28 June 2017

Baby Me 3 in The House

These movie-title combinations in our weekly previews have probably become too ridiculous. Can you tell what we're talking about? Well, you clicked - you'll find out soon enough! There are three films dropping this week - one today, then two more on Friday, but we'll just run through the whole lot right now - particularly because today's the only one worth any effort in checking out. Let's save that sucker for last and start with some trash:

Oh, oh, Minions are back. This terrible franchise has been damn reliable since the Steve Carrell-led Gru and a bunch of little girls-film dropped in 2010 with Despicable Me. That one's still a solid outing, at least for quotable creativity and marketability, which is through the roof from anything DreamWorks or Pixar has attempted in that time. The sequel, which focused more on the doofy expendable Minions and nominally on the eponymous despicable one, did even better in the theaters in 2013. Finally, we got Minions (2015), which I watched on Netflix Streaming because it was like 80 minutes long and I was pretty drunk - that movie is really really terrible. It's so bad. These films have clearly had a descent in quality as it leans into that marketable toy-ability rather than its story.

We tend not to be disappointed when Illumination Entertainment does this, though. When Pixar cranks out Cars 4 (2020), it'll be a down and dirty shame, but that's because they're selling out twenty years of fantastic story and character-based entertainment that had typically bucked the "selling toys and getting cheap laughs that every other children's animated film goes after." Illumination has no pretense of being a classy enterprise.

Having said that, the Minions are actually a fantastically classic comic team, even if that team is incredibly fluid (to the point where it's less a team than a series of interchangeable yellow dildos). Their mumbly jibberish works as perfect silent comedy, and a lot of their miniature bits within their three films are pretty inspired. This is all to say that Minions are pretty groan-worthy and totally hackneyed, but when executed with creative aplomb, that can be a good thing.

Despicable Me 3 (2017), seems like it's focusing on a ton of different things. I'm not really up on the story, but it's like, Gru returning to villainy (I guess he left?), his brother or something coming back, and then some weird purple 80s guy voiced by Trey Parker? It's that latter bit that's the only thing I'm really interested in here - not just because I'm a South Park fan, but because it's just so damn rare that Parker does anything that he didn't direct himself.

Let's break this down. Trey Parker has of course been running South Park with Matt Stone since 1997 and most recently branched out with The Book of Mormon on Broadway in 2011. Their last major film appearance, though, was Team America (2004), which they directed and appeared in as voice roles. His last non-cameo appearance in anything not directed by himself was BASEketball (1998). That's getting to be some bit of time. That, combined with South Park's pedigree for mercilessly making fun of any and all parts of pop culture along with the duo's general disinterest, or need to appear in anything else makes this pretty damn interesting. You've got to wonder on some level if this script made the high satirical standards of Trey Parker. OR if he just didn't care. At any rate, Parker really should be considered one of the greatest voice actors of all time and it's frankly amazing that his voice is being featured for the first time in something that he didn't write or direct.

This is all interesting, although I struggle to think it'll be a reason to make the film any good. Commercially it ought to be fine, although plenty of films seem to be bombing lately, and it's not like we haven't had a cash grab big studio animated film in a while. I would be shocked if it hits Despicable Me 2 (2013) numbers, but maybe Minions numbers? Certainly not last year's Secret Life of Pets (2016) surprise hit.

Moving on, we have The House (2017), which is widely billed as the first Amy Poehler / Will Ferrell vehicle, as if Blades of Glory (2007) never happened at all. It's still enticing, even if the broke college parents premise feels a bit tired. The trailer wasn't all too bad, although I'm not really feeling much interest at all. It's been a decent while since we've had a solid comedy land, though, and it'd be great if these two could get a true hit. They're riding mostly off of Daddy's Home (2015) and Sisters (2015), which are both funny in their own right, but just can't really touch anything they did int he past decade (at least on the big screen - Parks and Rec aside).

Why is that? It's weird to say, because a lot of their work has done really well - Daddy's Home is somehow the highest-grossing film of Ferrell's career - but it also just doesn't feel that memorable. There's been a definite shift, first of all, these actors can play parents of college-aged characters now, but it might just simply be that we've finally crested the near twenty-year popularity of these comedians.

The House has plenty of solid supporting actors from Jason Mantzoukas to uhh...Jeremy Renner and maybe Allison Tolman is funny in addition to being great in Fargo. There's certainly a humourous turn here when Ferrell and Poehler go nuts, but the whole story feels very done to death. Then again, there is a need for comedy right now, both in the world and the specific film market, and honestly, without much else competition from anyone, this could be a surprisingly well-timed Independence Day hit. Then again, it also feels very school-focused, but it's summer, dammit! In the end I'm just not feeling this.

Finally, we have Baby Driver (2017), which needs to get off its soft name and earn its reputation for being one of the coolest movies ever. Edgar Wright needs to struggle hard to make an unfine film, and the cast is an absolute dream from top to bottom. The premise, the eponymous baby as a getaway driver with tinnitus who needs music to soothe his pain, which doubles as a sick action-beat soundtrack is a bit complex, but ought to add up to a solid outing.

Almost everyone who loves movies ever is pretty pumped for this, but the big trick is getting everyone else interested. It's weird and tragic that it's an underdog, because it should be a slam-dunk. There's no preexisting property or built-in fan base, but that shouldn't matter, right? We seem to hate sequels (well, non-Marvel or Star Wars sequels) these days, and Baby Driver actually looks like fun, engaging filmmaking. I don't reckon it'll go nuts at the box office, but likely at $40 million it'll do well enough to be successful.

It's also at least culturally distinctive enough to build a following like all of Wright's films have achieved. He's already shown that he doesn't have to lean on the Cornetto Trilogy to pull this off, with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) making no money, but still being a beloved hit amongst its fans. I think that Baby Driver has slightly more mass appeal, and that ought to be enough to ensure its legacy both financially and culturally. I think critics too are already chomping on the bit to throw it on some best-of lists, although it's totally not a bait-y film. I know I'm excited to count it among 2017's greats. Maybe even too much so - the worst it could do is probably being good, but not great.

That's your Fourth of July lowdown, people. What do you think? Wonder Woman (2017), again?

26 June 2017

Summer Jam Week 7: The Human are Coming! LIVE!

Unbelievably we're closing out June, which means that this blog is having its eight-year anniversary! That's an unbelievable stat and what better way to celebrate than this unbelievable list of magnificent summer jams coming at ya! I truly can't believe it. Do we even exist? Do I exist...I gotta lie down.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Batman" by Jaden Smith

Okay, so this song is awful, the video is awful, and Jaden Smith can't really do anything as an artist, but hahaha look at this thing. Why does this exist? I'm so lost. This is a wonderful exercise in privileged excess, an artistic movement that never lands and never works. This is terrible. Soak it up. Don't worry, no one will ever listen to this and it is a total waste of a Hot Jam. It also totally rips of "Panda"! Hot Jamz!

Gym Crushes: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

Speaking of insane music videos..."Bad Liar" wasn't totally as notable this week, but we still need a refresher on seeing Selena Gomez in male drag hitting on herself. How can you go a week without that? "Bad Liar" has certainly cemented itself a position in Summer Jam-ness by now, but I'm curious about the fickle nature of this list with her rapid rises and falls if she'll be able to hang on - or if it even matters if she doesn't.

Singin' 'Cross Da World: "There's Nothing Holding Me Back" by Shawn Mendes

I have no real strong positive feelings towards this track, it's on here purely because buzz and trending-ness are getting pretty high. I don't even know who Shawn Mendes is, he sounds like every Ed Sheeran / Harry Styles wannabe single white singer dude out there. But this is a song that exists, and that's apparently good enough to be a Summer Jam. Maybe it'll keep crawling up from here.

Mankind: "Human" by Rag'n'Bone Man

I actually really dig this song - it's been in my head for two weeks, although I sing it totally exaggerated in a bad Eddie Vedder impression. "AAHMM UNLY UUUMAN AFTA AWWWWW DONT PUT YA BLAM ON MUHHH" That's art, baby. As far as rock songs go, I'm down with most any non-Imagine Dragons songs there are (unless they drop a killer Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) track!), so this is cool. This has been around longer than I gave it credit for and could have a nice little run here.

Melodrama: "Perfect Places" by Lorde

I feel like I didn't even notice Lorde's three-year absence. That's probably because we had Randy Marsh in the intervening years. Melodrama is changing lives, though, and there's been a strong upsurge in all Lorde songs on the radio lately, because they're all so damn good. This is a more mature Lorde (sure, at like, age 20). This probably isn't as hook-y as "Royals" or as biting as "Tennis Court" but it's got a solid rhythm. Summer of Lorde? More like Summer of Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor! That's a worse real name than Calvin Broadus.

Julia #3: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

I probably need to get off it, but I'm so into Julia Michaels right now. "Uh-Huh" is still out there and needs a video to drop soon to be really potent, but for now we got the #1 song of the Week here, and as someone who has stood strong as Selena, Katy, and KYLE have faded or diminished, is presenting the best case for Summer Jam Queen right now. My system is clearly totally flawed, though - does "Issues" REALLY feel like the immortal jam of 2017? We do have 10 more weeks, but for now, it's in the lead.

Potporri: "Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles

Keeping our music video analysis theme this week, I wanted to really get into Harry's Superman-around-Scotland thing he's got going on here. It's actually an incredibly understated and somewhat beautiful video that's definitely gone underrated, probably because it's fucking Harry Styles. I'll reiterate that I know nothing about Styles beyond this video, so I'm pretty down with it. Amazing what unbiased attitudes does to us. Hence, Jaden Smith.

Summer Spanish Jam: "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee

This is the only collabo on the List this week, which is an astonding achievement. Maybe songs are sucking less? Well, I didn't feature any DJ Khaled, even if he did feature Rihanna. But this crawled up the pop culture consciousness this week, even if damn, this song really is total Spanish. Dat beat tho.

Next week...

I always wonder if Katy is dead or not. Not much from "Swish Swish" this week. There were a couple other hot jams dropped, including another inexplicable TLC song, which seems like they keep trying to make happen. I was close to adding a few other crappy songs like Coldplay or Imagine Dragons but whatever. There's also a Justin Bieber "Despacito" which is maybe a thing? I don't know. I'll investigate this shit.

21 June 2017

From Transormers To Transformographagizers

Okay, listen - we need to get something out the way right now - this blog's fate is and always will be intrinsically intertwined with Michael Bay's Transformers franchise. I never thought I'd write that. Ever. Amazingly, this franchise predates this blog, going ten years strong now, but one of my first articles ever was an exceedingly long impression of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then another one when I saw the film a second time in IMAX. For a little behind the scenes info, for some reason my Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) impressions are the #2 all-time viewed post on this site. Hey, you tell me. Also Age of Extinction (2014) exists.

But in this one, Optimus chops off a bunch of heads!
I've written 26 posts with some reference to this terrible franchise, most notably recently an analysis of the series of bizarre Last Knight (2017) feminist trailers that continue to be inexplicable and incongruous with a franchise that obsessively oggled Megan Fox's car mechanic ass and continually throws glasses on hot women because they're also the smartest women in the world. That's a lot to take in. I ranked The Last Knight as #2 on my most anticipated Summer Movies. Am I totally off base and insane here? In a summer of continually dwindling returns, barring a few great exceptions, what makes another mindless and horribly stupid Transformers sequel stand out? That was so many links. Catch up.

For some reason, and this is likely totally in my head, I feel as if Transformers tends to own its stupidity better than other movies. King Arthur (2017) can't escape its self-seriousness amidst the sheer dumbness of using its Arthurian Legend mythology as a basis for blockbuster entertainment. Alien: Covenant (2017) can't escape the fact that it's just a lesser version of Alien (1979) with a hackneyed sprinkle of proto-Alien (Prometheus [2012]). Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) is so long-dead and played out without knowing it to be embarrassing. It keeps leeching off Johnny Depp's stardom, ironically without realizing that although it was the vehicle that propelled him into the stratosphere, it's now the reason why people are most sick of him.

How does Transformers escape these issues? Well, for the population at large I'd argue that it largely doesn't. Age of Extinction grossed substantially less dollars stateside than any other release, despite making 77% of its profit overseas to still crack a billion at the global box office. That was obviously a lot of Chinese pandering, which along the way became a poster child for the new international model of blockbuster filmmaking - sacrificing a coherent story for greater worldwide returns. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, this is a business after all, never more so than with this franchise.

And that's just it - I often think that a film fails or succeeds based on what it's trying to do. Transformers have never pretended to be anything other than an absurdly eye-rolling exercise in making money. They have no pretense whatsoever of being art of any kind. Its product placement borders on Josie and the Pussycats (2001)-levels to the point of parody. It ignores almost any kind of overarching story or plot progression between installments, favors flashy attention-grabbing visuals over a coherent style and heavily believes in sex, explosions, and robots that hide an intricate space age melodrama that could be explained or could not be. Videos like this are hilarious because their outrageous suggestions are only a shade more insane than what you're actually seeing on screen.

Let's look at this flick next to The Mummy (2017) from two weeks ago. Like Johnny Depp, Cruise's star ain't shining so bright no more, although to his credit, he's still fairly popular in the public consciousness. Still, he's terribly miscast. Transformers kind of works because these CGI robots will never get old. Has there ever been a more endearing CGI character than Optimus Prime? Sure you got Caesar in the newer Planet of the Apes movies (who is totally a better character), but he didn't pull off five movies in ten years, totaling over $4 billion by the time The Last Knight is done. When Mark Wahlberg gets old and weird they can find some new dumb human sidekick to slap in there - it clearly didn't bother anyone when Shia LaBeouf was trashed. None of that shit is why people watch these movies. Explosion! KER-KROOOOSSHH! Baysplosion!!!

This isn't just a mix you can throw together anywhere, though. Battleship (2013) failed because it didn't wear its stupidity on its sleeve enough. It's as if Transformers was humble enough to admit to itself, "Listen, these are giant films based on a crummy 80s television cartoon that was designed to sell toys. Let's embrace this completely moronic identity and have some damn fun with it." There is no shame to be found anywhere here. Why does Michael Bay keep making these films? He had Pain & Gain (2013) in there - a legitimately great, yet also completely bonkers film! Should we be grateful or saddened that this has taken 10 years of his life away from other insanely dumb movies? Transformers are five bullets and counting out of Bay's career. We could have had five other terrible films. Imagine a Michael Bay Cowboys & Aliens (2011) or Michael Bay's Edge of Tomorrow (2014). These are weird dreams.

So what about The Last Knight specifically? Oh, who cares. The story doesn't matter, and we already know it's something incomprehensible. I'll admit anger in what I perceive to be Diesel's bunging of the "Leader Gone Bad" 2017 trope in The Fate of the Furious (2017). I want to see Optimus Prime as a true blue evil sumbitch. Of course, that's not the only thing going on here by far. Weird little girl struggling to survive in a partially destroyed Chicago? Ancient Medieval Transformers? Mark Wahlberg returning as the inexplicably named Cade Yeager? Anthony Hopkins having literally no idea what's going on?! See, this is what it's all about. Take a great actor, who has no qualms whatsoever about spending his twilight years in trash after trash, who is so damn GAME for this stupid crap. I love how Hopkins has played old wizened characters for like thirty years now. You have to just give in to this level of ridiculousness that is so far beyond anything else Hollywood is doing this summer. This isn't a desperate cry for attention like Pirates of the Caribbean attempting another go at a dead franchise, this isn't a pathetic failed start to a terribly misguided shared universe that was doomed before it began. This is Transformers. They don't give a flying monkey fuck what you think of them because they've never made a good movie. There's no tainting of the franchise or argument against excess or "getting it back to its humble roots" or any of that crap. This is nuts and proud of it.

Age of Extinction wasn't actually even about saving the world or anything, come to think of it. The only destruction was that evil black alien robot bounty hunter using his magnetic pulse to try to suck up Optimus Prime. And Frasier just wanted to kill the Transformers for the sake of America. Oh, I guess there was that Galvatron bit, but he didn't really have a plot, just running amok and ruining Apple's image. Damn that's three plots right there. Any other film would be content to pick any single one, but Transformers doesn't even stop there! Cade Yeager and his failed farm / hot daughter, baby! I love it. I love it so much. It's not for everyone, though.

There's some cool shit here for diehards, though. We finally get Hot Rod on screen, who was probably notable enough to be in the original Transformers (2007), but has taken five movies to get to for some reason. We also get the return of Megatron, which I think is kind of lame, since Galvatron being insane is the single greatest part of The Transformers: The Movie (1986), and then throughout Season Two. I'm really just waiting for Unicron. It's taken them so damn long. I suppose we'll get that in Transformers 19 (2045) or whatever. Maybe we'll get Beast Wars then too. Let's finally get to what we're here for, that cultural, commercial, critical crap.

First, it's no secret where the critical consensus will land. Dark of the Moon may have been the most solid reviewed, but generally Transformers is seen as okay, then anything else has a tough time breaking 40% on RT. There's simply no way The Last Knight can or will ever be considered a good movie in a context-free, objective, filmmaking-perspective.

And uh...Lobsterfacemotron.
Commercially, it ought to do well, I'm thinking that it will have a similar Age of Extinction feel, where it doesn't do great stateside but cleans up overseas, although almost certainly to a lesser extent. The world is weary. Then again, it has next to no competition. Wonder Woman (2017) is still anyone's best bet in theaters, and although it will assuredly clear $300 million domestically (probably next week), it won't get to $400 million, and it's long enough in release for anticipation to burn off. The Mummy isn't threatening anyone, and last week's four films seemed to split everyone up pretty thoroughly, with all non-All Eyez on Me (2017) insanely underperforming. And I don't usually talk about last week's pictures here, I mean, that's old news, but damn, Rough Night (2017). What the hell happened? I may chalk this up to being another forgettable comedy with a terrible title, but how much must Kate McKinnon's talents be wasted until she becomes a movie star?

Looking into next week, there's not much to stand in The Last Knight's way. We got like, Baby Driver (2017) and The House (2017), but they won't really threaten the audiences that are going to see Transformers. After that I do think it'll run into trouble with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), War of the Planet of the Apes (2017), and Dunkirk (2017) back to back to back, which will all assuredly make some bank.

Culturally, Transformers is here to stay. That's for sure. I don't know if The Last Knight will really have a lasting impact, Age of Extinction really didn't - it's all just kind of more shit at this point. Still, Dino-bots. Those are cool. I suppose a lot of the iconography of Extinction has stuck around, and some scenes are sweet, but there's literally nothing in the plot that stands out in my mind. This will be the same shit. I know it, you know it, Anthony Hopkins knows it. It's all good.

So there you go. You know I love writing about this schlocky dumb crap. Are you still into this decade-old franchise or ready to kick it to the scrapyard? For now, let's watch the trailer again:

See you around the playground, friendo.

19 June 2017

Summer Jam 2017 Week Six - LIVE from the Downtown Colosseum

We're getting into the thick of it now, people. We're quickly approaching the heart of Summer as we round through June. School is about to get out for many of the little bastard unloved children across the country and then, truly the Months of Sun may begin. Let's get sweaty, weird, and frisky!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Rich Friends" by Portugal. The Man

There's so much I love about this. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Glenn Howerton showing up with what he's been up to since apparently leaving the series, along with his wife appears in this video that's really unique advertisement-based storytelling. The song is also rad and riding this sudden Portugal. The Man wave, which in my head is always Foster the People on both sonic quality and name similarity. This is probably one of the best videos of the year, as the story gets more and more creative and dark as it progresses, all through pop-up ads. It's brilliant.

Bryne of the Brymes: "Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles

After a few weeks' absense, Harry is back with this underrated brooding gem which ain't really all that brooding, but looks it for some reason. I'm really struck by how un-Bieber this little prick is. He's actually not a prick at all, right? I don't know Harry Styles. Does he suck? I don't really care. I haven't listened to a single One Direction song ever, but this is killer and that's all that matters. It still feels like it's a bit of come and go in terms of Summer Jam-ness, but we'll see if it can keep crawling.

Kish Kish: "Swish Swish" by Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj

Katy seems everywhere right now, doesn't she? But not totally in a great light. I felt like Katy Perry could do no wrong for so long now it's all wrong. This jam has grown on me, though, and even though it doesn't totally seem like it's the dominating track Katy probably really wanted it to be (I'm not sure we'll ever get there again), and it's not charting all that well, it's still sticking around. If it's going to jump and become THE JAM, though, it's got some work to do.

Julia #1: "Uh-Huh" by Julia Michaels

This is slowly becoming my favourite track of 2017, and I was pumped to see at least a neon-soaked lyric video drop this week. Will we get proper single treatment and a real video any time soon? I can only hope that this clever, playful, and oddly melancholy song becomes a great summer jam. In non-me worlds, it definitely doesn't quite have traction yet, but it's got the potential to be a sexy dance jam for everyone.

Selena #1: "It Ain't Me" by Kygo, Selena Gomez

This still doesn't really feel like a Selena song, and that's probably because it's more a Kygo song with Gomez just lending her voice, but this track persisted this week. It's a pretty heartbreaking song, that's kind of fun to sing along to until you realize what you're jamming about. It's not all that summer-y when you get down to it, but it ought to hang out for a bit yet.

Julia #2: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

You may say it's crazy that half of this list is dominated by two artists, but dammit, I'm into it. "Issues" has been more consistent than a lot of songs I thought would make a run this summer, and although it may be tottering a bit, it could end up making a good run by just sticking around and gaining points each week where others have faltered. This is such a downer song after "Uh-Huh" though. Sucks listening back to back. I think this girl's got some talent, though, but "Issues" is probably a little too Ellie Goulding for her own good.

Nall That: "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan

Our one rock representative this week, even though this is totally not a rock song and that Imagine Dragons "Believer" crap came close. "Slow Hands" has been around for a minute but I really just clued in on it this week. It's got a solid beat with a lovely little git-box breakdown during the hook. It's got more potential than I gave it credit for, and it's actually a better song than you think when you first hear it. Still, I had to look up the name (for some reason, "Slow Hands" even though Niall says it 40 times, didn't stick in my brain), and for sure, what the hell kind of name is Niall anyway. Still, here we go.

Pants on Fire: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

AKA Selena #2. This song did okay this week, but damn that video, which is so weird and kind of creepy and all the way insane. It's just what we needed. There's not many instantly memorable videos that drop like this anymore. I mean, what is going on here? It totally seems like Student Selena has a crush on Homeroom Selena, but maybe it's Phys Ed Teacher Selena, who is flirty with Homeroom Selena? But by the end it's like, Student Selena has a big lesbian crush on herself as Phys Ed Teacher Selena? There's one word here. Awesome. And I've said this before and have actively tried avoiding talking about it, but it's unmistakable. Selena Gomez is 24 years old but still looks like a fucking 12-year old. It's so much worse in this video. Even in a moustache. Still, this song rules.

Next week...

I meant to mention Run the Jewels "Legend Has It" from that Black Panther trailer, which is all sorts of awesome and may gain a few notes here. The #1 song in the country according to Billboard is "Despacito" which I have never consciously heard play in my life - that and Bieber's "I'm the One" with DJ Khaled seem to keep trying to happen, but just aren't in my world. Am I off the pulse listening to non-stop Julia Michaels? Stay tuned, listeners.

16 June 2017

Sharks, Cars, Girls, and Pac as Summer Rounds the Bend

Hello again, folks - a lovely Summer Friday is upon us and we have an absurd amount of films dropping today. Chances are that your best bet is still Wonder Woman (2017), but really there should be something for everyone today. Music fans, comedy fans, animation fans, shark fans - we got all the major genres covered. Let's roll out from least notable to most notable today as we examine cultural, critical, and commercial potentials for everything:

Shipp does look super-like Pac tho
First up is All Eyez on Me (2017), the long-awaited Tupac biopic, which lands with almost no hype at all. It seems bizarre in the wake of Straight Outta Compton (2015), which is definitely the only reason this was made, but for some reason doesn't feel nearly as timely or as investing, despite Tupac Shakur being a decently beloved rapper and another notch in 90s nostalgia for us to feed. This might simply be because it's apparently a total shit film that follows really standard biopic tropes, even if Demetrius Shipp, Jr in the lead role is spectacular.

It makes me recall more the Biggie biopic Notorious (2009), which is so obscure you forgot it existed, much less came out eight years ago. This feels just like something that has been on the periphery for a while without much belief that it was actually getting made. Now I'm struggling with how Straight Outta Compton became such a game changer. Maybe it was the still-pretty-popular Dr. Dre and Ice Cube putting their full weight behind it? Maybe it was the fact that NWA themselves were such innovators in the rap game, or that Straight Outta Compton was the first epic rap group biopic, which was actually legitimately solid. All Eyez on Me feels essentially derivative.

That's a shame because Tupac's dual acting / rapping career (which got started at virtually the same time - in fact, Juice [1992] predates his biggest singles) is endlessly fascinating. He's also hands down one of the greatest rappers who's ever lived. In the end, the cultural effect seems like a drop in the pond, and critically it's getting drubbed. Commercially it might do okay - even Notorious made $20 million its opening weekend, but I don't think it will be the smash that Straight Outta Compton was.

Oh no! Sharks!
Moving on we got 47 Meters Down (2017), the Mandy Moore Shark Cage movie we've always been waiting for. This is totally jumping off the success of last year's The Shallows (2016) with Blake Lively, which got a lot of points for being original, if not still pretty stupid, and tension-filled, if not pretty exploitative. That even premiered around the same time, which was also around the same time as JAWS (1975) forty-two years ago. Sharks in June are like Star Wars in May. Or now December.

By all means, advance reviews are that 47 Meters Down does what The Shallows and even JAWS failed to do - get right to the shark attack and get to it damn fast. I'm okay with this. This is what Shark Attack fans always dream about. I get the impression that this is exactly as good as you'd expect it to be, with a solid mix of schlock and genuine terror to make it enjoyable. As far as the Shark genre goes, you have these films, all the other Jaws movies, Deep Blue Sea (1999), Open Water (2003), Sharknado (2013), and wait...shit...so much more. It is the original blockbuster genre, after all.

Mandy Moore's stock is actually rising after This is Us and La La Land (2016), even if the La La Land Mandy Moore is a different Mandy Moore. It didn't seem to matter much for Blake Lively last year, as long as she's hot. Hey, this is how America works, people. The marketing hasn't been nearly as cool as last year's Shallows - in fact, that trailer was way cooler than the movie turned out to be. It will probably do okay, although we're not exactly horror-starved with It Comes At Night (2017) dropping last week. That film has already disappointed a lot of horror fans, though, and 47 Meters Down is certainly a different, specific sort of creature feature. It's also PG-13, which means lots of little kids can get in and be scared of big mean sharks. It'll likely do just fine, now that I'm thinking about it.

Culturally, The Shallows did actually penetrate culture and make a memorable impression, even if it ended up being kind of lame. I at least remember how it ended. That's more I can say for its competition, Independence Day: Resurgence (2017), whose name I had to look up. If 47 Meters Down is solid, it could break through, if not, then it'll just be another Shark Attack 3 (2002). While its Rotten Tomatoes isn't good at all (51% right now), it's actually a notch above All Eyez on Me and Rough Night (2017), and right below Cars 3 (2017). So, no matter what you're getting a meh movie this weekend - if you're a shark guy, then go for it.

Weekend at Scarlett's
Moving right along, next we have Rough Night - the Scarlett Johansson Very Bad Things (1998) rip-off Bachelorette movie, which looks like the greatest comedy ever if it wasn't derivative of like four great comedies in the past. I mean, this just Bridesmaids (2011) with less heart and a modern cast, right? Or is it more just the straight female Hangover (2009) remake that Bridesmaids really wasn't?

I don't mean to be totally deriding because this cast is a fucking dream, even if I still think this is the second-worst Scarlett Johansson casting of 2017. Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon need to be movie stars, and their supporting turns here could propel them to the spotlight, which is what I've been hoping to happen to McKinnon since Sisters (2015). To be fair, a lot of the jokes in the trailers and commercials have landed pretty well, and like all comedies, if the movie is just funny, it'll rise to the top. If it can't, it'll spin in purgatory with Bad Moms (2016), Masterminds (2016), and Office Christmas Party (2016) that we don't care about.

Critically it's already been not great, which isn't a good prospect for a comedy's legs. Despite the fact that a film only needs to be funny, if it's going to last it helps if it's actually full of clever writing. Comedy is inherently subversive, if a film's just going through the motions there's not a lot there. With all this crap, though, there's still some high anticipation with the coming together of every great rising comedy star there is right now, and I still want to see it for what this mix of SNL, Idiotsitter, Broad City, and uh...The Avengers (2012) can do on the big screen together. Without a ton of comedic competition around it could do well financially, but there's also enough general competition right now to divert attention.

HAHAHA, what?!
Finally, we come to Cars 3. The advertising for this movie has been completely insane, and you've got to wonder if that has to do with the fucking terrible cultural reputation of the Cars franchise as "that one where Pixar sold out for merchandising profits." That's totally true. Cars 3 seems like it's layering on maudlin serious dark heavy overtones, which is absolutely nuts. Why not double down on what has worked for Cars before, the stupidest of all Pixar's kid-friendly properties?

It's pretty clear that the studio is upset about Cars 2 (2011) universally ranked as their worst film, both critically, almost financially, and in Oscar nominations (at zero). Nothing is really going to help the clear direction of the studio, though, who seems to have shifted towards returning to the well, perverting old characters rather than all that constant innovation that they did so well for so long. There's no hiding Finding Dory (2016), along with sequels to The Incredibles (2004), and the worst offender, an upcoming Toy Story 4 (2019), which threatens to unravel all the great closure from Toy Story 3 (2010). It all points to not a great point in the studio's history, although we're also only two years removed from Inside Out (2015), which spits in the face of all this criticism and is at least in the Top 3 of anything they've done.

Culturally this feels incredibly derivative. There's just not a lot of reason to be invested in this. If it's about finality, it's basically the Cars version of Toy Story 3. If it's about selling toys (the other big Cars theme), then it's just another installment in the crappy franchise. I'd really like to know more about the Cars world. How does any of it work? How do they have kids? Why do they have car doors for passengers? What happened to the humans? How big are these stadiums? What happened to all the stairs? Why are there tractor-cows? Are you born into whatever role you have in life based on your car make and model? What kind of insane society is this?!

This ought to win the weekend - you know that The Mummy (2017) isn't going to give any real competition. Still, I don't think anticipation is all that high, and it's not going to be a mondo Pixar movie like in years past. No one "wants to know how Cars ends". It'll do just fine, but you've got to think that out of all these four random movies dropping this week, none is going to be crazily successful. The weekend as a whole will probably be fine just because there's so many options to attract a wide range of people, but I don't see any one film doing great. Wonder Woman it is.

Which will you pick this weekend?

12 June 2017

Summer Jam Week FIVE LIVE Selena Takes All Our Money!

Summer rolls along and it's time again to espouse the sexiest, saltiest, savoriest jams of the week. There were a ton of hot new beats dropped this week, and we were tempted to do an All-New Hotness Edition, but a lot of holdover tracks were still jamming enough to get their shout-out here. We might get to a hotness week one of these weeks, but for now we're at least 50% old crap. Let's start thumping!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Good Cop Bad Cop" by Ice Cube

I went through a lot of new jams this week but knew I had to pick this ditty when I came across it. This is a new track on Cube's reissue of his 1992 album Death Certificate, and while it has plenty of relevant politically charged lyrics daaaayumn that beat is hot, son. We haven't really heard Ice Cube rap in a while. He's been distracted making terrible xXx movies, corny family films, and the occasional 21 Jump Street (2012). It's nice to be reminded of how damn good he is spitting bars, and this is totally Death Certificate-worthy.

Fard Crimes: "Hard Times" by Paramore

For some reason I have trouble coming up with puns on this one. Maybe because it's just such an inexplicable song. It's perfect background noise, though, such innocuous mid-day Summer bar music or commercial or movie fodder. It's all the same crap. But it's enjoyable, and that's the real point here. Can we really fault a song for being competent and uninteresting, but still pretty fun? I don't know, but that's Paramore.

Get Close to Sombodda: "The Way I Are" by Bebe Rexha

I never quite know what to think of Bebe Rexha. She looks like a sexy little rat who can't really sing, but smiles a lot like she can, so that's something nice. Lil Wayne appears here autotuning it up, which is probably just to make Bebe look better. This reeks of a confident music video that also doesn't really have any purpose other than pop glory, which is evident all over the place. That may not be a bad thing, but there's not a ton of depth or interestingness here. This also gets really weird with Indian appropriation. It's cheeky pop, so it could last, but I've grown to dislike it.

iBrya: "iSpy" by KYLE ft. Lil' Yachty

This track returns for a little bump this week, and I for sure haven't gotten really sick of it yet, even if it's been muscled out lately. I do think that Lil' Yachty is becoming emblematic of the mumble-rap even more than his predecessors, Desiigner and Fetty Wap. There's lots of sticky moments here, though, which is generally positive and uplifting, which is kind of rare for a big crossover summer rap hit. I'm down.

Now Flip It Around: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

Yes, the exact opposite of "iSpy." America! See, we can live in harmony. Both these songs are just about hooking up with chicks, that's what it's all about. America. This has been hanging around for a bit now, and maybe wasn't totally prominent but means a lot to my life right now. Or at least I found myself singing along on the radio. I still use radio. I'm glad this song appeals to radio users. Do we even have shared radio experiences anymore when everyone Spotifies? These are questions above mortal understanding.

Faces in the Street: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

It might also just be my personal taste, but "Bad Liar" has found a way of persisting. Selena Gomez gets under my skin with in her voice and rhythm, which is endlessly infectious. I don't even know if this rises above kewl car jams, though. Can you rock out to this at a party? Dance to it at a wedding? That's all in the ether. Still, it's proven to have some legs by now and should continue.

Like MJ: "Swish Swish" by Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj

Katy Perry is trying really really hard to have a stunner Summer Jam. "Bon Appetit" ended up fizzling a bit, but this was "Swish Swish"'s week. She's been on YouTube live non-stop and keeps popping up doing weird promotional shit with Gordon Ramsay and more. Maybe "Swish Swish" is her key, and it is a pretty cool song. I do feel like this should have been a more monumental collabo than it is, but you kind of get the feeling that Katy and Nicki are each doing their own separate thing rather than really being true bffs. Nicki even gets to break it down late in the track like it's her own. It ends up coming off as two songs in one, with both artists doing their own thing over the same beat. It's possible it finally gains some traction, but Katy's trying really hard here.

Drunk and All Alone: "It Ain't Me" by Kygo ft. Selena Gomez

I had no idea that this was Selena, I actually thought it might have been her doppelganger, Kiiara, based on the choppiness of the bridge, but this is an adorable song that's also super heart-breaking. It also is super-young, drunk, and stupid, which is all rad. It's been around for a minute, but like every one and done #1 Jam this summer, was every where this week. Maybe that'll be this summer's theme. It's worked for the past five weeks, at least. Stay tuned for more of this junk, listeners!

Next week...

I narrowly gave the axe to Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times" which I think could still come back and be something. Other than that, we saw new drops by Blink 182, TLC, Dan Auerbach, Chicano Batman, Little Mix, Fifth Harmony (sans Camila Cabello), and Lorde this week that could all become things. Well, that Blink 182 song sucked, but it was remarkable how much that TLC track sounded 90s. The future is upon us! We're still well in need of an ubiquitous Summer Jam, so much so that I almost wonder if this column is worth doing anymore. We at least have all of Kendrick's DAMN. providing a soundtrack to the NBA Finals.

09 June 2017

Get Mummy'd

In our weekly preview this Friday we have a lot to dissect. Reaching theaters is the coldly anticipated The Mummy (2017) starring Tom Cruise, which is a bizarre sentence. There's a lot to unpack with Universal's idiotic Dark Universe, the Brendan Fraser movies obviously, and how this is basically a mystical Mission: Impossible VI. On the other end o the spectrum we've got Joel Edgerton in It Comes At Night (2017) which looks sweet and creepy. Let's start with that one.
You know, he's not even really the focus of this movie.

Joel Edgerton's stock has risen in the last couple years. He could have easily become another Jai Courtney or Garrett Hedlund, some anonymous bro doing random charmless features, but he's instead picked a series of continually funky roles that has proven he is actually capable as an actor and director. He was kind of in the background of a lot of crappy movies like King Arthur (2004) and Smokin' Aces (2006) before inching up with the underrated Warrior (2011), the underrated The Thing (2011) prequel, and bit but memorable roles in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Great Gatsby (2013). Then of course comes the obviously terrible casting in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) (I bet you forgot that film even existed, right). Since then though, he's done really competent work in Black Mass (2015), Midnight Special (2016), and probably his peak with Loving (2016).

That's a lot to keep track of, but important to realize just how many movies this dude has been in that have ranged form shitty to spectacular, with a bunch in between, not often due to his role. Unmentioned above is his writer / director / producer / actor role in The Gift (2015), which was a stunning debut for anyone, much less the random not-Tom Hardy dude from Warrior. That film's tone appears to most closely resemble It Comes At Night, even if Edgerton's creepster Gordie role is drastically shifted. He does well with eerie thrillers like this, which are rare these days, although it appears at least also aesthetically similar to Get Out (2017). That might be a stretch, because nothing can really be tonally, thematically, or even a similar genre to Get Out, which seemed to blend so much to craft its insane narrative. But it's got that vibe sort of, right? At least in the sense that it's a mid-budget creepy thriller I suppose.

Edgerton is of course not the director of It Comes At Night, that'd be Trey Edward Shults, who I don't know too much about besides the fact that he directed Krisha (2015), which I remember appearing on a lot of critics indie best of lists two years ago. He's supposedly a competent director, which is rad. I'd be excited to see what he does with some money and this could become a great sophomore effort that we call back to.

As for the film itself, it appears like a standard home invasion flick with something more sinister going on - more paranoia, creepiness, and mystery. This isn't really a slash 'em up like The Purge (2013) or a weird reversal like Don't Breathe (2016), or You're Next (2013). We've had a lot of these lately. I don't even know if It Comes At Night is actually a home invasion movie, it's definitely at least not in the traditional sense. It's an exciting prospect to keep spinning this genre, which actually hasn't had nearly as much crap in the last few years as I thought it did.

Critically it's been solid, and culturally if it strikes the right vein it can certainly catch on and be a memorable movie, at least in the growing and solid oeurves of Edgerton and Shults. The cast also includes Carmen Ejogo, who is also tending to be in everything these days (having just shown up in Alien: Covenant [2017] as well), and Riley Keough, who is soon to become our new it girl, appearing in every film coming out in 2017 (only six films, but who's counting). It ought to be a great notch on the belt for both of them as well. This flick could push past just being a career move for everyone involved, but the commercial tracking isn't great (well, good enough for the kind of film this is, but not Get Out numbers) enough to really push it in the stratosphere.

So let's move on to The Mummy, and I should ask - what do you honestly think about this movie? I was totally wrong the other week about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), which won, even if its total gross was far under its predecessors. But The Mummy is a lot different, right? Well, my anticipation level is pretty similar. I just really don't care about this stupid shit. Let's start with Universal's whole Dark Universe push.

You may not know this, but back in 2012, The Avengers made a ton of money. Amazingly, other studios attempted to copy this shared universe idea, and crazily, no one else has been able to pull it off. Sure, DC comes close, but let's get real - all their non-Wonder Woman (2017) movies are like dragging your dick through gravel. Lacking a coherent property like a pre-built comic universe, studios have gotten more and more desperate searching for possible shared universes. Warner Bros, in addition to the DCEU is trying their hand at Godzilla and King Kong in a shared monster universe. They also were at one point trying their hand at King Arthur, and that didn't work out to well. There's a bunch more ranging from Hasbro to LEGO to 21 Jump Street and Ghostbusters (also whoops). It's so obviously that a lot of these fail by biting off much more than they can chew right away, or as is more often the case, being terrible terrible fucking movies.

Universal apparently saw all this and figured it owned the rights to the original shared universe, its classic Monsters library from the 1930s and 40s and figured "Why not?" even though most of its properties are now in the public domain. Other studios really should just start cranking out Frankenstein and Dracula films to spite the studio. And sure, on paper this makes a lot of sense. There's name recognition there and a previous shared universe to base their works around. That's basically what Marvel did, right?

The big difference is that there are Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, and Werewolf films every five years or so. What people don't seem to understand about The Avengers is that the team-up concept had existed in comic books for seventy years (going back to the Justice Society of America), and in Marvel, fifty years before getting that singular big screen adaptation. All these characters had never been on screen before while we had had a long history of superheros on film, dating back to a bunch of Superman, Batman, and Blade solo adventures. Why did Blade get a movie before Iron Man? Dammit, the 90s were nuts. This is also where we intersect with Universal Monsters again - Blade: Trinity (2004), obviously. Marvel needs to reboot that and re-cast Luke Evans as Dracula.

Anyway, the point is that The Avengers was really novel, and it granted a desire to see an amazing team-up on screen that fans had been waiting for decades. We've seen a lot of monsters on screen, and there's not much of a reason to believe that The Mummy is going to give us anything really at this level of novelty. It's attempting this through basic Tom Cruise-ism, which is an insane stunt that Cruise performs himself, which I'm sure drastically drives up the film's insurance premiums. This time he's in a plane without gravity. Wowee! I'm sure it'll be a great sequence, but that's all that the Mission: Impossible films have become, it's sort of insane to just translate that to a different franchise and genre.

On that note, let's talk about the basis for their films - casting big name actors and that's it. Marvel did work to seek out great actors to match their roles, letting the films and roles make stars out of its lesser known leading actors like Chris Hemsworth. You've also got to remember burnt out 2008 Robert Downey Jr. who no one liked compared to the 2017 cinematic golden boy he has become. The one thing they do universally well is their casting, which is all about finding the character first. Their director choices can be flashy (or at least in the sense of giving renegades like James Gunn and Taika Waititi a fun sandbox to go nuts in), but their casting is always practical.
The real heroes.

Universal went out and grabbed the most obvious crop of actors possible and handed them each an iconic role. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, and Javier Bardem teaming up sounds like the greatest 2004 movie ever, and that's only because Javier Bardem's prime is a few years past the rest of these 90s legends. What kind of investment is this? Downey Jr. is certainly aging out of Tony Stark, hell, at this point Chris Evans is pushing it. Is this franchise built to last ten more years? It all reeks of a cash grab rather than careful construction.

The one great bit of casting is Sofia Boutella as the titular Mummy, who is a young star on the rise and looks great in the role (or at least as great as a weird four-pupil screaming sand witch can look) and can be booked for the next ten years. I'd be curious to see how the rest of the films develop their secondary casts - Tom Cruise's random white dude character seems far more expendable than the Mummy. Will they bait and switch? He died in Oblivion (2013) - it can happen! Well, I guess he kind of didn't. That's not even totally a spoiler.

To direct, Universal also chose an obvious and safe choice - Alex Kurtzman, who has never actually directed anything before, so we're a little in the dark, but he ought to be famous for writing with his 9/11 truther partner Robert Orci the first two Transformers films, the first two modern Star Trek films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and a slew of other crap. It's certainly populist and he's made a ton of money, but it's hard to pick a singular good movie from this credits list. The best is probably Star Trek (2009), so maybe that's okay. Likely not.

Anyway, my whole point is that there are some pretty serious cracks so far in this Dark Universe the studio is going after. The Mummy has had a lot of hype, although none from any serious corner of the Internet, but I imagine it'd have to tank pretty hard for Universal to drop the idea completely. I'm still trying to figure out how and why Dracula: Untold (2014) dropped the ball, but whatever. It'll all be shit anyway.

One big reason we're strained is because there's a lot of weird love out there for the Brendan Fraser series that came out almost twenty years ago. The Mummy (1999) was a pretty popular film that was filled with groundbreaking special effects that look super shitty today, and also made stars out of Rachel Weisz, while its sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001) which was the first cinematic appearance of The Rock! We're only here today because of The Mummy Returns. Think about that. These are egregiously stupid films, but pretty fun films lead by a charismatic cast that you could see really cared about each other. Even Arnold Vosloo eventually does some subtle work with his eternal love, Anck-Su-Namun in the sequel. See, I even remember all their stupid damn Egyptian names. There's hardly a better Sunday afternoon movie you can tune in to, not really pay attention, and enjoy a few minutes at a time.

Thus, our current Mummy feels more like a remake than it should, even if the period, style, cast, shared universe implication, and titular mummy are all different. It doesn't help that we got The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) more recently along with more Scorpion King movies than you'd think was possible. This is all to say this film doesn't feel wanted or needed and I can't imagine its cultural aftershocks being that high. It'll probably make money because in totality it's created to do so. Reviews are trickling in slowly, but it's already pretty clear how rough this is.

And on another note - I love mummies. They're so stupid. Why would you ever be scared of a mummy? They're in fucking Egypt and shit. I'll draw your attention to my series of short stories, "Lowcountry" over at our creative writing blog that is never updated. I mean, you got Boris Karloff, Yummy Mummy, that Simpsons joke about Soccer Mummy getting a boner - this is all golden Mummy lore. Can Tom Cruise match up?

We've also got Megan Leavey (2017) this weekend, which I've never heard of and looks like some sappy crap about an army chick and her dog or something, I don't care.

So what are you watching this weekend? Wonder Woman? Yeah, Wonder Woman. I hate to keep defaulting to superhero movies, but they're really no worse than any other stupid franchise at this point, and as long as they're as good as Wonder Woman that's fine with me. What say you?

05 June 2017

Summer Jam Week 4: LIVE Genghis Khan Attacks China!

You heard that right. Welcome to another LIVE edition of the Summer Jam 2017 countdown - all your hottest hits are right here for your musical pleasure! There were a lot of great special jams dropped this week as we roll into the month of June, which for many is when Summer officially starts. We've been at this for a month now, but it's time to rock out again!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Run" by Foo Fighters

I got super hammered Friday night and discovered this, which I half-remembered until now. It's an okay song, but the age make-up is crazy and weird and awesome and it's nice to hear a new Foo song, especially one as hardcore as this. It's already pretty popular and could be a great crossover rock hit that does some damage this summer. I've yet to hear non-Internet plays, but no one but me cares about that anymore.

Common Cold: "The Cure" by Lady GaGa

GaGa is hanging around while Katy seems to have evaporated as soon as she crashed. "The Cure" is a sly song that's deceptively catchy even when it's forgettable upon first listen. I still think this isn't quite the Summer Jam GaGa needs, and its position here is pretty precocious. I'd expect "Bon Appetit" to return soon, but who knows at this point.

High Again: "High" by Sir Sly

This is probably getting more attention than it deserves, but once again we get High with Sly. I didn't notice that this video only has like 800,000 views on YouTube, which is crazy, but it's a damn fun song that deserves the notice. Spare me the scant joy this brings - we gotta get hot here. This could come or go from here, but is probably on the edge more than I want it to be. It's my countdown, dammit.

It Ain't Easy: "Hard Times" by Paramore

Do you remember the last Paramore song? I had to do some research and now my YouTube account thinks I really dig Paramore, which is unfortunate. That'd be 2014's "Ain't it Fun" and 2013's "Still Into You." I really hate those vague titles that could literally be the name of any song from any era ever. Hayley Williams is probably better known as the chick from "Airplanes" but this probably their best work. It's got a solid amount of spirit and feels like a proper Summer Jam. It almost struck the Hot Jam position and the timing is good if it can settle down and hang around for a while.

Something Just Like Piss: "Something Just Like This" by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay

Sorry, I just hate this song. It's so dumb. Our #1 from last week falls a bit and after hearing it everywhere last week it seemed to dry up. That's probably coincidental, but as an introspection into my life it didn't show up nearly as much. It could still hang around, but I'm inclined to think it's on its way out. Ugh that scratchy Chainsmoker percussion is so 2016. Get over it.

Tissues for: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

Michaels almost had a hot jam this week to add to the superb "Issues" in "Uh-huh", which is actually a way more awesome track. She's fucking silky, right? I have no idea what she's all about or anything, but I think she's just barely one notch above every other terrible white girl singing her heart out these days. A couple more months of establishing her brand can be helpful, and "Issues" has actually been one of the more consistent songs on this bonkers list each week.

Back Hand in the Back Country: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

That's right. This track is creeping up and up and made a solid effort this week. I actually like this song and thump my head along with it, which is such a rarity. It's all about the smooth rhythm and lack of twang that just destroys most other country songs. It's subtle in its supreme irritation. Maybe I'm just becoming more sympathetic to flyover country. This needs a video with some chick in cut-offs in a lift kit and just be the most American Summer Ever. Fuck France!

Asia is Ours! "Genghis Khan" by Miike Snow

Alright, so this out of now where, but this song genuinely ran my life this week. I did here this here and there but also totally played it on my own fourteen hundred times. It's a really cool little song with a bonkers video and solid metaphor. This is a gutsy #1 pick, but they've all been this year. This could stick around and maybe a contender this summer, but probably not. We've gone really crazy so far. Summer Jam Queen will probably be like "Issues" or something.

Next week...

We'll see if Miike Snow can stick around, perhaps not in the #1 spot. I'm also looking at Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, who narrowly missed out this week, and Lorde's new track, "Perfect Plan." That in addition to a ton of new spicy jams make it an exciting time to have ears! Stay tuned, loyal listeners!

02 June 2017

Underpants and Wonder Woman...Maybe Not in that Order

First of all, I was totally wrong last week. I still don't know why. I really misread this country, which is the first time that has happened ever. It will definitely never happen again ever. But another week is another week and apparently it's actually legitimately difficult to upend Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Who knows if any of the films coming out this week will pull it off. I suspect one might, but the other ought to be garbage. Let's not mince words, Wonder Woman (2017) ought to hit big and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017) ought to...not. Let's start with that one first and then build to Wonder Woman.
A time for heroes

First of all, this movie is very clearly coming like literally twenty years too late. The first children's novel dropped in 1997 by writer Dav Pilkey. My whole family was actually pretty into it - it was refreshingly silly and weird and giggly immature in all the best ways. We stuck through maybe the first three novels up through 1999, and then you know, became adults and moved on. Apparently there have been nine more books up through 2015 to make twelve in total. That's crazy. Like I said, the cut-off date for this thing's peak popularity was in the last century.

Admittedly I don't now the sales figures or anything, and since I haven't been a kid for a while, I have no idea if kids are still into this. Clearly, even from the trailers and commercials, though, this flick seems to draw mainly from the first two novels, and you've got to wonder if kids who read the 2015 editions have brushed up on the 1997 work. This just feels like such a has been series. Sure, there have been other children's properties that have been adapted in CG Animation that have done fine lately - think Peabody & Sherman (2014) or The Peanuts Movie (2015). I would argue, though that 1) these were far more iconic and popular than Captain Underpants, 2) They didn't do all THAT great financially, even if they made their money back, and 3) does anyone really look back with fond memories on any of these?

That's just it - if we look at the widespread cultural effects it becomes difficult with a property so geared towards children that it doesn't have Pixar or Disney-level or hell, even DreamWorks-level adult crossover appeal (okay, this is actually a DreamWorks property, but this ain't a Madagascar [2005], Megamind [2010], or even a Boss Baby [2017]). Not to say that's bad - films geared explicitly for kids can do well, but I don't see this having much of a cultural effect.

Financially it ought to be in line with those other films. It's not like audience have been totally starved for shitty animated films lately, although this could have legs if Cars 3 (2017) is as intense and un-child friendly as it looks. I don't put a lot of stock in its chances. Critically, if it can capture the fun irreverence of the source material we could be in for a treat. I would side much more so in the vein of this being a blip on the radar that no one is invested in.

Let's move on now to Wonder Woman. Now, officially, even though I write much more about Marvel movies (for the simple reason that there's both more of them and they're way better), I'm always cheering for DC to get it right. I've always been amazed at how DC seems to get its animated and television properties so right while its films have just not been with it. Wonder Woman has me endlessly curious.

First of all, it's astounding that it took us this long to get a Wonder Woman movie. She's got to be the most notable female comic book star by far, and a huge star on her own right. Let that settle for a bit - we got Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005) before Wonder Woman. Isn't that all sorts of insane? You'd think that Wonder Woman could have even had enough appeal to make a shitty 90s latex superhero movie. We did get the Lynda Carter show in the 70s, which is iconic, enough to the point where it's amazing that there has been this source material for so long with no major cinematic adaptation.

A lot of that is probably just sexism. Nothing new. By all means this looks pretty solid. And while I do feel extremely bad about the pains Zack Snyder and his family are going through right now, that doesn't change the fact that he's made a series of terrible terrible movies to usher in the DC Cinematic Universe. It feels like it's taken forever to get to a non-Snyder movie (David Ayer's Suicide Squad [2016] was possibly filled with less competent direction) and with any luck, Patty Jenkins can deliver. She doesn't have a ton of credits to her name, and nothing really recent, and nothing remotely action-oriented, she does have uh..Monster (2003), which was good. It's tough to form any kind of expectation, but when Snyder is our standard, it can't be that bad. Right?

To build more on what this film is trying to build - the DC shared universe - there is a lot hinging on this one. DC is basically 0 for 3 so far in terms of making good films, although it'd be foolish to think they're not popular or don't make money. None of them really feel beloved like Marvel films, but that has all to do with Marvel's emphasis on competent if not outstanding character work and DC's emphasis on aping whatever's popular at the moment, whether it be gritty, funny, or excessive pop music. It all becomes superficial tonal imitation rather than true innovation. For better or worse it's up to Wonder Woman to turn things around and get us set up for Justice League (2017).

In its favor is the fact that Gal Gadot provided all of the best moments in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), possibly because she actually has charisma which contrasts every other terrible dour decision in that film. It also takes place around the World War I era, which could give a nice Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) vibe that doesn't stretch to connect with everything right away. This franchise could use a moment to tell its own stories.
It is amazing how the Fast and the Furious turned out to
be a 6-hour audition for Wonder Woman.

This of course leads to other weirdness - namely, Captain America's origin remains immaculate, because he can always stay froze in that ice and preserve all those 1940s corny values that make him such a great hero for today. Except you know, the Nazism now. There becomes weirder and weirder reasons for Wonder Woman to suddenly pop up nowadays and start fighting monsters - especially because shouldn't we have found Themyscira by now? It's not like Asgard in its own little realm, it's just hanging out in the ocean somewhere. Wonder Woman becomes like Thor and Captain America wrapped into one, but also a chick. All this makes for a straight adaptation of the source material and origin kind of tricky to sort out and make simple, cool, and honoring of the source material, not the least because the source material tends to change depending on the decade. It's all a mess that a film can actually do wonders to canonize and codify. Thor (2011) was actually similar, since the Donald Blake / Thor bullshit is confusing as hell. Movies do better than any reboot or Ultimate Universe in re-writing hero origin stories in popular consciousness.

There's also the bizarre bondage / feminist origin of Wonder Woman's character creation by William Moulton Marston, which is all kinds of awesome but also a tough spot to tackle in a major motion picture blockbuster. It's not like motion pictures couldn't be selective and ignore some of this shit, but all the Wonder Woman staples - the bulletproof bracelets, the Lasso of Truth, the uh...invisible jet, are way more random than web shooters, laser eyes, utility belts, and vibranium shields.

All of this melts away if a movie is actually good, and as I'm thinking about the ridiculousness of Wonder Woman more and more I'm even more curious to see how Patty Jenkins and company adapt a bunch of craziness that I don't care about into a legitimate theatrical experience. If we were to look at the cultural, critical, and commercial potential of the film, I'd say its potential in all three is decently high.

Culturally, Wonder Woman has her place, and there's clearly a gap she can claim as the grand-mammy of all superheroes, where she has stood in almost every adaptation previously. She's always been a warrior feminist icon, and this is a great chance for her to be on the big screen for everyone. Again, it all really depends on whether the film is good or not, but there's enough of a cultural gap right now, and this is a superhero movie distinctive enough to leave an impression.

I am curious what the actual story is, actually. The main villain I believe is Ares, who has had all kind of tangles with Wonder Woman, some in the more recent origin stories tied to bringing the Amazons to the rest of the world. In my spoiler-free lifestyle I'm not even actually sure who is playing the big bad God of War. Keeping the big bad a secret can be either a cool move because it's spoiler-y, or because he really sucks and they have no way to market him. Or the main villain turns out to be Chris Pine or something. It's a little concerning, but hopefully there is a coherent story there.

Critically, reviews so far have been sort of mixed but acknowledged that this is probably the best DC film so far. I'm always cautious to reward a junk movie just because of its positive potential cultural merits. This is the Ghostbusters (2016) effect, which I wanted so badly to be good, but really just sucked. I think that liberal PC culture tends to blind a lot of critics into justifying horrible movies that happen to feature women in prominent roles. On the other hand, we're also in the midst of truly horrendous toxic masculine culture that trashes any film attempting just a little bit of progressiveness. It's all awful. I don't care about DC or Marvel, DreamWorks or Pixar, Male or Female. I really only try to look at Good Movie or Bad Movie. That binary thought seems lost in an age where context and politics seep into every facet of our lives. It's a tricky path to navigate and every review will be lost in this mire. That being said, it's probably okay? That seems the consensus.

Finally, I'd like to say that the commercial potential is pretty high. There's a lot of excitement, the trailers are hot, the character is long due for an adaptation, and there's not a ton of competition out there. We just had the lowest Memorial Day weekend since the second Captain Underpants novel, Guardians is fading (kind of), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) isn't going to clear more than $25 million this week. There's no exciting films coming up for a long while (No, I don't hold The Mummy [2017] in high regard), and the road is paved and clear to do pretty well.

On the other hand, it's hard to doubt the ire of angry male virgin nerds. Sass here isn't on a Ghostbusters level, but at some point we need to look at what that old comic book loving base is - and readership is shifting for sure, but bros aren't going to come out for Wonder Woman like they came out for a Batman movie. It's not a great world to live in, but expectations should be tempered a little bit. We at least need a Chris Pine shirtless scene to secure the horny mom ticket.

What do you think? What will you see this weekend?
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