31 July 2017

Summer Jam Week 12: July We Hardly Knew Ye. LIVE!

Amazingly, we close out July with a fairly underwhelming week in the world of tepid pop music. Sure these hot beats are driving our lives but what does it all mean, really? I've always been one to succumb to the temptation of mindless gyrating to distract myself from the world's real problems. That's what it's all about. Summer Jam Royalty baby! Let's dive in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Boys" by Charli XCX

You are now gay. This is a nice sweet song, though, and a little bit more toned down from the nuttiness Charli XCX usually cranks out. It's also got just about every type of boy you could ever want featured at some point. It'd be cool if this takes off, but I'm going to go ahead and say it's unlikely.

Summer of Khaled: "I'm the One" by DJ Khaled ft. A Ton of Other People

Has anyone noticed that Bieber and Khaled in some kind of combination do seem to be ruling summer? I haven't always acknowledged it as such, but "I'm the One" popped on my radar this week more than usual, although it's been in the background and #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for quite some time now. We're pretty much past the point of prognostication now, and while in any other sane world this would have a clear chance at being named the Official Jam of Summer 2017, thanks to my insane personal methods there's no way.

Planet Moon: "Something Just Like This" by Coldpay & Chainsmokers

I've been pretty blatant about how much I hate this track as well, and we don't have to get back into that here. This song has also popped in here and there and seemed to surge this week for whatever reason. I can't remember turning on a band so quickly as I have with the Chainsmokers. I think it was after I realised that even though their beats seemed really innovative and distinctive, they only have one! This is like, exactly "Closer" but applied to a Coldplay song, which just makes it so much worse.

So this is admittedly pretty old, but I was listening to this on the radio this week and thinking to myself, "You know, this is a pretty solid track." And I'm right. Actually, watching this video makes me so less into Post Malone as this weird rasta white dude. I was literally picturing Lil' Yachty. He's kind of halfway between traditional and mumble rap styles. Now that I'm watching this idiot I kind of hate this track. I promise one of these will be positive.

Cults N Shit: "Now or Never" by Halsey

Here is a song that I still actually like and is still actually on a bit of an upswing rather than one that faded with the rest of the Summer Contenders. Halsey's voice is solid, sweet, and just a little raspy that is really appealing right now for some reason. She feels like an anti-pop starlet like Lana Del Ray but actually isn't at all, which is exactly why she works. If this is last jam standing, that'd be great, but it's never really felt dominant this Summer.

Sit, Roll Over: "Stay" by Zedd ft. Alessia Cara

Here's another one that's been around forever, but has grown on me as much as it's grown on America, apparently. The beat really isn't anything at all, but Alessia proves again that she could be one of the better pop voices of her generation. She really ought to get out of this typical shit and do some actually interesting, thoughtful work. She has done that I suppose but it hasn't reached Adele mainstream levels. That's way too harsh and judgy. I'm in a bitchy mood today.

Daylight: "Redbone" by Childish Gambino

Just let it roll. I obligated to throw down "Redbone" last week and I just heard it out quite a bit again, and even spurred some discussion with contemporaries of mine about its merit and value. It's all pretty high. I'm amazed at the truly artistic career that comedian and Community weirdo Donald Glover has made for himself and this could quietly kind of become a legit Summer Jam, old as it is.

Long and Winding Road: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

So, with a #2 spot last week and #1 this week, Sam Hunt is very much in the hunt towards immortal Summer Jam status. That's some wild stuff. This is still like the third ever country song that I can stand listening to, and it inspired that conversation like four times this week whenever it came on and I was around people. At this point it's time for jams to start clinching, and Julia Michaels' "Issues" needs to come back if it's going to make good on its frontrunner June status.

Next week...

There were plenty of other hot jams that I ignored because they were stupid. This includes Nicki Minaj's new joint with Future, Selena Gomez's "Fetish" video (sounds way hotter than it is), that weird one from Macklemore about his grandma, Demi Lovato's "Sorry Not Sorry" which is an awful song, and Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty" which is totally legit, but I've also just overdone my Kendrick love this summer. Really the soundtrack for the Summer should just be DAMN. and that's it, but we've got other shit going on, people. Stay tuned!

28 July 2017

Atomic Blonde or the Emoji Movie...A REAL SOPHIE'S CHOICE THIS WEEK

Well folks we're swinging towards the last weekend in July, which is typically about when the Summer Season is at a standstill. Sure, there are August releases I GUESS, and often there's one or two decent hits out of that, although this August is damn pitiful, with a few probably exceptions. Then again, this whole Summer has been a dumpster fire, again with a few exceptions, but generally pretty damn awful.

So we come to this weekend, which is crazily polarized. On the one end we have The Emoji Movie (2017) whose existence I can barely comprehend. On the other we have Atomic Blonde (2017) which looks like a fucking spectacular original action film we seem to get less and less of these days. Let's take these apart starting with the spawn of Satan shit:

This makes me want to fucking kill some children.
I haven't really even bought into the marketing material for The Emoji Movie. I watched the trailer once, immediately forgot about it and moved on with my life. The film was literally inspired by the director wanting to rip-off Toy Story (1995), then getting inspired when someone texted him an emoji. It feels like the sort of instantly-dated cultural cash grab that also inspired such non-starters as The Angry Birds Movie (2016) or Hackers (1995). That's right, we've been making terrible dated technology movies for twenty years.

Emojis are popular, I guess, but a bit thin for a feature screenplay, right? True, studios have made more out of less, particularly SONY, who for every Hotel Transylvania (2012) creates a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) that totally works. Their animated track record, thanks to an onslaught of Smurfs movies (including one this year! Did you even fucking know that?!), is generally in the toilet. It's clear that Meatballs was mostly Phil Lord and Chris Miller doing their typical shtick, which involves treating an impossible property with enough meta-commentary about its impossible-ness that it becomes a hilarious piece of art.

None of this is apparent in The Emoji Movie, which feels like it will be followed up in a few years with The Fidget Spinner Movie (2018). Spinning a story out of this feels so completely desperate and hackneyed. Maybe it'll do well. There hasn't really been a great animated film yet this summer, with Despicable Me 3 (2017) doing garbage. That is of course what I said the weekend that Despicable Me 3 came out and of course, that did terrible. Emoji is at least original, sort of, and possibly free of fatigue. People might go watch it just out of infantile curiosity, but when that's your best hope, that's none too great, is it? Critically unless it's REAL cute or something, I don't know, I can't see this as anything more than an insignificant blip on the cultural radar before we all move on.

Atomic Blonde. Now here's a damn movie. For all her badassery, Charlize Theron hasn't had too many action titles under her name, probably because Æon Flux (2005) was such a disaster. Even though she's a well-liked Academy Award winner I kind of feel like she's been underrated her whole career. She does a lot of shit, but the big films she appears in are totally big for non-Charlize reasons. These are your Hancock (2008), your Prometheus (2012), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014). Even The Fate of the Furious (2017)! See, you forgot Theron was even in any of those.

This scene alone - holy balls
As a companion you have monumental performances in Monster (2003) and Young Adult (2011) amidst a ton of other crap no one has seen like The Burning Plain (2008) and Dark Places (2015). These are terrible movies. But of course there is one performance that has capitulated the actress to the top recently and I'm sure the only reason why Atomic Blonde is happening and that's Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), or as it may as well have been called, Mad Max & Imperator Furiosa Go to the Green Place. She's spectacular here in every way and it feels like she's finally back to the kind of badass action heroine roles she started and stopped because of a slew of terrible films. No more MRF for us.

Atomic Blonde also comes from David Leitch, who was half of the team that created John Wick (2014), and more importantly, has done stunts in every great action film of the past twenty years. This is his first solo foray, so there is some trepidation in his grasp of story, but as long as it's simple (it appears generally so, albeit with some Cold War intrigue), it ought to at least have a fantastic clarity of rhythm and action that's so lacking in every single action and adventure film out there these days. At the very least, Atomic Blonde ought to be another building block towards this hopeful new resurgence of pure action films, fueled by Leitch and pushed forward by John Wick: Chapter Two (2017) and even Logan (2017) just a few months ago. Leitch is also helming Deadpool 2 (2018), so we ought to get a good idea of how he can handle action and comedy in this flick.

There's also a scene where Theron gets it on with the chick who played the Mummy in that terrible Tom Cruise movie from last month! It's as if Leitch thought to himself, "You know what, I want to film the sexiest scene in movie history. Way sexier than when Zorro cuts off Catherine Zeta-Jones' dress in that barn." The attitude on display here just feels awesome.

Commercially the bar isn't incredibly high for Atomic Blonde to clear. Dunkirk (2017) ought to hold well since it's more of an adult film with a solid cinemascore, I'm betting it gets $25 or $30 million. That's the bar for #1. Second place is probably going to be like $15 million - if Valerian and a Bunch of Neon Shit (2017) could do that, Atomic Blonde ought to hit that. John Wick: Chapter Two opened to $30 million back in February, which somehow earned itself third place behind The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and Fifty Shades Darker (2017). The Emoji Movie may rise up and nab the #1 spot, and I'm probably wrong about this because it's based on Hope for Humanity and nothing else, but I just think it'll bomb. Kids aren't that unruly this summer yet, right? Fuck. Fuck, they definitely are. Atomic Blonde only has a $30 million budget, which is also a big boon, but it'll probably be like third this week, but eventually make its money back. I don't see it being a runaway hit because it's just not that kind of movie, but it ought to do fine.

Critically it's already gotten a lot of love and a lot of people have been waiting a while for it, ever since it was called The Coldest City in my 2017 preview. Atomic Blonde really is just such a snappier title, right? What do you think? You going for Theron and McAvoy this weekend or are you watching Patrick Stewart voice a giant shit?

24 July 2017

Summer Jam Week 11: Ed Sheeran, Hobos, and White Walkers, LIVE from Downtown Cincinnati!

Well, we're actually paying attention and on time this week, which is a big plus for everyone involved! Especially you, the reader. Oh, loyal reader. How naive you are to still be following this crackpot after we've jerked you around for eight years! Wanna hear some cherry jams? Yeah you do! Get an earful of this shit!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Talking to Myself" by Linkin Park

It was incredibly tragic this week to hear the news that the greatest Transformers-soundtrack contributor had passed away. Chester Bennington purportedly took his own life, who joins a really bummer year from rock frontmen. Let's not kid ourselves - Chester Bennington was no Chris Cornell and beyond that one summer between eight and ninth grade, Linkin Park blows. I fucking own Hybrid Theory, man. This song is no different, but RIP you terrible, terrible singer. I actually do dig a lot of those Transformers songs.

Jam or...Meme? "Redbone" by Childish Gambino

"Redbone" has of course been hanging out for a while both in general existence and as a weird steadily growing meme. I've actually started to hear it blast on the radio, though, which means that it's actually crossed over to old people's analog ears. It's really unlike any other song, certainly any modern song, which sounds as much like Donald Glover as Danny Glover, that's also good for just about any scenario. It's taken off in the Land of the Internet hardcore and while it's come on a big too gradual and yet also specific to really be a Jam contender, it's worth a commentary here.

RumNCola: "Stay" by Zedd ft. Alessia Cara

This is honestly a Julia Michaels / Selena Gomez / Alessia Cara roulette that the latter wins this week. "Stay" had a bare edge this week, and while it's an infinitely enjoyable pop jam for this moment, I am curious how much we revere it ten or twenty years down the road. In the year 2046 will we think back and be like "Damn, dat Zedd knew his beats..." This is perhaps unfair and crowning a Summer Jam champion is as much about reveling in the songs of the moment as anything else. Still, that "sittin on the sofa drinkin rum n cola" line gets me every time.

Whole Lotta LUUV: "Now or Never" by Halsey

Speaking of superfluous pop...Halsey seems to have a better pulse on grungy youth than most pristine artists out there. She's like the 2017 version of Ke$ha, if Ke$ha wasn't also making a little comeback. Same as "Stay" I do like one or two vocal moments here, mostly in that first bridge. Halsey has done better, but this is a groovy enough track for Summer 2017 that is on more an upswing than downswing.

If I'm Gonna Make a Weekly Jam Countdown I'ma Make It Look Sexy: "Element." by Kendrick Lamar

And with that, we've achieved the longest joke introduction title ever. We're all pretty proud over here. "Element." may be crawling up to be my fav DAMN. track, and it was stuck in my head all week. It doesn't really have that gargantuan "Humble." immediate widespread appeal, but it's still a quality track that deserves its own fight in this jungle of wild misty summer jams.

Nakey Nakey Nakey: "Wild Thoughts" by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna

Just in time for her latest movie Valerian and the Journey to the Center of Valerian (2017) to bomb, we've got a way better Rihanna song that sizzles this summer. It's still fresh enough that I momentarily forget that it exists when it comes on and then I shimmy shimmy get into it. Like most collabos I wish Bryson Tiller or whatever was not involved and this was just a RiRi show, but what can you do. A few minutes past the summer halfway point this could still charge pretty solidly.

Whiplash: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

Just to go in the complete opposite direction, "Body Like a Back Road" came back in a big back road way this week and remains one of the now half-dozen country tracks that I can actually tolerate. It's been here and out all summer and will probably end up making a swell case for itself, although I might suspect true jamdum eludes it.

The Night's Watch: "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran

So during last week's um...escapade I gave "Shape of You" the unofficial winning node, but I thought he probably deserved his own write-up. This week was much more Sheeran-y anyway. Sure, you got Game of Thrones to push that, and whether you dug the cameo or not, who cares, people were talking Eddy and listening to this shitty song. It's all good. Here's your true #1 week.

Next week...

By now we really have a strong contingent of contenders contemplating the conquering of Summer. We ignored a whole bunch this week including "Issues", "Despacito", "It Ain't Me", and "Bad Liar" which I re-watched and damn that video is so stupid weird. I also really still like "Feels". Anyone else? I guess not. All of these are canonized and fo sho in the mix, although with my haphazard throwing around of winners and losers who knows. That's part of the fun, folks! Stay tuned as we wrap up July!

21 July 2017

White Guys, Black Chicks, and White People in Space

That's a solid description of Dunkirk (2017), Girls Night (2017), and Valerian and the City of The Two-Long Title (2017), right? So damn accurate.

We've got three big films coming out this weekend, and like every other damn weekend of the year for all eternity, it's time to discuss the cultural, commercial, and critical potential of each. Let's start with the film that I know next to nothing about, since in the above description, I fit most closely in the "White People in Space" category.

I didn't even know Queen Latifah was still alive
Girls Trip is such an insignificant film that you didn't even notice that I called it Girls Night two paragraphs earlier. That's also because it also totally feels like the black version of Rough Night (2017), which did piddly-shits a few weeks ago. The cast of Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Regina Hall sounds really awesome in 2003, but apparently the big star turn here is Tiffany Haddish, whose career up until now has been so ratchet that her IMDB picture has an ImageCollect watermark all over it.

This is all talking a lot of trash, but it's already actually gotten some decent critical reviews, and although a female black comedy is as rare as an albino Eskimo, like any comedy, if it's got the goods, it can do well. So far this year has been anathema to funny films at the box office, with The House (2017), Baywatch (2017), Snatched (2017), and the aforementioned Rough Night all being complete trash. That's not even to mention CHiPs (2017) and Fist Fight (2017). Comedy is comedy, and apparently a bit of Girls Trip works, although I imagine the all black female cast would be a hurdle towards getting the white bro crowd to the cinema.

Still, when was the last big film focused on African Americans that wasn't also a slavery film that made most of its money off white guilt? You got me. There's underrated potential here although I'm totally not the demographic. My guess is that culturally it falls into that big Think Like a Man Too (2014) / The Best Man Holiday (2013) / Baggage Claim (2013) pile of erudite black comedies. See, you hadn't even heard of that last one. But like anything else, if it's genuinely good, it'll find its niche.

Meh, I bet Venom's hardly even in this movie
Moving on to focus on a bunch of white guys with white guy problems we have the highly anticipated Chris Nolan film, Dunkirk, about a huge British loss in World War II the film is apparently painting as "heroic" now. I was honestly disinterested in this as well beyond the fact that Nolan generally makes pretty great films. That's not to say they aren't without their problems, but that's almost always thematically, not technically. At the very least he's good for a Top 10 spot on End of Year lists. We haven't had a war film on the scale or prestige level as Dunkirk in some time, hell, the World War II genre hasn't had a really notable entry since, what, Inglorious Basterds (2009)? If that even counts? Sure we got Hacksaw Ridge (2016) last year, but that was very focused on one soldier's story (also in the Pacific Theater). I suppose we had Fury (2014), but that's more often brought up as a defense of David Ayer's competent filmmaking when talking about what a disaster Suicide Squad (2016) was. So, it's been a while.

What you can be most excited for is that for some reason Chris Nolan has positioned himself as one of the only Hollywood directors capable, willing, and able to make original movie content that's actually shot on film. It's amazing that that's where our standards are in 2017, but there you go. I'd consider this really only his third large scale original film since he got free reign to do whatever he wants after The Dark Knight (2008). Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) certainly have their detractors, and some of that is valid, but they're both gorgeous looking films that more importantly were cultural landmarks in their years. It's fine to make a bad film, but really awful to make a forgettable film. Quick - remember King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)? That was like two months ago. We're still wading through Inception memes. Nolan is really good at canonizing what he makes and finding ways to stick in the popular consciousness, regardless if his work tends to be self-serious and grandiose at best, and crippled by pragmatism over creativity at worst.

Dunkirk also follows an incredibly unique time structure, which is no real secret, but if you're a purist, I suppose SPOILER for this paragraph. It follows a week on land, a day on sea, and an hour in the air for various groups involved in the evacuation. Apparently it executes this mechanic with such aplomb that it's a sight to behold. Will there be a van falling off a bridge in slow motion, though? We can only hope.

Nolan fans tend to go to the cinema no matter what he's churning out, although there is certainly a different kind of barrier here. Lots of comic book fans who Nolan converted during his run at Batman were also sci-fi fans who gladly supported Inception and Interstellar. The War genre is a different kind of animal, perhaps more attractive to all our dads. My guess is it does well, especially after War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) wasn't really a juggernaut and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) has faded a little faster than I thought it might. Still, I don't think it'll reach the heights of his other flicks.

Lastly we have Luc Besson's Valerian and A Bunch of Weird Monsters and an Indescribable Plot, which is both the most expensive non-US film of all time and the most expensive indie of all time. Apparently Besson doesn't give a shit about any of that, which makes him the even better version of all that shit I said above about Chris Nolan. It's actually a way more manageable risk, since he's not betting any studio money on this thing. And yeah, unfortunately, unless it clears a ton of cash, due its budget, it will almost certainly feel like a failure.

It turns out Tatooine is just one long beach
That's the thing though - when you think internationally, as the French Besson surely does, clearing $400 or $500 million worldwide isn't a crazy hurdle. Lucy (2014) hit about that without nearly the same amount of sheer spectacle that's tailor-made for non-English audiences, and adjusted for inflation his other big space opus The Fifth Element (1997) about hit that, too. Sure, the biggest star her is probably Cara "Enchantress" Delevingne (although apparently Rihanna is somewhere in that mess), which is a few notches below Scarlett Johansson or Bruce Willis, but it's about time we put that celebrity-selling movies thing to the test.

Look, of course, Valerian looks insane and all over the place. It's a mish-mash of everything you could possibly think of and I'm sure the effects will detract and distract more than enhance and service the story, but isn't this bonkers, crazy $180 million passion project exactly what we've always wanted? Or is it another Jupiter Ascending (2015)? As long as it isn't incredibly stupid it ought to avoid that distinction.

I fear, though, that that's all Valerian is - a soulless spectacle. There is no hint of story or stakes in any of the marketing material. All we've got is a lot of bright lights and insanity. That's fine, but you're gonna have a tough time convincing Joe America to fork over eight hard-earned bucks to sit through this nonsense. Then again, Valerian feels more like it was made for that kid in Swaziland or the bloke in Australia, or some random Japanese anime fan more than for American audiences.

Thus, we have the clincher - Valerian could prove to not only be a really new and unique filmmaking model on how to acquire funding for your insane mega-blockbuster that doesn't involve Superheroes or Frankenstein, but also a distribution method that truly accepts the Global Audience rather than pandering to them. I'm very curious to see how Valerian does and if it can truly be the modern 2017 movie I think it is trying to be. Or it could suck and we never speak of it again.

Lots of options this week, and damn if the summer doesn't start drying up soon. We got Atomic Blonde (2017) and The Dark Tower and that's pretty much it, folks. What are you seeing this weekend?

Summer Jam Week 10: LIVE! Let's just Move Past the Lateness for a Quick One

To update you folks once again, I've been in the process of moving to Cleveland this whole month and it's gone relatively smoothly, but I also lacked Internet for a good five days there. This of course didn't stop me on my phone, but after eating up my month's allotment of data in the first three days I decided to chill on the YouTubing Summer Jams.

So, for the first time ever during a Summer Monday, I don't have a list for you. This is tragic, and we'll have to get back at it next week. For now, know that the jams in contention were the typical, "Issues" by Julia Michaels, "Sign of the Times" by Harry "Dunkirk" Styles, "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran (probably the #1 bastard after managing a rando Game of Thrones appearance), "Despacito" by the Biebs and Daddy Yankee, and "It Ain't Me" by Selena. How many is that? Five? That's good enough.

For your Hot Jam, dish on "Woman" by Ke$ha ft. The Dap-Kings Horns, whatever that is:

On Monday we'll return to your regularly scheduled Hot Summer Jam programming.

14 July 2017

The Age Old Question Finally Answered! Apes or Humans?

Three years ago I extensively covered the bizarre history of this franchise - from one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time to an excessive amount of fairly popular sequels, a television show, a completely terrible Tim Burton / Mark Wahlberg film, and the more recent trilogy that has found a way to stand out by being excellent blockbuster films. Today we see this trilogy end (maybe, who knows these days) with War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), which by all means is a fucking masterpiece.

Gorilla Glacier
It's amazing to me that that's been the signifier of this franchise. The producers seem to rely on just making really good movies in order to fill the seats. It's taking a totally outrageous, pulpy B-movie concept and treating the characters with realistic humanity and depth, despite the most interesting (and most consistent) ones all being CGI apes. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) tends to take a while to get going and it's crazy to think back and remember that James Franco played a main character, but its last hour is damn solid. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) was a little glacial for me, and besides the outstanding opening and ending, had a middle that I think developed its themes less than people wanted it to. It was basically just a competent summer film, which is so amazingly rare that it received mountains upon mountains of praise.

I wonder if War is similar. It's likely very good, but I'd be shocked if it could be one of the best of the year. We've actually had a solid amount of really good blockbusters this year, from Logan (2017) to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), to hell, even Wonder Woman (2017) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). The difference seems to be that there are no middle-ground tentpoles this year. Everything else is so damn unspeakably terrible. We've had some other films do really well that were also really good like Get Out (2017), although that definitely didn't feel like a film that was trying to be as big as it was (that obviously helped it). War might be good, but can it stand with the rest of these? And every other great movie that's coming out this summer and fall?

That's the big question. Critically this film is already in the bag, which more and more is a huge factor with audiences who'd rather not pay a fortune to sit through hours of crap, especially when it's no big secret anymore whether a film is good or not. This will obviously boost its commercial potential, which I see being pretty solid. Dawn did decent, but that was during the weird Summer of 2014, where every single movie made like $200 million - not out of the park, but not slouching, either. There were so many that cranked that out that they overcrowded each other.

Beyond Dawn we're pretty much out of Summer. We've got Dunkirk (2017), Valerian (2017), Atomic Blonde (2017), and The Dark Tower (2017), all of which actually have solid potential to be both great films and financially successful, but none really feel like an impending $400+ million dollar juggernaut that will destroy any other flick's prospects. Its worst competition may come from Spider-Man: Homecoming, but that ought to draw a slightly younger crowd. After all, for all its inherent camp, the Planet of the Apes franchise takes its material pretty intense and adult-driven. That alone ought to give it a good niche, albeit one that Dunkirk and The Dark Tower are surely also going after. I'm generally optimistic, especially since it's all alone this weekend.

Culturally, it's a bit tough. There's an easy way this can all blend together, particularly with Dawn, which seemed to have a lot of the same themes and styles, particularly when it leaned into the eponymous War near the end. It's always nice that it trades out its human stars, though, and the winter setting with Woody Harrelson ought to be distinctive. Then again, should we play the "Name All Planet of the Apes Movies from the '70s Game?" Can you do it? Close your eyes then check below, starting with the first sequel post-Heston:

But none have Colonel Kurtz!
Beneath (1970), Escape (1971), Conquest (1972), and Battle (1973). Rise was basically a remake of Conquest and Dawn a redux of Battle (yes, I've made an effort to watch all of these - ugh), and they do a fine job. This however presents an interesting conundrum - where does War land? There is no inherent inspiration point which gives it an intriguing position in the greater mythology. So far the remake franchise (prequel isn't totally accurate - Escape on were all technical prequels due to time travel) has shied away from direct homage to the most iconic moments from the original Planet of the Apes (1968) besides Draco Malfoy's line here. And if you look at those scenes side by side you can see how it's not just an empty reference, but an inverse interaction which serves as just as much of a linchpin moment in Rise as it did for Charlton Heston. That's what makes these movies work - they aren't filled with cheap pandering moments, but they don't ignore their heritage, either. Well, by now the franchise has moved on enough and proven their superiority that they aren't really beholden at all to their source material, which is a rare distinction to earn.

That's really important - no one cares about stomping on the heritage of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (that's how it'll end! With a bunch of mutants worshiping a nuclear bomb underneath the earth!). War is free to use its inspiration to do whatever the hell it wants, and apparently create a pretty damn good movie in the process.

Since Dawn we've actually seen the franchise expand quite a bit into weird places, although still hooked on the 1970s iconography. You've got then mixing in with Tarzan and Green Lantern. I mean, who knows why any of this dumb shit is happening. I would like to see Caesar get in on that fun, though. Maybe then at least Andy Serkis can get his Academy Award nod. Not bloody likely.

This franchise is as legitimate as they can get, though. I'm weirdly not totally pumped up, though - maybe because I'm not totally interested in how it all ends. It's more like, "Oh, another battle? Cool." There's not too much to directly get excited about - especially since it's clear that we're not anywhere near Captain Taylor yelling at the Statue of Liberty, and if we were, that wouldn't matter, either. This series has been so incremental and careful that it's interesting to see the final confrontation of Man vs. Ape, and maybe that's good enough, but I don't see much reason to become invested. Unless this really is just the masterpiece it supposedly is.

What do you think? You checking it out?

10 July 2017

Summer Jam Week 9: Get them dresses off! LIVE!

If anyone has been paying attention, this is actually the seventh straight day of posting, which is kind of ridiculous around here. But the music must go on, now more than ever. Because it's summer! On the verge of the All-Star Break we're really ready to get funky, so let's drop some super sexy beats!

Hot Jam of the Week: "The Story of O.J." by Jay-Z

So let's start this out intense. Jay-Z hasn't done too much music in a while, and doesn't often throw together a lot of politically charged rap (besides the cop bit in "99 Problems"), but this is top to bottom brutal and spinning on exploitative black pasts. It's actually not really profound at all lyrically or stylistically, with Sean Carter half-mumbling, starting some flow then backing off, and throwing together afterthoughts more than great rhymes. It's kind of all over the place, especially since it only references OJ Simpson once. It's also fairly anti-Semitic for no really good reason at all. Why does it get the hot spot, then? Because you gotta watch it and be totally captivated at least once at the bold confrontation of the painful Black History in America that we still don't really understand today.

Niall That: "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan

This is all about that riff. Niall is a promising talent, even if he really sounds like every other random white dude singer that's out these days. The rumbling rising beat is what pushes this track to notable status and it's steadily chugging along as a contending summer jam. It's a bit too much on the periphery to really do some damage, but it's fun enough for now.

Getting Hot in Here: "Versace on the Floor" by Bruno Mars

This is a pretty new track that made some great gains this week and could strike at the very heart of summer. It's for sure a slower song for summer, especially as it starts, but it's so damn sexy. You can picture it playing at weddings (maybe not), or during any after-party where you're trying to seal the deal. The hook reminds me a lot of B.o.B.'s "Castles" but we can forgive Bruno.

Naked Naked Naked: "Wild Thoughts" by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna

There's quite a bit of songs about fucking these days, aren't there? I was probably a little ambitious plugging this one again, but it's in that rising phase where it sounds better the more you listen to it, and it's definitely got that samba summer feel. It's more on the outskirts than I want it to be, and although it's not necessarily a good song and Rihanna has done much better, it's still a pretty distinctive and fun song, again a bit slow and methodical for Summer, but that's fine.

UUUUPPPS: "Now or Never" by Halsey

Speaking of slow-ass summer songs, this is an adorable song that's also a total slow jam. Halsey seems to be everywhere right now, which is weird because she's not really a great singer at all. What am I thinking, that has never mattered. I don't think this song gets better than its first couple bars, but that's enough to listen to while your brain spontaneously shuts down as the pop infiltrates your mind and soul. Summer!

Cop a: "Feels" by Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell, Katy Perry, & Big Sean

This song deserves to be bigger than it is, and it really got in my head this week. It's a superstar all jam that's pretty fun and so damn summer. I'm distracted by the video's Windows Media Player YouTube neon color shifts, but it's got enough sprite to pop fine enough. By no means is it taking off or anything and contending, but it could snag a few more weeks if it stays fresh enough. I dig it, and it's probably Katy's best chance at something great this summer.

Slowly: "Despacito" by Bieber, Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi

I finally looked up the English lyrics, and they're just about as terrible as you'd picture. I wish our language sounded so good when song seductively. SLOOOOWLY. It's amazing this has done so well, considering no one can sing along at all except for patchy "da-da-da-daBURRITO" but that's just how it works. America! #1!

Wash Your Bedsheets! "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran

I'm not Sheeran fan, he's done some weird bro shit, especially for someone who I always thought was more of a cross-eyed ginger pussy. I weirdly thought this was actually a Justin Timberlake song at first, which ought to complement where Sheeran is in his music career right now. This is a sexy song, though, if you can get over the concept of being raped by a hairless Tormund Giantsbane, and more importantly, was everywhere this week. This also somehow has...nearly 2 billion YouTube views?! Where the hell have I been?! The beat is kind of trash and I always have to think hard about what song this actually is when it plays, but popular af I guess.

Next week...

I really thought about highlighting Tyler the Creator's new insane single, but I held off. Probably regrettably. Julia Michaels, Alessia Cara, and Selena Gomez are all still things that could and will come back. We're really in the thick of it now, folks - just past the halfway point and there's a lot of jams that can jam this jam! Come back next week.

09 July 2017

First Impressions: Wonder Woman

As you may be able to tell, this has been an ambitious week at the movie theater. I watched my third film in four days, after the atrocious Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), and the lovely Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) I finally caught the wonderful Wonder Woman (2017) after pumping it up for the past month. Now, to be sure, I actually ducked into my theater's showing of The Last Knight today, that fucker was empty. Wonder Woman, though, was still packed. Still packed! It was unbelievable. I'd certainly say that Wonder Woman is indeed worthy, and although I might lean a little bit towards Homecoming in rewarding fun pure entertainment, I'd say that WW is the better constructed film, without the gaps in motivation and plotting that Homecoming exhibits, albeit masked. But enough about Man's World - let's talk Diana.

We really need some Ancient Greek rationale
for an Invisible Jet, though.
First and foremost, it's great that Wonder Woman is finally on screen. I wrote extensively about this in my preview a month ago, but it's totally ludicrous that it took one of the most famous comic book characters of all time this long to get a big screen adaptation. Forgetting all the girl power stuff, which is totally significant, Wonder Woman should be at least a few notches above Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

Part of that difficulty is surely her bizarre origin, which the film does a fine enough job addressing, although once she gets going, Wonder Woman tends to do better the more it ignores her faux-Greek mythological heritage. It's also inevitable that this film earns comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), since both are basically period war movies, and Wonder Woman wisely differentiates itself by setting its adventures during World War I instead of World War II. This isn't totally a crazy thing, though - both characters are relatively similar in their emphasis on older American values and ancient origins.

Wonder Woman actually surpasses The First Avenger in its supporting "men on a mission" cast though. The Howling Commandos were always pretty forgettable and basically a non-factor in The First Avenger, but everyone here is well-established, even if it's just a collection of gimmicks. It's something. Saïd Taghmaoui, who I obviously knew from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) is a bit of a huckster. Ewen Bremner, from The Rundown (2003) is a legendary sniper who can't really shoot anymore due to crippling PTSD (a storyline that's never really resolved, sadly). Finally, Eugene Brave Rock appears as a Native American hanging out in the middle of Europe for some reason. He has the least to do and a big error perhaps in editing comes from the troupe cutting from a train to a campground with this American Indian guy.

Before we get into Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, who absolutely carries this movie, we have plenty of female supporting roles, which the film treated as matter-of-fact rather than something to be honored. That's a good thing. Robin Wright is a badass for sure. Connie Nielson plays Wonder Woman's mom, Queen of Themyscira, who reacts at first like every Hidden Kingdom Queen ever, and then relents. I'm not sure it's totally earned, but it helps that she doesn't bog down the film or make it all about Diana regretting leaving home like Moana (2016) or a million other films. After all, this movie is all about a strong woman leaving and helping people rather that confining herself to the home.

I barely recognized Shaun of the Dead (2004)'s Lucy Davis as Chris Pine's secretary (who is totally a slave), but she provides some nice comic relief that we could have used more of, even if the story moves on from London fairly quickly. Rounding out the women is Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, who is fantastically creepy with a half-ceramic face that NO ONE DISCUSSES EVER. I really wanted to see a sex scene between her and Chris Pine. I could feel it coming.

Lastly we've got our dueling Ares - SPOILER one really really feels like he's the big bad, another great Red Herring for the Summer 2017. Danny Huston is just so damn Ares-like. I need to watch this again with the knowledge that it's really V.M. Varga himself, David Thewlis, who certainly doesn't have the physicality for the role, but also doesn't quite need it. I'd like to really dig into how he manipulates the humans around him to secretly prolong the war, and I'll admit that I didn't quite buy his treachery early on. Thewlis is tricky - Remus Lupin is the nicest movie character ever and Varga is probably the most evil. You never know what you're getting with this guy.

Finally, Christ Pine and Gal Gadot. Pine is serviceable, but he's still at his best when he can go really big and weird. He's mostly down the middle here with some entertaining side stares and reactions. But everyone knows this is Gal Gadot's show. She has an uncanny presence whenever she's on screen  - completely confident and captivating everyone around her both in the audience and in her world. She's a woman who can't convince men she's right so she proves it with her actions. And yeah, that No Man's Land sequence is one of the most inspirational on the year. And beyond that, she's actually got one of the more recognizable leitmotifs there is these days (probably the only really great recognizable one in the game right now), and when that finally cranks up, damn that's an awesome moment. We really could have used a hardcore NC-17 sex scene between the two of them - NO ONE in the audience would be opposed to that, but we get a nice implication that they did the nasty no-pants dance after getting all hot fighting the Kaiser. Classic.

"Death! By Snu-Snu!"
As for plot and themes, it's big on Love vs. War and the corruptability of man. That latter bit is tied together with this fish out of water concept that's perhaps more accurately described as a mythological belief vs. reality concept. It's all about adjusting to both modern society (ironically a 1918 society), but also a society where men are the dominant force. Wonder Woman isn't anti-male by any means, either, but it's more a continual underestimation of women's abilities and voices. There is a natural cheer you feel for any young woman in the audience getting chills whenever Diana takes command and it's great to have someone to join the ranks of great past sci-fi heroines like Ripley and Sarah Conner.

That's important, too - it's easy to write off Ghostbusters (2016) and Rough Night (2017)'s failures as evidence that female-driven films don't work, but that's not accurate. Bad films don't work! And those were too really fucking bad films. Good films work, no matter the context, gender, race, or sexuality of the protagonist. That's probably the best lesson you can gain here.

Getting back to Love, Wonder Woman has long been associated as a pure embodiment of the emotion - very literally so in the Blackest Night Green Lantern storyline when she was recruited as a deputy lantern in the Star Sapphires when the Guardian Ganthet made a copy of Carol Ferris' ring to battle Nekron. Ahem. There is a ferocity to that love, though, and a lack of understanding of the wills of Man more focused on war, politics, and places in society rather than doing what's right. Diana has an unwavering view of Justice that's very proper in a superhero film. Steve Rogers had the same thing that was preserved by him being frozen for 70 years. I'm curious to see how Diana preserves her values.

In terms of building the DCEU, this film doesn't do much, but that's probably a good thing. It's building worlds by not building them and giving us that insight into Wonder Woman and her abilities that we'll have in the back of our minds during Justice League (2017). I'm still curious how all the other after-the-fact movies will work, but to be honest, we're almost in an age where release date doesn't quite matter. In five years time people will have caught up with all the Aquaman and Cyborg spin-offs to make sense of everyone, and introducing everyone early actually saves some origin stories, which are terrible anyway.

I don't know what this bolds for the DCEU - it's nice that they finally got a good one and I'm sure that the fact that it has a commanding domestic financial lead (and could close in on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [2016]'s worldwide total) is a huge relief. Again, all it takes is a good movie! Just do this more often! Damn!

This was a pretty satisfying experience overall and I'm glad it's doing well. I'd be curious to see what happens next (literally the ONLY other notable Wonder Woman rogue is Cheetah, so they basically have to do her), and especially to see how Gadot now mixes in with Justice League. Stay tuned.

08 July 2017

First Impressions: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man 6 (2017) is finally upon us and it doesn't disappoint at all. I've said this before and I'll say it again - it's as if Disney is the only studio that knows what it's doing. True on paper this was a SONY joint, but you felt Marvel all over this, especially since it was one of the MCU films most soaked in its mythology. In a weird way I said before that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) worked really well because it was the least connected MCU film, but Spider-Man: Homecoming works because it's one of the most connected. At the end of the day this discrepancy is simple: neither of those are actual reasons why they're enjoyable films - good films are just good films regardless of whatever extra content you want to use to justify that rationale.

"Get out of the way! I'm trying to get to Bushwick!"
The long road to this film even existing has been well-documented just about everywhere, so I think it's fair to skip it. I do want to talk, however, about how much this seemed like a last minute, cobbled together film, like Marvel suddenly said "Shit! We got Spider-Man! Let's put him in a movie!" That was definitely the vibe in Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016), which could have existed perfectly fine without Peter Parker's inclusion. Somehow, though, Homecoming came out so damn good. It was almost like it was effortless.

Part of this is probably Marvel really knowing its flagship character better than anyone, although it's a miracle that the SIX writers on this film produced something really memorable, adorable, and powerful. The other part is that when this film rushed into production they didn't push a lot of staggering effects or earth-shaking stakes. Instead, they limited the special effects and focused on the characters and what do you know?! It works!

The stakes are the one thing that actually the one weak point of the film. And it's not like "Oh, Spidey wasn't saving the world, what's the point?" It was just that it was always fairly vague - BRUTAL SPOILERS I guess from here on out, but Spider-Man is really just trying to prevent vague "alien weapons in the neighborhood" from falling into the wrong hands, which I suppose has a potent moment when his Deli is accidentally destroyed, but it doesn't seem all that intense or personal. It of course becomes very personal when it's revealed in a SPECTACULAR moment that Michael Keaton is super-crush Liz Allan's father, which I never saw coming (mostly due to a clever use of race - damn my racism), but makes so much damn sense in the context of the coincidental story and also elevates everything after that. There also isn't really an urgency that Peter Parker should be aware of - he just leaves the dance to "stop" Michael Keaton, but he isn't actually aware of his plan beyond a "He's probably stealing shit again!" Maybe there's some motivation in the fact that he's stealing from his mentor, Tony Stark, but that's fairly weak motivation.

Beyond that though, the cast is a dream come true from the tip-top to very bottom. I'm still kind of whatever on Robert Downey Jr's inclusion (he indeed doesn't do much that we don't see in the trailers), although the bit at the end with Gwyneth Paltrow is great (both to see their relationship back on track, although it's so clear that they go through ups and downs based on her film appearance availability). It's also amazing to see Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan back for more after the director unceremoniously left Marvel. I suppose he's still in Disney's good graces with the Jungle Book (2016) / Lion King (2019) two-punch.

Moving in a circle, the young unknown cast gets most of the focus here. "Fat Harry Osborn" Jacob Batalon is hilarious, although I certainly don't know what Spider-Man character he's supposed to be. Laura Harrier as Liz Allan-Toomes (a slight shift from comic book Green Goblin II wife Liz Allan, but it works) doesn't have much to do, but is fine. There's even a little Betty Brant appearance, which is spot-on. I wasn't totally a fan of the Flash Thompson shift from jerk bully jock to smart but douchey Toni Revolori. He just doesn't have the frame to be really intimidating to Tom Holland. I also can't picture him losing his legs in the War on Terror and gaining the Venom Symbiote. I mean, that's where we're headed, right? RIGHT?

Zendaya as stealth Mary Jane is an interesting take on the character that I was down with. It makes so much more damn sense that Peter eventually pairs up with a nerdy awkward frumpy student rather than a ditzy model. The irony of course is that Zendaya actually is a model in real life. On that note, I will also give credit to a Spider-Man film for finally depicting a High School in modern-day Queens, NY that's actually diverse. Probably still not enough black people for sure, but I'm glad we've finally stopped depicting the youth of Queens as if it's still full of white folk like it's the 1960s still. Big props there.

Moving on to the many many great supporting characters and roles, there were so many great bit parts. Donald Glover finally gets to be in a Spider-Man film, although his role as a two-bit thug is a little underutilized. Still, he plays a character named Aaron Davis, who eventually becomes the Prowler in the comics, which could be a cool thing. Kenneth Choi returning for his second Marvel role after the Howling Commandos, Martin Starr as a professor (that made me feel really old), the guy who plays Nacho from Better Call Saul, Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green as dueling shockers, and Marisa Tomei doing her best to not look completely gorgeous. I do get their philosophy, like why did Peter Parker ever have an 80-year old Aunt, but this Aunt May was totally a chill, encouraging, almost hipster Aunt here. She did get the last line in the film, and it's one of the best, although it also breaks with long-time Spider-Man conventions, which isn't totally a bad thing.

That's one thing I'd be curious about, though - Marvel superheros seem to not really care about their secret identities, or more often, don't even have them. That alter-ego conflict has always been integral to Spider-Man because he's so much more entrenched in every day life than all the other heroes out there. He's not a god, doesn't have a contract to do the right thing, and this isn't his job. He has too many people he cares about and too many insane rogues to fool around with this. I'd be curious to see how the MCU develops this - they've already had more people discover his identity than in the first decade of Spider-Man comic books.

Let's move on to Tom Holland. I have long held the thought that Tobey Maguire was a solid Peter Parker, but missed the mark with Spider-Man, while Andrew Garfield nailed the webhead but definitely did not pull off the shy nerdy high school science student. Tom Holland really does capture everything - he looks the part more than any other actor (hell, a 19-year old playing a High School student is about as close as any film can get), and nails the unsure patheticness of Peter with the jokeslinging comedy of Spider-Man. Everything clicks really well and I'm excited to see how his role develops. There might have been a little bit missing in his arc and a lack of a basis for his motivation (ugh but not worth it enough to show us Uncle Ben dying again), but mostly everything works.

Finally, Michael Keaton. His casting as Vulture is fantastic, and it's sinister while also full of very Michael Keaton-things, particularly when he's allowed to be a Dad, not just a supervillain. It's a remarkably sincere portrayal, so much so that you end up rooting for him a little bit at the end. He's just trying to provide for his family, and although he is a killer, he's not deranged or maniacal. In fact, the way Stark has become a huge asshole, you don't feel sorry at all when someone tries to steal from him. It's more about the struggle of the little guy, and without a real catalyst for Peter's motivation in stopping him, he ends up with one of the better narratives in the film. I'm also pleased he actually survived at the end, unlike every Spider-Man villain ever (besides Sandman), and most Marvel villains.

Speaking of that, let's get into Sinister Six because this film is still just dripping with tantalizing possibilities. I had mentioned wanting to see Shocker and Scorpion among others in my preview, and was pretty pleased here. The Logan Marshall-Green Shocker was probably a little bit truer to the comic Herman Shultz, but the actual Schultz, Bokeem Woodbine was a more compelling character here. They did a nice job making him a henchman rather than anyone really big here. Mac Gargan has a hot cameo, but an ending that promises a bit more, which is cool. And the Tinkerer! Such an obscure villain. They weaved everything together pretty naturally. You get the feeling that Scorpy and Vulture could at least hook up in prison (No, not that way. Well, maybe), then if you add Mysterio and Kraven, suddenly you're five sixths there. This may be dreaming, but still pretty cool. And who the hell knows where that Tom Hardy Venom movie is headed, maybe that's #6.

Back to the worldbuilding, this is how you make a shared universe. After a big event, show the ramifications. The MCU is forever changed with the presence of Alien and Ultron technology lying around, and it's a natural progression for the criminal underworld to get an upgrade. Beyond that, though, you constantly get the feeling of what it's like to actually live in this world, from the Captain America PSAs to Hannibal Buress' contention that he's probably a war criminal now. All these little bits and pieces are what adds up to fully flesh out this world.

I also enjoyed how Peter had to earn his suit, which is of course not really how Stark got to use his own spiffy suit, but it's also proper that Spider-Man is an Avenger but not an Avenger. That feels pretty right. He ought to straddle those worlds between gritty streetfighter and one of the MCU's most powerful heroes.

On that note, Homecoming also does a great job of putting Spidey in all these creative situations where his powers are pretty useless - from uburbia, to the Washington Monument (where he's scared because he's higher than he's ever been), to an airplane where it's too windy for his webs to work. Even at the gas station he's in over his head when he takes the Training Wheels off his suit and it's too advanced for him. It's a great film for learning, hubris, and trying to do the right thing, even if he fucks up constantly. It's great to just see him learn the ropes.

All this is to say that there are definitely some problems here, but it never bogs the film down. If a film just feels bad it's easy to inflate every minor issue. Homecoming feels so good and positive watching it that you don't really get stuck on the shit that doesn't make sense or comes off a little weak. It's got to rank near the top of anything that Marvel has ever done, and assuredly at the top of SONY's list. It's up to you whether it beats Spider-Man 2 (2004), but it's at least on par with Spider-Man (2002), and that's mostly nostalgia talking.

What do you think?

07 July 2017

The Uncanny, Spectacular, AND Amazing Spider-Man 6

I do feel we should just call this Spider-Man 6 (2017). Why not? That's totally what it is. Movies do really seem so adverse to reminding viewers how often they've seen the same crap over and over again. Pirates and Transformers are pretty adverse to numbering their installments. But there's a lot of hype with this new Spider-Guy, and possibly rightfully so. It's getting damn good reviews and exists in a holy fusion of popularity: Spider-Man AND the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There hardly seems like anything can go wrong with this one.

"Are you not entertained?!"
There seems to be a lot of hatred towards SONY and their treatment of the web-crawler, but this tends to forget how damn good each of the Sam Raimi Spider-films were (yes, even that one) and how the studio really got that superhero story right in the era of Daredevil (2003) and Fantastic Four (2005). That era seems so nascent now, doesn't it? Well, I've defended Daredevil, too. There's absolutely no denying, though, that the Andrew Garfield spider-films of 2012 and 2014 were wretchedly fucking terrible. That's really a shame, too, because the casting was outstanding, particularly Garfield, who not only had the nimble frame to make a convincing wallcrawler, but was generally a much better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, even if he was a much worse Peter Parker.

Those films seem really really off in just about everything that makes Spider-Man great: the grappling with power and responsibility (first time you've heard that), the teen drama, the metaphor for puberty and learning about the world, and the curse of powers that were thrown at a random science nerd, not born with, trained for, or desired. Then again, anyone who reads a Spider-Man comic ought to know that the character is always wrapped in incomprehensible clone drama, typically runs into villains galore (see Sinister Six, The [2018]), and is definitely steeped in parent-death conspiracies that will make your head fall off. All of that was really captured in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) - it's all awful, but you can't say it isn't true to the character's natural plotting.

After that fiasco that imploded SONY's always-doomed Sinister Six shared universe (or wait...did it? Dude, that's a WHOLE other thing right now), it seemed natural to throw the webhead back into the arms of its creators, who in the past fifteen years have finally done pretty well for themselves in adapting their stories to the big screen. The "Homecoming" in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) always seemed a bit forced to me, even a bit snide. It's an inherently soft title that has all to do with the character's meta-role in the giant comic corporation's schemes (let's face it, Spider-Man is ALWAYS #1 in Marvel), along with the sense of returning to simpler stories, Peter Parker in High School, John Hughes by way of web-shooters and spandex.

This is all good stuff, but at the same time, it's soaked in 'memberberries that feels safe and regressive rather than something weird that pushes the character forward. At the same time, though, it's pretty clear that pushing the character into weird places does nothing but generate awful, awful stories, both in film and comics. For better or worse, Peter Parker tends to work best in High School. Maybe that's because that's how most young nerdy fans identify with him - study every day and you can get randomly bit by a radioactive spider and become ripped and plow the hot redhead you've always had a crush on. It's a huge fantasy that's driven billions of dollars of income into writers and producers' pockets over the years.

Time and time again it seems like Disney is the only studio who knows what it's doing, and it's fairly clear that Homecoming is going to make a ridiculous amount of money this weekend. There is literally no other good film in theaters right now, and Wonder Woman (2017) is about burned off. There's not really many feel good true summer flicks left, either. It's as if Disney was so ahead of the curve they knew that The Dark Knight (2008)-level grittiness would be totally played out in time and audiences would rather bend towards cheeky cheer and fuck yeah they've been successful riding a wave of positive flicks.

In terms of the actual story, characters, and actors presented so far, we got a nice preview in Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) of what Tom Holland can do and his relationship with Rob Downey's Tony Stark, which the marketing has been heavily leaning towards here. I'm not exactly sure why this is even a thing - no one knew who the hell Tobey Maguire was in 2002 and that film exploded that summer. Then again, granted we're now in a much different era. This assuredly rests on the still-wide ranging appeal of Downey's seventh outing as the character and a means of both bridging the gap between the well-established MCU and this new arachnid on the block, and providing a safety net of built-in popularity. Actually, fuck that, this is Spider-Man - that character should have been in an Iron Man movie nine years ago to launch that obscure character. Life got weird, man.

Holland seems capable so far of doing both the Peter Parker and the Spider-Man thing, although his role in CIVIL WAR was admittedly a glorified cameo and we didn't really get to see him do any heavy emotional lifting. I still think the hot Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei is bizarre, but that's my burden to bear. Zendaya and the rest are all basically wild cards, but none look egregiously terrible so far.

I do sort of wish they'd keep Stark out of it and let Spider-Man work on his own, but I sort of get why that has to be a thing now, after they established that relationship in CIVIL WAR. It still seems kind of forced and lame. The biggest thing I'm looking forward to, though, is Mike Keaton as the Vulture, which completes his career path in so many satisfying yet weird ways. I've been actually looking forward to dishing on this for a long time. Let's dig in:

Michael Keaton had some fame in the 80s of course, but blew up really big playing Batman in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). He parodied this while playing a famous actor trying to hide from the stupid emptiness of his superhero past in Birdman (2014), which also drastically criticized the superhero-industrial complex. Now, of course he turns full circle playing the Vulture in Homecoming, the other side of the morality coin, yet still a flying animal-themed character in a superhero flick. Batman - Birdman - Vulture. It's amazing and I hope they lampshade this somehow. It does almost feel like an afterthought since you've got RDJ and Spider-Man himself taking a lot of attention. Apparently he's pretty good, and hopefully he's a solid, intimidating villain.

Let's hope he retains that creepy soul-sucking youth power
Let's get into that for a second, because Spider-Man has one of the best Rogue's Galleries ever. Besides three incarnations of the Green Goblin, we've seen Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, the Lizard, the Rhino, Electro, and now the Vulture on the big screen. I still think we've left out two of the best villains that I never appreciated until I was an adult - Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio. The former has more complex pathos than any other Spider-Villain by far (maybe any villain ever), and the latter would make for some damn good trippy fucking cinema. There are so many other solid B and D-grade villains. Shocker. Boomerang. Speed Demon. Puma. Scorpion. How come there isn't a Scorpion movie?! That's probably the other real big one. Hobgoblin. Demogoblin. Carrion. Maximum Carnage! Apparently Carnage might be in the Tom Hardy Venom movie, but I still think that sounds far too hackneyed to attract Hardy.

This is all to say we could easily have a Sinister Six movie - they're all around. You don't need Alfred Molina, but you could throw together Doc Ock, Sandman, Lizard, Rhino, Electro, and Vulture and get shit done. Just don't make Electro looks like Dr. Manhattan played by Jamie Foxx and Lizard look like Gary Oldman in Lost in Space (1998) and we'll be all good. A lot really comes down to simply good production design, and if the Garfield movies fucked anything up big, it was that.

I've got good feelings about just about everything attached to this film, which is rare for this column. It'll definitely do fine financially, and looks like it's squirming into some good reviews, if only because people are really into this being a good, rewarding film. I do think it needs to do something to stand out amidst both superhero films and Spider-Man films, but if it can wash out the past ten years of bad tastes that fans tend to have, it'll actually be pretty significant.

What do you think?

06 July 2017

First Impressions: Transformers: The Last Knight

Before we begin, I'd like to point this out. That article chronicles my long, mostly positive history with Mike Bay's Transformers franchise, in all its ludicrous, blatantly terrible hyperbole. I was actually genuinely looking forward to Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), which may be kind of crazy. Anyone who reads this blog ought to know that I have a decently high tolerance for stupid ridiculous big dumb movies. Well, I'm sorry to say that I have met my match. This was too much for me. Too much off the edge of oblivion, the point where it has nearly no redeemable or interesting qualities. The Last Knight was so damn bad in every possibly terrible way, and I was kind of into Age of Extinction (2014). This sets the bar incredibly low, EVEN FOR A TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. It's rough.

And for a second it gets real Tomb
So, first of all, I actually only saw this because I literally had about two hours to kill and I was driving past a movie theater. It was about 7:15 pm, and The Last Knight had started at 6:40. I figured I wouldn't miss much, and maybe that is the entire reason I was so lost, but never at any single point during this film did I understand what was going on. Characters didn't make sense, but more importantly, they didn't even make sense within the stupid world that Bay had established in the previous four films.

I'm honestly not even sure where to begin with this one. Part of my frustration with this cinematic franchise is that most of the television series and even the first film did such a nice job of setting up every character to face each other with clear names (okay, there were like, Brawl/Devastator gaffes), backstories (okay, gimmicks), and conflicts that every subsequent film has done a worse job at defining. There's actually a cool Suicide Squad (2016)-esque moment where Megatron lists off the crew he wants to get together (full of random Decepticons pulling bank heists and other impossible crimes), and it seems like we're going to get a cool brigade of ne'er-do-wells instead of the huge anonymous army they always have. Instead, half of those cool characters are killed so instantly and easily that you wonder how this war between them and the Autobots has taken so long anyway.

Megatron, by the way, has no clear goal at all. I couldn't make rhyme or reason of what he wanted to do or why the humans wanted to ally with him. He ends up barely in the movie as it feels like the middle drags a ton with Mark Wahlberg in England rather than setting up any kind of formidable foe. This is made worse through the fact that this is probably one of the better Megatron designs, although I wish they would emphasize his gun more in ANY of these installments. He should have a huge arm cannon that can kill Starscream in one shot!

The same holds true for Optimus Prime, who should have been a huge big bad as Nemesis Prime, but he really only has one scene as his evil self, and the brainwashing seems to dissipate pretty quick. It's still a better reason thematically than The Fate of the Furious (2017), but at least in that one Vin Diesel became a continuous occurring villain. Prime also bizarrely leaves the film right before the climax on Cybertron as it's crashing into earth (I ought to mention SPOILERS at some point I guess, but literally it won't make a difference in your enjoyment of this trash), then reappears randomly. It's as if characters come and go according to plot needs so specifically to the point of parody.

This goes on and on. The "Knight" transformers combine to form Dragonstorm, which is a monstrous fire-breathing dragon that could have been a natural step up from Grimlock and the Dinobots (who also get exactly one cool scene and don't help in the finale), but nope. They don't do a fucking thing in the final battle except fly around. The Humans have to deploy tactical nukes (for a failed Buster Bluth plan anyway) where a ROBOT DRAGON could have sufficed instead. It's painfully apparent that the editor gutted this flick, or maybe it really did have that thin of a screenplay.

C'mon! He speaks in the first movie in that doofy voice!
In that preview I wrote I spoke as how this really felt like it was going to be four or five films at once, and that was definitely the case. This just seemed to be a bit of everything, none of which is developed. There's the Mark Wahlberg on the run thing (although the government seemed to find him quick when they needed to), the Autobots in hiding thing, the Ancient Order of Witwiccans (another weird Sam Witwicky Shia LaBeouf half-retcon where this flick played fast and loose with its own mythology, not seem to care about contradicting itself), King Arthur and the Transformers, Evil Optimus Prime, Quintessa and Unicron, and of course a random little Latino girl who is probably the most badass character who is also ignored for most of the film after she's established. It's all these random elements crammed into one film that a talented screenwriter might have been able to forcibly pull off, but certifiably does not here.

I don't even know where to begin with the King Arthur stuff. I mean, whatever, it was established in Revenge of the Fallen (2009) that Transformers had been on Earth since ancient history, but the idea that this secret society have kept their presence hidden since 484 CE is totally laughable. I mean, they had Transformers with George Washington and shit?! How does Transformer technology keep remaining at the same level as Human technology, but in the form of giant robots? It's so damn insane and stupid. Like Cogman - he was some kind of steampunk Transformer, but...it's not like Transformer technology has rapidly changed in the past two-hundred years, right? It's just...they're still the same robots, right? Right?! Please help me. This was so stupid, but no, not in the good insane disregard for logic that other films have achieved.

I didn't get all the Transformers suddenly using swords, either. What happened to at least Optimus' flaming hot axes? The best part of the film, though, and the best part of any film in 2017 is definitely Mark Wahlberg stopping an Ancient Knight Transformer from delivering a killer blow to Optimus by blocking its sword with his own. I laughed outloud in a theater filled with only myself and one other person sitting a few rows away.

Regarding the more fantastic cosmic elements - Unicron and the Quintessons, I'm decently up to speed on this, but I still sat there mystified. I couldn't figure out why anyone was doing anything. Maybe I'm misguided that Unicron is the bad guy, which he's traditionally been in every incarnation of the Transformers ever. Apparently here he's just the planet Earth, which seems really insane, disastrous, and impossible if they're ever going to fight him (or hell, even if he wakes up). What was the point of Merlin's Staff? What did it do? Or to be more precise, what did the British chick (Valerie? Vanessa? Vivienne?) do by grabbing it? What was the entire point of their main third act objective? Megatron seemed to be wary of Quintessa, but also definitely worked with her, right? Maybe I really should have watched the first thirty minutes. Someone please tell me if it's just me.

The film was less girl-power than I thought it might have been, and there was so much male gaze with Vivienne, but there was some nice work by Isabela Moner as...Izabella. There was one moment where she actually cries while giving a moving monologue about her dead parents or some crap and I just kept thinking "You're trying waaaaaay too hard for this movie right now, dear." She had a few pretty cool moments here and there, but generally this ended up being more the male military fetishization that it always is.

Still up for that Beast Wars movie. Now that's stupid
Speaking of that, Josh Duhamel came back from his adventures doing jack shit as a pretty weary Lennox, who I'm pretty sure Mark Wahlberg has never met, although they seem to know each other for no reason. Also returning after taking Age of Extinction off was John Turturro, who I wish had more to do besides make phone calls to Anthony Hopkins from Cuba. I at least wanted to see a match with that Surfer Bro Volleyball robot! Whose name is...Volleybot. There are more returns as inexplicable as their exists, such as Barricade. We also finally got Hot Rod although he's French for no damn reason. Finally, nice to see Steve Buscemi lend his voice in another Michael Bay film, as a big fat Autobot daytrader named Daytrader for some reason. He also never reappears after his one scene.

We ought to talk Anthony Hopkins, because he is absolutely bonkers in this movie. It's as if he's having a wild, uproarious time and totally knows how campy and dumb this all is. I don't think I've ever heard Hopkins yell "Move, bitch!" It's like when Morgan Freeman yells in Wanted (2008), "Shoot this motherfucker!" It's crazy to see one of the all-time greatest actors ham it up in the most contrived film ever made.

So, listen, I can't do this anymore. I'm still into a full-blown Unicron film, but these flicks have blown so much mythology with little disregard for anything that it's getting real rough to trust them with anything. I suppose this is nothing new. And Transformers mythology IS the stupidest mythology ever, but these films continual making-it-up-as-they go along is getting difficult to be enthusiastic for. Perhaps it's a good thing - an answer to all the diehard strict continuity people and nerdy mythologists. I can get behind that if for a second I thought it was intentional, instead of just winging everything for the sake of selling toys and advertising in China. There are supposedly like fourteen other Transformers films coming, but I think I'm finally done.

Don't bother with this one, folks!
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