22 May 2017

Katy Perry Does Double Duty LIVE Summer Jam Week 2!

Once again we're coming at you LIVE on Week 2 of the Official Norwegian Morning Wood Summer Jam Countdown - our destiny is here until Labour Day - let's get into some funk, baby! We have eight songs that are ready to pop like candy-coated dynamite here just for you, the loyal listener. Let's jam.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Swish Swish" by Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj



Two weeks, two Hot Katy Perry jams, but what can I say? She's bringing it. Nicki doesn't bring a ton to this track that a random group like Migos do, but it's a good enough song that continues to firm up Katy's new brand. This takes about a minute to get interesting, and is in every way a lesser track to "Bon Appetite" but it's trending enough this weekend to earn a spot here.

Dropped: "iSpy" by Kyle ft. Lil' Yachty

Our #1 last week is barely holding on - this just wasn't an earworm this week. There's a lot of competition right now as everyone settles into their summer jam hood. "iSpy" was never destined for a crown, having dropped far too early, but it should still have some juice in it going forward for a few months.

SWE: "High" by Sir Sly

Here's your random track for the week. I heard this jam this week and was digging it hardcore. There's of course no real hope this number catches on, but I like highlighting some random alt jams like this from time to time. It has a fantastic, cutty rhythm and almost feels like an old Foster the People song.

Issues Need Tissues: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

This jam seems like it's been around for a bit, although just this week it started really chugging forward. I have no idea who Julia Michaels is, but she can sing the hell out both the hook and verse work of a song like this. The lyrical content is very whatever, we've heard this a million times from anyone who's ever sung anything ever, but the way it straddles in between ballad and upbeat dance number is engrossing. I bet this could stay for a minute.

Bone Ape Tit: "Bon Appetit" by Katy Perry ft. Migos

This ain't going anywhere. It's a beautiful EDM / Pop / Rap song that merges everything like a bountiful buffet. I'm fearful of Katy dominating all of Summer forever, which is totally possible right now. I don't really know if this is supposed to be goofy Katy or serious Katy, but it's surely sexy Katy, and that always works. Let the assault begin.

Like Kellyanne Conway: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

I almost slotted this in the Hot Jam slot, but it works better here, because it totally legit took over a ton this week. This is kind of like that Julia Michaels song in that it's been around for a second without exactly making a name for itself. Like "Same Old Love" a few years back she does a really nice job with the progression of her vocal work and it's totally sexy even if at 24 years old she still looks like she's in middle school.

Rebel Just for Kicks: "Feel It Still" by Portugal. The Man

Now this is this week's earworm. Portugal. The Man has had a few jams here and there but this is by far their biggest jam to date. It's a little old, but rock songs always seem to have a delayed reaction from release to prominence. This has such an engaging and fun beat and vocal work that makes for a great summer contender. Can it hold on? I'm inclined to say no, but for now and maybe here and there this will pop up.

The Old Man: "That's What I Like" by Bruno Mars

Definitely an old song, but it's hung around and was good enough to earn that Top Spot this week. It assuredly won't last, but in this state of flux, it's got it. It's been around long enough that its hotness gets even hotter with mouthed lyrics at dance clubs and a knowing nodding approval. For some reason Bruno Mars is the only one really pushing funk these days, or is at least the most successful at it. I'd be eager to see what else he might drop to secure a Summer Jam Kingdom.

Next week...

What new song with Katy Perry drop? Can GaGa surge back ahead? What about everyone else? These are the questions that have plagued humanity for all of history. I also narrowly kicked out "Rockabye" this week which is still knocking on the door. Altogether these really are the hot ones right now, and I struggle seeing much besides a shuffle of the order next week. Stay tuned, true believers, the Summer's just starting to sizzle!

21 May 2017

Elites, Grunts, and Xenomorphs: Alien: Ark of the Covenant

Usually this is a Friday thing, you know, as to be relevant, but I'll be honest, this was a bit of a ludicrous week for me. I did not get to that shit. Nevertheless, we got another Alien movie coming out this week, which is a big deal. There have only been eight of them, and two are universally accepted as pretty good, so that's something to get really excited about. We've got Alien: Covenant (2017) today, which I don't totally care about, but if it's creepy scary good filmmaking we may have something worth talking about here. Let's get into the preview for a film that came out two days ago:
Get away from her you bitch!

The Alien Franchise has existed in this realm that straddles a lot of different genres and expectations. It's not totally weird for a horror film to have a dozen crappy sequels that excel in camp over artistic merit, but Alien is at least as much action as it is horror. Aliens (1986) was actually the first major blockbuster sequel to just trade up genres, and it did it in a brilliant simplistic way that's still worthy of emulation today, even if we've never really seen another franchise pull it off.

Really, though, this thing goes back to 1979, which is actually kind of an amazing longevity. No film in the series has really been great since Aliens, though. David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992) has its moments for sure, it's never really caught on as iconic as any other film in the series. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection (1997) is actually a pretty fun grimy flick, but is by no means what I'd call a good movie. Still, there's Ron Pearlman, Winona Ryder, that weird basketball scene, and of course the super creepy white alien / human hybrid whatever. It's got some stuff.

In the 2000s all we got were AVP films, and while the first one is kind of cool in that same Resurrection way of campy ridiculousness that more or less delivers, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) has next to no positive features of any kind. That's actually despite being the only one of eight films that's set in the present day within the confines of the United States. That's clearly the issue here. Despite all this, there has actually been a decent continuity in terms of the Weyland-Yutani's history and all that crap.

Then there's Prometheus (2012). Listen, sitting in the theater I liked Prometheus a lot. I wrote more about Prometheus at the time than I had about any other film in Norwegian Morning Wood history. Five years gone I think a lot of that love has evaporated, but culturally the film did actually make a sizable impact, even if it was ultimately negative. I had a lot of rationale for it at the time, but after five years of intense thought and deliberation, fuck that, this movie made no sense, no motivation or interaction lands with conviction, and the inconsistencies and unfulfilled mysteries are too grand to ignore. After some close examination that's more Damon Lindelof than Ridley Scott's direction, which is pretty great. The production, cast, and general themes all land pretty hard and I wouldn't call it a terrible waste.

Then we get to the present day. Ridley Scott, somehow at age 79 is coming back to a more Alien (1979) level of thrills rather than Prometheus level of bullshit. That's just the issue, though - by all means this looks like an exact retread of Alien rather than anything interesting. That's the Star Wars Prequels - Disney sequels argument - as bad as the prequels were, they were new and different. The sequels may be better as films by adhering to what made the originals great, but that's still somehow not satisfying. Scott is also a notoriously finicky director who cuts and re-cuts his films all the time, and whose recent work has ranged from pretty awesome to pretty shit. It's hard to have any real exceptions about Covenant at all.

One thing that is cool is the cast, which is pretty sweet. Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, and especially the bizarre casting of Danny McBride and James Franco in a horror movie (even if the latter apparently isn't around for too long) is intriguing. Above all, though, is Katherine Waterston, who I've been cheering for getting a big mainstream role since Inherent Vice (2014). Sure she's got Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) too now, I guess, but that's a bunch of bullshit and you know it. She's got a Ripley haircut here, what more do you need.

There's also Mike Fassbender, but as a different android? Or maybe David's head shows up again? I don't know. I'm also unsure if Noomi Rapace shows up again, I think I read she does, but if it's a minor or cameo part, that's also a kind of thumb in the ass for the genuine Prometheus fans, right? Like, it sucked, but that was because it ended and promised all the answers to its horse shit in its sequel. Covenant seems to be like, nah, that sucked, we're doing some different shit now. That's fine and could make for a more satisfying cinematic experience, but it's also getting rid of a reason why we might have retro-actively liked Prometheus. It all goes to show that Lindelof really didn't have any fucking idea what he was doing or secretly cool underlying mystery here. Maybe there will be some kind of pay-off. Who knows.
At least it brushes its teeth.

Typically the point of this post is to present the impending culturally, critical, and commercial potential of upcoming big blockbuster films. We've already seen the commercial impact, and it did pretty decent in the sense that it ousted Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), but that's no huge feat in its third week of release. Critically it seems to have done okay, and there is some cultural impact with advancing the Alien narrative and that shot of the buggy on the roof is creepy and iconic. Good enough, right? I would have suggested it does just fine, and probably better than I thought it might have after seeing the first trailer a few months ago, which was all sorts of whatever. It'll at least be good enough until Baywatch (2017) drops, which I really think will take over Memorial Day and kick off summer.

What do you think? What's the best Alien movie? Is Covenant's shirking of Prometheus a positive leap forward or a cheap shot against those who wanted a delayed payoff? Sound off below.

15 May 2017

Here We Do! SUMMER JAM 2017 WEEK 1 LIVE!

Let us begin! Coming to you live on the first Monday after the Summer Season officially begins, it's that age old time to once again recount all the hottest jams of the country each week until only one remains to be crowned THE Summer Jam of 2017! We've been doing this...for many many years and this has clearly evolved into one of our least popular columns, but dammit if it isn't still a thrill to dig into the sexiest jams each week.

So the magic number is eight - always has been and always will be. Think of this more like whatever jams I really wanted to talk about more than whatever's actually hot. That always makes the end of the year tally more valid. Now, we've only got seventeen weeks, so every notch counts!

HOT JAM OF THE WEEK! "Bon Appétit" by Katy Perry ft. Migos


This will definitely rise fast, and even though there are many possible candidates this week, it's clear that Katy Perry has been priming a mini-comeback from her mini-sort of hiatus lately with "Chained to the Rhythm" then this, which blows everything out o the water. Her new style seems to be somewhere between more traditional Lo Fi Chill-Hop beats and a really engrossing vocal rhythm, with some healthy rap collabos. Migos are the hottest hip-hop group around right now, and their inclusion is very natural to make a killer summer jam. This song is debuting at a perfect time and won't go anywhere till mid-July.

Old Jam Holding On: "That's What I Like" by Bruno Mars

Bruno has also had a great pair of songs in the past six months - following up the wonderful "24K Magic" with this smooth jam that comes close to being superior. It's definitely on the tail end of its cosmic journey across pop culture, but still getting airplay and notoriety enough to be worth a mention here. It may even survive a few more weeks, but likely not a true Jam candidate.

Smokin! "Mask Off" by Future

Future blows, as does this song but I really wanted to mention this because a friend of mine was telling me the other day that Future was trying to steal his friend's girlfriend. This of course makes no sense outside of an insane lifestyle that I want to learn much more about. This song is doing alright and Future's stock is rising. We'll keep an eye on it.

Oppam One-Hit Wonder Style: "New Face" by PSY

I really love non-"Gangnam Style" PSY songs for two reasons: 1) The 2012 smash was a ridiculous worldwide YouTube-driven novelty song and 2) He's actually equally insane and hilarious in all his videos, and "New Face" preserves a lot of that "Gangnam Style" weirdness and sick dance moves. It will of course not catch on, but it's still a sweet jam to crank out this summer. You'll at least get a lot of fun quizzical looks! He also dropped "I LUV IT" this week but that's a bit weaker to me.

A Star is Born: "The Cure" by Lady GaGa

It's been a few years since she was a serious Summer Jam contender, and whether she sees this herself or not (I doubt it), I've always pictured GaGa as eternally pining for a Summer Jam Crown. "The Cure" is a little old but still pretty fresh, and from Super Bowl LI it's been clear that she wants 2017 to become the Year of GaGa. Unfortunately that may have been 2009 or maybe 2011, which is getting to be a minute ago. I think this could keep tracking for a few weeks or at least set up another single off Joanne, but once again, she's dueling Katy this summer.

Interchangeable Pop Ballad of the Week: "Rockabye" by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

This was a big jam this week but totally also a random pop song that no one will care about in three weeks' time. You can always tell the songs like this since the amount of artists you need to credit is longer than the song title. Nice to hear Sean Paul here although I was totally just thinking Pitbull the whole time. I just realized that Pitbull took over the career that Sean Paul was building. That's fucked up. There's nothing really special about this song, but it's cool for now.

Speaking Of: "I'm the One" by DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne

It may be weird to hear, but I actually don't have anything at all against Justin Bieber. In fact I dig most of his tracks, especially "Love Yourself" which I still tune everything else out to jam to. This is a pretty stupid song, though, even if it's #1 on the Billboard Charts this week. There's a lot going on here and it doesn't come close to some of Chance the Rapper's great hits like "No Problem" that he cranked out last year with Lil Wayne. He's still probably the best part of this jam. It could stay around a while since it has the momentum, but I don't think it'll ever really threaten for Summer King.

Cosby or Eddie Murphy: "iSpy" by KYLE ft. Lil' Yachty

I had to look up a few things - namely, KYLE, and the stylization of "iSpy" for some reason, but this is far and large the catchiest song of the week. There's not an artist that more embodies 2017 to me than Lil' Yachty, who just seems to get this generation, probably because he's actually of this generation. This is a little bit outdated and will probably only ride until June or so, which makes its Summer Jam status a reach, but we'll see what it can do.

Next week...

I was tempted to shout out DNCE's new jam with Nicki Minaj, but the song sucks hard. Kendrick Lamar has also had a lot of big awesome jams drop lately, but I'm not sure any of them are actually Top 8 yet - "Humble." is the chief, but that's definitely a bit played out by now. Still, it could easily creep back. Stay tuned! We got 16 more weeks of this crap!

14 May 2017

First Impressions: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The first official Summer Movie Season flick (Fate of the Furious [2017] be damned) is out and there were a lot of mixed expectations here. Critics and pundits in general seem more and more leary of the repetitious Marvel machine, the first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) burst on to the scene out of no where to blow everyone away, and generally the studio had a big follow-up film problem.
And Andy Dwyer keeps getting more jacked.

That was all for naught, though, because I'd call Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) somehow superior to the first and one of Marvel Studio's finest films, if not their greatest. It's at least a neck and neck race with The Winter Soldier (2014) at this point. It's really an amazing feat because so so often the follow-up to a successful out of no where film falls on its face by trying and failing to replicate what made its predecessor great, or it had inspired so much that it becomes a pale version of itself, akin more to its imitators than remaining truly inspired.

Vol 2 doesn't fall into any of these traps. It's actually remarkably simple how it doesn't - avoiding any temptation to go bigger and crazier or forcing itself to be anything it's not, it instead doubles down on its characters and their interactions. It's the characters themselves who are naturally really funny and refreshing, so the whole thing feeds itself with a basis that's way more consistent than most other films that stumble at this point. Their interactions and relationships are what makes this series worth watching and it's frankly unbelievable that Marvel and Disney let director James Gunn have his way with this and it's paid off so well. Clearly, as time has shown again and again, this is a studio that simply knows what they are doing.

So let's get into every nook and cranny. The Guardians are still a relatively obscure group of characters, at least in the sense that they don't have a history as well known as a Captain America or Hulk, but there's actually plenty of nods here to the greater Marvel cosmos that acknowledges the long run of this team that no one has ever really cared about. We'll get more into Sly Stallone later (spoilers forever, for that matter), but for now, let us rest that this film is more about having its way with these random people rather than owing anything to legions of fans.

We get a lot of this right at the start. The opening scene shows most of the team battling some random space monster over some batteries, but the film quickly demonstrates that it's not the kind of movie that actually cares about any of that. The entire focus of the intro is a stunningly cute dancing Baby Groot which belies this films' true heart: music and character. We've all seen awesome action sequences over and over by now, but there hasn't been a film in years whose opening number is this purely joyous.

Part of that is the color scheme, which more and more Marvel seems leaning towards bright fluorescent rainbows. It's actually them aping Suicide Squad (2016) for once, but between this and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and Doctor Strange (2016) for that matter, we seem super into trippy lights and colors now. Maybe that's to go along with the outer space aesthetic of the Marvel Universe, which is all fine - it fits the joyous theme.

As far as the characters go, everyone gets a moment to shine, and it may be surprising that Chris Pratt's Star-Lord, while he gets the ostensible main storyline, doesn't really get the best scenes, one-liners, or even the most significant character arc. This flick spreads the wealth, and shows that this is truly an ensemble piece - Drax gets to develop with newcomer Mantis, Gamora and Nebula square off, then reconcile, and then most of all, Rocket Raccoon and Yondu go through tremendous growth, the latter of which is arguably the main character of the film.

In this way, the film actually fills in a lot of the first flick's plotholes, like why Yondu kept Quill around for so many years without giving him over to his father, and of course, who Pete Quill's father actually is! That is of course, David Hasselhoff Kurt Russell Ego, the celestial living planet, which is a little fast and loose with the origin mythology but who cares. It's in line with what has already been established in the MCU.

Kurt Russell is a great get here, and to be honest, it might just be because I hadn't really ingested any of the more recent trailers or marketing material, but I did not know that Ego was going to be the main villain. He's not totally a villain in the comic books, but I also didn't really even know how far they'd go with him, since I really just saw Kurt Russell and figured, "Well, maybe they're not crazy and he won't be a planet. That's not unreasonable." I was sitting in the theater and I kept waiting for something to happen, like some other villain like Annihilus or Terrax or something to show up and throw down and they'd need Ego's help or whatever. Slowly it dawned on me that they were not going to leave Ego's planet and that Kurt Russell was a bad dude! I am so rarely genuinely tricked by a movie like this. It was awesome. A lot of this is probably the benefit of going in really fresh, which I recommend to everyone, always.

It's nicely fitting, then, that the first Guardians deals primarily with Quill's relationship to his mother and everything he does in her memory, even if he's a slave to it in his own way, but this one deals with Quill's relationship with his father, and all the joys, then toil and pain it brings him and uh...the universe.

So, Kurt's had a ridiculous year with this and The Fate of the Furious (2016) and even with his matching moustaches in Bone Tomahawk (2015) and The Hateful Eight (2016) has had a decent resurgence. Goldie Hawn too, for that matter. But the star here is Michael Rooker, who goes through so much damn pathos and redemption (sure, by killing a ton of people in another incredibly filmed scene) on his way to becoming a true Guardian of the Galaxy. It's nicely fitting of Yondu's origin, down to the 'hawk. Yondu is of course a rival father figure to Quill and ultimately a stronger one. The film takes its time in developing this, as only good movies care to do.

And while there's all this Father-Son stuff going on, this is also the best sister movie since Frozen (2013). There's some actual touching moments between the insane jealous Nebula and the too cool for school Gamora that are totally their mad titan father's fault. Their move from trying to kill each other to reconciling maybe comes a little fast, but it's fun to have Nebula on the team (kind of), and thus the film does the improbable of turning two villains from the first film on to the side of the good guys.

This also does its fair share of Infinity War (2018) set-up, even if it's sneaky about it. In the comics, Nebula played a pretty big part in wresting the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos' hand, and then became Queen Bitch of the Universe herself for a bit. If that's the direction Marvel is headed, getting her on our side is a critical move. Perhaps even more notably, it's also an insight into what kind of villain Thanos actually is rather than a big dude sitting in a chair. He's a crafty evil sumbitch.

To hopelessly postulate more about Infinity War, we were also treated to an end credits scene dishing a possible origin for Adam Warlock, who is also an integral member of the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, leading most of the heroes against the evil of Thanos. There have been rumours everywhere, though, first suggesting that Him was originally a main character in Vol. 2, then thrown out because that'd be nuts, and that he won't be in Infinity War, but rather Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2020). That would somewhat make sense because it ought to be like, Captain America or Iron Man leading the charge against Thanos, right? I mean, that's the whole point to this six-year build up (or arguably, a ten-year build up, signifying all of what Marvel has done so far). But that's really it in terms of future set-ups, which are all really hypothetical and only work if you're a huge nerd.

This makes this film somehow one of the least connected of any Marvel film, which really took me as a surprise. It was also a miracle that no Infinity Stones were involved, which have become integral MacGuffins in all these films. In fact, the only stone unrevealed so far is the Soul Stone, which has a lot of linkage with Adam Warlock. Just sayin' - there is a lot of room here for connection and set-up which was totally ignored. That's impressive restraint.
They're all beautiful on the inside.

We ought to talk about Awesome Mixtape Vol. 2, which doubles down on the obscure yet tonally fitting songs and shits all over Suicide Squad in its replication of what made the original great. It really strikes the perfect tone of familiar but unplaceable, which forms the heart of the film. It's also very important that it's often completely diegetic - these songs actually mean something to every character, and when Kraglin hands Peter an ultra-modern Zune at the end of the film it opens up a lot of soundtrack possibilities in addition to being representative of something the main character holds very dear. We have nothing similar in Suicide Squad besides a superficial imitation.

On that note, I am eager for Peter Quill to finally reach modern-day earth. He's a weird mix right now of space age man but with a pop culture knowledge that's still stuck in the 1980s. Frozen in time but thrust forward in technology is a weird spot to be in. He'd mix in great with Cap and Iron Man.

The last bit of prognostication we can make is about Sly Stallone and his Ravagers crew, who are really made up of original Guardians of the Galaxy that formed my first memories of the team, like Starhawk, Charlie 27, and Major Victory. Major Victory is absent, and no one is referred to by name, but damn, that's Ving Rhames! I actually knew these guys better than Star-Lord and Drax, but I'm not sure where they're going with this. With Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and the shuffle of Inhumans, it's clear that Marvel's hard and fast plan and release schedule isn't set in stone, and maybe we can get a side story about these guys. What's even more clear after Vol. 2 is that not every story has to be integral or leading up to anything. It's actually the truest form of a shared universe - not everything is actually important - some shit just happens.

So maybe there will be a spin-off with these random characters we saw for 30 seconds and that will justify getting Stallone to wear some neon tubes in this film. Who knows. At any rate, I'm pretty damn pleased with the outcome of this flick and look forward to more.

13 May 2017

NMW's Totally On-time Summer Movie Preview!

That's right - it's time to go through an exhaustive list of every film coming out this summer. It's alright that we're already two weeks into the official Summer Movie Season - you didn't miss anything. We went pretty in-depth last year, and I assure you that we care much much less with each year that goes by. So let's start with what dropped two weeks ago:

Anticipation levels are out of 10,000

MAY

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Anticipation Level: 8653 - Marvel is on a ridiculous streak of competence (not really excellence, but surely competence), and the first one was amazing on all levels.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Anticipation Level: 3079 - No one cares about this.

Snatched

Anticipation Level: 5436 - This could be pretty entertaining and Amy Schumer can be good or bad, but it's the return of Goldie Hawn that has a lot of people interested.

Alien: Covenant

Anticipation Level: 4550 - I was actually a big fan of Prometheus (2012) when it came out, although my eagerness has waned with more fridge realizations of how much that story made no sense. This looks exactly like Alien (1979) which is exactly as good and as bad as you want that to be.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Anticipation Level: 0349 - I don't know what this is.

Baywatch

Anticipation Level: 8043 - This is looking top to bottom like a fun movie that really gets what it is, although we'll see if it just apes 21 Jump Street (2012).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Anticipation Level: 3374 - Javier Bardem is inspired casting, but the last one was pretty bad. So bad I even forget its name. Was it like Davy's Locker or Sunken Treasure or something? On Stranger Tides (2011), that's right. The promotional materials aren't that shitty, but we just seem so worn of this by now.

JUNE

Wonder Woman

Anticipation Level: 6792 - I don't totally care about Wonder Woman, although really sinking into her character can be pretty interesting if it's done right. All the marketing has been excellent so far and this could be hype. Then again, it could be like every other DC movie and be total shit.

The Mummy

Anticipation Level: 1334 - I don't understand on any fundamental level the process that went into creating any aspect of this film. The Tom Cruise stunts for the sake of stunts angle, the Universal Monsters shared universe angle (can't wait to see how it ties into Dracula Untold (2014)! Or not), or the misplaced tone. The Brendan Frasier Mummy movies were actually really enjoyable camp, but this is just altogether bizarre.

Cars 3

Anticipation Level: 0457 - I'm about as excited for this as I was for Cars 2 (2011). Or Cars (2006). There was actually that chilling first trailer, which is kind of bold and interesting, but I'm confident about my life moving on without any interaction with this material.

Rough Night

Anticipation Level: 7844 - Scarlett Johansson may be somewhat miscast here, but the rest of the troupe is an unrivaled comedy dream team. I have reservations over this being similar to a lot of other movies out there, from Bridesmaids (2011) to Bachelorette (2012) to hell, even Very Bad Things (1998), but I enjoyed all those movies, so maybe that's not a bad thing.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Anticipation Level: 9006 - Hell yeah! I've grown more and more into accepting this franchise's absurd idiocy and absolutely love every insane facet to come out of the marketing material so far. The Transformers franchise is so dead and gone, but no one tell Michael Bay that.

Baby Driver

Anticpation Level: 9007 - just slightly above Transformers, of course. Everything about this screams awesome visual filmmaking like few besides Edgar Wright can do. The last time he struck out from the Cornetto Trilogy we got the fabulous Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2011) and everything from the cast to the premise looks fantastic.

Despicable Me 3

Anticipation Level: 1899 - Trey Parker voicing some weird 80s Supervillain is interesting, especially since he and Matt Stone have shied away from a lot of non-South Park Hollywood work since Team America (2004), and this is also the kind of stuff they'd usually make fun of. Still, Trey is an amazing voice actor and a huge get. I don't care about anything else in this franchise.

JULY

The House

Anticipation Level: 2981 - I wish modern comedies had more distinctive names. Even Rough Night is just so vague. I had to look this up before I remembered that it's a surprisingly rare Will Ferrell / Amy Poehler vehicle that should be getting more hype than it is. That may be because the premise is pretty weak and the first trailer was largely a dud.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Anticipation Level: 4232 - This isn't really doing it for me - I'm sure it'll be just fine and I'm really looking forward to writing a lengthy post about Mike Keaton's Batman to Birdman to Vulture journey, but there's not a ton here to get excited about. Maybe that's because Captain America can be in a political thriller movie, Wonder Woman can be in a period war movie, Deadpool can be in a comedy, Wolverine can be in a western, but Spider-Man is just kind of Spider-Man. I think the official moniker they're going for is a John Hughes movie, but fuck it, Spider-Man 2 (2004) was as pure a superhero movie as we're ever going to get and it was grand.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Anticipation Level: 5000 - right down the middle. I stay up late at night wondering if Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) was a good movie or not and feel much of the same here. I like the continued cycle of human actors, and a menacing Woody Harrelson is inviting, but I feel like this will be the Star Trek Beyond (2016) of this summer - great competent blockbuster filmmaking that no one cares about.

Dunkirk

Anticipation Level: 4126 - It's not often that I'm not up for a Chris Nolan film, but nothing about Dunkirk that's been presented so far has been awfully interesting. He's a great director who can find meaning in almost any material and is great at offering new takes on tried subjects, and you'd easily think that a Nolan War movie would be great. I hope it is, but I have no reason to blindly believe it will be.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Anticipation Level: 6045 - Despite the mouthful title, this feels like Luc Besson going nuts and I love it. The weirder the better, wacky adventure ahoy! There's a lot of unknowns here, though, and it could so easily be shitty that its AL suffers.

The Emoji Movie

Anticipation Level: 0000 - you knew it had to be somewhere. What is this. No.

Atomic Blonde

Anticipation Level: 8504 - I'm into everything about this. Charlize Theron is suddenly a go-to badass, the team from John Wick (2014) returns to craft some hopefully amazing action pieces, and the style is out of this world. Plus this.

AUGUST

The Dark Tower

Anticipation Level: 7172 - I've never read the books or anything (of course not), but the basic premise of the Dark Tower linking all of Steve King's work is really interesting. The trailer that dropped last week was fantastic and actually pretty buzz worthy. This might be the sleeper of the summer.

Detroit

Anticipation Level: 8014 - It's about time Kathryn Bigelow returned after the one-two punch of The Hurt Locker (2009) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). The Detroit riots of 1967 are an overlooked part of American History, complex to take apart and timely as hell.

The Hitman's Bodyguard

Anticipation Level: 5478 - This could be good. Ryan and Sam are both hot right now and their pairing in this premise is ironic and fascinating. It'll have to deliver on its goods, but the release date is cherry and it ought to find its niche.

So, to conclude, let's rank these bastards:

Baby Driver Anticipation Level: 9007
Transformers: The Last Knight Anticipation Level: 9006
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Anticipation Level: 8653
Atomic Blonde Anticipation Level: 8504
Baywatch Anticipation Level: 8043
Detroit Anticipation Level: 8014
Rough Night Anticipation Level: 7844
The Dark Tower Anticipation Level: 7172
Wonder Woman Anticipation Level: 6792
Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets Anticipation Level: 6045
The Hitman's Bodyguard Anticipation Level: 5478
Snatched Anticipation Level: 5436
War for the Planet of the Apes Anticipation Level: 5000
Alien Covenant Anticipation Level: 4550
Spider-Man: Homecoming Anticipation Level: 4232
Dunkirk Anticipation Level: 4126
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Anticipation Level: 3374
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Anticipation Level: 3079
The House Anticipation Level: 2981
Despicable Me 3 Anticipation Level: 1899
The Mummy Anticipation Level: 1334
Cars 3 Anticipation Level: 0457
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul Anticipation Level: 0349
The Emoji Movie Anticipation Level: 0000


What do you think? What's your anticipation level for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul?

12 May 2017

King Snatch - now that's a movie!

Here we are now in Week Two of the Summer Season (we ought to have a preview post at some point this year) and after a pretty strong first weekend both critically and commercially in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), we have what I'd suspect to be our first dud weekend. Well, Snatched (2017) ought to do fine, but I have no real burning desire to see that. Or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) for that matter. Let's get into that one first:
"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords
is no basis for a system of government."

Now, a few years ago, this was planned as an epic six-film mega saga. That's obviously one of the stupider ideas to come out of Warner Brothers in a long time, although we somehow got eight films and counting out of Point Break (1991) with cars, so who knows. Guy Ritchie and company have backed off a bit from their original grandiose plans, but this still feels like a totally misplaced IP. Sure, it's got to be a very lucrative prospect. No one actually owns the rights to King Arthur, so you've got a nice built in recognition base without any of the mucky muck of paying anyone for it. Like Tarzan. That worked out great.

Like with that film, I think first impressions are important. What's your first reaction when someone tells you they're making a big budget blockbuster King Arthur movie? For me it's a resounding meh. I'm not sure why we keep going back to this well. The latest really big installment of the mythos was King Arthur (2004) with Clive Owen playing the eponymous king, which is most remembered to this day for featuring its weird green Keira Knightly. That was also supposed to be the "true story" of the legend, which is of course total horseshit. Beyond that, there are a ton of adaptations out there, none of which are particularly fondly remembered.

So what makes this one stand out? Besides the ever bland Charlie Hunnam, who has Sons of Anarchy and not much else under his belt? To be fair, he proved capable in Pacific Rim (2013), which is astounding considering that film mostly featured Giant Robots fighting Monsters. He does have a certain appeal, and although I have yet to see it, apparently brings it in the already underrated Lost City of Z (2017) which just came out a few weeks ago. This is all to say that even though Charlie Hunnam sucks, maybe he doesn't.

Now, against all odds, this thing might actually be good. In its own way. I'm game for this. Blockbusters these days seem to wash into each other so much. Marvel and Star Wars tend to stand out because they've somehow earned a place outside the rabble, where people still care about the characters, story, and universe, despite the fact that if they were any other property they'd likely be ignored. It also works that they have exceptional casting and filmmaking talent attracted to them, which makes them memorable and competent, if not exceptional. Outside the big IPs, though, modern blockbuster filmmaking is in an awfully weird zone.

This really dates back to 2014, where it seemed like every big film earned about $200 million domestically, was decent quality-wise, and not really worth a cultural impact in anything else. 2015 was mostly blinded to Universal's impeccable work on Furious 7 (2015) and Jurassic World (2015), while 2016 was all-Disney all the time with a huge windfall for anything else, even equally established properties like Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Jason Bourne (2016). To some extent it doesn't make sense - why should The Jungle Book (2016) work while Star Trek Beyond fails? Or King Arthur, for that matter? I mean, Richard Kipling has to be as well known as King Arthur, right? It's not like everyone reads the book every night or just watched the 1967 animated version the other week.

It's a tough call culturally. It's weird that Guy Ritchie's last three films feel this way. Sherlock Holmes (2009) was infamously overshadowed by AVABAR (2009), although I'd argue still struck out well on its own. I enjoyed that movie but it led me to have no desire to watch Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) until just a few weeks ago, which is a film that flirts with greatness and cleverness without ever really getting there. It was overshadowed by Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) and culturally, even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) in the years after its release. Flash forward four years and we get The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) which is by all means a great, funny, sexy film that was totally drowned by Straight Outta Compton (2015) that summer. Ritchie films for whatever reason, just never seem to be the most important film currently at the Box Office. Maybe that's also because they all tend to be British re-treads and period pieces, which don't resonate as well as their competitors.

I suspect King Arthur to face much of the same. Not only is there pretty strong holdover from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (it's got to clear at least $60 million in its first week to beat it for the #1 spot, and that's being generous), but it's got Alien: Covenant (2017), Baywatch (2017), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) coming up, ALL of which have had better marketing campaigns and really notable identities. King Arthur gets buried. Maybe I'll really like it one day, like I am with The Lone Ranger (2013). Are there King Arthur LEGOs?
All told though, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn
are going to have a great weekend

Next we have the Amy Schumer / Goldie Hawn vehicle Snatched, which is actually my sneaky pick to win the weekend (if it can clear Guardians' aforementioned $60-70 million mark, which is within its range). Unbelievably, I have no real interest in the Schumer / Hawn lost in South America adventure, but for damn sure my mom is - I might take her for Mother's Day and that's really all you need. This is too good an opportunity to have a great female-driven comedy for a perfect weekend. It's like when I took my dad to watch That's My Boy (2012) with me for Father's Day! Same thing.

For some reason Amy Schumer tends to get a lot of flack - whether it be joke-stealing accusations or whatever. It's really just because she's a successful woman traditionally male-dominated profession. After a pretty good television show she had some success with Trainwreck (2015), which I always chastise as not really leaning into woman empowerment enough. I mean, it's as if they jammed a bunch of sports icons in there to appeal to a male demographic that would otherwise be turned off. I don't understand why they didn't just try to appeal to a female demographic, who cares. That's actually exactly what Snatched is doing, which is great.

As an actress, Schumer can carry a film and Trainwreck is funny enough, even if John Cena and LeBron James got all the meaty lines and roles somehow. My main reason for being excited at all for Snatched is the opportunity to put the ball back in the mother / daughter relationship court, which is pretty rarely examined, much less in a mainstream comedy. I think commercially this will do just fine, and critically it seems to be suffering, but in the sense of "Trainwreck was better!" If you take out the idea that Trainwreck was good then maybe we got a shot here.

The last trick is cultural relevance, and we've had a few comedies hit it pretty big over the past few years, but I don't think anyone really fondly remembers Trainwreck (outside of the aforementioned John Cena and LeBron scenes), although Inside Amy Schumer dominated cultural conversation for a while. There's a lot competing right now, and TV comedy is pretty good. Her Netflix specials that dropped a few weeks ago mostly landed with a thud, so ultimately who knows. There is a niche here if it can win the weekend, but with an onslaught of big movies in subsequent weeks I see this as one that's lost in the haze.

What say you? Will you opt for swords with bros or South America with your mother this weekend?

05 May 2017

It's Time Again to Guard the Galaxy!

The first Friday in May is upon us, which means as it has in so many years previous, the Summer Movie Season has officially begun. This represents so much - the first tweedle of summer birds flocking back up north, the ever ripening end to school days, and of course, A SUMMER JAM BABYY!!

Do people in the South get bummed over summer when their birds leave?

May has been dominated by Marvel Superhero movies since time immemorial. Or at least since 2006 when Mission: Impossible 3 (2006) earned the distinction. This isn't necessarily always Marvel Studios films - we had X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) as recently as three years ago drop on this noble weekend. It's amazing, though, how much those whiffed.

We've had a lot of good superhero films drop on this day prior to 2006, notably X2: X-Men United (2003) and Spider-Man (2002), but there's some real rough ones in there. The Mummy Returns (2001). Kingdom of Heaven (2005). Van Helsing (2004). The Marvel Brand has owned this weekend for better or for worse, and after assaulting the world with Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) this weekend last year, they're prepared to unleash their full fury: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).
Not giving a shit has never looked more epic.

With all this hype over this immortal weekend, though, doesn't it seem like no one really cares about Guardians 2? That's sort of my impression for a few reasons. For one, it should be stunning to everyone that a weekend once hallowed for Spider-Man and X-Men is now a place for a team of superheros no one had ever heard of during the time that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 premiered. Everyone attached to that film has had their stock rise in the past three years and it's still a very warmly received antidote to most formulaic superhero and sci-fi films.

Except of course it's sort of not. On a thematic or conceptual level it's really pretty standard. It's just filled with superficially painted characters that mask its complacency. That matters less when there is real chemistry, real engaging interactions, and a lot of jokes that really land when they're important. I still enjoy Guardians a hell of a lot, but when you're perceived as so innovative it's next to an impossible task to follow it up.

That's especially true when there have been so many imitators over the past few years in the superhero genre. Some have done really well in establishing their own identity (Deadpool [2016]). Some blatantly failed (Suicide Squad [2016]). Like any film that creates a mold, its follow-up appears continually derivative rather than advancing the same playful innovation.

Now, most of the soundtrack is out, although I've abstained from pouring over it because 1) I want to be surprised at how well it (hopefully) works, and 2) c'mon, you've never heard of half of these acts anyway - at the best just faded half-memories. Pop music in comic book movies has suddenly become ubiquitous, especially in trailers thanks to Guardians and Blue Swede. It exists in a difficult spectrum, where catchy music still works really well for setting mood, especially fun or creepy vibes, as with anything, too much becomes repetitive and loses its impact. It's unfortunate that "too much" in this case is best practice for an entire industry, but as we've said here at Norwegian Morning Wood, people don't want cool fun songs in their movies because they're cool fun songs - they want them because they're something new that they had never seen used that way before and they worked with the characters and story. That's how you develop and innovate your filmcraft.

On the refreshing note, let's talk Chris Pratt. Three years ago seeing the schlub from Parks and Recreation headlining a major studio picture with shredded abs was an amazing site. Since then he's had a fair amount of over exposure, to the point where while the kind of character he plays (yes, solid enough that there's a "Chris Pratt-type" character moniker) is still interesting, we've seen it quite a bit by now. And actually, his Owen Grady in Jurassic World wasn't really witty or Star-Lord-esque, and his Passengers character wasn't really as quippy either. The fact remains, though, that the shock and novelty has been dispersed. Guaurdians 2 needs to re-establish all the fun his first outing had. It doesn't help that as his popularitiy has risen it's ever more clear that he's a douchebag.

Let's get into why we're even here though - what is this film's commercial, cultural, and critical potential? Commercially, there's enough goodwill from the first film, not withstanding the shared universe popularity that indicates that this will do great. The trailers have been pretty successful, and considering the fact that people actually know the characters this time around, it'll do fine.
So cute tho!!

Culturally, as we've said, Guardians V 2 needs to keep pushing in some new way to distinguish itself from both its original film and its imitators. The original was borderline gimmicky, and there needs to be something significant here to let it stand out from the crowd. Since 2014 we've also seen a superhero caper film in Ant-Man (2015), the universe torn down in CIVIL WAR, whatever Deadpool was, the introduction of trippy magic in Doctor Strange (2016) and lastly, the epic emotional roller coaster of Logan (2017). Suddenly we're in an era where a superhero film can be anything and many be who they want to be really well. There's so much more freedom, although Marvel always seems hesitant to truly embrace it.

Critical reaction hardly matters anymore - Marvel's MO tends to be making competent and well-liked films that aren't really exceptionally good films. They're still made to be enjoyed by an extremely wide audience, and before you knock that, consider what DC has continuously failed to do. Sure the financial returns have been wonderful, but there isn't really a love or cultural resonance there like there is for most Marvel films and characters. This is all to say that it's still a tough bit of filmmaking to actually make films that are widely loved and critically appreciated in an age where we see a Legend of Tarzan (2016) and King Arthur: Bup Shit (2017) that no one gives a dick about for every Guardians Vol. 2.

In the end I'm sort of excited about this, but not nearly as much as I was for the first one, or for Deadpool or for Logan. Hell, I'm actually even a bit more into Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is something I never thought I'd write. This ought to be just fine, just serviceable, but as the Marvel machine has done time and time again, this really feels like an Infinity War (2018) set up, as many second films have done that came out just prior to a big team-up film such as Iron Man 2 (2010) and to an extent, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). The path seems very clear to make a definitive bridging connection, even if we actually do have Homecoming (2017), Ragnarok, and Black Panther (2018) to keep moving pieces into place. Ultimately, my main desire to watch this is actually to see how the greater story continues to develop, which hey, is the whole fucking point of a shared universe in the first place.

What do you think? Will Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 knock it out again? Or did the first one actually suck? Will it suck too? Will it be a let down and suck even though the first one was secretly or overtly good? These are the immortal questions.
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