemporary wuss-rock territory.

Like Spider-Man: "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap

"Trap Queen" gets a last hurrah (probably) this week. I mostly included this because I had a moment where we all jumped into the car and this track came on and we all knew all the words, were all on the same page rocking out, and it was awesome. Great freshman jam from Fetty who's really taken off as the debut artist of the Summer. Then again, there were hardly any old Legends doing time this year, so that's a bit of a contentious topic that we'll certainly be digging into when we wrap up this nonsense.

Beware the Oni: "Cheerleader" by OMI

After a few weeks apart I have a spot back to "Cheerleader" because it's doing fairly spectacular on every conceivable weekly recount list. That never really impacts my decision, but I gave it another listen and remembered just how solid this jam is. It's so accessible, fun, and sunshiney. Total Summer Jam material. I wonder if Jamaica is nearly as into this faux-reggae jam as we are.

Numbo Jumbo: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

This could be the greatest song on the Jam List this week. It's such a cool track. I can see this having a fairly extensive lifespan into the Fall as school starts back up. Listening to it again, I'm actually disappointed that the beat isn't more unique or clever, but it does rise and sway with the whims of the lyrics, which is competent music making. The video is also nothing special. All this really means is that someone needs to give The Weeknd a shot at a truly distinctive awesome jam in the very near future.

Soooo Cool: "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato

It has felt like there's been something  holding back "Cool for the Summer" since it debuted. I don't totally know why. Maybe it's because it really broke far too late to ever be seriously considered in the Summer Jam conversation, even though when tallying everything up, I'm sure it'll contend well. It's still just more of an afterthought than something we'll always associate with those few glorious months of sunshine. Or maybe Demi's just trying to hard with her weird attempt at a Britney Spears baby voice. For now, though, yeah, it kicks ass.

Best Summer Ever: "Watch Me" by Silentó

Like the rest of America, I've gotten to the point where I love every single thing about this track. First of all, we need to talk about the fact that Silentó can't actually dance that well. Also how this is basically the chicken dance updated for a hip-hop crowd. And how the song is do damn Black, yet also super-accessible to white people. In fact, Silentó ought to be sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity for making white people think they can nae nae. This is also all but guaranteed to be the biggest one-hit wonder of 2015. Silentó better enjoy this Summer, because it's going to be the greatest one of his life.

Next week...

I'd be curious if "Watch Me" holds on. I think it can for a few weeks. We're decidedly into our second half right now, with an interesting crop of jams lobbying for position. This is the time for any of them to make their cases, but there is some stiff competition this year. We haven't had a Summer dominated by any single Jam like we've seen in years past. That's kind of a Summer Bummer, but it ought to be exciting for all of those out there in Internet-land who read this blog for some reason. Stay tuned, folks!

14 August 2015

Road to a Blockbuster: The UNCLE from Compton

We've all got an U.N.C.L.E. from Compton every one of us. Today is the dawn of another Friday, the penultimate Friday in the Summer Onslaught of Cinematic Blockbusting Bliss, and so it's time again to chat about the critical, commercial, and cultural prospects of two big flicks hitting the theater. Like many weekends this summer, the two pics landing couldn't be more different from each other, which in its own way, is oddly complementary. The first is Guy Ritchie's lighthearted TV-adaptation/action film The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), the other is the  N.W.A. biopic film with an inherently prescient socio-political twist, Straight Outta Compton (2015). So let's break each of these down.

I'd like to do a big listing of every TV Adaptation ever, but the folks over at Film School Rejects already wrote a great article critiquing this phenomenon, so head over there and check that out first.

Welcome back.

I've said this before, but I don't really care where a film gets its inspiration. It can come from Hasbro games, or TV shows, or books or theme park rides, none of it really matters. What matters is if the film is any good or not - and to further push the equation, what matters is if it's successful in attempting to do what it wants to do. In this sense, Pixels (2015) is not successful. It is supposed to be a goofy action-comedy. It is neither funny nor inventive or exhilarating. Fantastic Four (2015)...well, I actually don't know what kind of movie Fantastic Four was supposed to be. Neither do the people who made it. So, sucks.
Let's do an experiment and switch the reels
 of the two movies coming out this week. No brother
in the audience will be able to tell these two apart.

This is an appropriate lens to look through when judging The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I was actually pretty impressed by the trailers and have been looking forward to this. Everything about it just seems so damn fun, which is getting to a be a popular buzzword these days for what most action movies are lacking in the post-Nolan Superhero grimdark world. 2015 is getting to be an alarming year for spy movies, particularly riffs on the genre like this and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015). The Man from U.N.C.L.E. travels back to the setting of the TV show, the 60s, which is actually a reminder that we rarely get period Spy films. Perhaps that's just because no Bond film is really forgotten, and we get a heavier pop culture dose of that on the regular than other genres that have evolved with time.

Come to think of it, it's almost harder to think of a genre that has evolved with changing technology like the Spy Film. There really isn't another genre piece that morphs with changing time, because so many genre films are beholden to the time period expressed by their genre. Westerns are always...still in the Old West. Mostly. Likewise with Epic films. Maybe you can stretch Giant Monster movies, but really, are inter-dimensional rifts any further of a leap than Radioactive Lizards? This all just makes it pretty interesting what The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is doing.

That also doesn't really matter. Does The Man from U.N.C.L.E. succeed in doing what it wants to do? From the looks of it, I would scream yes. This isn't a film designed to create a shared universe, or douse itself in realism, or make a legit run for the Academy Awards. It has no concern with being a good movie, only a concern with being a palatable piece of action with a comic wit and timing on the part of a cast of totally underrated and undeserved actors.

Let's start with Superman. Henry Cavill hasn't totally had the chance to play around with a role like this, ever, and it's really refreshing to see. He's definitively coasting of a charm and cadence perfectly befitting a mild-mannered dad from the 60s. It's a delight. With him is Armie Hammer, who for some reason has never taken off to be the A-Lister he should have been after The Social Network (2010). It could have just been a string of completely awful roles, such as The Lone Ranger (2013), which I'm the only one who actually liked. He's just been attached to nothing great to showcase what he can really do on film. At one point he was attached to play Batman, though, so his pairing with Cavill is all kinds of awesome.

Moving on from our core duo we have current It Girl Alicia Vikander, who is somehow in six movies this year, while providing the narration for another. She's most well known right now as the robot from Ex Machina (2015). The other chick, who apparently steals the show even more than Vikander is Elizabeth Debicki, who is some crazy villain who is mostly known at this point as the one of the girls from The Great Gatsby (2013). That was a multi-Academy Award-winning movie, by the way, just to remind you. All of this seems to swirl in Guy Ritchie's head who has been less of an auteur as of late than when he got his start. Actually, it's hard to see much merit in anything he's done since Snatch (2000), even if his Sherlock Holmes duology was that same level of fun, if unmemorable.

My guess is that's what we're in for with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well. Fun, adventurous, competently crafted, but maybe not something we really care about in four years. I say four years, because with that much time gone does anyone recall much from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)?

I know I've spoken at length about The Man from U.N.C.L.E for some reason, but this shit fascinates me. I'm kind of curious why this was called upon at all for a TV Adaptation. It doesn't totally have name recognition, and outside of a plot that was far more interesting when the Cold War was actually going on, it doesn't seem to have many references to the TV Show. And honestly, even if it did, I'm not sure anyone would notice. The point is, why even bother with this? Why not make a wholly original property? I suppose there's this weird sentiment that some kind of vague recognition, even if you just have to look up what the hell it's based on on Wikipedia offers a higher based audience than an entirely new IP. What an insane world.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum comes one of the more exciting movies of the summer, Straight Outta Compton. Everything about this looks just about perfect. It's the true story of one of the landmark bands in modern hip-hop, N.W.A., featuring Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella (and Arabian Prince, but nobody counts him). Those are actually the order of how famous all those group members currently are.
It was Gangsta Gangsta at the top of the list,
then I played my own shit it went something like this

N.W.A. is a landmark hip-hop group, which is made all the more surprising by the fact that they only actually ever put out two albums, and only one of which has all the songs that you listen to now. 1988's Straight Outta Compton album was an incredible jolt to the national conscious. Here it is! Or at least it seemed that way at the time. Nigh on thirty years later not much has changed, to the point where it's almost tough listening to "Fuck tha Police" and realizing that N.W.A. was rapping about the current hottest issue in this country all that time ago. It helps give some context to why we suddenly get riots in Baltimore and people going nuts. Authorities engaging in racial violence isn't a new thing.

That's what gives the film Straight Outta Compton a little bit more bite than the typical musician biopic. The story of N.W.A. certainly lends plenty to the typical tropes of the genre, but N.W.A. also leaned so heavily on their "Fuck White Society" mantra that their film, uncompromised, also represents that. It's therefore inherently also a political movie, and a pretty timely one at that.

Hip-hop hasn't really had its biopic. It's somewhat deserving then, that so formative a group as N.W.A. gets this distinction. I especially love how Ice Cube's son plays Ice Cube, which explains why I sat in the theater watching the first trailer absolutely amazed that they found someone who looked exactly like Ice Cube. I'm also curious about the treatment of Eazy-E, who is actually arguably the most talented member of N.W.A., who would have outpaced Dre and Cube if not for his untimely death from AIDS in 1995. Dre and Cube also had a pretty heady beef with him before said death, although I can't imagine that clouding their depiction of N.W.A.'s wildest member.

It's fitting that Straight Outta Compton is actually going against the Whitest Movie of the Summer in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I haven't spoken too much about the cash prospects of either of these flicks. I think it's pretty good based on the fact that everyone likes N.W.A. and the marketing has been excellent. There's also virtually no competition, with Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) in its third week but not really dominating and Fantastic Four (2015) virtually becoming the most infamous bomb of the summer. I don't think U.N.C.L.E. has totally captured the hearts and minds of the people it needs to, although people might be in the mood for a fun, toned down blockbuster after the assault of crazy big budget shit this summer. Of course, TV Adaptations generally suck more the more time in between the show and film release, and period action films are never a guarantee. Biopics and racial films are totally in, though. I'd love for N.W.A. to maintain its grit through Straight Outta Compton, and even though it's great to highlight the story of a classic hip-hop ghetto to riches ride, they're always better as an underdog.

What do you think? Who are you giving your money to this weekend?

10 August 2015

Summer Jam Week 14: Read this Post for Free!

It's hard to believe that we're almost rounding out towards the end of Summer folks, but for better or worse, our time in the sun is slowly drawing to a close. Lay your forlorn heads to rest, my innocent chickadees, and let us bathe in the glory of Summer Pop Music for but a few more weeks. Actually we have nearly a month left because Labor Day is stupid late this year. So while it feels as if Summer's about to end, it's totally not and we're only like three quarters through. Cool, sweet, bonus!

Hot Jam of the Week: "For Free?" by Kendrick Lamar

Apparently Kendrick Lamar makes all the great music videos now. As the title indicates, it's more an interlude than a song, with a long spoken word bit at the beginning by some presumable golddigger, followed by Kendrick acting surreal and goofy with a tone straddling a line between hilarious and unsettling. It's a masterful two minutes of fast-paced verbal work pared with doofy traipsing around an elite mansion and a palpable tête-à-tête between the principal characters. Solid. Also, America.

One Two Three: "Ex's & Oh's" by Elle King

King sounds like Kat Dahlia by way of Gin Widmore with a bit of Feist, but that may just be the counting thing throwing me off. Elle King is somehow the daughter of Rob Schneider and will probably emerge as his greatest contribution to human kind. This jam is part riveting crunch rock and part synthy pop ballad that just works all around. It hasn't totally caught on mainstream airplay yet, and it may not be able to do so in the next couple weeks, but I'd be game if it does.

Lookin' Good: "Good For You" by Selena Gomez ft. A$AP Rocky

When will Selena Gomez not look like a twelve-year old? That's when she'll be looking good for me. But anyway, this track, steeped in irony and imposed self-loathing has a solid message, distinctive harmonies, and a pretty good use of the now ubiquitous third bar rap verse in pop collabos. I'm looking forward to more of this from Selena and less of the bubblegummy stuff she used to create her empire. It's like GaGa or Tay Sway - give the people what they want to get your name out there then just make whatever music you want. That's probably more GaGa than Taylor. Still, I can dig it.

Bullets and Smooches: "Lean On" by Major Lazer

"Lean On" continues to kill it, although it seems to be joining the many great Jams of Summers Past that stayed forever on the list somewhere in the middle, but never rose to the top spot. I can see that happening again, although it's still a track whose stock is rising every week. Perhaps a run late in the game can earn it some serious credentials?

Official Dance of Summer: "Watch Me" by Silentó

You know, this kid is prepared to never have another hit, right? I mean, he's not a good rapper at all. He's just gone totally viral with this contagious dance song. Another week goes by and we get another week of cops, coaches, and athletes Nae Nae-ing all over the country. It's totally possible this jam rides momentum to the end of the year and it's been around long enough to build a case for it to be in contention for a Summer Title. Plus, now I know how to bop!

Dat Ass: "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato

This song has totally grown on me the past few weeks. I'm slowly getting to the "Jam to This All Day" point in a song's life cycle. It still feels like Demi's trying too hard but with no other diva being really hot right now I'm more surprised that this song hasn't taken off more. Maybe it is because it just doesn't stick with you that first time you hear it, unlike say, a "Bad Blood" for instance. The video is a fluorescent mix of Spring Breakers (2013) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), which are weird references, but I liked when "Edge of Glory" did that palette better.

Punch it Out: "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten

This kind of goes in the opposite direction of Demi, but I'll crank out another week in what's turning out to be a great Summer for Rachel Platten. It does kind of get you amped up, but I just don't feel like I'm going to know all the words to this jam in ten years. Or five years. Or six months from now. And I just totally got into a glorious Lady GaGa clickhole remembering Jams of Summers Past. Oh Jams of Summers Past, how fantastic are you? "Fight Song" is putting up a good fight these past few weeks though and if it can surge to #1 it could contend.

Like Metal Fingers: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

I still struggle with the concept that The Weeknd is just one dude, but he's totally got a pop game to rule if he wants it. I get the impression that he gives a shit less than other big musicians who try really really hard to be famous. He's more a soulful little dude who just wants to croon away the pain in his heart. In what must tear up Fifth Harmony who totally just want to be famous more than to be artists, this is exactly what makes his music worth listening to and makes him popular. So, for the first time this summer, here's The Weeknd, a guy who's certainly earned it. This honor will definitely make his day when he finds out.

Next week...

There were actually quite a few tracks I felt like including but just couldn't find room for. The first is a collabo between eternal douchebag Robin Thicke (who looks surprisingly old here) and eternal Summer Jam afficionado Flo Rida, "I Don't Like It, I Love It," which is actually totally just half the chorus of "Can't Feel My Face." Next is Jason Derulo's latest hot jam, "Cheyenne," which has to be about Wyoming, but I will never believe that he's been there. Lastly, my favorite that I missed out on reporting about, "You Don't Own Me" by Grace ft. G-Eazy. I also almost brought back "Honey, I'm Good." What do you think about these hot jams?

07 August 2015

Road to a Blockbuster: A Gift from Fant4stic Shit

We're almost approaching the end of our great journey to catalog the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of every big film that's premiered this summer. It's August now, which is usually an underrated month. Studios tend to dump films here that they don't feel have a ton of chance to succeed, but usually that means it's full of some really great and weird films. There's usually a late-breaking comedy like Superbad (2007) or an undercover action flick like Scott Pilgrm vs. The World (2010). It's really Michael Cera's month, I guess.

Anyway, we've got four movies getting big releases, two of which are really insignificant, one of which is just as insignificant, but is pretty interesting and getting good reviews, and the last one is a huge blow-out Superhero event. So let's take a gander in that order:
You know, British people really do love sheep.

First we have Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015), which is something that no one has ever heard of. Shaun the Sheep is a fairly popular TV show in the UK, a spin-off of the equally quirky Wallace and Gromit line of claymation cartoons. What it's doing in the United States I don't know, but it's by all means a solid film. I'm not sure how they will connect with modern kids, but I guess if some dumb wieners like sheep, that's all they really need. In many ways this is the polar opposite of something like Minions (2015), lacking the rapidity and flashiness of American CGI, but that doesn't necessarily doom Shaun the Sheep Movie. Adults will probably like it more, and the more mellow kids who don't want nebulous yellow dildos screaming in their face might be on board as well. This summer's been pretty successful with kids movies, and this is really coming right on the heels of a big one. It's not the worst choice for a lazy Summer Afternoon, but I can't see this tearing up the bank.

Next we have Ricki and the Flash (2015), which is another film I just found out existed. Nothing about this seems appealing to me, although the participation of actress Meryl Streep, writer Diablo Cody, and director Jonathan Demme are all in themselves fascinating. It's hard to think that you could mix those three in a pot and it would come out shitty, but less has been done in Hollywood with more talent. This will get points from the adult crowd who is so over things blowing up, but there's no way this catches on with anyone else. Having said that, adult crowds sometimes push August through pretty well, so it could have a little momentum. Plus, Streep will probably get an Oscar nomination out of this.

Moving on to more mainstream films, we have The Gift (2015), which is the latest in an extremely long list of movies called The Gift. This is also somehow doing really well by the critics, which ought to be the final push for anyone on the fence. Everything about this movie is bizarre, actually. It's kind of dropped out of no where with an odd yet suspenseful marketing campaign. It is also coming from the head of writer/director/star Joel Edgerton, who is an actor I've always kind of liked but never taken seriously. Maybe he actually has some solid talent, subtly playing against type here as well as directing the hell out of this movie.

The Gift also features Jason Bateman, who seems odd here and Rebecca Hall, who seems to have more settled into this as her element. Hall weirdly feels like she's been in everything lately, although her most high profile roles, in Iron Man 3 (2013) and Transcendence (2014) have been mostly wasted, the former from giving her nothing to do and the latter from just being a terrible movie. I actually like Transcendence more than 90% of the Internet, mostly for the big ideas it brings up, although it's bogged down by a lot of the character turns just didn't make any damn sense.

I actually really don't know what The Gift is about - I guess Edgerton plays a weirdo from Bateman's High School who stalks him up years later and maybe kidnaps his Rebecca Hall wife for some reason? I dunno. Early reviews painting Bateman as a Michael Bluth-set-in-the-real-world-ish bully who tormented Edgerton is an interesting play. Who cares, it's apparently an outside-the-box thriller, which you really don't see...ever. My guess is we'll remember this in ten years as The Gift that didn't show Katie Holmes' titties and was sort of good.

So, after all this, we have Fant4stic (2015). Or Fantastic Four, because that stylized version is going to be terrible to spell from here on out. Here's where I'm at with this - early reviews apparently indicate that this thing is terrible, and I really couldn't care one way or another. I don't think many people do. There is such a tremendous undercurrent of apathy towards this thing that it truly doesn't matter if this succeeds or not. Nobody is plugging away for the Fox-led "X-Men / Fantastic Four" shared universe. No one gives a shit about that!

The issue here is simply the seeming unviability of the Fantastic Four as a team on the big screen, which makes no sense because they're really Marvel's mainstay. Or at least, they were for about the first fifty years of their existence, until recently when Marvel canned their title and started excluding the characters from their biggest crossover events. It's hard not to see this as a dig at Fox in favor of the characters they still control cinematically, especially when they've started favoring the much shittier Inhumans over the X-Men as well.
Will we finally get to see
The Thing's rock-hard dong?!

The point is that the Fantastic Four have been at the heart of some really...fantastic stories. The characters link up with each other so well, each having an incredibly distinctive personality, Sue Storm a bastion for those who rail against the lack of good female superhero leads (side note - Marvel has a ridiculous amount of strong female characters...they're just all X-Men), and really cool iconography, such as the simple fact that each of their powers lines up with a classical element. Why hasn't this worked in a movie yet?

Well, the first movie did. Say what you want about it, but Fantastic Four (2005) completely nailed the corny tone of the comics and largely got the characters right as well. The casting is spot-on for everyone except for Alba and it mostly succeeds as an innocuous, family friendly, hungover early Sunday afternoon movie. I can't even tell you how many times I've mindlessly had Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) on in the background while I struggled to find a reason to keep living after a wild kegger. I'm always curious about why people think movies suck, and these are great examples. So let's talk about that a little bit.

Some of the backlash against Fantastic Four has to be due to the fact that 2005 also saw the release of Batman Begins, and wasn't that far removed from Spider-Man 2 (2004). Both these films treated their subjects realistically, with emotional density and serious-minded storytelling. Spider-Man 2 did a spectacular job of blending in just the right level of goofiness that should come with superhero films, and although a realistic treatment of a guy who dresses up like a bat is still laughable to me, and it's irritating that Batman Begins started this trend of forcing supposedly organic derivations for all kinds of random wacky cultural iconography, it's still a great piece of cinema. Its sequels survive largely on iconic character work, clever writing, and stunningly good direction. None of that is present in both earlier Fantastic Four films, which are content to be goofy and silly without a ton of reason for more mature movie lovers to take them seriously.

Now, I didn't like Fantastic Four when it first came out, and I don't think I even saw the sequel until years later, probably on F/X or something, and neither really holds up. More often things happen because they're funny or because they help plot, and there's little if any motivation for Doom to do any of the things he does in either. That brings me to my next point - how has the best villain in Marvel history never had a good presence on screen?

Julian McMahon was an inspired choice in balancing swagger, jealousy, and intellect, but it really loses you when you see his face. In fifty years of comics, adult Doom's face has never been shown, but in his first major movie they went ahead and plastered it all over for the first 70 minutes? What the hell? It's not like I am a purist for comics, but when you have a great character lying in front of you, and so much of that character is summed up in the shame he feels towards his face, why change it? I was pumped to see the Mandarin re-jiggered in Iron Man 3 and even the hugely simplified Thor origin, and I totally don't care about Black Johnny Storm. Michael B. Jordan is easily the black version of Chris Evans, and probably better for that role. All of these were improvements. Making Doom into a whiny corporate stooge is...awful.

I don't know why both films found it necessary to weave Dr. Doom into the Fantastic Four's origin. I read ahead about the new film, so I guess you ought to skip the next couple paragraphs if you're really invested, but this new flick follows the same stupid path. It merely substitutes another dimension for cosmic rays. I don't understand why a film is made explicitly to re-imagine an origin of a superhero team that really only commits to tonal shifts (away from...being fun) and keeps the same general structure. Doom here isn't a business guy but a hacker, played by Toby "Agenor" Kebbell, which doesn't seem spot on at all. This brief scene actually makes me a little pumped up, which if you click it, you'll see that it's been taken down. That's really emblematic of the marketing for this movie. The one thing that I saw that actually made me want to see the film and share with others has been taken down. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

Anyway, the scene was basically a skinny, weird looking Dr. Doom walking through some kind of base, and people were shooting at him, which he was deflecting with a green energy shield (MAGIC?!) and he was then just killing people, presumably with his mind or something. See, Doom has a pretty sweet origin in the comics that has always been ignored on screen, possibly because it's long and complicated. It wouldn't be truly terrible to just skip all this, though, and simply introduce this sheer badassery. The iconography is so strong that you know he's a villain, and his simple jealous rivalry with Richards wouldn't be hard to explore in an active way rather than through flashbacks or exposition.

To sum up this extensive long complaint about the Fantastic Four, it's a true shame that no one has been able to get this to work on screen, because while the original comic is mostly fluff, which the 2005 film was true to, it was never going to land with audiences in a meaningful way. A hardcore, gritty reboot isn't going to truly connect, either, because unlike Batman, or Daredevil, or even Man of Steel (2013), there's nothing remotely realistic about the Fantastic Four. They specialize in goofy, interdimensional, intergalactic science and super weird pulp shit. More than any other property they need the touch that only Marvel itself has achieved in cinema. Something actually like Ant-Man (2015)'s tone would actually be perfect. Maybe we'll get one in 2025.

That wouldn't be too soon because when chugging at full speed, Fantastic Four fixes Marvel's two most serious character concerns right now - lack of strong villains and lack of strong female characters. It's an eternally frustrating property because it's so close to getting everything right but in the end it just whiffs and gets everything wrong.

So that's that. Which of these four shitty movies will you see this weekend?

03 August 2015

Summer Jam Week 13: It's Worth It!

Welcome folks to the opening of August - we've only got one more month of Sunshine to go before all the wee children skip back to school, the leaves start turning, and that harvest harbinger of a wintery death looms in our futures. Let us take a gander at the smattering of pop hits that represent the hottest jams in the nation right now:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Omen" by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith

I almost feel like Sam Smith has become a parody of himself - that is to say, you could take any song of his and place it in a track like this without a ton of people noticing. This has got a simplistic yet revelatory beat that's not attention-grabbing at all, but could make for good Summer background fodder.

Another Hot Jam of the Week: "No Sleep" by Janet Jackson ft. J. Cole

This is becoming a weird Summer for Former Pop Queens trying to assert their status, from Britney to Madonna, now Janet. I'll give this song points for sounding exactly like something she would have made at the height of her musical prowess, but the problem with that is it makes for a fantastically uninteresting song in 2015. It's a little too soft-spoken to be worthwhile, but we'll take it kindly as our R&B Jam of the Week.

Five Seconds of Direction: "She's Kinda Hot" by 5 Seconds of Summer

5 Seconds of Summer is totally the boy band right now that can give you a lot of street cred with High School girls. Having said that, their latest jam is sure to blow up with that specific yet summer-leading demographic. Holy shit, this kid can't sing though.

Glaucoma Medicine: "My Way" by Fetty Wap ft. Drake

Fetty Wap could emerge as the hottest artist of the Summer 2015, and I might not call "My Way" stronger than "Trap Queen," but his distinctive voice still comes through pretty clear. Drake offers his inherent swagger that has somehow emerged from the softest rapper in the game. As far as contemporary rap goes, it's not like this beat is great nor is it all that interesting or even tolerable as a song, but it's perhaps one of the hottest in the pipe right now.

YA'LL ALREADY KNOW WHO IT IS: "Watch Me" by Silentó

I like the videos that keep coming out of various folks learning how to Nae Nae, from local cops to JJ Watt. This track's a total phenomenon, perhaps without the inherent silliness of a "Harlem Shake" or "Gangnam Style" or something, but it's definitely addictive. The video works as an instructional introduction to black dancing, which is also of course great for white suburbanites to co-op.

White Indian: "Lean On" by Major Lazer

I never thought I'd reach the point where I was a little sick of "Lean On" but I think we reached that point this week. It's still a totes hot Jam so I'm not excluding it here, but it's ubiquity has reached a saturation point. I'm all about Major Lazer, and I'm sure Diplo's off-the-wall show that's simultaneously an aesthetic homage to 80s-style G.I. Joe cartoons along with a distinctively original and bizarre property has had something to do with its surge this summer.

Hair of the Gods: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

I still can't get over the fact that The Weeknd is one person. He's definitely talented enough to give Sam Smith a run for his money in the falsetto-singer department, and his tracks seem to be a little bit more well-produced than that potatoe-headed artist. This song straddles that line between soft slow jam and energized Beach Jam, which is working really well for it.

What: "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony

I know what you're thinking - this is unbelievable. But yeah, I put Fifth Harmony in the Number One Spot this week. There's no other clear dominator of Current Music Pop Culture, and this jam has been aggressive in getting back into our consciousness after some spotty weeks here and there. It's a totally moronic jam and the music video fetishizes its artists in the name of some feminist veil that's really odd, but it's still a total earworm, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.

Next week...

I don't think Fifth Harmony will stay in that spot forever. Hey, maybe. We definitely need someone to fill that "Bad Blood" / "Shut Up and Dance" vaccuum, but who knows where that is going to come from. None of these Hot Jams are really up to our lofty standards of awesomeness. Help us, Pop Music, give us a Jam worth spreading on our cultural toast.
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