30 June 2016

Meet Me Halfway - The Best Movies Seen in 2016 So Far

I like this idea of tracking and judging the movies I've seen in 2016, which is not necessarily a bunch of films that came out in 2016. Of course, contemporary films have an advantage since they're usually accompanied by a lot of anticipation and investment, while older films are typically more like catching up on things everyone else has seen already (or stuff that no one has seen, which is often my case). Never in the history of Norwegian Morning Wood have I done a mid-year end-of-June check-up, because I think it's really stupid and click-bait-y, but I am curious about saving myself some time come December. So, you can find the list of every single movie and television show down to the episode right here. We'll go through that in January 2017 with a needless in-depth analysis like we did last year, but our basic stats:

Movies watched: 114 - well on my goal of 200 for the year
Movies watched for the First Time: 62

Obviously, we need to boil this into a Top Ten. I will generally consider this a list of films that really stuck with me; that I'm still thinking about a few months down the line. These movies had some impact, whether it was a unique story, a unique way of telling the story, great acting, writing, cinematography, or whatever. So using that as a jumping off point for my criteria, I boiled down this list, in order that I saw it and how:

The Duke of Burgundy (2015) - Netflix Streaming
Deadpool (2016) - Theater
Rope (1948) - Netflix DVD
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) - Theater
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - Netflix Streaming
Do the Right Thing (1989) - DVD
Melancholia (2011) - Netflix Streaming
The Lost Weekend (1945) - Netflix DVD
The Witch (2016) - Netflix DVD
Inside Out (2015) - Netflix DVD

This is such a weird mix. I think just because of recency I might go with The Witch as my #1 Overall right now and Do the Right Thing as my #10 (everything else in between - play around with that), but that kind of ranking is ultimately so arbitrary. Also in this case, ridiculously individualized. Of course, what I'm curious about now is come December 31st which films get tossed and which hold their ground.

I also really want to talk about the worst films I've seen, which is pretty fun and remarkably easy:

Self/less (2015) - Netflix DVD
The Last Witch Hunter (2015) - Netflix DVD
Escape from L.A. (1996) - Netflix Streaming
Zoolander No. 2 (2016) - Netflix DVD
The Do-Over (2016) - Netflix Streaming

Self/less is somehow a worse movie than The Do-Over and without question gets my nod for worst film seen in 2016 so far. I Netflix DVD'd that motherfucker!

What's tough is that there were a ton more films that were pretty good but just not quite there to make the list. I really enjoyed The End of the Tour (2015) and Late Phases (2014) but were they better than Rope? Even throwing over to gems from the underseen (Cooties [2014]), surprisingly underrated (Puss in Boots [2011]), and gloriously campy (Turbo Kid [2015]), these films deserve some recognition but for whatever reason are held back, because "pinastri" and "Gimme a Rye!" still echo in my head. It's a tough racket, and the important thing is that you can't watch Melancholia every day. You'll feel like the world is ending. Some days you really need Hell and Back (2015) in your life (which I wanted to mention only to say that it's obviously the best movie that Nick Swardson has ever done. It still kind of sucks).

Part of this point is that this actually isn't helping me out in December at all, because come December I may be way more into Sicario (2015) than I am into 10 Cloverfield Lane right now. And that's a big reason why I revise my year-end lists constantly. That's another January thing to do. January 2017 is going to rule.

So that's where we are at the year's midpoint. Ahead we certainly have a ton of great new releases to look forward to, as well as many more DVDs to catch up on. Stay tuned, true believers!

27 June 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 7: Dancing All the Way to Independence

We've reached Week Seven, folks, and as we close out June and head towards the Fourth of July weekend, it's time for the Summer Jam to really get into full swing. The kids are out of school, no one really cares about being at work, the country is boiling it's time to GET DOWN.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Dance Off" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Idris Elba

I never thought I'd get to say "ft. Idris Elba" in one of these things, but I'm glad to do that here. It's remarkable how much he intones Vincent Price in "Thriller" considering if he's anyone he's the exact opposite of Vincent Price. It's just that menace in this voice and the Thriller-esque synths that start blaring. I'm still wholly on #TeamMacklemore, but I kind of get the impression that the rest of the country is over him. To be fair, his flow seems identical to his work on "Downtown" here, and even though their style is still very unique and independent, which ends up being refreshing compared to the rest of the industry, they haven't quite topped themselves yet. I generally really enjoy Ryan Lewis' direction as well, from his clever push-ins, cohesive framing, and overall embrace of goofiness. This Jam's hotness is fueled by an impressive Tonight Show performance this week, but I'd be surprised if it has a lot of staying power.

That One Shot: "All In My Head" by Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap

I don't know how they got Fetty Wap to sing-rap over this (I also didn't realise he hasn't cut his hair since last summer), but unlike Tyga, he's actually not the worst part of this track, even if he's still unnecessary. To be fair, "Work From Home" could have nabbed the spot, but I love how soulless and manufactured this is. It's so obvious in its exploitation and cookie-cutter shittiness, yet the group has found some success. And of course, there's this one shot here. Now you have my attention. Thsi song could so easily stand in for any other pop song ever. I just listened to it twice and can't recall the beat.

Take a Cab: "Ride" by twenty one pilots

Wait, this video came out a year ago? Well, fuck it. This track's gained a lot of momentum on the radio and has been stuck in my head for a while now. It's pretty catchy if not a life-changing song. Twenty one pilots has had a bit of an upsurge recently, but I can't help feel like they'll turn out like X Ambassadors or MAGIC! where we'll never actually hear about them again. They're a trivia question, not a band with real potential. The also had that new Suicide Squad (2016) tie-in song this week, but I literally never heard it.

Like a Doll's Eyes: "Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande

So I named Ariana Grande my #1 SNL host this past season, but despite her natural screen charisma whenever she's on that show, she seems so damn dead in all her music videos. She just kind of stands there like she's too cold and has no idea what to do with her hands. It's really weird. Got a mean set of pipes, though, and this has started to grow on me like a mole I gotta check out. I've ignored it somewhat so far this summer, but it's worthy of acknowledgement and could make some waves it if stays hot.

Tripped Out Mellowed Down: "Up & Up" by Coldplay

This song isn't that popular, but this video is sweet and I wanted to ramble about it. I don't think anyone really cares about Coldplay anymore - they seemed to even know that during their Super Bowl performance a few months ago where they had Bruno Mars and Beyonce, both previous Big Game acts, throw down a far more memorable performance. This song is nearly indistinguishable from anything else Recent Coldplay has put out. Their last great album was clearly Mylo Xyloto, and the rest, while not really bad, just doesn't give me any reason to listen. But I like I said, this video rules.

I Like Your Style: "One Dance" by Drake ft. Whatever

You know, this SNL video is like, the only genuine Drake-voiced version of this jam on YouTube. I'm fine with that, but when is this shit dropping a music video?! It's been atop the Billboard charts forever now, surveying and commanding all the land within earshot. I almost left this off but I'm still hearing it a ton, and by now we ought to consider it to have a mighty assault on Summer Jam King status. Which is crazy. Lots of sunshine left, though.

How Low Can You Go?! "Cheap Thrills" by Sia ft .Sean Paul

I suppose I've been unfairly ignoring this jam, mostly because I listened to This is Acting like 40 times in a row when it came out, and this is one of the best songs off the album, so when I've been hearing it as a single it already found its way into my playlists back in February. Needless to say, this jam is spectacular and it's actually surging pretty well in popularity. Sidebar: I always thought the hook went "How Low Can You Go?!" instead of the proper "I Love Cheap Thrills!" which is perhaps the worst Mondegreen ever. Despite the words being the song's title, it wasn't until the music video that I figured it out. A music video, which is of course, awesome. I'll give Sia credit for not going with interpretive dance again, like she's done with every single other video ever, which works, but this is a nice breakout that's still damn fine.

JT RULES ALL: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake

They really gotta get that Dreamworks Animation Trolls off this song. No one's going to see Trolls (2016). But this was everywhere this week. Even though it seems to be up and down, this seems to be the proper duel for Drake and maybe "Panda" for Throne Status right now. Of course, we're still waiting for a proper jam to drop, which cold come from anywhere at this point.

Next week...

Has anyone noiced how hard Lil' Wayne is trying to drop a big new single? "OFF OFF OFF"? "Skate it Off"? "Sucker for Pain"? None of these songs are very good. I've also been looking at "Don't Mind" by Kent Jones, but I don't think the hotness is quite there. With some videos on YouTube FINALLY I was also close to throwing Beyonce's "Sorry" back on here, which would also pair nicely with Adele's new jam, but I didn't really hear them this week.

24 June 2016

Aliens, Slavery, and Big Ol' Meanie Shark Help Us Close Out June

Every Friday this Summer we've been discussing the cultural, critical, and commercial merits of the big blockbuster wide-release films dropping each week. This season has been stunning for both its plethora of releases as well as how little anyone seems to care about them. Week in and week out there have been a lot of titles dropped, some more intriguing than others, but it's almost as if nothing has gotten a fair shake.

Of course, the real point is that audiences seem to be going for movies that they want to see. It's not a sequel or prequel thing. Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) and Finding Dory (2016) have had phenomenal openings, and in the case of the latter, which just came out last week, is assured to have a healthy run at the box office. It wasn't a secret that no one cared about Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). Anyone could have told you that was a terrible idea.

So now we're on to the Final Weekend of June - even though June 24th feels like there's a lot of month left. There are three big releases hitting the multiplex today with a couple of smaller ones that are even more interesting. In descending order we have Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), The Shallows (2016), and Free State of Jones (2016). Clawing around down there we also have releases of Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon (2016), at a mild 1000 theaters, and Swiss Army Man (2016), which looked like one of the most original films of the year, at way more limited theaters than that. Why don't more people want to see a magical dead farting Harry Potter? We could talk about these all day, but this is blockbuster territory, baby! Neon Demon and Swiss Army Man both almost assuredly have some spots on year-end lists (although reviews for Demon so far aren't as ecstatic as I might have thought they'd be), so they'll get their time. It's always about the Indie Films! They can't get enough attention. Let's back up and talk about those big releases in reverse order, starting with Free State of Jones.

This is a really interesting flick, all in its release position, subject matter, timeliness, and content. Regardless if his negative reasoning is founded or not, Snoop Dogg did have a point when he remarked that there are too many slave movies hanging around recently. This kind of started with Django Unchained (2012), continued with 12 Years a Slave (2013), sidetracked with the Roots revival, sees Free State of Jones this week and in the fall, the high profile The Birth of a Nation (2016) which looks to replicated 12 Years' Oscar nabs.
Alright alright alright

I don't really think we can have too many slavery movies in the same way we can't have too many Westerns, or any other genre, but they do seem to be blurring together somewhat. You can't help but wonder if the commercial, critical, and financial success of Django and 12 Years has more to do with this than a desire to tell an important American narrative. Slavery in particular is also not as cavalier as a Western. Western's don't feature the most brutal subjugation of another race of people in our history (wait a minute...shit. The West sucked), or at least not part of its genre trappings. We're not here to debate whether or not that's a jingoistic choice (see: The Lone Ranger [2013]), but the centering upon brutality is something that's somewhat inherent to slave movies, which makes their repeated release exhausting, while they're difficult to ignore without slipping into calls of racism.

Free State of Jones might actually buck that brutality trend. It doesn't seem so much a film about the horrors of slavery than it is about the unlikely rising up of a town against a county they find unfit to hold them. There's a little more hope here than this territory typically treads.

Of course, this slavery movie featuring Matthew McConaughey feels a little like The Last Nigga On Earth starring Tom Hanks. Django and 12 Years were not only great platforms for black actors but also told inherently black stories. Even though there's a lot of white dudes controlling shit in Django I remarked when I first saw it that by the end it seeks to tell a tale of black redemption, revenge, and heroism that's we rarely see in cinema. Of course, there's all kind of racism in the other direction, including a long history of calling McConaughey's character Newt Knight (his actual name) a race traitor and deserter. Mississippi is fucked up.

Django was obviously notable due to both its novelty, style, and directorial pedigree attached. 12 Years a Slave was another excellent film crafted by a great director that has now almost created the slaver movie template that offered the genre as a viable Awards candidate. Free State of Jones seems interesting, but lacks either hook, and ends up feeling more repetitive than innovative. McConaughey, who's still riding the McConaissance surely had a lot to do with this film getting made and released, although it seems like a strange role to take for a guy who could make any film he wanted. Maybe not - that White Saviour role has to be appealing to anyone. That this would be released in the middle of Summer is also bizarre, frankly. What kids are going to line up for Free State of Jones after Graduation? I think this could crash and burn, and depending on how good The Birth of a Nation really is (I would be a little shocked if it won Best Picture so soon after 12 Years a Slave stole its fire), this could end up being that middle slavery movie that we all forget about. Or we just remember it as "ohhh yeah - the McConaughey one."

Next up is The Shallows, which has in the space of a week gone from something completely off my radar. I can't remember my mode of through seven weeks ago, but in my summer preview I described it as: "No one knows what this shit is. Move on." That was for a July 1st release. They might have moved it up. Or I screwed up. I can't be expected to remember such things. Obviously, I did no research (I'm not sure much more than "Blake Lively Shark Movie" was out there, which seems really lame). Then they dropped this trailer and holy shitballs on a sandwich am I hooked. Here you go:

There's only two shots you really need to sell this trailer. The first is the shot of the Shark's image in the wave as Blake is riding it. It's a perfect sinister moment where the audience is aware of danger that the protagonist doesn't know about while also being really cool. It's as threatening as it is campy. The second is that final shot of poor Blake stranded atop the rocks or coral or whatever, while the massive Shark stalks around here. Everything you need to know about the film is there. She's stuck. She needs to get past a massive, hungry shark. The tide is rising. GO! All the other trailers have been pretty good, and this film has done masterful work providing a reason to watch it in like, the two weeks that commercials have started airing.

Now, commercially, it's still a tough sell. The Shallows isn't a four-quadrant film. Massive audiences will see Independence Day, adults will probably see Free State of Jones (they've even incorporated that into their recent marketing), and kids are still doping on Finding Dory (2016). That leads a narrow gap for everyone else. Then again, if audiences get turned off of seeing the same stupid shit in Resurgence, The Shallows could be an easy fallback. It's not totally a horror film, although it's certainly billed as such. Anyone wanting to get their fix of violence before The Purge: Election Year (2016) drops could jump in on this.

If this is more like JAWS (1975), which is obviously the Shark Movie high-water mark and less like Open Water (2003), I predict good things. It runs a crisp 87 minutes, which ought to refreshingly tell a focused story with severe stakes, palpable tension, and just about everything you could want out of a giant shark movie. Resurgence is 150 minutes and supposedly stretches across a whole shitload of characters. These are suddenly weirdly opposite movies that both deal with strange creatures trying to kill poor humans.

I do enjoy the mostly daylight setting - Horror in Paradise, baby! The color seems really sharp, though, as if it's highly saturated, giving the whole picture an unnatural feel that just adds to the uneasiness. This is obviously my pic for this week and I hope it does well. With a $17 million production budget against Resurgence's purported $200 million it ought to at least make its money back.

So with that, let's move on to Resurgence, but before we do, let's rewind the clocks twenty years back to 1996. Independence Day (1996) was an event. It was THE movie to see that summer, in a way that's hardly been replicated since. For a while there it had my respect as that one mega-blockbuster sci-fi epic that always stood on its own. It had its place among the Pantheon of Immortal Box Office Titans and was secure in that fact. So, what made the original so great but the new one kind of meh? Flavorwire recently had a fantastic piece about Summer '96 including this summary that I cannot say better:

Its release date was right there in the title, a reminder with every poster, bus ad, TV spot, and gaze-at-the-skies trailer that the aliens were coming to the multiplex over Fourth of July weekend. The movie was so ubiquitous, in fact, that there almost seemed a subtextual tie to the holiday’s patriotism. This wasn’t just a movie that was available to you – it was a movie that it was your duty as an American to see. Or, as MST3K’s Mike Nelson wrote at the time of these “Big Gulp-style films,” “They’re Must-See movies. Not to see them is to risk revocation of citizenship and eventual deportation.”
All of this is critical. The release date was in the title, and the general populace knew it was coming six months ahead of time. It was a truly American film, something that families saw on vacation, one bristling with patriotism but lacking jingoism. It is epic in every possible way, and of course, it had one-liners, Jeff Goldblum coming off Jurassic Park (1993), and probably most importantly, Will Smith, who in this masterstroke made the transition from syndicated TV actor to Global Megastar in one fell swoop.

I don't really think that feeling is as palpable this time around. It also helps that the original did a lot to canonize the massive alien invasion trope and served as the template for films and TV to come from Futurama to Battle: Los Angeles (2011). Resurgence could never originate that and so comes across as another follow-up rather than something that actually pushes the genre. This is of course, nothing new, and it would seem to take the Jurassic World (2015) route in long-term sequels in taking what worked from the first film, making it bigger and badder, and splicing in a lot of homage. That's clearly a good strategy for sequels: essentially remaking the first film in all but name.

I do really enjoy the fact that Resurgence seeks to craft an alternate earth history of the past twenty years and demonstrate how the alien invasion changed the world. That's actually something that hasn't quite been done before. Oblivion (2013) showed us the aftereffects of a successful alien invasion, but there hasn't been a film that shows us what happens twenty years after the humans win. It's a decently interesting hook. Jurassic World did about the same thing, but when the previous films' events were concentrated on a single island, Independence Day very much shook up the entire planet. Extrapolating everything that followed is a monumental task, and the film looks like it's handled it well.
Remember that impossibly big ship in the last one?
Well this one's even bigger! We still got nuclear bombs
 and 90s-level computer viruses, right?

There are a lot of comparisons to Jurassic World here, but one big conceit of the film was that they would never be able to surpass the original, which is simultaneously a brilliant meta-move and a somewhat depressing concession. Resurgence doesn't really seem to have that kind of acknowledgment, perhaps due to the fact that while Independence Day is a reasonably well-regarded film and surely made a ton of bank, it's never been acknowledged as a perfect blockbuster or an adored piece of our shared childhood. It's a whole lot more blowhardy and insane, although not as in-your-face as a Michael Bay aesthetic. Indeed, often in his career, Roland Emmerich is seen as this sort of Bay-Lite who specializes in global destruction. From Godzilla (1998) to The Day After Tomorrow (2004) to 2012 (2009), this is readily apparent. His schtick seems to be giant globe-spanning stories with a lot of interweaving characters. Still, he finds some heart more than Bay does in a lot of them, perhaps at the expense of a stylization of method to accompany the ridiculous on screen.

It is amazing that the Aliens always choose the Fourth of July weekend to attack. Although why is this coming out on June 24th!? I'd almost expect some people to see it next weekend naturally thinking that's when it comes out. It's tough to call what kind of cheddar this flick pulls in. When its closest comparison is Jurassic World, we're talking a ton of change. I don't think the anticipation is that high, though. And there's been rough backlash to sequels this summer. Still, it feels like more a must-see than Through the Looking Glass or X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), perhaps precisely because it's been so long since the original and even though demand has been there, no sequel movement has ever been made. The story is also reasonably communicated, and even though it's derivative ("They're invading! Again!"), there's enough cohesive world-building to sell it. If Will Smith had returned that really would have put it over the edge. It's bizarre to me that he chose Suicide Squad over this, even though hype is bigger for that, and the prospect of franchising over there is possibly more lucrative. Still, he feels more like a bit part there in a series that's bigger than him, which feels like an odd choice. Or Emmerich just axed him. Who really knows.

So far very few people have actually seen this movie, but so far the general consensus is that it matches its predecessor, in the sense that it's still a big dumb explosion-y movie (although Independence Day is surely a giant in storytelling compared to most blockbusters today). This is a huge step, though. To be as much of a cultural landmark as the original, though, it really needs to do something spectacular. I'm not sure "Bigger Death Star" really cuts it. Instead of feeling like THE event of Summer it more feels like one or two events of summer. Then again, I'd consider our only other big events of the summer being Ghostbusters (2016), Star Trek Beyond (2016), and Jason Bourne (2016), and honestly, how pumped are you for any of those? Ghosbusters will probably end up being the highlight, and with three clear weeks of sailing, Resurgence could be in for a surprisingly good time.

Obviously, I'm dismissing The BFG (2016) and Tarzan because holy shit, who cares.

That's a lot to take in this week. Again, I'm totally on #TeamShallows. What say you?

23 June 2016

Six Days Ago Was Our Seven-Year Anniversary

That's hard to believe!

I also don't care too much about anniversaries. I used to. We had a one, two, and three-year anniversary post, mostly recounting my favourite pieces of the previous year. My Jurassic World (2015) post was on our Six-Year last year and we celebrated Year Five with 22 Jump Street (2014). Neither had an acknowledgment of our accomplishment.

But Seven Years is a ridiculously long time to be blogging as semi-often as I do. It's kind of amazing to me to look back at the 726 articles I've posted on this site, especially as idiosyncratic most of them are, straddling the line between importance and ephemeral debate. I love going back and reading random things like my thoughts on Extract (2009) or when Lady GaGa and Katy Perry both had weird saxophone videos in Summer 2011. Doesn't that seem so damn long ago?

This particular post was spurred by a random thought I had the other day, though, which actually really coincidentally aligns with this anniversary, as semi-late as it is. I had a feeling as if my ramblings here have become longer and more incoherent, especially as this blog has devolved into a weekly round-up of Summer movies (re-reading my first Road to a Blockbuster post was interesting - I was apparently originally inspired by THOR [2011], which is amazing) and Summer Jams from May to August, end-of-year wrap up lists in December, and Oscar coverage from January to February. That's really the mold we've settled into. Of course, this blog has rarely been about anything traditional, and we've been fairly careless in picking up and dropping a lot of ideas both good and bad. Of course we're also rarely beholden to anything, which means shit can change at any time. Still, there's something freeing about just finding a place on the internet to riff on both franchise potential and how much I want to see The Shallows (2016) over Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). That post is actually coming out tomorrow. This blog can be anything, which is why it's a special distillation of whatever's in my brain that week.

But that's totally off target. My random thought the other day that the previous paragraph alluded to, was "What has been my longest post?" After some digging, there's no real direct answer, although in a more simpler way, this is that direct answer:

On December 19th, 2015 I spent 3757 words on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). That should be no surprise to anyone, and by a solid (but not crazy) margin, it gets the nod for the longest rant in one space on one topic. We get into trickier territory when I have spent a bit more words on the same topic spread out over multiple posts:

Technically these were two distinct posts because I saw the film in question twice in theaters and just found that much more to say about it, but I spent a whopping 3981 words on Transformers: Revenge of the Swollen (2009) within the first month of this blog's history - on June 25th and July 5th, 2009. I only talked about Dark of the Moon (2011) for 3103 (again over two posts) and Age of Extinction (2014) for 2211.

I beat that mark in 2012 when over the course of three posts in four days I discussed The Dark Knight Rises (2012) over the course of 4488 words. Looking back on that last one, I really thought I had misspelled "health." This feat was actually surpassed a month prior when discussing an even MORE derided film, albeit one that I very much enjoyed at the time, which I'll get to in a bit. 2012 was a busy summer.

In 2009 when this blog first started, it would appear I had even more to say about nothing...Posts About Nothing in particular... It was as if I had finally found an outlet to my brain so it just poured all over the Internet. Spread out over ten days time were three posts about Jerry Seinfeld's character on Seinfeld, first on September 29, then on the 30th, then on October 8th. These came to 4557 words in total.

So back to 2012, for some reason I found it necessary to talk about Prometheus (2012) over a whopping three posts (with only one viewing in theaters) that amounted to 4607 words, which is the most I've ranted about a single film, album, television show, video game, sporting event, or whatever else Norwegian Morning Wood gets up to. For the record, these were on June 13th, 14th, and...14th, 2012. Man, I write a lot in June.

The biggest contiguous series, however, dwarfs all that. This was a series of posts I originally made on Facebok that I added here to give the fledgling little NMW a heafty content boost at its launch. For some reason back in April 2009 I made nine ridiculously long posts analyzing literally everything on TV at that time. There's actually no better Spring 2009 Television capsule that exists, and it's pretty impressive. They were posted to the site in June (of course), and despite the horrendous amount of broken, unhosted images that now plague each post, they're pretty good. No. No. I can't lie to you good people. This is terrible. But these copy n paste jobs gave us the site's most post-heavy month ever (18! It's never been matched!) and can all be found here with progressively more ludicrous titles:

Bryan Loves Television Part 1: Reality Bites
Bryan Loves Television Part II: The Flat and the Furriest
Bryan Loves Television Part III: 2 Flat 2 Furriest
Bryan Loves Televison Part IV: The Flat and the Furriest 3: TV-MA Drift
Bryan Loves Televison Part Cinco: Drama Day Care
Bryan Loves Television Part Seis: Drama Day Cable
Bryan Loves Television Part G: Dr. Strangelaugh or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comedy
Bryan Loves Television Part H: A Jokework Orange
Bryan Loves Televison Part 9: All That Other Shit

Holy shit, I actually just straight-up posted URLs into the text. What the hell is wrong with me?

Notice the numbering - like, with sequels within the sequels to the series and casual switching from Arabic to Roman to Spanish Words to letters. Going from "3" to "Cinco" really throws me off, even though it's actually "Part IV" to "Part Cinco." What the hell, Bryan. It's amazing that this wasn't accessible or didn't catch on!

This all comes out to 13,273 words which is about three and a half times more than I cared to spend on The Force Awakens. It's a weird read for sure, decently undeveloped, and riddled with awkward sentences and horrible structure. We surely this day don't have that issue any longer beround these parts.

So we're seven years in. At some point last year I wasn't sure if I had yet set out to do everything I wanted to do with this blog. I mean, Best Movie Swears? The Straight-To-DVD Drawn Together Movie? What else is there? That latter post actually got a ton of hits because of its somewhat racy image. Of cartoons. Internet, baby!

We've certainly had a dip in posts, especially last fall and this past winter. I don't totally care about that, really. This might be a nice chance to break out of our Summer Jam - End of Year Lists - Oscar Prediction rut we're quagmired in right now, but then again, that's all I really want to do unless something fanciful like Mortal Kombat X strikes me again. I don't totally see a reason to stop doing this, though. I wouldn't really feel complete without it at this point. Getting shit out of my brain and on to the Internet for everyone to see forever (except the broken links, images, and taken-down / account information changed YouTube videos) is therapeutic, energizing, and damn fun.

So here's to seven more years, then seven more, then maybe like, three or four after that.

What say ye, loyal reader - what do you want to see more of in the next seven years? Leave one below.

20 June 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 6: Rise of the Pop

Into the throws of June we descend and as a complete reaction to a shift in what kind of radio I happened to randomly listen to, this week's Winners List is decidedly more pop-y. Still, that's what Summer is all about. In this personal journey across the great months of Sunship there are moments of great rock, hip-hop, and pop that spring up unexpectedly. Here's what we're laying down Week Six:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Give Me Your Love" by Sigala ft. John Newman, Nile Rodgers

It might just be the sight of Nile Rodgers pounding away on a guitar that reminds me of "Get Lucky," but this is a mighty funky jam that deserves some props this summer. It's got a thumping, if not overwrought hook and while Rodgers is clearly the best part of this track, it moves along at that exact intersection between chill and energetic that summer's all about.

The Queen's Reign Continues: "Send My Love" by Adele

Give me your love...send my love...pop needs to make up its mind. This isn't "Hello" level in ubiquity or grandiosity but it's worth a listen n glisten. Adele throws her all into this again and feels like she's trying to break more singles than Rihanna and Beyonce right now. No, that's not possible. I think this track actually has some steep valleys in between its sweeping chorus that could be worked on. I don't think this is a mega-jam but worth keeping an ear on.

Black and White and Heard All Over: "Panda" by Desiigner

This wasn't all over the place this week like it has been, but there's still a thick odor of Panda in the air. I'm still totally down with the Panda-takeover, even though I was pretty late to the party. I'm curious what kind of career Desiigner has, because he really doesn't feel like a distinctive rapper at all. This is almost a novelty song rather than something that says anything.

Bebe Baby: "No Broken Hearts" by Bebe Rexha ft. Nicki Minaj

This song's hook weirdly reminds me of "No Guns Allowed" by Snoop Lion. Maybe it's not there. I like Bebe riding her exposure through G-Eazy to crush this song, which feels equal parts epic and fun, the latter part is really the distinguishing aspect for this young lady. She's reveling in her funness here, making her song very listenable and her video extremely watchable. Sure there's also the real slutty dress, but everyone looks like that. It's also an amazing feat that Nicki drags down the song when she comes on rather than providing the highlight.

Country? What the Hell? "My Church" by Maureen Morris

It's so rare that I actually list a country song here. It's really oil and water for me. It just doesn't mix with anything inside me. Still, there's a little Miranda Lambert or Florida Georgia Line that sneaks in from time to time. I actually really like this jam and it's been rising steadily the past few weeks, stealing some play on mainstream pop stations in addition to the country stations that play it way more than "Panda" across this country anyway.

Calvin Harris Tries Again: "This Is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna

If Rihanna can't dominate on her own, she'll do it as a featured artist. I actually didn't recognize her at first because this feels like something Ellie Goulding or Pia Mia would do, but whatever works. This is a typical EDM beat and pretty cookie cutter lyrics, but that's also exactly why it has potential to be pretty popular. In fact, I was tempted to place it even higher, since it felt like I heard it constantly this week, but it's a debut, baby, and we got bigger fish to grill.

See, Rihanna feels like Daya in "This Is What You Came For." That's what I'm going after. This caps off a ridiculous string of pop hits that all sound exactly the same this week. I can't even hum the tunes of like, five of these. Still, it's popular so who cares? I'll listen to the superior Beatles cover.

Jamming Hole: "One Dance" by Drake ft. Who Cares

"One Dance" gets the nod this week not through ubiquity but to fill a gap left by no other real song that's currently taken over the country. This is about the time in Summer where the next big thing needs to drop and destroy everybody. Kids are primed to get out of school and vacation and summer camps are about to start. Who's gonna release our HOT JAM!? GaGa? Katy? Black Eyed Peas? Jeez that's reaching now. LMFAO FTW.

Next week...

JT is always on the periphery these days. I came close to including Ariana Grande's "Dangerous Woman" here along with strong efforts by Chance the Rapper as of late. Adding to that is Beyonce, Rihanna, and Sia's pop assaults, although crowding single releases (there's some argument that releasing a flurry of singles shouldn't even matter anymore) is blurring their potential. RHCP also dropped an alright "Dark Necessities" music video which is most impressive for showing that Anthony Kleidis somehow still has abs. All this and more as we drop one more Winners List before July and the Heat of Summer takes control!

17 June 2016

Intelligence is Central to Finding Dory

Here we go people. After weeks upon weeks of terrible underperforming shit (although I'll contend not exactly horrible movies), we have what could be the first really great non-Captain America weekend. The two films set to face off today are as close to surefire hits as we're going to get any time soon, although who the hell knows how things are playing out this summer. On the one hand we have what looks like an entertaining vehicle for two of the dwindling number of bankable stars, Central Intelligence (2016) with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. On the other side of the theater is the latest from a studio that has never shown a lot of cracks, until recently, which is also a follow-up to one of their most popular properties, Finding Dory (2016). Let's take a look at each:
There's a sincere goofiness here that I'm really appreciating.

Kevin Hart has made the valiant effort to star in every movie coming out every year. He's reached his pinnacle with Ride Along (2014) and Think Like a Man (2012), but has had solid appearances in everything from Ride Along 2 (2016) to Think Like a Man Too (2014). We can throw in Get Hard (2015) and The Wedding Ringer (2015) and his status as the ultimate buddy comedy star of our generation is cemented. Of course, none of these movies is really all that good (his best tend to be films where he's not the central focus), but that matters less than the fact that people generally turn out to see his films. OK, mostly black people, but we haven't had a film that caters to black-specific interests in quite some time.

To be fair, Central Intelligence doesn't really resemble a black movie. Neither did Ride Along. The presence of black actors (or whatever the Rock is) seems to denote a "black film." Central Intelligence could buck this trend and actually be a film starring actors of color that attracts all sorts of people to the theater. What a concept!

Pairing Hart with Dwayne Johnson in an action-comedy is a spectacular move, and the Rock is riding the height of his fame. Remember watching The Rundown (2003), which was a legit good action movie full of insane Chris Walken-not-quite-trying-to-be-comedy-but-comedy, and seeing that really corny Arnold "passing the torch" scene that made it totally as if the Rock was supposed to be the next incarnation of the giant dude who beats everyone up? And then like, nothing great happened with his career, including The Rundown, which everyone has fond memories of but no one saw in theaters? This site posited a good question - when exactly did The Rock become a global megastar?

It certainly wasn't any of his early efforts to cross over. Walking Tall (2004)? DOOM (2005)? Gridiron Gang (2006)? Do you remember these films? I mean, what the fuck? Somehow by 2010 he was recognizable enough to partner with Sam Jackson in The Other Guys (2010) in a joke-ish cameo that riffed on his persona and the kind of character we're used to seeing in action movies as much as gave him a role in the narrative. But how did he build his pedigree? It's probably something like how The Rundown built an audience in the years since its release. It's also notable how popular The Mummy Returns (2001) was and how constant it played on the USA Network for the past fifteen years. That's legit, bro.

Somehow by Fast Five (2011) The Rock was the kind of A-lister that could inject life into a dying franchise. The sight of him going toe-to-toe with a man as equally beefed up and equally racially ambiguous was spine-tingling. It is notable that he still has his faults, though. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) was far inferior to its predecessor, although it made slightly more money worldwide (while being lackluster domestically). And Hercules (2014), while a fantastically entertaining film, never really caught on. I'll contend this was because its marketing material was fantastically cliche and played out. San Andreas (2015) was certainly a bigger hit both culturally and commercially, but it's not exactly like we're looking like end-all blockbuster here.

So what's our final verdict? Well, Hart and Rock are both pretty solid on their own, but not exactly the Box Office Gods common thought has made them out to be. It's more like since there's literally no one else out there that can open a movie on their own, we tend to give them a lot of positive press. Central Intelligence looks like it has a good hook, some pretty funny character moments, and a solid amount of action and intrigue. It's also wholly original. The key, though, is that people don't want original. They just want good. I think it will be decently successful, although how much do we really think about Ride Along or San Andreas in our daily lives (I actually have friends who talk a lot about San Andreas. That may not be a great comparison). I'm very curious how this shakes out, but my impression is pretty positive.
Although this octodad looks incredible.

On the other side of the aisle is Finding Dory, which slots into an incredible crowded year for children's computer animated films (or even more specifically - talking animal children's computer animated films). In 2016 we've already seen Kung Fu Panda 3 (remember that? That actually came out five months ago), Zootopia, and The Angry Birds Movie, with The Secret Life of Pets and Ice Age: Collision Course on the way. These have ranged from the terrible (KFP3) to the critically-lauded billion-dollar grosser (Zootopia), with everything else somewhere in between. Finding Dory feels a hell of a lot different than The Angry Birds Movie, so kids are probably ready for it, in part because it's got to appeal to a different, less jaded kind of kid. It's also Pixar.

Pixar sequels are really tricky. It's important to remember that sequels aren't really a new thing for the studio. Toy Story 2 (1999) was their third film, a sequel to their first, and in doing so set a damn high standard for the studio's follow-ups. Toy Story 3 (2010) proved that they could do it again, although Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013) were both arguably so bad as to damage the heretofore unflappable Pixar brand. They certainly bounced back in a big way with last year's Inside Out (2015), although at the same time The Good Dinosaur (2015) didn't feel like a thing at all, and could be considered the studio's first unequivocal flop. So the past few years must feel sort of funny for the studio. I really dug Brave (2012), but no one else did, so with the exception of Inside Out, suddenly we haven't really had a movie from the studio that everyone loves since 2010.

These are weird standards to have, but it's Pixar. You can't make 11 great films in a row (I generally also dislike Cars [2006] and Ratatouille [2007], but other people love them. That's a reason alone why they're so great - they inspire some kind of great fanbase in everything. Except The Good Dinosaur) and then start missing the mark, even a little bit. I could personally not care less about Finding Dory, even though I'm a big Finding Nemo (2003) fan.

So why don't I care? Mostly because Dory was annoying as shit. And because despite the decent reviews so far, something just throws me. Maybe it's because Nemo was so crisp. Its storytelling and character work were so apparent. It's all right there in the title. There's something derivative about applying that to Dory, regardless if the story structure actually ends up being quite contrary. Its title gives me an Evan Almighty (2007) kind of vibe that feels more like a spin-off than a sequel. None of this is bad, because I'll always contend that a film needs to be good on its own merits no matter what its inspiration may be, but I get weird juju. Maybe it's the simple fact that it's had surprisingly little trailer buzz or media placement. I need to stop watching The Lone Ranger (2013) on SyFy.

By any account it ought to be a solid outing. That's what we've come to expect from Pixar. Pre-Good Dinosaur Pixar, that is. With one of their most solid brands fueling this outing as well as a prime June placement that they've come to dominate in recent years (again - non-Good Dinosaur release dates. Will they ever drop a film in November again? They're apparently trying with Coco [2017]. Woof.). And Andrew Stanton has got to feel good getting into his wheelhouse again, with his bread and butter, or just anything non-John Carter (2012) here. Man Disney had a lot of flops at the start of this decade.

So what say ye? Are these sure bets this weekend? Or do you have some misgivings like I do? I think these both ought to do pretty well in just about every metric that I'll typically measure, but for sure nothing's for certain these days. What do you think?

13 June 2016

Summer Jam Week 5: Jhene and Big Take Wedding Weekend

Listen - we knew we'd get to this post eventually today. It was a busy weekend. A weekend of weddings where everyone got married. So this is obviously your soundtrack - the ultimate party down fuel. For the weekend that just happened.

Hot Jam of the Week: "On the Way" by Big Sean & Jhene Aiko

Anyone who's read this column knows that I try to find any excuse I can to fit Jhene Aiko into my life, and after she earned the line of the year last summer with "Gotta eat the booty like groceries" I'm excited to see her on what could be the sexiest track of 2016. There are a lot of jams this week that could be set up to do pretty well, and I am a little wary of how niche this could be, but I enjoyed a lot of the slow jams on Twenty88, and I love even more that these two have named their collabo group the same title.

A Love Story: "American Money" by BORNS

This is certainly the odd-song out this week, but I woke up to it three times this week. Three times! I suppose that says more about the radio station I play in the morning than anything, but needless to say, it was on my mind. It's a cool kind of jam that has a slow lyrical pulse with a more agitated beat that's nice to wake up to if anything. This is not going to be a popular jam.

Three Short of a Decade: "Seven Years" by Lukas Graham

I'm so totally officially over this song and how introspective and lonely it makes me, but after a few absent weeks it's back here, baby. I can't actually look at Lukas Graham without laughing and thinking of Andy Milonakis or something. Any appreciation I once had for this track has been slowly sapped out of me for some reason, which is weird because I'll STILL listen to Rebecca Black every Friday.

Trolls! Oh no! "Can't Stop The Feeling" by Justin Timberlake

I thought I had it, but I totally had to search "new Justin Timberlake song" again to find this thing. "Can't Stop This Feeling" is just so damn totally generic that it blurs into whatever else is going on in my head. I wish this was a few more shades of distinctive, like "Suit & Tie" which goes for the same kind of jazzy throwback vibes to way catchier effect. Then again, I'm glad he's putting out new tunes, which he hasn't really done since "Suit & Tie." I mean, sure, "Not a Bad Thing" but whateeeever. Can you even hum that? No one can.

Uno Bailando: "One Dance" by Drake ft. Wizkid, Kyla

Anyone know who Wizkid is or what his contributions are here? I do actually want to here an only-Kyla version because she's really the one who pulls me into this jam with her slow burn sultry vocal development. This could be a whole lot longer, which would help, but I'm always surprised that it's actually only two minutes. It's still hanging out for sure, but c'mon, the industry right now is just waiting for something better to become ubiquitous this summer.

Listen No Where: "Hold Up" by Beyonce

Call this an even tie between this and "Sorry" most notably because anyone named Becky has become "Becky with the Good Hair." This of course is a song that can't be found anywhere but Tidal or really shitty chopped and skewed YouTube clips. But you know it. You know iiiittttt. I'm a fan of this jam for sure and I'm curious if it merges with "Sorry" and the rest of Lemonade or somehow ends up striking out enough on its own to catch on and be a jam worth jamming to.

Seven Winters and Six Summers: "All the Way Up" by Fat Joe - the Remix ft. Jay-Z, Remy Ma, French Montana, Infared

Yep. The remix is totally the one to listen to. If you haven't gotten the impression yet, this was totally a rap-heavy week, and I really dug this, even though it's been simmering for the past two weeks for sure. This is a triumphant comeback for Fat Joe who I think still can't really rap, but that's also the cherriest rhyme Jay-Z has dropped in quite some time. Remy Ma drops the best flow, though. This has a lot of pedigree for sure, and its hook is so simple, yet passionately inspiring (in a "Started From the Bottom Now We Here" kind of way for sure), its beat so laid-back and jazzy, that it ends up being highly listenable.

Does a Bear Eat Bamboo in the Woods? "Panda" by Desiigner

You knew it was coming! I'm so on the Panda bandwagon and so is America. The future of hip-hop. Oh jeez, that's all sorts of insane. Listening to this for the fortieth or fiftieth time this week I'm struck by how well I could live without the TTTRRRRRLLLLL-YEEE-AWWW!'s constantly in the background, but the flow is so modern, it's really the 2016 "Trap Queen." No doubt. Now, how long can it defend?

Next week...

There were plenty of deserving candidates left on the floor this week, in what could be our first real blow-up weekend of summer. "Sorry" was plenty deserving, and I actually started hearing a bit of Bieber's "Love Yourself" back again. I was also curious about "California" by Colonel Loud, specifically this remix, which of course exists to add another Snoop California mix to his oeuvre, because why not. He's contractually obligated to appear on any song mentioning California not by Phantom Planet. It also came out a year ago, but Grace's "You Don't Own Me" ft. G-Eazy is picking up, possibly because of the latter's career rising, but I remember that track last year. Finally, let's talk about Lil Wayne's "Gotta Lotta" which just totally sounds like a 2008 song.

10 June 2016

Orcs, Magicians, and Evil Spirits - Anyone Up for Ninja Turtles Again?

We're really at the point where as a nation we're collectively dreading Summer Fridays instead of looking forward to them. How did this summer get off to such a rough start? Today like every Friday through August we're taking a look at the films hitting the multiplex, and somehow in an already extremely rough season this is looking like a fucking turnip fire. The M.O. of Summer 2016 seems to be "sequels that no one wanted" and unlike most years it seems as if the populace is actually voicing their opinion. Nearly every film has bombed. How is this possible? It's quite clear that no one gives a shit about shitty movies anymore.

Obviously, the remedy here is to offer us a cheeky sequel to a film that did kind of okay back in 2013, but no one's cared about since, a sequel to a summer horror film that's as well-regarded as it was unique, and what might quite possibly turn into the biggest box office disaster of 2016. So let's sort through this shit, and I might move quick because, spoiler alert, the answer to every question, "will this be successful?" is almost assuredly "No."
Expecto Patronum!

Now You See Me 2 (2016) can really be summed up by the fact that they didn't name this sequel Now You Don't (2016). That's such a perfect sequel title! Now You See Me 2 is all kinds of awkward, forcing this serialized moniker on the common magic phrase that served as the first film's title. Instead of going in a clever, cheeky, self-aware, or interesting route, it serves as a baseline for this franchise's lack of creativity.

I've only seen bits and pieces of Now You See Me (2013), but I have seen the ending, and it's super weird and convoluted. It also somehow boasted one of the strongest casts ever, with two Oscar winners and three more nominees, with the rest being Mélanie Laurent, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco which is damn solid. The sequel seems to be throwing out Laurent and Fisher, replacing at least one of them with Lizzy Caplan, and throwing in famed magician Daniel Radcliffe (who is doing all sorts of wonderful non-Harry Potter things these days - almost reminding me of the weird directions that Elijah Wood's career has crept), which is all fine by me. It's still amazing, though, that all these great actors got together to make this really awful film.

The issue is the self-seriousness. To make a dumb movie like this that flirts with all these big ideas but never really in a satisfying or cathartic way, you have to have some degree of camp or fun. This film pretends to have fun, but its tonal intensity and preponderance for CGI, even if it's subtle, over real magic (okay, "real" magic) undermines that. This would have been a great Soderbergh or Edgar Wright film. The first film in the hands of Louis Leterrier is a rough onslaught of mismanaged tones (see also: Clash of the Titans [2010]), and Jon Chu is a tremendous downgrade. Amazing that we aren't expecting more from the guy who shepharded the Step-Up franchise, bungled G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) (I'll add Stephen Sommers to my list of weirdo campy directors who could make this work) and most recently offered us Jem and the Holograms (2015). Is there a director that more often misses the mark? Don't answer that.

Let's go back in time three years. Now You See Me was a really random success, mostly on the backs of the unabashed failure of After Earth (2013), which it opened against and improbably beat by $2 million. It actually lost that weekend to Fast & Furious 6 (2013) in its second week and never reached #1 at the Box Office. It held on mostly since Furious 6 burned off a lot of ticket sales in early anticipation, along with some high profile bombs like the aforementioned After Earth and The Hangover: Part III (2013). The next weekend it met up with The Purge (2013), which did decent, but not overwhelming business. It wasn't until Man of Steel (2013) that the box office really had a formidable opponent. Suddenly a film that looked like it might be ducking around Will Smith and Bradley Cooper was improbably set up to do pretty well, since it was an original, somewhat clever idea coupled with an amazing cast of likable actors.

We're in a similar state right now, actually. We're loaded up with high-profile bombs, there's no clear winner to project this weekend, and the coast is relatively clear ahead for films of this type. Then again, the one-two punch of Central Intelligence (2016) and Finding Dory (2016) ought to wipe out any legs films have this week. There's also the simple fact that no one fondly remembers this stupid film. Quick - name a single character. Just one. What is Jesse Eisenberg's character's name? No one knows. I might pick this film to do what Now You See Me never did and win its weekend (it probably has to only clear $20 million or so to do it), but it's going to be close, and it won't be that much.

Let's move on to The Conjuring 2 (2016). This is another film whose title annoys me. It feels weird to have a well-regarded horror movie follow-up have so basic of a title. James Wan's other series, Insidious had at least Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) which somehow feels more natural to me. Anyway, a few years back The Conjuring (2013) surprised everyone by being an actually good poltergeist film that made a lot of money in the Summer and was critically well-received. I didn't actually see it until a few months ago, and I don't really think it was the be-all, end-all of horror films, but it's certainly better than 90% of the genre.

No matter how good The Conjuring 2 might be, it will probably be brought down by the high number of copycat films that have dropped since its predecessor. These range from other great unique films like The Babadook (2014) to spin-off Annabelle (2014), to a whole see of crap like Oculus (2013), Deliver Us From Evil (2014), Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Poltergeist (2015), and Sinister 2 (2015). A lot of the Insidious/Sinister/Conjuring series blur together for me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Still, amongst the horror crowd, who is constantly starved for films that are actually good, The Conjuring should inspire a lot of warm fuzzy feelings.

There are a couple of other good things going for The Conjuring 2. Patrick Wilson's star has continued to rise since 2013, particular with his starring turn in Fargo. It's also centered around the Enfield Council House Haunting in London, which is supposedly one of the most documented poltergeists in history yet has so far eluded a film treatment. It's also a classic move to switch up locations for the sequel and London is a pretty popular choice these days.

So, getting to the important stuff - will this film be any good, make any money, and leave a lasting impact? It's gotten some decent reviews already and ought to be able to at the least match its predecessor. The first one opened to $40 million without much hype or pedigree, and as improbably as that seems for both a horror film and a sequel landing in Summer 2016, I could see this film matching or surpassing that and winning the weekend, considering it's not going to take much and every other film is awful. Of course, I just said that Now You Don't might be our champion, and I can see that happening if reception to The Conjuring 2 is a bit stiff. Still, horror fans are properly starved and they need something to hold them over until The Purge: Election Year (2016), which is actually a very different kind of vibe. The big gap would be the unabashed failure of Poltergeist last year, but that probably more had to do with being an unwanted remake of a classic that couldn't match any standard of quality.

As for lasting impact, it feels like The Conjuring sticks out in our collective memory, although it's certainly specific to horror fans. It's not like it has a distinguishing monster or anything (can you even picture the central witch who makes the Perron Family's lives suck?). Its cast, setting, and direction are what sets it apart and if The Conjuring 2 can come up with some really unique scares or moments it can ride its pedigree to carve out a spot in our pop culture memory.

"Leeerooooooy Jenkins!!!"
Alright, so let's talk about Warcraft (2016). Finally. This does not look like a good movie. I don't think anyone will go see this. It really begs the question how something as equally expansive as the Lord of the Rings was able to earn critical and commercial success and this entry in the Fantasy genre (and very well nearly every other entry) looks to suck ass. Even Game of Thrones, which has more characters than anyone should be able to deal with, has an immense amount of cultural significance. So why will Warcraft come up short?

We could compare Warcraft and The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) all day. The Fellowship canonized fantasy film much in the way that Tolkien did with his novels fifty years prior. Those fifty years of massively popular books also had a lot to do with it success - especially when older generations could hype it up for younger people who didn't know much about the series. I was fifteen when the Fellowship dropped, and mostly saw it because my dad was a huge fan during the revival the books had in the 70s (probably thanks in this case due to Led Zeppelin).

Warcraft has in inverse effect. The young people have to convince old people that it's cool. And that isn't going to work. But that's a relatively shallow reason. It's amazing, because like anything else, this really just comes down to the film. Each Lord of the Rings was a legitimately good film. It helps that it was supported by years of intricate planning, a massive production, and despite its fantasy setting, it relied on realistic armor function, minimal magic (at least in the sense that it's more about wills, magic doors, and weird creatures than fireballs, sparky laser beams, and forcefields. Game of Thrones is similar to an even greater extent.

This is a somewhat faulty argument. To say that a film is more successful because it's more grounded belittles the hundreds of totally insane films out there, from Star Wars (1977) to Transformers (2007). It doesn't really matter how outlandish a picture is, but what's important is if the film actually looks like it's a story or spectacle worth seeing. The former is typically more important than the latter. With the Lord of the Rings the core story was exceedingly simple. "Get the One Ring to Mount Doom." That's it. There's a lot of complex political stuff and armies fighting around that, but that's primarily an extension of both the characters who originally set out on the simple mission and in support of the few members of the Fellowship who are continuing that mission.

The core narrative of Game of Thrones for all its exceedingly complex posturing, is in the title itself. It's a battle for the rule of Westeros with multiple families and parties vying for political positions within the scheme of the world. This hook allows viewers to get into the story. They know what to expect and what kind of story they're getting into. Once they buy a ticket, the calibre of storytelling and production is what continues to keep the audience coming back.

What's the core story of Warcraft? Well, who knows. Something about Orcs and Humans working together? Or fighting against each other? What is anyone's goal? Who are any of the characters? It's all a bunch of crap that looks like shit we've seen a hundred times before. There's almost nothing distinctive. In terms of spectacle, Warcraft promises to offer some of the most realistic CGI characters ever put on screen. Take that in for a second though - realistic CGI still doesn't look as good as the real orcs from The Two Towers (2002). I am excited to see that technology used for better movies, but it does all feel like it's moving in the wrong direction. That feels awfully like one reason why the Hobbit films haven't stuck in anyone's mind as much as any of the Lord of the Rings films did. That's probably more because they were literally made it up as the production went along.

The last I could find, there are about 5.5 million current World of Warcraft players. Its peak in 2010 was about 12 million. So even if every single player goes to watch the film that's looking something around $120 million or so. That's really not enough to justify a huge budgeted film like this. There's going to be a huge need to convert a lot of normal people to watch this, which I just don't see happening. The core fanbase is a double-edged sword, too - even though they are likely the ones to eagerly wait in line, they will also assuredly be the most critical of the story and character treatment. Also, when you're dealing with a group of computer nerds, they're way more likely to download the film rather than pay for it. All of this really shapes up to be a damn raw deal for Warcraft.

We could talk about this all day. And I'm always fascinated trying to figure out why some blockbusters fail and others succeed. The simple thing of it is that there's no real reason to want to see this movie. There's nothing special or distinct about the story (possibly the humanization of the Orcs is a critical distinction, but I'm not sure that's anything any one cares about. Tolkien started us off in the idyllic Shire so that we could identify and sympathize with the rest of the story. It would have been very different if we had started in Minas Tirith and plunged into political strife and dire endless war right away. I can't even imagine if we had started in Mordor. Oh yeah, that's Warcraft. Instead of unraveling the adventure alongside the innocent Hobbits also discovering it all for the first time, it's starting us in the shit.

And that's not really a bad thing. There's a lot to be said for in media res and taking off with action right away. The problem is making any kind of strong connection with the characters if we're never allowed into their perspectives in a meaningful way. I can't really identify with these big weird CGI orcs. I don't really care to. I think this weekend is a toss-up between Now You Don't and The Conjuring 2 with Warcraft desperately falling behind. Ultimately the best option is probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which offers all the CGI weirdness of Warcraft without a single drop of the pretension.

What do you think? What are you dishing on this weekend?

06 June 2016

Summer Jam Week 4: JT and Drake Lead Cookie Cutter Jams!

We've come crashing into June with a thunderous stroke of destiny, people. There is a plethora of interchangeable pop out there right now, with little resembling anything that actually stands out in the musical landscape. I'll admit I'm a little disappointed. I had leaned super into rock for a little bit, and into hip-hop last week, but this week it's totally pop. Not sure what to make of my fickle nature, but sink your ears into this week's ultimate jam list:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Ain't Your Mama" by Jennifer Lopez

Yeah, boy. This is a really weird song considering that at age 46, she's totally old enough to be most of our mothers. My first impression is that it's a sassy date song, saying that she's dating some scrub who can't cook or clean up after himself. If that's true, I mean, damn, this is like Boy Next Door (2015) shit. I'm down with J. Lo the cougar. I just can't believe she worked in that refrain about taco-flavoured kisses.

Three of a Kind: "Me, Myself, and I" by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha

This is winding its way down a bit but still a decently hot jam. Its airplay is certainly on the decline, and it gets a spot here more on my still digging the track, although I'm probably close to reaching the limits of my tolerance here. It's still creeping around but I'm just about at the point where I change the channel instead of hearing it out.

Everest Style: "Frankie Sinatra" by The Avalanches

I'll admit it. I was totally drunk on Friday and somehow this track came to my attention. I'm not sure how, but I remember really loving it and adding it to all my playlists. Under the cold harsh light of sobriety I don't think it holds up as well, but it's too late now. You can't just take it off a digital playlist once it's added. Everything about this is pretty weird, and this will totally be a regrettable addition, but it made it. Forever, baby!

Oh, Feel Ya: "Ophelia" by The Lumineers

I ought to be careful, lest "Ophelia" win the Summer Crown just because it's fought its way on to the countdown each week by virtue of me listening to a lot of rock radio that don't change their playlists that often and the fact that I haven't gotten sick of this yet. For all of these reasons it remains, though. Actually this song kind of blows.

$50 Million Price Tag: "Panda" by Desiigner

I'm really glad that when I search YouTube for "Panda" this is the first result. Even Barack Obama has gotten in on the phenomenon. Who'da thunk it? I need someone to sit down Fetty, Future, A$AP (either one) and Desiigner and have them all sing-rap and then tell me the difference. This is the first time in my long history of hip-hop love where I've been tempted to say something along the lines of "All those young whipper-snappers sound alike!" And I have both D12 albums! Do you know how hard it is to differentiate between Kon Artis and Kuniva? This is a hot jam for sure, though.

"Lonely Man Porn: "Work From Home" by Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign

I love Fifth Harmony so much. I've really come around to this terrible band. It's a completely ironic love, although I think some of it is becoming genuine. It's so blatantly and obnoxiously horrible that it just seems obvious to me that it's ridiculous, right? How is this a real thing? I suppose I didn't think twice when Christina Aguilera was making far more risque music videos fourteen years ago, but the sex appeal here seems so surface level rather than empowering (is it ever? Let's not get into this debate), that it's actually stunning to me that they would be able to cultivate any kind of following based on their audial capabilities. Also, those hot dudes are terrible, I'm trying to jack off here.

Jewish Salsa: "One Dance" by Drake ft. Wizkid, Kyla

The more I listen to this the more generic it sounds to me. It just feels like any other pop song out there. It's not really hip-hop, which I suppose is actually an interesting turn for Drake, but what else can you say about the softest man in the game? That doesn't make it a bad song, and its biggest strength is probably the work that Kyla puts in on the bridge, but more and more this just seems inconsequential. It's decently popular, and not aggravating, but when that's the best you can say about a jam, is it really worth it? Fuck it. #2 this week!

Finally, Recognition: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake

So there's quite a bit to talk about with this one. After snubbing JT for the past two weeks this was finally a big enough presence in my life this week to not only earn a spot on the list, but the very #1 spot! This is as much a product of no other jam being especially dominant right now as anything else, but there's a lot of weirdness here. I totally had to look up the name of this song, and I couldn't name a single word besides "that new JT song." Like "One Dance" it feels extremely generic, like it's just checking off a bunch of boxes for a pop song. It's also apparently tied into Trolls (2016), which is an animated film coming out in November that no one knew was happening. That also explains why there's all these random people from Anna Kendrick to James Corden in the music video. Why do animated films suddenly have these pop songs attached? It's all insane.

Next week...

I remember at this point last year going through a similar level of ennui towards the current pop landscape. There's not really that big overpowering song to rule the roost yet. I mean, we've been dishing back and forth between "Panda", Drake, and JT with a little Fifth Harmony sprinkled in; when will the bass drop?! Connor4real, we need you! Oh shit. Well, there's always some Meaghan Trainor that I'm waiting to crack the zeitgeist. Stay tuned, true beliebers!

03 June 2016

Never Stop Turtle Popping

We are set upon another Summer Friday and so comes the time to again ramble upon the critical, cultural, and commercial prospects of the films to be released. This summer already feels very crowded, although there is a diversity to the projects so far that feels more mellow. Maybe it's just that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), then The Jungle Book (2016), then Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) burned up our hype train. Now we're just chugging along the rest of the stops. This week we have two pretty different films, The Lonely Island's POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) and the Michael Bay produced sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016).

Before we dig into that, though, we ought to make some kind of comment on how every single non-Captain America sequel (wait, is CIVIL WAR a Cap sequel? Or an Iron Man sequel? Or an Avengers sequel? If it's the latter two it's down, if it's the former, then up!) is down this summer. Through the Looking Glass (2016) made just over a fifth of what its predecessor did its opening weekend, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016) under half, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) down $15 mill from Days of Future Past (2014) and sitting at nearly half of what Deadpool (2016) did a few months ago.

Some of this is probably cannibalization. There was surely some of the crowd who had to pick between Alice and X-Men who will hit the other one up this week, but does that really account for these missing tickets? Neither release has been what the studios are looking for, and although its foreign haul out to be pleasing (it's anyone's default for when a film doesn't do great domestically these days), that's still a bit of a miff.
They really had to keep the purple mohawk, huh?

This brings us to Out of the Shadows which is a follow-up to the first of this current series of Ninja Turtles films, after thirty years of comic books, television shows, 1990s live action films, early 2000s television shows, that mid-2000s animated movie, and another television show. There really isn't a bigger children's franchise that has lasted since the 80s with this much investment. Maybe Transformers comes close, but I don't remember no Transformers musical pizza concert.

Now, this is insane, but I'm actually kind of jazzed about this sequel. This is a complete opposite reversal from my preview two years ago, which also featured a look at Into the Storm (2014). Remember Into the Storm? With that Fire Tornado? Here are some choice quotes, from myself:

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is going to be awful in every sense of the word."

"In general, though, these have just never seemed like the right dudes to take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"No one will remember or care about Turtles by Labour Day."

I was wrong in just about every way. Maybe not the first one. It's a pretty awful movie with a plot that makes no sense and an arrogant, in-your-face aesthetic that is repulsive to anyone who likes movies. But the more I think about it, these Platinum Dunes morons ARE the right dudes to take on the Turtles - their whole bro-heavy, pizza-chomping, go for the sack, extreme way of life is part of what has made the Turtles special since they made that leap off gritty black and white comic books to goofy Rhinoceros-monster animation.

Speaking of goofy Rhinoceros monsters, it's actually amazing that over all these years we've never actually had Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen. Or Krang. KRANG! This is the Turtles at their finest and stupidest, the kind of insane campy shit that is something straight out of God Hates Astronauts but totally unconcerned about its existence as a pure joke. It's a fantastic bit of really fun and dumb filmmaking.

That's the issue with a lot of properties out there. They get the dumb right but not the fun. Michael Bay makes dumb and fun films. The funness tends to cover its dumbness and you leave the theater with a good feeling in the pit of your genitals. Zack Snyder makes dumb yet sour films. So you watch this really dumb action piece, but it's totally maudlin, so you feel personally insulted. Snyder's certainly not the only one. I'd consider R.I.P.D. (2013), Hercules (2014), and even Apocalpyse all films that don't understand how to balance camp and art, who succumb to trying to elevate their material to something more than they are without embracing what they are. Shameful filmmaking reeks like a wet glove. There may have even been a bit of this in the 2014 version of the Turtles, but there seems like there's such ludicrous joy on display here, something that really fits into the spirit of who these goofballs were, which at least wasn't communicated in the marketing last time.

So, the last bit I said was that no one would care about the Turtles and that it'd be a huge bomb. Unbelievably it eked out some solid coin while running with Guardians of the Galaxy for a few weeks in August 2014. That apparently may not have been that impressive of a feat. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did surprisingly well, ergo this hopefully much improved-upon sequel. I am already more culturally on board, although I'm sure it'll be savaged by critics as usual (even though you ought to just get little kid critics, because it's the kind of dumb schlock meant for them. And those of us who still have developmentally child-like brains), but the real question comes down to money.

Through the Looking Glass failed because no matter how well its predecessor did, it was both more a result of its timing rather than its content and the simple fact that no one gave a shit about it anymore. Apocalypse ought to match the typical X-Men ceiling of about $150-200 mill (maybe), and that's not wholly unexpected. Neighbors 2 is kind of a wild card. I'm not sure why it failed. Maybe it's the comedy sequel thing that didn't totally hit like 22 Jump Street (2014) but not much else did. On a case by case basis there's no real blanket reason, except for the true possibility that audiences are just sick of sequels, which is always looming. With a better release window and free plowing until Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) (no, I don't think Warcraft [2016] will stand in anyone's way), this could make some bank again.

Alright. I just talked for a really long time about Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, but it's time to turn our attention to The Lonely Island. The group has had plenty of success for sure, although it's been difficult to translate to the big screen. They made their name trading in digital shorts on SNL, and although they've had some great post-SNL projects, it doesn't feel like they've had the platform to disseminate their idiosyncratic brand of parody songs. Their sense of humour is also relatively obscure, with previous cinematic projects from its members ranging from MacGruber (2010) to The Watch (2012). Of course, their distinctive work is still probably Hot Rod (2007), which as largely a platform for Andy Samberg, never quite took off beyond a semi-cult hit.

Samberg's movie career has been decently wretched. I'm of course on board. That's My Boy (2012) was brilliantly cathartic in its own way, but totally never took off in any meaningful way. Still, against all odds he managed to pull together one of the best comedies on television right now, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, although he's somewhat distanced himself from SNL and the other Lonely Island members in doing so.

All of this may be resolved with POPSTAR, which looks funny as hell. It might work out that they're more in their natural wheelhouse crafting a film filled with their bread and butter - parody songs. Of course, these aren't exactly parodies. I don't know what "Jizz in My Pants" is spoofing. Weird dramatic R&B? It's more obscure and goofy, with the joke being what the characters are singing about more than the genre it's sending up. These aren't Weird Al - type tracks.
All by bitches be wearin' gold plated jimmies

The Lonely Island has sometimes established some characters - the "Dick in a Box" guys stand out, but mostly the public persona is just Samberg or Jorma spinning the rhymes. What Never Stop Never Stopping does, though, is introduce Connor4real, which gives Samberg a platform to sing terrible things like "The Mona Lisa is a piece of shit" or "She wanted me to fuck her like the U.S. Government fucked Bin Laden" under the disguise of this doofus character. It shifts the culpability a little bit, which the group seems to be pushing to the extreme to hilarious effect. It's as if all the kid gloves are off. Yes, what kid gloves we had for things like "Motherlover."

To sample the few tracks the group has released and performed in anticipation, they all hit really well. The group seems to sense that everyone gets sick of their songs after two or three minutes, which has also fueled the ease of their digital shareability. It's also a possible reason why they've never been able to sustain their brand of humour for a feature length film. Or even a TV Show. While they certainly have an understanding of gags and hitting the zeitgeist strong their knowledge of character and narrative is decidedly lacking. If POPSTAR manages to mesh the two and exist more as a mockumentary-style series of goofy set-ups it can be pretty successful. Samberg's work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine might actually behoove this concept and make their work a bit stronger.

It's important to note as well that even though this is clearly a surface-parody of Justin Bieber, the group has worked with Bieber before. It's a fine excuse to explore a silly exaggeration of pop stardom, and it seems like a perfect marriage of interests, abilities, and audience reception. The few jams released have already been spectacular - if they can rise to "On a Boat" or "Dick in a Box" levels, we'd really be in for something special. It's an arduous task to not repeat themselves and stay fresh, but largely the Lonely Island has pulled that off for the past ten years.

As for the cash, with Neighbors 2 underperforming I think this has a lot of potential to claim a title as the funniest film of 2016 and make huge bank. Or it could be like every other Lonely Island movie and bomb terribly. That's the issue when your fanbase is primarily Internet nerds - they'll download your movie instead of risking the light of day to make it to the theater. The more mainstream they can get, and I think they actually appeal to a lot of women, especially who are in on the Bieber joke, the better off this will be.

Oh, and also Me Before You (2016), some romantic drama bout Emilia Clarke falling in love with a cripple dude. TIGHT.

Well, that was exhaustive. What do you think this weekend? Turtles or Popstars? Leave it below!
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