29 July 2016

Bourne's Mom!

I would totally watch a movie about Jason Bourne's mom...behaving badly with Mila Kunis. Anyway, there's two polar opposite flicks dropping this week, and like just about every week this summer I can't stay I'm awfully excited about either one. But we here at Norwegian Morning Wood have a solemn, thankless duty to prognosticate the commercial, critical, and cultural potential of every major new summer release. Why? Because we're always chasing that next great property to inspire the populace and create relevancy in our lives. Or whichever has the best sex and explosions. Hopefully we'll get doses of both this weekend.

Let's start with Bad Moms (2016), which continues the line of "Bad" films like Bad Santa (2003), Bad Teacher (2011), and Bad Grandpa (2013). Jeez there was even more "Bad" titles than I thought. I would definitely watch Bad Fish (1975). So that's not a great start. Even the cast, which includes Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, and Christina Applegate, looks spectacular, I'm a little more cautious when it comes to the team behind the camera.
Alright, I can get behind this.

Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have written and directed such gems as...21 & Over (2013). They also cut their teeth writing Four Christmases (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) before getting into the Hangover Trilogy. They wrote all three with time for The Change-Up (2011) in there. While I have a lot of respect for the writing of The Hangover (2009), that's clearly a film bolstered more from its cast and direction than anything else. And even though I'm actually a fan of how The Hangover: Part II (2011) changes the setting and not much else, it was derided (not unfairly) for being the exact same movie. Even odder is how much The Hangover: Part III (2013) failed for being a completely new movie.

Now, it's a little harsh to deride these two dudes for extending a property that probably should have never gotten one sequel, let alone two. It is totally alright, though to condemn them for their otherwise unceasing array of terrible films. The trailer for bad moms actually feels a whole lot like soemthing resembling The Change-Up. Not so much the plot or style, or anything, but a tone that seems to miss the mark. It doesn't really present any compelling reason at all to see the flick, and flaunts an obnoxious array of clichés that seem to fuddle a genuinely notable thesis about moms actually being human beings. Shades of Mom's Night Out (2014), which is really the completely toothless version of the same premise, doesn't really help, either.

But let's get back to the cast, which is the reason to see this. I don't want to shit all over every reason this film exists and ignore a group of women who are pretty excellent in everything they do. Except Jupiter Ascending (2015). It's up to them to elevate this material. Still, I can't imagine this being that culturally significant. Back in May I predicted that this could be one of the greatest summers for comedies ever. That really hasn't come true at all. Then again, just about every film that's not Animated or Civil War (2016) has bombed worse than Fallujah. I almost feel like we ought to change our standards. Suddenly Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) sitting at $40 million feels like a win. If Bad Moms can tap into Bridesmaids (2011) or Trainwreck (2015)-level pent up need for outrageous female comedy, it ought to do well. Frankly, with a lot of other comedies with higher pedigrees already trying that this summer, I don't see it happening.

For one, how many commercials have you seen for Bad Moms? Right. It's rough. Critically it's also almost been a dead silence. There just isn't really a buzz of any kind around this at all. It's the kind of film that seems to be dropping with a collective sigh of "meh." I'm not totally sure it has much merit at all. Hopefully it's got a few good jokes, which is about all you can expect.
Rockin' shit in this one!

On the other side of the aisle we have the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in Jason Bourne (2016), which feels exactly as unnecessary as any of the dozens of other sequels we've seen (or to be more accurate, not seen) this year. Somehow the Bourne films turned into a major franchise, with this being the improbable fifth installment. If you're counting on your fingers and forgetting one, that would be the pretty rough Jeremy Renner Bourne Legacy (2012) which I actually tried to catch on television and lost interest in. Seriously, me. The guy who once wrote this, lost interest in The Bourne Legacy on TV.

I watched The Bourne Identity (2002) alone in theaters because I thought it looked cool and no one wanted to see it with me. I maybe scrapped together like one other person to watch The Bourne Supremacy (2004) with me, but I remember being pretty surprised that it got a sequel, because in 2002, no one really cared about The Bourne Identity, despite Paul Rudd's comments. I always felt like I was loving the really well-crafted action slow burn in a vacuum. By the time The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) came out, it became the highest-grossing August release until Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

It also had a tremendous effect on how Action Films are shot, particularly bleeding into Bond's style, adding more shaky cam and quick editing. The issue of course, is that this worked really well in the hands of Paul Greengrass, but not so well when it's distracting and nauseating in the hands of many other directors. It's also provided a firm template for spy thrillers. It feels more appropriate in the modern age of uncertainty, mistrust of authority, and conspiracy that the CIA would be Bourne's major adversary rather than his employer, although even that distinction is cloudy, which again reflects an age where we don't exactly know who our enemies are.

What's surprising in all this is just how little money all of these films have made. The biggest grosser, Ultimatum topped off at $440 million worldwide, and it's the only one to crack the $200 million mark domestically. The rest don't really come close. It's kind of bizarre that this is considered a franchise and most people really respect it. I mean, it closes with a damn Moby song each time, what the hell is that. I can't even hate, that song rules and is so damn Bourne.

Even though Ultimatum is generally considered the pinnacle, I'd contend that nothing really surpassed Identity. The third one in particular added to much shit, like making Julia Stiles' character really important for some reason really late in the game (she's returning for Jason Bourne, apparently), adding a ton of convoluted backstory and retcons, and never reaching anything as interesting or tension filled as the Clive Owen goose hunt cattail field thing scene. It was good.

So where are we from a critical, commercial, or cultural standpoint? Critically it's somewhat of a mystery. There's not a lot of early word about the film besides the fact that Matt Damon apparently only has 25 lines of dialogue. That's not a bad thing at all, and not wholly unusual for the character. I do generally think that Jason Bourne (wasn't his real name David Webb? I guess David Webb as a movie title wasn't that sexy)'s character's journey is pretty much complete. Then again, it felt really complete after Identity.

Commercially there's certainly a ceiling. The Bourne films largely get by on having pretty minuscule budgets, which is definitely a part of their charm. Jason Bourne is actually, unbelievably, cheaper than The Bourne Legacy, which gives it a legit shot at making its bank back, but I struggle to think that it'll really light up the box office. With the way this summer is going, if it hits what Legacy made ($113 mill) or hell, even what Identity made fourteen years ago (a similar $121 million), you've got to consider it a success. With Star Trek Beyond (2016) doing a bit better than I'd anticipate, that's going to be a tough sell, and this doesn't feel like an event at all.

And that's just it. Why should any of us watch Jason Bourne? Sure Matt Damon is riding high off of The Martian (2015), but that success was as much off its attitude, marketing, and premise than anything else. What the hell is even the premise of Jason Bourne? Bourne is...back and kicking ass...again? I feel like all I've seen is that shirtless scene where he lays those mofos out, but that feels really Jack Reacher (2012). I'd be curious to see if there's anything really cool that comes out of this. Paul Greengrass really hasn't directed a ton of films since Ultimatum, but Captain Phillips (2013) at least gave us "I'm the captain, now." That's worth something.

So what do you think? Is this another Summer Friday where you'll be content to sit around and get drunk alone or get drunk and watch Bad Moms? Leave it below, friend!

25 July 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 11: All New Hotness Edition

Amazingly, we're ten weeks deep into summer and baby, we're just starting to heat up! Well, that is, we're sustaining a crazy hot drought streak. Pour draughts not droughts! But for real folks, it's time to get real spicey with it and drop a ton of new jams that ought to become throne-worthy in the latter half of the Season of Sunshine. Maybe.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Purple Lamborghini" by Skrillex & Rick Ross

There are a few songs being dropped for Suicide Squad (2016), but all of them blow except for this. I dig the brief audio and teaser we've gotten which totally absorbs the Suicide Squad look, which is also so frank and violently distinct from anything else DC has done (or really any superhero film for that matter). It's amazing that Warner Bros pushed this out before Wonder Woman (2017), but who are we to complain? We ought to keep on the song - it sounds exactly like every other Rick Ross song ever, but that's not such a bad thing. It's great just to hear movie-inspired tracks get traction again.

Gorilla Bash: "Take It From Me" by KONGOS

I constantly ponder whether or not KONGOS are a good band. They're definitely listenable. Maybe that's enough. This is a little old, but as is the case with many slow-rollout rock jams, it's only gained a lot of popular notoriety in the last week or so. It's a cool song, if not a little indistinguishable. There's a lot of weird folk in the thumping rock and deep-altered voices here. I don't see it taking off, but it's cool for now.

The II's Have It: "Tiimmy Turner" by Desiigner

Iis thiis Desiigner's thiing now? Also this refers to this Timmy Turner, right? That's terrible. I love that current Google Image search for "Timmy Turner" returns a ton of cartoons and rappers. And should this be pronounced "Timmy" or "Timey"? Wouldn't the i's together be long instead of short? This is all so damn white, but the highly anticipated follow-up to "Panda" certainly disappoints. I do like how Desiigner apparently is a fan of indiscriminate background yelling and growling in his beats along with really weird title choices.

Back with the Biebs: "Cold Water" by Major Lazer ft Justin Biever and MO

I don't know what MO is. But this is a nice assault by Major Lazer who for some reason has taken this long to pair with the baby brat. I do like any song that acknowledges that there's nothing wrong with getting high, and while this is no "Lean On" or hell, even a "Love Yourself", it'll do the job in putting some young girls in the mood. Hrmm. I'll just leave that there while I'm behind.

Back with Adele: "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" by Adele

I heard this earlier today. So there. That's what it takes to get on this extremely exclusive and erudite list. I did want to talk about how trippy and magical this video is again, though, and it's actually a better song the more you listen to it. It's still far away from the ubiquity of "Hello" but it's not really a worse track. It's actually lyrically dripping in irony, angst, and cheekiness in equal measure. Did you know that Adele and Taylor Swift are the same age? Don't piss them off, boys.

Tick-Tock: "Lost Boy" by Ruth B

This song has been on the periphery for a while, dipping in and out this summer, but for some reason I really clued into it this week. It's all about fucking Rufio, as is my understanding, which is weird, because Rufio always bangs on the floor-io. That's right. This is a great, contemplative song that fills you with all the sads. It's spectacular. Summer!

Back with the Other Justin: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by JT

It was looking for a while there like "Can't Stop the Feeling", which is so notable because I have to look up the song title every damn time, was going to be THE Summer Jam Champion, but it's been upset this week. It's still got a very good chance at pulling it off, although I did straight-up ignore it the first few weeks of Summer. Still, it's put in its work these past couple weeks. But JT settles for a Bono this week - #2 forever!

That's right! Sia gets the number one spot this week and I'm pumped. This jam is crawling up there and ready to decimate all those who lay before it! In a sea of cookie cutter jams this is one that really stands out. Its YouTube views slaughter "Can't Stop the Feeling" and it disguises this false club-thumping ideology behind a sultry sassy vocal performance by the vastly underrated woman without a face. I'm down all day.

Next week...

I might add Katy Perry's horrible Rio song one of these weeks for the Olympics. Maybe. It's just so awful. I couldn't get through it. Other than that, the usual rabble of Ariana, Daya, Calvin Harris, and Fifth Harmony are always hanging around. I heard "One Dance" exactly once this week and it might be dead. Then again, "Worth It."

22 July 2016

Lights Out Beyond Collision Course

It's amazing that all those movie titles make a sort of coherent sentence. As unbelievable as it may sound, we're nearly gearing up for the end of July. There's not all that much Summer left, folks, and while I'm basically just waiting around until Suicide Squad (2016) to sate whatever blockbuster-lust I have left and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) to satisfy my desire to see a good movie, there are a slew of releases this week that I don't totally care about, but may actually end up being pretty good. In general it just seems as if this weekend has been an afterthought after some more profile hits (and misses) like Finding Dory (2016), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), and Ghostbusters (2016). This is emblematic of summer blockbuster fatigue, but the conversation just doesn't seem to be about anything coming out this week, despite their high profile.

That being said, these are all very different releases targeting different audiences. We've got horror, animation, and action all in one big mix. Audiences have already seen plenty of all three this summer so it's still to be seen if they'll respond again. Animation especially has seen some huge dividends. Can the fifth Ice Age movie churn them out? Let's go through each release one by one.

First we have Lights Out (2016) which appears in equal measure scary and goofy, the latter unintentionally so. It's kind of a cool presence - some ghost or whatever that only comes out when the lights are off. That's basically a Boo from Super Mario. But these Boos are scary as fuck, or at least they're supposed to be. Although it's probably intended to be a horrifying look at something we do every night without thinking twice (turning on and off lights), it comes off as more gimmicky and silly. A critical drubbing is almost guaranteed. I'd also suggest that this doesn't stay in culture that long. It doesn't even really have a foothold now.

Commercially, it's tough to say. A banal horror flick like this in October or January could get some play. But off the heels of The Conjuring 2 (2016), The Shallows (2016), and The Purge: Election Year (2016), audiences could be horror'd out. Sure these are all pretty different besides The Conjuring 2, but that feeling is there. There's also nothing really here to make Lights Out stand out as anything worth watching. Even though the concept is sort of fresh, it feels like a played out ruse.
Oh wait...

Moving on, let's talk about Ice Age: Collision Course (2016), which is so damn improbably the fifth installment in a franchise that began on the backs of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary back in 2002. It's really a bizarre collection of characters and concepts that has grown year after year. It's amazing that the franchise has had this steady pace, with every film coming out three or four years after the one before it, yet at a remarkably steady pace with plenty of variety to distinguish each picture.

Domestically, the Ice Age movies aren't really much to get excited about. No film as grossed over $200 million, although The Meltdown (2006) and Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) came very close. Globally, though, the past two installments netted an average of about $880 million, which is stunning. This is like, the only work Ray Romano has had in ten years besides Men of a Certain Age and his cameo in Funny People (2009). It's stunning that this franchise has had so many legs.

Now, these films are objectively pretty bad and don't really offer any sort of thematic value for kids, but I'll always appreciate them for leaning a bit more into cartoon-y over-the-top-ness than a Pixar film every would. Blue Sky Studios, which is FOX's animation wing, has always seemed more interested in telling goofy stories over good stories, which isn't wholly a bad thing. I am 100% on #TeamScrat, and his adventures have proven to be classic silent comedy reminiscent of the Golden Age of Warner Bros Animation. It's brilliantly random how the use the little Sabre-Toothed Squirrel as interstitials from the main action, although his acorn obsession almost always affects the main characters. It's a really good move and if anything I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of Scrat shit we get, although it looks like it's mostly already been dropped - what with the Scrat in space for reasons that completely escape me.

The series is also notable for just how bad the original looks. Seriously, Ice Age (2002) looks substantially worse than Toy Story (1995). That might be because all the animals were tougher to animate than plastic toys, but Pixar chose plastic and bugs as its first CGI subjects for a reason. Ice Age looks like a bad CD-ROM game.

Yet, unassumingly and surprisingly, that really crappy-looking film has exploded into a legit franchise. It's almost assuredly going to make bank worldwide, but actually in the wake of other talking animal animated films like Zootopia (2016), The Angry Birds Movie (2016), Finding Dory, and The Secret Life of Pets (2016), does it really stand a chance? I doubted The Secret Life of Pets when it came out, thinking that audiences had already had their fill, but that flick rolled in the dough. Can parents stretch their legs for one more? This summer has been really unkind to sequels, although Finding Dory is a solid exception to that rule. This could swing either way, but the premise seems new again and fun again, so I might think it does decent business. I'm sure that critically it'll get pounded and culturally it'll kind of merge into our collective interpretation of Ice Age. Did you even know this was the fifth? It's like the Resident Evil or Underworld of animated films.
This goes out to Ol' Fright Night himself

Finally we have what would feel like the big hitter this weekend, Star Trek Beyond (2016). JJ Abrams made everyone care about Star Trek again while also crossing it over into legit action blockbuster territory. This is of course not really what the original Star Trek was all about, but whatever. Despite a somewhat lackluster anti-climactic ending, the new cast proved out good they were cast, made each role their own, and set out to chart a new continuity in a way that would only really work for Star Trek.

Abrams followed up all this goodwill with Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which just seemed awful in way but that Space Jump. That Space Jump was gnarly. But the whole thing seemed to miss the mark, both thematically, and in its overreaching attempt to emulate The Wrath of Khan (1982) for no real reason besides ways convenience and provoking nostalgia. Of course, the issue is that it wasn't actually nostalgia, because this Khan isn't anything like Montalban's Khan besides his name. The whole thing is shoehorned, and while that's not the only issue with the film, it's what emerged the most in the cinematic discussion that followed.

That brings us a few years later to Beyond, which really felt like a film that would never get made. Abrams left for The Force Awakens (2015), which his really where he belonged (even though the episodic [ironically so] nature of Star Trek would seem to play more to his creative sensibilities), and was replaced by the Fast & Furious' savior, Justin Lin. I have never seen any of Lin's other work besides episodes of Community and True Detective (let that combo sink in for a bit), but presumably he knows how to handle a large cast of characters and give them all little moments in a big ensemble.

The reviews for Beyond are actually pretty decent, but I feel like it'll become the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) of this year. A well-reviewed and rewarding late July release that for some reason never quite connects in a memorable way that makes okay but not great money at the box office. I haven't totally been sold on the trailers so far - it does seem to invoke an interesting concept of the Federation pushing against the Frontier, but what does that mean? Why is that important? Why is Idris Elba hidden behind a crazy white Green Goblin monster mask? The anticipation doesn't feel like it's there.

So there you go. Three wtf movies that could go big or completely stumble. Sequels have been demolished this season (well, non-Disney sequels). Has it been long enough between Ice Age and Star Trek installments that people are jonesing for another go around? My guess is no. What's yours?

18 July 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 10: Britney, JT, and Blink WHAT YEAR IS IT

Better late than tomorrow! We're in the deep thick of it now - at the point where all the contenders have lined up pretty solidly. It was a whirlwind week and as we plunge into the hottest depths of the Summer Thrillride, there's a slew of new jams working their way around our earballs. Let's listen in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Make Me..." by Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy

When was the last time you were pumped up for a Britney song? I feel the same way about this as I did about Madonna's "Bitch I'm Madonna" last year. It's like these mega-queens are trying real hard to emulate current pop rather than innovate in the genre they used to own. This isn't a great tune, but among the other drops this week - like Katy Perry's shitty Olympics song, it rises pretty high.

Ellie! The River! "River" by Bishop

This has been floating around my ears for a while and finally deserved a spot this week. It kind of gives me a Delta Rae "Bottom of the River" vibe, even if it doesn't hit the lofty hits of that track. That's still a good thing. I really dig the pounding heart of this jam, the passion-infused vocals, and its cautious genre straddling between club-thumping pop and forceful rock. I'd like to see it last awhile but who knows.

She Said Konichiwa: "Don't Mind" by Kent Jones

This has also been jazzing around a while, but I've never felt it's been quite hot enough to earn a spot here until this week. It's a really fun track that reminds me of a "Cheerleader" by OMI or Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" or something similar from past summers. This is totally a more positive song than either of those, though. It's got a shot for sure to do some damage now that it's rolling with some momentum.

Back Again: "Ophelia" by The Lumineers

"Ophelia" returned this week after a long general period of not caring about its existence, but by this point I know all the lyrics and got kind of pumped for it to come on the radio. It seemed to pop up pretty often for whatever likely random reason, but I like the little dent it's suddenly making this summer.

What's My Age Again? "Bored to Death" by Blink 182

I'm really curious where my favourite middle school band goes from here, and while their sound somehow doesn't feel as mature as it did towards the end of their first run, this is still serviceable. I feel like Blink was one of those bands that everyone liked, shamefully or not. They were at the forefront of the pop-punk revolution, baby! That was really when pop-punk was more punk than pop, which is why they always worked. I just liked butt jokes.

I'm In Love for the First Time: "Don't Let Me Down" by the Chainsmokers ft. Daya

I can't believe I search "Don't Let Me Down" on YouTube and the Beatles are the fifth video. Fifth! What the hell? That's a sin greater than "#SELFIE". I was debating a lot between a handful of songs that all sound alike or even going in a completely different direction and throwing in a track I actually like, but I think these guys actually deserve it this week, and when we're coming down to Summer Jam Final Tally Counts, that's big shit, brother!

Better than Expensive Boredom: "Cheap Thrills" by Sia

I do really love this song, this video, and Sia in general. She's spectacular. This song was all over the place this week, and affter listening to Rihanna's Anti a total of four times in the car driving around this weekend I'm actually more and more convinced it didn't really have a place on that album. This is crazy because it's wrecking Rihanna's more sentimental but less pop-friendly jams like "Kiss it Better," "Love on the Brain," and "Needed Me", even if the latter is finally getting some traction. But still, this is a great track and I wish it all the luck.

Saw It Coming: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by JT

So, for better or worse the fact that JT dominated this week and I actually pushed Drake out could very well seal the deal in what's been a tight race so far this summer. I didn't even want to include this guy again because I'm not a huge fan of the song, which feels like he's sleepwalking through, but let's face it, this was everywhere this week. It's maddening. It's got a totally legit shot at Summer Jam Kingship, but I'm still holding out for something better!

Next week...

I left off a ton. Katy's stupid Olympic song, Adele, Drake, Ariana, Calvin Harris, and twenty one pilots to name a few. I also thought that "Panda" should have made a slight comeback this week, but I ultimately decided against it. All these artists are totally deserving, but whatever. Fuck 'em. I actually heard quite a bit of "Lost Boy" by Ruth B again, but she got boxed out. Damn. I should re-do this list. Or just see who lasts until next week! Stay tuned, kids!

15 July 2016

The Road to a Blockbuster: G to the B

There's not quite a weekend this summer that feels as much like the culmination of decades of effort. The Ghosbusters franchise has been stalling out since the second installment in 1989, which has its detractors and supporters in equal measure. After hundreds of different renditions, the powers that be eventually settled on Paul Feig and a foursome of talented female comedians to take on the mantle once worn by Dan Aykroyd and company.
Downright badasses

Every Friday around these parts we take some time to examine the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of the major film releases. This weekend sees the landmark drop of Ghostbusters (2016), which has entered this weird nexus void in between anticipation and revulsion. We've also got The Infiltrator (2016), but no one cares about The Infiltrator. So lets dive into the new Ghosbusters, which has been driving everyone insane since the all-female cast was announced.

Of course, to this the Internet lost their minds. The misogynistic backlash has been even more ridiculous than I could have expected. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't wowed by the original trailer, and nothing in the marketing has particularly caught my eye, although I'm a big enough fan of everyone involved to stay interested.

This of course brings us to the magnificent vitriol spit out by a horde of fanboys (emphasis on boys), who for some reason feel as if their very lives have been threatened by ladies taking up the proton pack, which has somewhat tainted both the release as well as the required conversation leading up to the release. Like this one! Damn.

For my part, I am not sure why Ghostbusters became the lightning rod. It's one of dozens of 80s properties getting the big budget modern mainstream treatment in recent years, and while it's always a fondly recognized movie, are there that many hardcore followers out there? I mean, for what it's worth, between cartoon shows (love The REAL Ghostbusters), ever-present Halloween costumes, the most popular and consistently replayed and recognizable movie tie-in songs of all time, and even Casper (1995), it's totally one of the most whored out franchises ever.

All that being said I'll still argue, like I did when the cast was first announced, that I'd prefer a whole new idea for a female blockbuster, and these still seem like distaff counterparts, which isn't quite the move forward it should be. I am also concerned with the lack of funniness in the trailers, and I say that as a guy who generally enjoyed Tammy (2014). And Welcome to Me (2015), for fuck's sake!

That brings me to another point that's largely been ignored - this movie isn't actually for me. It's for kids who are going to experience Ghostbusters for the first time. More importantly, this is a film for women to enjoy, as much as Transformers was a film for men to enjoy. Do you know how many blockbuster action films are made "for everyone" but really just men in mind? Uhh - all of them but Hunger Games. It's fine to accept that something isn't actually catering directly to us idiots - but as much as some women liked Transformers (probably), I'm sure men will love Ghostbusters. But it may not be the bro event of summer. Who cares? Bros aren't the only people headed to the theater.

For this reason, I really hope it does well. In a season where it seems like every big sequel is flopping I'd love for this to emerge victorious. Advance reviews give it a Jurassic World (2015) / Force Awakens (2015) remakequel vibe, which had surely been lucrative commercially if audiences aren't sick of it yet. I sorta am, although Jurassic World was the only one to coherently comment and build on its situation. Ultimately these films end up as more shallow husks of the greatest blockbusters of all time, and since Ghostbusters is very much in that pantheon, I might expect the same.

That's one last importanf thing to note: there's nothing like the original Ghostbusters (1984). No film has effectively combined horror, sci-fi, and comedy to such ridiculously successful results. It's still the pinnacle of the careers of everyone involved (Sigourney Weaver may have done better elsewhere). Men in Black (1997) is about the only film to come close to capturing its genre.

Even its sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989) didn't really pull off what the original did, although the villain and macguffin are up to par. I'm really curious to see what Feig's film can do - matching the original seems needlessly out of the question. A better question might be "Can it match Jurassic World?"

What do you think?

11 July 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 9: Meet Me, Justin, and Drake Halfway to the Wonder

Damn straight. We're sitting smack dab at the Summer's midpoint, and it's been a pretty damn wild ride. Well, musically it's been a little sub-par to be frank. I haven't really jizzed my pants over any of these tracks and what's looking to take over is totally indistinctive pop jibberish. Summer, babyyy!!! Let's dig in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Madness" by Lucius

This dropped a while ago, but as a tiny-ass indie track is only catching on now with their album Good Grief released a few months ago. This is a really cool jam, a bit of a slow burn that unwinds more and more to show its true colors. I don't think it has any serious shot at a Summer Throne run, but it's a rad song to wake up to this week.

Beach Boobs: "All In My Head" by Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap

I sincerely love that Fetty's first big song since his breakthrough last summer is this track. Fifth Harmony rules, you know it, we all know it. They're a supremely insane group, who makes these decently catchy songs that are also the most lyrically unsophisticated you'll ever hear. It's so damn manufactured, to the point of parody. They're also all real super hot and real super young. Have fun!

Sending Our Love Down the Well: "Send My Love" by Adele

You really should never break-up with Adele. Or Taylor Swift. Or anyone who writes songs for a living. I always finish the hook "down the well" obviously. This video really freaks me out, too. I do find myself really enjoying sassy finger-snapping Adele. This song has been kind of up and down, but I was feeling a surge this week.

Is It? "This Is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna

I'm curious if Rihanna's Star Trek Beyond (2016) will take off in anticipation of that film's release, but it's also really bad, so I'm not sure. Still, we have this, which is also pretty awful. I'm sort of surprised that Rihanna is in this video so much, because it really feels like such a phoned-in job, but Rihanna's also the kind of artist that goes hardcore dedicated in all her collabos, no matter how goofy they might be. Anti showed a lot of her potential, and this ends up being sort of disappointing, but whatever. It's sort of listenable.

Installation 04: "Ophelia" by The Lumineers

I feel like we kind of forgot about this track for a bit there, but it's back, baby! Or at least people seemed to be talking about it and listening to it again. It's good to remember how chill, yet driven this jam is and most things about it just work. I think it's a little bit stale to be a serious contender at this point, but in absence of anything else cool, it works.

Starring Ted Danson: "Bored to Death" by Blink 182

These descriptions are getting more and more esoteric. That's just the way we like it! It is decently weird to be listening to Blink and playing Pokémon to really feel like I'm in Seventh Grade again. That's not to say how weird it is to both see Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker look old as shit and Tom DeLonge no where to be found (obviously he's out fighting aliens). The song is probably as good as anything they did in their hey day, although looking back, it's all kind of crap anyway.

More Crap: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by JT

I don't really have any more words for this. This is assuredly an energetic and confident jam, but it's so much like every other song I've ever heard in my life. Listen to this and just picture the beat. Would you still listen to it. Is it really jammable? Or is it just JT's sleepwalking lyrics? I simply think we ought to expect more from our pop. This is no "Get Lucky" for sure. The celeb dancing cameos also somehow come off really pretentious. I don't know why. Maybe because they're all enjoying it too much. Damn I've soured on this.

Once More: "One Dance" by Drake ft. Wizkid and Kyla

For the record, I am starting to get into the melodic smoothness of this jam, even if I find myself singing more the "Babyyyy / I like your style" way more often than whatever Drizzy is doing here. It is a sexy song and somewhat deserving of Summer Jamhood status, although it's clearly lacking in the ubiquity to really be that song that breaks out. Maybe that's just the era we live in now.

Next week...

I was thinking about Ariana Grande but ultimately left her off again this week. Same deal with The Chainsmokers and Desiigner. I want to get more into Twenty88 but "On the Way" hasn't set fire like I'd hoped. On the twenty note, I also was considering some twenty one pilots "Ride" but that's just not doing it for me. Stay tuned for more great coverage!

08 July 2016

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Pets

Another Friday is upon us, ladies and gentlemen, so it's time once again to discuss the merits of the next theatrical masterpiece to hit the cinematron this day. It almost feels like a light week with only two films to discuss and as an even more stunning fact, neither are sequels, adaptations, or franchise installments! What a time to be alive!

Needless to say, the slots for the next few summers are set in stone, and if Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), and World War Z II (2017) do well, that may change things (holy hell, not bloody likely), but as it sits now, we might see more weeks like this. Audiences have grotesquely expressed their lack of interest in sequels, or to be more specific, a lack of interest in seeing the same crap they just saw. Captain America: Civil War (2016) was a different spin with heavy emotional investment. Finding Dory (2016) was more of a spin-off than a direct sequel that brought the audience into new places with new characters while expanding a character that seemed un-expandable. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) offered the same old shit. How many of you are really that excited about the awkwardly titled World War Z II? Holy shit, how does this stuff get greenlit? Well, international markets, that's why.

But on to the task at hand. Today we see the arrival of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) and The Secret Life of Pets (2016). I'm very excited for one of these and I also think that that will do very well, while the other crashes and burns like The Angry Birds Movie (2016). Try to guess which one will do which! Maybe Angry Birds wasn't an unequivocal disaster, but it certainly feels like it landed with a thud rather than exaltation. So let's just start with that one.
Jeez I hope my dog doesn't do this at home. I use that beater!

The Secret Life of Pets looks awful, and has been getting some rough reviews. This latest animated assault on the box office comes from Illumination Entertainment, which delivered the surprisingly good (but sort of awkwardly named) Despicable Me (2010), followed that up with the lesser, but financially astounding Despicable Me 2 (2013), and most recently, Minions (2015), which was just egregiously awful. They've really stuck in their Gru/Minions world setting, and although the Minions are one of the best iconic branded characters to come out of any film series in recent memory, the studio's commitment to kid and only kid-friendly material is detrimental to anyone else's enjoyment of their films.

I say this having just watched Minions like two days ago, and even though I was excited to see a slapstick comedy rendition that was essentially a silent film (without the principal characters speaking English), I instead got an awkwardly voiced and animated barrage of lame jokes and set-ups. I continually sat there wishing what I was watching was clever. Old Looney Tunes used to craft a delicate set-up then subvert expectations with a huge pay-off. Minions crafted these set-ups and then executed them exactly as you'd expect.

The Secret Life of Pets appears to be more of the same. Everything in the marketing material seems to be very obvious, surface-level stuff without anything really interesting going on. There's also absolutely no indication of the story being told or even who the main protagonists are (they're apparently voiced by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet. These guys. Have you seen any commercial starring these two?). It's never a great sign when the studio isn't confident enough to broadcast the story being told and is instead relying on the slight zaniness of the premise.

And that premise, by the way, is apparently exactly the same as Toy Story (1995). Like, straight up. These kind of things are red flags to me. Lack of a coherent story structure, memorable characters, or inventive gags are all things that really lead me to believe that this shit id dead in the water. We've already had a very animation-heavy summer, and to be more specific, a very heavy talking-animal animation heavy year. This could obviously go either way. On the one hand, this is clearly what people want right now. On the other hand, Zootopia (2016) and Finding Dory (2016) have done this schtick better, the former of which just dropped on DVD, the latter is still the reigning box office champ. Six months from now we're not going to be discussing The Secret Life of Pets.

So we move on next to the latest comedy of the summer, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. In my earlier predicitions, I thought this could be an epic year for Comedy, possibly the best ever. Between Neighbors 2 (2016), The Nice Guys (2016), and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016), the line-up was spectacular. While all of these films reviewed well, none broke out to become that epic, ever-memorable Summer 2016 event like Knocked Up (2007) or The Hangover (2009) or hell, even The Campaign (2012) in years past. We're still looking for our Trainwreck (2015) or our 22 Jump Street (2014) to blast us into the stratosphere. I think Mike and Dave have an outside shot.

First of all, I love the "based on a true story" rub. I first saw this in some late marketing and I thought it was a great riff on "true story" pictures that are typically more serious. Then I found out it really was based on a ridiculous true story! That's incredible! I love movies based on Internet ads. Call this the Tusk (2014) effect.

But this flick ought to be a goldmine. No comedy outside of Deadpool (2016) has really caught on this year, and the cast is totally likable and primed for superstardom. Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam DeVine, and Zac Efron are all mid-level stars who have incredibly funny resumes. It's A, A, A, and Z! The premise is easy to understand, a solid gold opportunity for goofiness, and the turn with these bros biting off more than they can chew is both pleasing to the gender wars and a magnificent rug pull for these character tropes and stereotypes. I'm on board 100%.
Alright, now I just want that suit.

Now, I said the exact same thing about Popstar but whatevs. It can't fail THAT bad right? Right? I think this comes at the right time. We're in a relative dead zone (Finding Dory somehow won three weeks in a row and no other film is dominant right now), and we're starved for straightforward comedies. A drawback could come from its R-rating that could prevent a lot of people from seeing it or being interested in it, but fuck, every movie I cited above was R, so that argument is horrible. R for Retarded, if you will. Hey, this just became an R-rated paragraph, what do you want from me.

Commercially I think it's on solid footing. It's had some fairly good reviews. Around here of course, we're most interested in its cultural foothold. Can it rise to become the Funniest Film of 2016? That's really where it needs to be, and the path is set for it to take the Crown. Efron is suddenly starting to make a name for himself in these raunchy bro-spoofing comedies and I'm curious if he distinguishes himself enough from his Teddy character from Neighbors 2, which came out really recently. Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza have been in slews of films, most notably together in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), and while Kendrick has never really been the center of funny in a film (Pitch Perfect [2012] probably comes closest, but she wasn't really the source of laughs. Just a source of AWESOME), Plaza did have the underrated The To-Do List (2013), which really didn't make much of a dent three summers ago. It's interesting that her character here seems wildly out of her typical April Ludgate disinterested teen schtick. Maybe that's because she's 32 now.

This is really the test of Adam DeVine, though, who's never headlined a major movie before. He's bounced around for sure (another Pitch Perfect alum), including random stints in The Final Girls (2015), and The Intern (2015), mostly riffing on his Workaholics faux-bro persona. There's actually also a weird Robert DeNiro connection there through The Intern and Zac Efron in Dirty Grandpa (2016). And Aubrey Plaza was in Dirty Grandpa! This is getting weird. I'd also almost guarantee some kind of cameo from his other Workaholics suite-mates, although they've all become decently busy now. Still, he's built up enough of a personal brand from Adam DeVine's House Party to Allstate ads. He's ripe for a break-out hit and I think this can be it.

So what do you think? Are you watching the cuddly but moronic animated animal movie or what could be the break-out comedy of the summer? Or just Finding Dory again? Leave one below!

04 July 2016

Summer Jam Week 8: Boom Goes the Beat for America!

Happy America, everybody - and as the fireworks explode in the sky outside, let us also explode...in our hearts. And pants. We're going straight down the middle this week, letting the beauty of pop exuberance wash over us. In many ways this is when Summer actually begins. Let the Purge commence! I mean, uh, listen to these fun jams:

Hot Jam of the Week: "M.I.L.F. $" by Fergie

Needless to say, I love this for so many reasons. I hope this stays a hot jam for a while, although I can't really see it catching on. First of all, even though it's spelled "M.I.L.F. $", the correct pronunciation is "Milf Money", which the Dutchess has equated to Milk for some reason. It's also crazy to me that Fergie has had exactly one previous solo album, which gave her a spectacular 2006-07, and then for some reason after her great break-out, she went BACK to the Black Eyed Peas, had a ridiculous 2009...then like nothing at all since then. It's a bizarre career. No event is too small for the Black Eyed Peas. This is also a bonkers video with Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigan, and Devan Aoki making appearances alongside a lot of random-ass models in a celebration of motherhood. Or something. Oh I hope Double Dutchess makes bank and 2016 becomes another Year of Fergie. It needs to come every ten years.

Stayin and Slayin at Home: "Work" by Fifth Harmony ft. Tyga

This video has had 623 million YouTube views. Let that sink in for a second. That's obviously because it's one o the hottest videos ever, filling me with weird horny boner feelings then immediately cutting to a sweaty greasy male construction worker. It's just that kind of summer. I'd probably still go Benny Benassi when I'm looking for construction girls.

Bill 'Em With Blindness: "Kill 'Em With Kindness" by Selena Gomez

Selena has been on the pop Summer Jam periphery for a while now, and this might be her ticket to the big show. I don't think the beat quite matches the vocals - it's way to fast and sounds like it was made on a keyboard, but this is listenable enough. I like the content, even if it loses itself when it gets out of the chorus, and it's an interesting match to Bieber's "Love Yourself" if indeed they're singing about each other.

I Love Cheap Thrills! "Cheap Thrills" by Sia ft Sean Paul

I do really love the complete lack of effort to translate whatever the hell Sean Paul is singing, but this clearly my favourite song of the week, and has been since This is Acting dropped months ago. The track was originally written for Rihanna's Anti, which as good as it is coming out of Sia, would have been damn spectacular slid in between "Yeah I Said It" and "Same Old Mistakes." Okay, I've listened to both these albums far too much this year. I think Sia does a spectacular job here, but Rihanna spitting this would have been a sight to hear.

Mrs. Dead Eyes: "Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande

This has kind of grown on me lately, even if it's still kind of a whatever cookie cutter type of pop song that's typical of most of Ariana's non-"Problems" work. I feel like she very rarely finds a song to match her talents, which are virtually without limit as far as I'm concerned. The chorus here works, but the rest seems to undersell her vocals. It's gearing up at this point, and while I don't think it's Queen material, I'd be curious to see where it goes from here.

Trolls! "Can't Stop the Feeling" by JT

I think I've reached my saturation point with all these songs. I'm just not impressed by their spiciness at all. This is just a song that could have been sung by anyone. I'm over it. It's still a perfectly cheery and energetic summer jam, but that's really not enough. We need something a little bit more special to truly earn Summer Jam status, and with eight solid weeks in the can, this is looking like the best we got so far. Where's our ubiquity!?

RiRi and Calvin: "This is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna

See? I'm having trouble even distinguishing between all these jams. Each one is more similar than the last one. Is Fifth Harmony actually the most memorable jam right now? This one had a nice upsurge this week, although I'd honestly expect more out of Rihanna. They're all just kind of boring honestly. This has been on and off so far this summer, and if it stabilizes, it could make a nice dent in Summer Jamhood, but my inclination is that's not likely.

One More: "One Dance" by Drake and whatever

Now, I can't be alone in the feeling that even though this is the #1 jam on the Hot 100 and has made great strides across both Pop and Hip-Hop playlists, it just doesn't quite feel like the kind of Summer Jam that really takes hold of the country, right? It's not a "California Gurls" or "Party Rock Anthem" at all. This kind of shit happened last year with "Shut Up and Dance" which just took the Top Spot because no one else stepped up. We do have nine weeks left (it's amazing that we're nearly half over!), so we'll see!

Next week...

I may need to scour to do another "All Brand New Hotness" edition because we're getting mad stale mad fast. I narrowly left off the Chainsmokers this week, but other than that, I'm not hearing anything all that interesting. Keep your ears and hearts open people and to this, to you, to America, I say good day!

03 July 2016

Three Years Gone: Revisiting The Lone Ranger. Again.

Ever since its premiere three years ago, my obsession with understanding the abject failure of The Lone Ranger (2013) has somewhat consumed me. It's such a curious story to me because it seems to get at the overblown failure of most modern blockbusters, although on paper there's no reason why it should have failed, and after having seen the thing a few times now in the past three years, there's also no real reason to think it's even a bad movie.
This really reminded me of The LEGO Movie (2014).

So, to place this film in context, the only reason it exists at all is The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), which was somewhat improbably successful (there has been a surprising dearth of imitator pirate films in its wake), and led to two gargantuan sequels, the first of which, Dead Man's Chest (2006) soared to become at the time, only the third film to cross the billion dollar worldwide mark at the box office. At World's End (2007) is surely the most insane of the trilogy, but perhaps also the best. That film juggles an insane amount of plot, ridiculous action, a full-on movement towards the surreal, and finds room for plenty of call-backs, deeply embedded character symbolism, and rich yet totally insane characters.

In many ways, The Lone Ranger feels like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie set in the Wild West. Much of the same team returned, from director Gore Verblinksi, to star Johnny Depp, but also producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot. From there they really just supplanted trains for ships and cowboys for pirates and massive deserts for endless oceans and you got a film there.

There's no reason to expect that the old adventure-style Lone Ranger would be that well-received, but when's the last time a swashbuckling pirate movie was treated seriously? This is in the wake of Cutthroat Island (1995) and hell, even Muppet Treasure Island (1996). The thing of it is, The Lone Ranger acts like a version of Pirates of the Caribbean where all the elements are refined, simplified, and executed with a sharper brilliance and knack for expansive yet idiosyncratic storytelling.

It was ostensibly dragged down by development hell, a damning overblown budget, and a simple lack of interest in the source material, even though it's a Lone Ranger movie exactly as much as Black Pearl is an amusement park ride movie. There are many more factors rumbling around, though. Some of these were discussed at the time, and it's interesting how much Despicable Me 2 (2013) triumphed that weekend, although by now that films' content is fairly blurry to me.
Clearly the second-best Tonto ever.

We're still in the middle of this, but in 2013 we were really knee-deep in Johnny Depp "Wacky Character" exhaustion. Even though he virtually disappears into Tonto the way he does into Jack Sparrow, he crafts a distinct character, playing him as eccentric without being aggressive or a buffoon. There's a lot of pain to his Tonto; pain that's essential to the story and his own character arc. Still, in the marketing material this seemed a whole lot like "Oh whatever!" It's tough to get up and amped for another white-faced Depp character (he plays an amazing high amount of them). As 2016's Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) just proved, we're still in eye-rolling mode for his antics, regardless if they do or do not have merit.

It's also very plain to see that no one cares about either Old West action epics or big-budget adaptations of pulp material. John Carter (2012) is plain evidence of both these elements, even if it starts as a Western and ends as a Fantasy. Everything from Wild Wild West (1999) to Cowboys & Aliens (2011) suggests the genre's instability. While this weekend's Legend of Tarzan (2016) opened ten million higher than The Lone Ranger, it's also still a drastically underperforming template to base a genre around.

Now, one important thing is the overblown budget. Not only was this a oft-repeated means of knocking down the film (for some reason. I'm not sure why anyone cares about budgets or source material. The only thing worth caring about is the film itself), but it would have actually been profitable if it cost less, and not much of the purported $215 million appears on screen. It earned a mind-bogglingly low $89 million stateside and $260 worldwide, but truth be told, this film failed more as a cultural black hole. I remember seeing Lone Ranger LEGO sets, as if that'd ever take off. Something about that whiff is just sad and desperate.

I have suggested this before, but I'll say again, that the biggest reason for its failure is that he central conceit of the film is a huge blow to the myth of American manifest destiny and a reminder of our blood soaked and treacherous history of industrial corruption and Indian genocide. Maybe it wasn't the the greatest film to come out Independence Day Weekend. These are some really important concepts, though, and part of the thrill of watching this flick again is its boldness in addressing some relatively unpopular sentiments.

In this way its themes surpass PotC, although it still has some tonal issues with its tendency to switch between brutal heart-eating action set-pieces, addressing genocide, and silly horses in trees. The dueling train finale is very much the equal if not superior to the Maelstrom of At World's End, in part because it juggles less pieces of plot, offers more of a focused goal (even if that goal is actually non-existent - they blew up the bridge anyway!), and is a bit more grounded in reality. The triple villains also echo the big bads of At World's End - like the establishment, over-arching villain (Cutler Beckett / Latham Cole), the rogue gross dude (Davy Jones / Butch Cavendish), and the instrument of government oppression, a man torn by honor (Captain Norrington / Captain Fuller).

Verblinski also seems really into his repeated character motifs, such as the pocket watch that symbolizes Cole's greed and corruption and crow/seeds that signify Tonto. Repeated viewings give greater meaning to Cole fondling the pocket watch near the beginning of the film or Tonto exchanging seed for dead men's belongings. They become elements equal to Barbossa's Apple or Will Turner's sword that add little cohesive details to everything else wacky going on around it.

Its length is surely bloated, but its imagination and characters are pretty solid. The middle is certainly a slog to get through, but it's also the richest in theme and meaning. Armie Hammer still isn't great for some reason, even though I find myself liking him and his inherently noble characteristics work well for the role. There's something off about the casting, though, perhaps just a lack of charisma or actual reason to cheer for the character, even though he has a well-developed an intricate arc from prude to rude. Then again, perhaps that's why the film routinely states that this the wrong brother, wrong hero, and wrong protagonist leading everything.

On that note, like I mentioned earlier, there are certain things that don't really make sense. Why does John Reid wake up at the top of an impossibly tall wooden tower in the middle of the desert? Why is "nature out of balance" with these mysterious elements like carnivorous rabbits that are never exactly addressed? Finally, the end train conflict actually only exists to serve as action for the sake of action, since the same result would have taken place regardless if Tonto and the Lone Ranger had done anything (they blew up the bridge, meaning that no matter what Cole would have plummeted with his silver to his death). I suppose Tonto distracts him enough so that he doesn't see the missing bridge and slow down. And they rescue John's brother's widow (which, it's also totally weird that he's hooking up with her), although that's treated as more a side consequence to their assault.

What works is that all of this can be explained by the bookending Tonto narrator structure, which proves many times to be an unreliable narrator. He embellishes, skips around, and fully admits to lies and story changes. It may be a cheat, but Verblinski and Depp execute fairly effectively, with a layer of cheekiness that winks at its audience expecting a straightforward story and instead turns a lot of typical blockbuster elements on their head.

All this is not necessarily to say that The Lone Ranger is a great movie. There are many issues, most of which I dug into here. It's certainly no worse than any PotC movie, though, and probably the best summer blockbuster of 2013, or at least right under Pacific Rim (2013). I'm most curious about how or why its legacy got so unjustly maligned.

What do you think?

01 July 2016

Purging Through the Jungle with a Big Fucking Giant

Ahh. The Fourth of July Weekend. This has traditionally been a powerhouse weekend at the Cinema, but truth be told, in recent years past that distinction has been put to the test. We have three films dropping this weekend, none of which I'd expect to really light up the box office. Still, let's try to discuss their critical, cultural, and commercial potential. First, though, let's update on Independence Day Weekend:

Way back when when I was crushing The Long Halloween, we discussed the obvious choice this weekend - Independence Day (1996). We're lucky to have Resurgence (2016) still slumming around theaters this weekend, and you should probably go see that. We haven't actually had an outstanding Independence Day weekend in a while though. If you check out the top all time, we have Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) at the tip-top and Despicable Me 2 (2013) at the #3 slot, but that doesn't feel quite like a Fourth of July America Fuck Yeah-sort of blockbuster, does it? We're five years past Dark of the Moon - what else we got?

Well, the only other films in the past decade are a Twilight film, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and the original Transformers (2007). Recent years have given us some epic misfires, from Terminator: Genisys (2015) to Tammy (2014), The Lone Ranger (2013), and The Last Airbender (2010). These are some of the most high profile bombs of all time, or at least recent cinematic history. Once you get out into the aughts there are some better candidates like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009), Hancock (2008), and Superman Returns (2006), but very few of these echo that epic patriotism of Independence Day. That's likely a solid reason why Transformers has done so well here. America wants to turn its brain off and watch some explosions, jingoism, and some fucking flag waving for the grand U S of A. I'm still kind of surprised that Tammy fell on its face, because even though it was a bit of a mess, it was totally a summer movie that had a lot of fun with itself, even if it had some heavy parts that didn't really hit on a tonal level.

My point is that in the 90s this weekend saw Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990 - which, by the way, what did audiences think of the Christmas-themed film that uses a snowstorm as an integral plot component coming out in the Heart of Summer?), T2: Judgment Day (1991 - somehow this is way more of a patriotic movie than Genysis. Maybe it's just a better movie), Men in Black (1997), Armageddon (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), and The Patriot (2000). These are the films that Independence Day built its back on. All of these are classic American blockbusters. Well, Wild Wild West and The Patriot sort of, but they're still pretty damn American.

On that note, we ought to talk about Will Smith, who appeared in four of the above movies (plus Men in Black II [2002], also a Fourth of July movie). These were all decently successful. Even Wild Wild West made as much as Bad Boys (1995) and Ali (2001) put together. His absence in any good film since...jeez, I Am Legend (2007)? If that? Maybe we go back to Hitch (2005)? Anyway, his absense in any good films, despite how incredible and weird and awesome his brief scene in Winter's Tale (2014) is, is surely felt in a country that yearns for someone to fill the big gap left by his departure. And we have another Independence Day right now! Why wasn't this worked out? Damn it. Damney damn it.

So let's go through these films in order of how much I want to see them, and I don't think I'll spend all that much time on anyone this go around. I say that now. Let's start with The BFG. Now, I was an enormous fan of the Roald Dahl book as a kid, and twenty years ago I'd be ecstatic at the prospect of a film adaptation. I'm not into it nearly as much now for some reason. Maybe it's just because I haven't read the book in twenty years. I remember the Fleshlumpeater and that farting scene. And didn't he really like pickles or something?
That's not natural.

The BFG just really doesn't look that exciting. I don't want to blame the layers of endless hokey CGI...but it's probably the endless layers of hokey CGI. I also can't understand Spielberg's sudden love affair with Mark Rylance. I'm not convinced of his acting ability at all, Academy Award be damned. Maybe the whole thing is just a little childish for me. I was also never into The Adventures of Tintin (2011), which was due to a simple disconnect from the material, which I think The BFG echoes.

There's no real reason to expect a poor movie out of Spielberg, although Tintin is unfortunately the closest thing you can compare this to. He's always avoided streaks or trends (he made The Lost World [1997] in between Schindler's List [1993] and Amistad [1997] and 1941 [1979] in between Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977] and Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981] - you never know what you're going to get). I get a bad feeling about The BFG. I don't think Independence Day Americans want to see a British-based fantasy film. There hasn't been that much urgency to any of the marketing material, and there doesn't seem to be any must-see scenes or cultural resonance to it. I'd call it a hard pass at this point.

Roald Dahl film adaptaions are also a fairly mixed bag. For every Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) you have a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Even in animation, they range from the dreadful James and the Giant Peach (1996) to the sublime Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). I'd argue that this essentially all comes down to the adaptation team. Mr. Fox is very much a Wes Anderson film the same as Charlie is, for better or worse, very much a later-era Tim Burton film. It's hard to predict anything, but I'm siding on the "no one cares" angle.

Moving on to The Legend of Tarzan (2016), which is another movie where I don't understand its existence. Why do they keep greenlighting Edgar Rice Burroughs stories? This actually seems to have an interesting twist - it's set after Tarzan has already left the jungle and depicts him coming back and re-adapting to Ape Culture. That's totally not communicated in the marketing and I feel a Hercules (2014) thing coming on where you get all pumped up to see Hercules and then it turns out that Hercules isn't even Hercules.
Watch out for that tree!

Of course, Tarzan is one of the most popular film characters of all time. He's appeared in 54 films since 1918. Of course, 44 of those films came before 1980. Still, there's been ten Tarzan films since 1980! Did you even know that?! The most high profile recent film is probably the bizarre dreadlocked Disney Tarzan (1999) with Rosie O'Donnell and a particularly brutal villain death, even for 90s Disney Films. But did you catch the Casper Van Dien film from 1998!? That was the last live action Tarzan film, and because of its serialized Johnny Weissmuller history along with its trend towards ultimate camp (Christopher Lambert taking the title role in 1984 seals it), it's been kind of a weird IP to add legitimacy to.

Still, it's public domain, so play ball. The cast of this one is actually pretty spectacular, re-uniting Django Unchained co-stars Sam Jackson and Christoph Waltz (who actually seems to be kind of awful in non-Tarantino films), along with Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou (who I feel like is in everything), and Jim Broadbent. The weak link is probably Alexander Skarsgård, who is a competent enough actor, but has never been really exceptional or a memorable draw. I suppose this is his chance, and he has the abs, so that works.

It's actually a bit weird how pervasive Tarzan is in our social consciousness. I've never seen a Tarzan film outside of the Disney version, but I totally know the story. The yell, the loincloth, it's all good. Most my memory is probably more Brendan Fraser George of the Jungle (1997). I mean, this is gold. Pure gold. I'm not going to be able to watch The Legend of Tarzan now. All I will think about is Brendan Fraser swinging into trees. Does Tarzan really deserve the rain-soaked gritty treatment? The dude's in loincloth surrounded by Apes. He better do the yell. I hope this film doesn't think it's too good for Skarsgård to scream through the jungle like a maniac. It's like Godzilla's fire breath; the most distinctive trait for the character.

I don't think anyone will want to see a Tarzan movie for the same reason they didn't want a John Carter movie or a Lone Ranger movie. These are old characters that we don't really care about. Every kid and nerd wants to see a movie about Captain America because they grew up reading stories about him. No one has sat around reading Tarzan stories in literally a hundred years, and even back then, they were niche pulp, not highly respected literature. My hopes for this film's success are about as dismal as The BFG. Again, if you're an overzealous American kid on Independence Day do you want to see some Brits wandering around the jungle screaming at Apes? Where is my damn fighter jet. Now, if they were to finally come out with a Magnus, Robot Fighter movie, then we'd be getting somewhere.

So now we move on to The Purge: Election Year (2016). Thank you, Purge. Thank you. This is my #1 movie of the week, at least that I'm pumped up about. It has tended to be a niche film, although to be fair, the original, even if wouldn't compete with traditional summer blockbusters, made thirty times its budget worldwide. It sequel, The Purge: Anarchy (2014) made a bit more than that, but more importantly, it drastically expanded its world in a way that I really respected. Election Year looks like it's going all-out nuts crazy, which is awesome. It feels like this series is getting looser and crazier as it goes on, toying with its premise in ways that progressively blur the line between horror and horror-comedy.
Do your patriotic duty and watch The Purge.

It's also flatly American. If there's any theme to this Independence Day Weekend post, it's that these films should have something American to them! I suppose the big studios don't actually care about that anymore because they can actually get a little more bank by focusing on more global issues while securing high worldwide grosses. Eww. Lame. There also seems to be a derth of political films in general this year. We've at least had W. (2008) or The Campaign (2012) in years past. Maybe The Purge: Election Year fits in with that lot.

Two years ago I argued that Purge movies could go on forever with the articulate yet simple high concept world they've built. The cool part is that they're not tied into any specific character or scenario. They can spin it into whatever they want. Obviously this year, with the chick from The Santa Clause 2: the Mrs. Clause (2002) wanting to ban the Purge, well that just won't stand. Hey it can't end with her being successful, right? Then these movies will stop! Maybe the creators are all purged out. No, that will not stand!

In terms of cultural resonance, I actually see Election Year blurring with Anarchy, unless it ends up really setting itself apart. It certainly seems like it could. It has the style, sardonic wit, and murderous irreverence to do so that seems to up the ante from the previous installments while communicating a pretty simple plot efficiently. Out of all the films coming out this weekend, Election Year is somehow the only one that has actually given me a compelling reason to see it - I want to know if the Purges stop!

Election Year will almost certainly make money, even if it doesn't debut near the top of the Weekend, which it'll honestly have to get through Finding Dory (2016) to get through, which ought to crush at least another $30 million. I can see The BFG reigning supreme, although it's going to be a close call. Election Year may also run into some trouble from The Shallows (2016) and The Conjuring 2 (2016), both of which have done decent for what they are. Are we horror'd out for Summer? They're all pretty different movies - ghosts, sharks, legal murder for 12 hours. What movie do you think will earn the crown this weekend?
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