27 September 2015

First Impressions: The Scorch Trials

Before we begin, note that this isn't a joke. Yes, I went and saw The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) in theaters. I rarely do this kind of thing, but I had extremely minor interest in seeing this thing. A friend of mine was pumped for it, and I was a little drunk, so I tagged along. I've now realized that there's a reason why I typically only watch films I am actually excited for. The Scorch Trials was that rare kind of film that was so bad that it actually makes me angry to think about. I was definitely walking out of the theater in a baby-punching mood, full of unrestrained rage that a movie this bad could exist and make someone a profit. Needless to say, SPOILERS from here on out in our discussion of this piece a shit, if you care.

First off, I'll admit that I know next to nothing about The Maze Runner. I know it's a YA adaptation and it's about a kid who runs through a maze or something, and that's about it. I had actually heard good things about The Scorch Trials, though, and I was intrigued by the concept that it was possibly the loosest adaptation of a book to film ever. But I had neither read the books nor seen the first movie. That was perhaps a huge tactical error, although I'm not convinced my seething hatred for this shitty movie is derived solely from my inherent cluelessness of anything going in.

For this reason I have trouble even recounting the plot. Apparently, a bunch of kids are out of whatever maze they were running from and chilling at some weird secret post-apocalyptic holding facility. Sometimes I'll roll my eyes when long-running popular franchises recap what happened last time around, although I really could have used it here. It's kind of a cool idea that Scorch Trials is nothing like The Maze Runner, in the sense that the main characters are completely lifted out of the main high concept and thrown into the greater world at large.

This does offer some weird turns, though. Like, apparently this is a zombie movie? That felt really tacked on, especially since it's presumably totally unmentioned in the first film, which, as is my understanding, focused mostly on giant mechano-bug monsters as the primary antagonists. I liked that the film just did whatever it wanted with plot, but so much of it felt like it was making it up as it went along.
"Dink dink! Dink dink dink dink dink dink!"

Here's a quick pop quiz: name three character traits for Thomas, the lead character played by some young actor that doesn't matter. I can't really think of any. This movie is mind-fuckingly dull despite its continuous chase scenes and constant rolling plot, primarily because the characters are completely underdeveloped. Nothing about them is iconic or interesting. There are a slew of survivors in their little party that are all interchangeable, even some that mysteriously disappear without anyone noticing. Apparently Jack (a character with no lines) had a death scene cut for whatever reason, which is fine, but also results in the strange situation where he is running with the group when they go into an infested mall, but doesn't come out with them, without a single character commenting on the fact that he's just gone.

There are also really long stretches of the film where a slew of main characters are completely absent. We just hang out with Thomas and this girl Brenda for like, an adventure through a busted up city. To be fair, the production design during these scenes is pretty solid. It's kind of mystifying where they are or what is going on or why the only people there is a nightclub that operates during the day with absinthe as admission. Rest assured, this is actually stupider than it sounds. By the end of this potentially dangerous situation, Thomas wakes up with his friends, who apparently had even less interesting adventures while absent from the picture.

I can't believe how long this terrible movie was. At two hours and eighteen minutes it's a complete chore, only made better by the climactic ending that doesn't feel climactic at all. Therefore when it finally ends (and it does just that - it just sort of stops playing at a point that's as good as any other one), it's actually a relieving moment.

Very little of this movie is distinctive or fun or interesting, which really brings it down. The one notable moment may be Giancarlo Esposito's plan to blow up his own HQ at the finale of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight." After that cool character moment tho, there's hardly another scene with him, and his motivations and origin are always crazily hazy.

Speaking of motivations, can we talk about the very real possibility that the shady evil organization, literally called WCKD ("Wicked," as every character calls it, which is the worst name ever), isn't really evil at all? Sure they're deceptive, and harvest young people immune to the Zombie plague (but wait, at one point don't they say that they're no longer immune? That one kid fucking dies from a Zombie scratch!), although they are attempting to save the world. These asshole protagonists just run away for the whole movie towards a half-baked resistance movement called the Right Arm, although it's never clear (to the audience or the characters) what the Right Arm even does or what their ideology is. It's also not like WCKD is dominating society with an iron grip. In fact, it's more like they have one base and a few helicopters, not a super far-reaching dictatorship or anything. It's really frustrating.

As for deeper themes or meaningful content, there isn't much to be said here. Maybe there's a little youth vs. old thing going on, where the kids are the hope for the future but far too stupid to make that distinction worthwhile.

Recounting this film today has filled me with unending fury. It's bogged down by an inconsistent plot and character motivations that are hollow and severely underdeveloped. It's dumb and uninteresting and interchangeable with every other shitty film out there. There is nothing good to be had in a world where this movie exists.

Have a good week! Go see Black Mass (2015).

08 September 2015

The Summer Crown is Here! The Official Summer 2015 Jam Champions! Jampions!

I actually can't believe I've never used the word "Jampion" before. This is it, folks - the moment we've waited for for eighteen long bright sunny awesome weeks - the Annunciation of the Summer Throne. These are the tracks that we'll always remember 2015 by, and let me tell you, they're not that great. Are these immortal songs that we'll be totally rocking out to ten years gone? No. Were they hot this year? You better believe the answer is "Yeah, I guess that was okay." If you haven't gotten the impression yet, I'm of the thought that this year was a little off. I don't even totally agree with the song that I've named as THE Jam of 2015. But hey, dems the breaks. Let's first round-up the last few Jampions since I started paying attention to this nonsense:

2007: Rihanna's "Umberella"
2008: Leona Lewis' "Bleeding in Love"
2009: The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"
2010: Katy Perry's "California Gurls"
2011: LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem"
2012: Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"
2013: Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"
2014: Iggy Azalea's "Fancy"

That is some deep company for whoever joins. As you can tell, some of these songs we have adored for years on, headbanging to the immortal Jam of Summer Nostalgia. Actually I'm not sure that's true for any of these. Is this all just a meaningless exercise in fruitless futility? Is it just Pop Culture Masturbation - a preoccupation with ephemeral artifacts signifying nothing of true meaning in our lives? Probably, but life isn't so great as to do anything otherwise.

At one point or another we talked about fifty-seven songs this summer, which is a ridiculous number. So think of the winner as a true 1 in 57! So, before we dig into the Final Supreme Top Eight, let's quickly run down some of 2015's Also-Rans:

"Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato
"Lean On" by Major Lazer
"Cheerleader" by OMI
"Good for You" by Selena Gomez
"Hey Mama" by David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj
"Fight Song" by Rachel Platten
"Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap
"Renegades" by X Ambassadors
"Marvin Gaye" by Charlie Puth ft. Meghan Trainor
"Somebody" by Natalie La Rose
"Post To Be" by Omarion ft. Jhene Aiko & Chris Brown

Alright, time to get into the real hot shit:

Best Stay in Bed: "Talking Body" by Tove Lo

Weeks on the Jam List: 6 (05/11 - 06/08, 07/06)
Peak: #1 on 05/18

Even thought "Gotta eat the booty like groceries" from "Post To Be" is clearly the best line of the summer, "Talking Body" probably has #2-5. Tove Lo's sophomore jam was mostly a holdover from the Spring that still did pretty damn solid Summer business. It's steeped in an ironic party girl mantra that's equal parts sultry and assertive while also being a genuine head bopper. I can still listen to this jam all day, and that's a good thing.

Summer Tears: "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth

Weeks: 5 (05/11 - 06/01, 07/06)
Peak: #1 on 05/25 and 07/06

Is there anyone who can now hear that first riff without feeling a little well of tears? One of the hugest songs of the year to pair with one of the biggest films of the year (for some reason I don't think "I'm in Love with a Monster" will surpass it...), it's also totally the saddest Summer Jam Ever. This ruled the charts for most of the earlier Summer Months, but it burned off a lot of its hotness in April when it dropped upon ears that will never be the same again. It says a lot for its staying power that it did turn itself into a notable Summer Jam on its own right.

So Much: "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink

Weeks: 6 (05/11, 06/08, 07/13, 07/27 - 08/03, 08/31)
Peak: #1 on 08/03

Probably the worst song on this wrap-up, "Worth It" somehow just never went away this Summer. It's one of no other songs to be feature on the premiere week of the Countdown along with the penultimate week. With appearances on the List in May, June, July, and August, it's no slouch at all. This is all relatively unbelievable, and while it certainly peaked around the July/August crossover, it also had periods where it seemed to fade away from our consciousness. Can Fifth Harmony cross over and become one of our Greatest Pop Bands ever? No, not a chance. I still cant' tell any of them apart after listening to this all Summer.

Hillbilly Love Jams: "Honey, I'm Good" by Andy Grammer

Weeks: 6 (05/18 - 06/22)
Peak: #1 on 06/15 - 06/22

Andy Grammer's bizarre cornfed pop tribute to monogamy was a Huge Jam this Summer, mostly by way of its extreme distinctiveness, to the point of novelty, along with its sublime catchiness. It's so damn summery, with a peppy uplifting beat and an extremely positive message that works pretty well in spite of any corniness that could be attributed to its doe-eyed thematic material. I probably actually ignored this Jam's run longer that I should have as well, although I think it finished high enough to make everyone happy here.

Numb Jams: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

Weeks: 7 (07/27 - 09/07)
Peak: #1 on 08/10 and 08/31

"Can't Feel My Face" ruled over the back half of Summer, appearing on the last seven consecutive Jam Lists, and could probably be on the 09/14 List if it existed. It's got a lot of life left in it, and The Weeknd is all but assured to be a huge pop star, if he's interested. You kind of get the vibe that he doesn't give a shit, which of course makes him more appealing. His voice, and even some of his fiery dance moves are totally Michael Jackson-esque and there's certainly a possibility of a bright future. You know, as long as he cuts down on the pedophilia. I'm sure he'll be alright.

All Eyes Over Here: "Watch Me" by Silentó

Weeks: 11 (06/15, 07/06 - 09/07)
Peak: #1 on 08/17 - 08/24

I guess it was kind of lost on me that this spent TEN CONSECUTIVE WEEKS on the Summer Jam List, which is crazy. It was always a presence, though, and not exactly dominating, until very late in its run. It was still the Dance Jam of Summer 2015, and by August, every white person ever knew how to Stanky Leg. Take that or leave it, but High School Senior Silentó clearly had a better Summer than any of us. He will never have another hit jam. Ever. Enjoy this novelty jam while you can!

Robbed? "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar

Weeks: 11 (05/25, 06/08 - 07/25, 08/24 - 08/31)
Peak: #1 on 06/29, 07/20 - 07/27

I feel full of regret already that this didn't become the Summer Jam of 2015. Look at these stats - eight consecutive weeks on the Jam List, three number one spots in the Heart of Summer, appearances in every month but September, it's astonishing. There's also no other music video that caused more buzz or cultural waves this Summer. The pairing of Tay Sway and Kendrick is perhaps the hottest mish-mash of current musical icons, and both had huge albums and singles drop within the past year. I may have to retroactively adjust this in years to come, but the stats just don't lie for our number one song, even if I do sort of think that longevity and diversity in Summer Jam List appearances may be worth a little more than pure numbers But without further adieu...

#1 Stunna: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

Weeks: 10 (05/11 - 07/13)
Peak: #1 on 05/11, 06/01 - 06/08, 07/13

"Shut Up and Dance" wins from dominating the early half of Summer, and even though its ten weeks are less than both "Watch Me" and "Bad Blood," it was far more potent. Never in its history did it drop below the third place spot, and it did that only once. It's a fairly mind-blowing achievement, but it was also achieved in a vacuum before many other Jams dropped this Summer. All in all, it was a slow start to the Season, and if you remember, even "Bad Blood" didn't really catch on with significant airplay when it first dropped.

All this bitching is taking away from "Shut up and Dance," which is totally a legit fun song that I predicted early on would take the Gold Crown. It's danceable, singable, and cruisable, which really does make for an excellent Summer Jam. Doesn't the pit of your stomach scream "Bad Blood" tho?

What do you think? Have we made a serious error? Is 2015 if the Immortal Summer of "Bad Blood"? Will this mirred controversy signify the end of Norwegian Morning Wood's Summer Jam List Week Counts? Should we reanalyze our methods to include more cultural chatter and less radiotime? Can we acknowledge the breadth of traditional media death in favor of more relevant metrics such as YouTube and Spotify plays? Does any of this matter since this, as mentioned before, is an exercise in masturbation devoid of meaning beyond a quick fix - a fleeting high only as good as the next irreverent Pop Jam to replace it? THE #1 SPOT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MACKLEMORE'S DOWNTOWN!

G'nite everybody!

07 September 2015

Summer Jam Week 18: End the Summer Downtown

It's been a long road, folks - longer than any other Summer in the History of Summers. Or at least in the time that we've been tracking Summer Jams, which is like six years. Six Long Years. The Entire History of Summers. But in an unprecedented Week 18 we have more a preview of the Best of Fall Crop than an exclamation point to the Classic Summer Jams we spent the last 18 weeks rocking out to. Summer is over, people. It's Labour Day - a simultaneous Day of Tears for children and Summer Jam Lovers across the country, and a day of joyous lazy celebration for day labourers and telethon enthusiasts. Let's dive into the Last of All Lists:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Dooo It!" by Miley Cyrus

To the ends of earth I'll defend Bangerz as one of the best Modern Pop Albums we've had in the past decade, and also Miley's freewheeling scandalous ways, because I just don't really care. She's an American, she can do whatever she wants. That being said, her attention-grabbing personality seems to be especially ramped up lately, and it's tough to listen to either this song or watch this video and not feel like it's more about putting eyes on her and jaws dropped than fulfilling any kind of musical artistry. Her stint hosting the VMAs was very similar. That's all fine, but it works better the way she worked in a few years back when she had the musical credentials to back up her ego-tripping nonsense.

Hudson Valley: "Renegades" by X Ambassadors

Stepping in the opposite direction of Miley is the X Ambassadors, which I can only assume is some kind of International X-Men Team designed to maintain peace with Genosha or Latveria or something. This song's understated Jamness rips it up for one final week, in part due to Jeep Renegade commercials and my attendance at Hudson Valley minor league baseball games.

R&B Jam of the Week: "Bet" by Tinashe

I won't even talk about the title's similarities to Ciara's "I Bet" or the simple fact that it feels totally like a Ciara video, but I wanted to throw in one last R&B Jam like I did in the beginning of Summer before I forgot about it and stopped caring. Tinashe is one of the best B-level female R&B artists out there today, and even if this song is pretty bad and unpopular, I know one thing's for sure - you just read a paragraph about it thinking you'd learn something substantial.

Hotel Mansylvania: "I'm In Love With a Monster" by Fifth Harmony

There's not really a more pathetic video out there today. Am I the only one who actually feels a solid amount of sympathy for these young women watching this thing? It's got to be the greatest paycheck video of all time. Why is Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015) deserving of a hot Autumn Jam? Can you imagine any self-regarding artist writing and passionately performing a marketing tie-in to a desperate animated sequel to a truly terrible, flashy, tepid film like Hotel Transylvania (2012)? Fifth Harmony scored big with "Worth It" this Summer, definitely bigger than I'd ever think possible, and this jam has that same sort of earworm feel, but it's also so weirdly designed to sell sex to children that I'm beginning to have issues with it on moral grounds in addition to the general terribleness of the composition and purely commercial motivation. Catchy tho.

Get Into My Car: "Wildest Dreams" by Tay Sway

Is it possible that this is the song that proves Taylor Swift to be mortal? It's the first single off 1989 that I haven't loved immediately, and now that that's my Tay Sway standard, I'm ready to completely write it off. It doesn't feel as fresh or hip as "Blank Space" or "Bad Blood" did when it first hit my earballs, even if the "Bad Blood" music video probably clouded all of my critical judgment of its audial qualities. This is a forgettable track, though and my life can move on without listening to this a thousand more times, which is new for Pop Star Taylor. That being said, it's hard to believe this doesn't kick ass, even if already it does seem like it doesn't have the sheer cultural force of her other 1989 Jams.

Eyes at Attention: "Watch Me" by Silentó

At this point, "YA'LL ALREADY KNOW WHO IT IS!!!!!" ought to be all I have to say. Silentó keeps it real down to the very end after all, in part due to the sheer cultural ubiquity and saturation he achieved during this past month. "Watch Me" will be played at every College and High School Homecoming Dance this year, even as the young people are TOTALLY OVER IT come October. It's all good, brother. We'll get our bops and duffs on in Silentó's honour long after he's a total has been. Next week, that is.

Numb Butts: "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

Now is truly The Weeknd's time to shine. He's become notable enough that people actually care about his backstory. He was totally a Toronto High School Dropout Hobo at one point, which is awesome. He's had a phenomenal year, and "Can't Feel My Face" is a legitimate smash.

Sunny Spokane: "Downtown" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, and Eric Nally

This is generally unprecedented, but after all, this is an auspicious week. Debuting in the #1 Spot is "Downtown," and while there may have been bigger jams this week, I listened to none on repeat like this. It's almost surprising to remember that Macklemore spent 2014 with no new songs, after The Heist was pretty much used up, as great as that first crop of singles were. "Downtown" is a tremendous return - equal parts old school hip-hop, funk fusion, and huge arena rock. It's a breathtaking mixture of parts that have no business working together. And since this is the last week I have to talk about this Jam, I want to talk about it. A lot. Deal with it.

Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz, and Melle Mel are bizarre additions to the song, if only because it seems like a fairly transparent attempt to place Macklemore in league with these great forefathers of Hip-Hop, even if their names are honestly relatively unknown to casual Rap lovers today. And Melle Mel is huge! What's up with that?!

The "Safety Dance" rip-off is also supremely evident, and there's nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that Macklemore insists it's not a sample. Seriously, that's straight up Vanilla Ice logic, bro. There is an odd thematic gap here when Macklemore pays homage to the Grandfathers of Rap while merely caping disparate styles. Eric Nally, who somehow never sounded this good in Foxy Shazam, is so clearly channeling Freddie Mercury here, that it also seems built more upon the greatness of previous icons rather than providing anything original. The dissonance here is then of course the fact that you literally can't get more original than Kool Moe Dee and company - they invented a genre of music for goodness sake!

"Downtown" is forgiven though, by just how well it mixes these copied elements. The song's first half is dramatically different than its conclusion, which is an awe-inspiring assault on the ears, and the video itself reflects the song's contents tremendously. I've got to give director Ryan Lewis some serious credit for framing his shots fantastically well. I'd legitimately get behind him taking over a feature, even if the official credits name Jason Koenig and Ben Haggerty as contributors. Maybe Ryan Lewis sucks. The direction reminds me a lot of "White Walls" which also just mashed up a ton of different elements seamlessly with iconic reverence that didn't look like it was trying at all.

It's also shot in Spokane, which is apparently Ryan Lewis' hometown, even though it's so clearly meant to be Seattle - with Ken Griffey Jr being the most obvious connection. Has anyone unlocked the mystery of the young scared afro dude on the fire escape Lewis zooms in on three times?

Well, that's it. It's been fun, folks. Make sure to check back tomorrow for when we crown the champion!!
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