29 September 2017

Tommy C Tries Again...Other People DIE!

Let's keep this September rolling, which has already become one of the most-posted Septembers in like six years around here. We'll go quick this weekend, since there's three major releases that no one should really care about, but the one important thing is that they do exist, so that's worth talking about. One is a cheesy-looking star vehicle, another is a more fun-looking version of a droll 90s film, and the other is a black thriller that no one in White America has heard of. Let's start with that and work our way up to Nina Dobrev.

I have never heard of 'Til Death Do Us Part (2017) until this weekend. It's another in a bizarrely long and under-observed line of Black Domestic Thrillers that has so many more entries in its strangely specific genre than you'd think. This seemed really familiar until I remembered When the Bough Breaks (2016) came out last year as the exact same movie. I was trying to think of others and all I came up with was that Beyonce flick Obsessed (2009), but beyond that, yes this is an entire genre.

These kinds of flicks are cheap, quick, and can make a buck. They're totally non-distinctive and easily consumable with no real original plot or story. In a year of great black films this isn't really adding anything to our culture, unless it features someone kneeling instead of cheating on their spouse. It ought to make enough money to justify its existence, but then no one will ever mention it again. Isn't that kind of weird? Think about how much time, effort, and money went into this. Literally, on September 30th, 2017 no one will bother to recollect any of it. Moving on.

I picture this as whatever eventually became of Top Gun.
Tom Cruise is trying really really hard to stay relevant. He already led one of the biggest conceptual misfires of the year in The Mummy (2017), but now he's relying on pure charisma in American Made (2017), a super-vague title that could refer to anything, but in this case, a CIA drug runner or something. It's basically that one episode of Archer: Vice.

There's nothing really notable here other than a tried and true test of a waning star's ability to fill seats based on name alone and not high concept or franchise. That's a tough test. Hell, the most notable thing is probably the fact that this film more than any other in his filmography highlights Tom Cruise's terrible age gap between him and romantic leads, coming in 22 years older than his supposed wife here. It's kind of insane that 55-year old Cruise keeps trying to pretend he's still 30, and hell, most of the stunts he does pulls off that illusion, but it's also an insanely delusional middle finger towards aging gracefully and taking respected acting roles.

But who cares because Tom often offers a pretty engaging and rewarding cinematic experience. That's why he's a megastar. He seems perfectly content to ignore the actual acting work he did in the 90s in favor of a non-stop barrage of action. Like a young Liam Neeson. Critically this movie seems to be doing alright, mostly praising Cruise's fun performance, but that's really all it offers and we can all move on.

Last we have Flatliners (2017). Maybe this is supposed to be kind of spooky, bringing people back from the dead and all, but it seems more Hollow Man (2000)-ish. The irony there of course, is that Kevin Bacon appeared in the original Flatliners (1990), which is a terrible fucking movie. Really it's the perfect kind of flick to remake. The high concept is cool and unique, the original isn't really loved or too precious to fuck with, and there's plenty of room to spin it and update it.

We're looking at the next Julia Roberts, people!
To be clear, the only thing the original has going for it is its somehow legendary cast of pre-fame actors. It's like the Wet Hot American Summer (2001) of shitty thrillers. Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, one of the Baldwin brothers, and the aforementioned Kevin Bacon star as med students who experiment with the afterlife by killing themselves and then bringing themselves back to life. For some reason that's never the thrilling point, instead it's all about weird ghost and kids they killed by throwing rocks at them while in trees. It's so damn stupid.

The 2017 version brings Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, and a bunch of somehow less-famous people into the fore for what looks like a rad flick. It's at least got a little spirit, by indication of the marketing. I'm quite certain it will be junk, but also Nina Dobrev, who just played a terrible role as both the smartest and hottest girl in the world in xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), but is more solid when she only plays the hottest girl in the world in something like The Final Girls (2015). Ellen Page has done surprisingly little of significance since great turns in Inception (2010) and Super (2010), which is getting to be like seven years ago. Kind of rough to be headlining Flatliners as a comeback vehicle of sorts, but that's where we are.

We're truly in an age where every possible 90s property is being mined for its potential. Flatliners doesn't deserve to be a fucking franchise, people. I'm curious to see what happens when we run out and in five years have to start mining 2000s films. I guarantee a Minority Report (2002) sequel. Maybe we can revisit Memento (2000)? See, all the 2000s films were already franchised, most pretty finite or hell, still going. Hollywood's trending towards super bankrupt of ideas. I mean, they already are, but at least they're making films out of bad ideas now, not no ideas. That age is coming. Or we'll just get like, more Robocop or something, who cares.

So that's your preview. September is rough! Who's into Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which I just feel is going to suck despite all the hype!

23 September 2017

First Impressions: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Okay, okay, okay. I know. Listen, I actually did see this film in the theater. I had four beers and even less sleep the night before and I'll be honest, I'm actually a little fuzzy on the ending. I remember getting really really bored about two-thirds of the way through. There were still a few giggle-worthy moments that I enjoyed in my delirium, but let's start these impressions with my whole journey:

This is becoming a rough trend that started with me watching Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) two months ago, when I showed up twenty minutes late and basically just picked the worst the theater had to offer because it was something to do. Last night I literally just picked the shortest film they had in the cinema. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) was nearly two and a half hours! What the hell is that? LEGO Ninjago (2017) beat that by forty minutes. Sold.

A volcano that erupts sharks!
The ticket counter dude was incredulous. He actually tried to talk me into seeing Kingsman or IT (2017) instead. Now, I'm sure either of those would have been a much better movie, but that's not what we're about here. We're all about the EXPERIENCE, especially when that experience is bizarre and awful. I've always had a passion for terrible movies, especially terrible commercial movies without any real redeeming factors. I'm always curious how we can live in a world where this shit is actually made. I mean, of course it's about the cash, but is it? No one was in this fucking theater! It's such a misguided trainwreck that's beautiful and amazing to watch. SPOILERS probably, but who cares, you aren't going to see thi smovie.

For the record, as I said, I don't know what fucking Ninjago is. I have no idea if this is true to the existing LEGO sets or the show, which has existed for a whopping seven seasons, but little of that matters to me. This is the freshest I could possibly get going into a film and it did a nice job establishing everyone and their little quirks. Let's talk about that cast first, then we can go into...whatever the hell else there is.

The voice cast was phenomenal, especially Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, and especially Justin Theroux who relished his role as the inexplicably evil Lord Garmadon with relish. Kumail pulls off his role as a nervous yet passive aggressive twerp really well and Jacobson is almost a parody of other cool action chicks like The LEGO Movie (2014)'s Wyldstyle, to an awesome extent. Zach Woods playing the worst fake robot ever is spectacular. I expected more out of Fred Armisen and Michael Peña, who round out the core Ninja cast, but their characters weren't that distinctive.

Finally we have Dave Franco as the main Green Ninja, Lloyd Garmadon, who is routinely verbally abused for his relationship to megalomaniac Lord Garmadon, who ironically, barely registers that Lloyd exists. The development of this relationship forms the core of the film, which makes it really feel like a boy's club as well as something that's been done a lot. Still, it did partly feel like a cool inverse of a Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader thing except one where Luke and Darth were stuck in the jungle fighting a giant cat and bonding. Franco is just fine.

What's really nice is seeing (and hearing) Jackie Chan, who seems like has been a way for a while. Then again, the dude's 63. Still, his character is the exact same as Morgan Freeman in The LEGO Movie, down to his funny idiosyncrasies that put a lampshade on wise master types. On that note - Black LEGOs exist, right? I mean, Vitruvius was black. I was a little put off by Michael Strahan making an appearance as himself....as an ostensibly "white" LEGO (sure, they're all yellow, but this film was weirdly homogeneous). Same with the relatively diverse cast that was all whitewashed into...being white. It was kind of bizarre.

So, the film plays out like a better version of Power Rangers (2017) that totally realizes and gives into how stupid it is. Very literally, there are ninja teenagers who jump into big mechas, "Zords" if you will, and battle an egomaniac mystical villain (who was bitten by a snake who was bitten by a spider, thus growing an extra pair of arms). It's in creative bits like that where Ninjago really shines, even if it's incredibly derivative of The LEGO Movie, down to the "Ultimate Weapon" (code for: Ancient Relic - a real life laser pointer that attracts a life-sized cat [a huge weapons of mass destruction, "Meowthra" to this universe]). Some of these gags worked really really well, and it's definitely an enjoyable experience.

Carmelo Anthony just traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder -
Go Knicks! New York Forever!
Still, there's no real hook or deeper experience that would make this film something to cherish for years to come. Its unfortunate, but inevitable to continuously compare to The LEGO Movie, but part of the reason that worked so well is that it had so many pop culture references, idiotic non sequitors, and outrageous bits of animation that flowed through a brilliantly philosophically sophisticated meta-storyline that also served as an advertisement breaking down the very means of playing with LEGOs itself. It's a really high bar to clear. Ninjago just kind of feels like a normal churned out story - one that could have been done with any kind of animation, not necessarily LEGOs, and that's where it becomes a little fruitless.

I also noticed how the characters didn't really live in an all-LEGO world like The LEGO Movie. I weirdly got pissed off when I saw REAL fire, smoke, and water, even some land and trees! Fuck that shit. It may be something that no one else would ever notice, but it bothered the hell out of me.

It's hard to knock a film that has robot dragons fighting shark-themed mechs that shoot sharks out of its hands, but that's where we are. Gags galore are solid as hell, but structurally the film doesn't hold up that well. Or it at least doesn't really innovate. Kids may like it or something, who cares, but as a drunken adult it was a solid giggle fest without much depth. Maybe that's just fine, and is probably what I should have expected, but I just want my LEGO to transcend the boundaries of time and space, dammit.

Have you see this thing, yet? Leave your thoughts below!

22 September 2017

LEGO, Facebook Demons, and Cowboy Spies - ALL TONIGHT and MORE!

As we mentioned last week, September 2017 is rolling, folks. There are plenty of notable films emerging from the woodwork like little shitty termites here for our pleasure. There are three big films this weekend, although one will almost assuredly be lost in the shuffle, and the other two appeal to relatively distinct demographics. So, as is the norm, let's go through this in my personal order from least to most anticipation.

Friend Request (2017) is a film I kind of thought they had done years ago, but I guess still exists for some reason. Once again I have attempted to actively know nothing about this film before I set to ramble about it, and I'm more confident than ever. This is about some kind of Facebook Demon I guess, who lives in the computer and requests you to be its friend, then eats you or something. All of this is unfortunate, because while there are a lot of interesting ways to dissect horror in a modern technological setting, Black Mirror does it better than any of this.

Critically this is not getting a lot of love, but I don't think it was ever meant to. There are a shitload of interchangeable horror films these days, but then again, there has always been a ton of horror movies, just instead of bad B-Monster movies we get weird demon computer ghosts or whatever. This kind of disposable, quick-scare, quick-buck horror seems kind of fruitless coming off the hot heels of IT (2017), though, right? 2017 is becoming a banner year for horror, with the excellent Get Out (2017) and the shitty Anabelle: Creation (2017) doing comparatively massive business. Now, Anabelle: C certainly falls into that cheap buck category, but simply by its tangential relationship to the legitimate Conjuring franchise, felt like it had more prestige backing it up. Friend Request sounds like a "Boy in the Wall" movie that we will never again care about.

While it would also seem that horror is really in these days, kids have definitely gotten their fix from Anabelle and IT in the past month, and typically, non-IT horror doesn't even work in September anyway. IT's success really has to do with so many other factors, from expert marketing, a perfect mix of nostalgia and ambivalence towards the remake, and frankly, the current trend of psychotic clowns roaming the countryside. Friend Request looks pretty rough from all angles, and will be gone as quickly as the time I spent thinking about it.

How could you not want to watch this movie
Moving on, for the kiddies today we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017), which really snuck up on me. I think that The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) was so high-profile (and also frankly, sort of disappointing), that this one totally slipped my mind. It also doesn't help that LEGO Batman fits a far wider audience profile, with easily recognizable characters and the voice of Will Arnett, whose LEGO Batman is probably his second-most famous role at this point. It also feels much more specific than The LEGO Movie (2014), which successfully connected children's interpretations of LEGO imagination to the adult world in all sorts of meta post-modern ways.

This is of course all a fallacy for those in the know who know that LEGO Ninjago is one of contemporary LEGO's most successful brands. LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu has run for an impossible seven seasons on the Cartoon Network, and this film is almost more an extension of that rather than an extension of the LEGO Movie brand. It does seem to retain more of the latter's humour style and high-profile voice cast, which really works pretty well. It's harder to latch on to something broad here, though, and anyone caught unawares of what Ninjago is will assuredly be lost. Casual fans can hop on to the LEGO Movie, which ran through a lot of classic town, Old West, and Space sets while telling an original story engrossing enough to bring in casual fans both through its actual plot and its more general theme / advertisement of digesting what it means to actually play with LEGOs. Ninjago is like...Ninjas? Or something? With robot dragons? LEGO Power Rangers? All this makes it a tougher sell for casual fans.

Kids, however, ought to line up. And they've been starved for a truly good animated movie all year. This is a weird spot where it looks pretty good but not really a must-see for adults. The good success but not really as great-ness of The LEGO Batman Movie has got to be worrisome, as is LEGO's general recent decline, they're surely banking on this flick to prop up sales of their most popular line. There's not a crazy amount of competition right now, and it ought to get second or first place this week if it can clear the $30 or so million that IT will make.

Culturally I can see this becoming a gem, but likely not really ubiquitous. Again, it's largely apart from adult consciousness, but those who seek it out will probably be rewarded. Or it may be total shit, although the wit and weird father/son blatant insane supervillain conflict plot on display so far is appealing. I'm a little concerned about the three different directors, none of which really have much pedigree in directing (Charlie Bean has done plenty of other animation roles over the years), so it's hard to say they're a slam dunk like Lord and Miller. Who knows, but my interest is peaked.

I mean, come on
Finally, the long-awaited sequel to The Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) comes The Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). Now, there were a lot of fucked up things about the first Kingsman, mostly that ending and Sam Jackson's weird lisp. Still, I was a big fan of the church scene, obviously, as well as candy-coloured head explodings. It was like the xXx (2002) for the modern age - a Bond that didn't give a shit about being Bond. The sequel promises what every sequel promises - all the dependable home shit from the first movie burned down and no one to trust by Channing Tatum.

This franchise lives and dies by its action sequences, which need to be up to par for this film to be memorable at all. While The Kingsman is generally underrated as an all-time great modern action movie, it's certainly distinctive enough to be remembered and referenced more than some other shittier flicks. It also did great despite a February release. Golden Circle has an equally non-traditional September release, but that might do it a favor by opening far away from the cluster of the Summer. This and IT really ought to be the first step towards uncrowding the Summer and showing that a big film can be be released whenever, an even better release model that allows similar films to shine on their own without blending into each other and causing fatigue.

Critically this film seemed to get rid of its weak points and added some great new cast members. The first film was well-received, although nothing like a serious award contender or anything. The Golden Circle needs to do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessor while retaining the renegade fuck all spirit it had. This is certainly possible and with director Matt Vaughn returning, it feels like it's in good hands.

So that's it, folks. There's some potentially good under-the-radar shit coming out this week that could be pretty good. Or it could be more overplayed crap. Everything has a decent pedigree and solid marketing though (well, except Friend Request), and both these films will have to give me a reason to doubt them before I assume. What are you checking out this weekend? IT? Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)?

15 September 2017

Mama Mia La Madre!

So, we've gotten past the big blockbuster summer crap, and for a while now I've thought about bringing this "Road to a Blockbuster" column into the fore as a year-long thing. There aren't any franchise-starters or anything dropping this week, but it'd be fun to analyze this shit anyway, right? I need to come up with less obscure titles, though. But you kind of get that I'm talking about mother! (2017), right? I mean, what else? This week we see the release of both this and American Assassin (2017), which is so obviously dumped into the dead month of September. Let's start with our cultural preview for that one first.

Listen, I don't have words. Those are actually my driving glasses.
I know nothing about this film. So let's go on this journey together. I want to try to piece this piece of shit together. First, let's look at the posters. I have no idea who the main character is, but judging that an action film needs a young up-and-coming brunette male lead, I'm guessing it's Dylan O'Brien who looks so much like Taylor Kitsch that it's stupid. But then Taylor Kitsch IS actually in this as well! This is like when The Roommate (2011) had both Minka Kelly AND Leighton Meester! They should make a remake of that film starring Nina Dobrev and Victoria Justice. That's a great party game.

Getting back on track, Dylan O'Brien is most famous for being an interchangeable white dude protagonist in the Maze Runner film series. The first film that came out in 2014 was apparently okay. I actually infamously saw the second film, The Scorch Trials (2015) which was one of the worst films I had seen in years. I was actually really curious about it because I heard it was a uniquely terrible adaptation that completely ignored the source material. I probably should have read the book to actually compare, but it was pretty awful. It's also fairly unique because it kind of becomes a totally different scenario. Like there's zombies for some reason that only appear in the second one, because the first one is just this maze or whatever. Zombies in the "Scorch." Yeah, you can figure this out.

Oh no! Dylan O'Brien apparently got fucked up so they delayed The Death Cure (2018). Haha, that sucks. How did he get around to filming American Assassin? They probably just used Taylor Kitsch for the whole thing instead. Poor Taylor Kitsch. He's neither the worst part of Battleship (2012) or John Carter (2012), but that's a tough one-two punch. Dude it's just dawning on me now that I saw both of those shitty films in the theater. It wasn't my fault they bombed, Taylor!

Who else is in this shit? Where are those posters. "Takes one to kill one!" Hahaha. Alright, I'm officially having fun with this. There's some variation on that phrase on every single character poster! "Takes one to uncover one!" What does that mean? I don't know who Shiva Negar or Sanaa Lathan is. Ohhh! That's that chick from AVP (2004). That's right. She broke all sorts of little boy's hearts when she didn't make out with the Predator at the end. Seriously, if that was Schwarzenegger left at the end, they definitely would have kissed.

And Michael Keaton. He's having a great post-Birdman (2014) career to make up for his Oscar loss. This totally feels like Kevin Costner in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) or Harrison Ford in Paranoia (2013), right? Damn that's a really specific genre. Old respected actors slumming it in cheap thrillers featuring pretty main stars? Is there a Netflix subgroup for that? Keaton is hot coming off of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and The Founder (2016), where he did solid work in two solid movies. He's reliably good, but his performance here will likely depend on whether he respectably believed the material was beneath him OR if like Nic Cage, he believes that no material is beneath him.

So, my guess is this film is about like, an assassin of some kind who is sent to kill somebody, then gets double crossed, probably by Michael Keaton with what looks like Taylor Kitsch representing some kind of evil twin thing and probably one of the women, my money is on the Predator-kisser, works to get him out of it like Joan Allen in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). I still don't really want to watch a trailer. Someone else check back in to see if I'm right.

Although that number will undoubtedly be pretty small, because no one is going to see this fucking movie. We just got The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) and yeah, that did great and is still third somehow because no one is seeing non-creepy clown films in the theater, but that was also a funny film starring likable actors. This stars Dylan O'Brien, Taylor Kitsch, and the chick from Alien vs. Predator. We will probably never talk about it again, which is kind of sad because I like ragging on it.

But does she bang Mila Kunis
In the other corner we have the latest from brilliant director Darren Aronofsky, mother! Well, he's not totally great, but when he fails he fails SPECTACULARLY. There's always something really sad and sinister about how he gets to the heart of his subjects starting from the ultimate film you only want to see once, Requiem for a Dream (2000). Before this feel-good film of the decade we got his initial film, Pi (1998) which is crude in the way that all great directors' first films are crude but is also a brutal look at mathematical obsession.

Success made Aronofsky really weird, which is awesome. The Fountain (2006) makes no damn sense and was pretty savaged, but has found a little following. I mean, he doesn't crank out Book of Henry (2017) when he misfires, he cranks out the fucking Fountain, an insane 1000-year journey through time which doesn't even really take place on earth as far as I can tell.

Then he gets super-grounded with The Wrestler (2008), which is the second old man Oscar whiff we've covered today, but still hold some incredible performances from Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Robo-Wood and a tragic story of a man good for one thing and one thing only to the detriment of everyone around him, including himself. Then Black Swan (2010) of course, which seemed to fuse his trippy reality-bending sensibilities with another grounded look at a physical performer only good at one thing and a complete failure at every other social aspect. Black Swan taken literally makes no sense at all, which is challenging since it works as a constant metaphor where we're never really sure whose head we're in (mostly either Natalie Portman's or our own). It's surely a masterpiece that finally won his muse an Oscar.

Then we got Noah (2014). I'll actually hardcore defend Noah, but it's also sincerely fifty minutes too long (they get on the damn boat with like a third of the movie left to go!) and there's a lot of brutal dumbass decisions, mostly made by Russell Crowe himself that take you out of the moment. You still get one of the better looking blockbusters ever, a weird 900-year old Anthony Hopkins, and this little montage, which rules.

By all accounts mother! is back to that Black Swan territory, which at first feels more grounded (at least more so than The Fountain or Noah), but there's also something real real weird going on here. Jennifer Lawrence is the main girl here obvi, but she's got some fucked up relationship with her old gross by still Spanish husband Javier "Silva" Bardem and who the hell knows what Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are doing here. Then Kristen Wiig and Domhnall Gleeason pop up for some reason, too? This is the best cast film ever.

Apparently it's already a critical hit. Who knows if it gets too weird for maitstream or at least Awards-stream acceptance, but for some reason that really didn't stop Black Swan. Maybe Aronofsky was like, "Fuck these guys for not being weirded out by Black Swan, let's push this way weirder!" We can all dream. The poster, in contrast to American Assassin, was all sorts of simultaneously tepid, reserved, and subtly wild and full of bizarre possible clues. Also the heart thing.

But let's sink into J-Law. It kind of feels more and more that the lovable pizza-eating bro J-Law it girl that everyone loved was getting a little thin, right? Like, especially with Passengers (2016) last year it was like, this chick is too much. It was probably a good move to stay out of the spotlight for a bit and then make this wild wacky psychological thriller. She's never really sank her teeth into this kind of material, except maybe Winter's Bone (2010). If you really boil her best work down, which is basically just her non-Hunger Games and non-X-men work (damn that actually makes for a crazy short list), you get Silver Linings Playbook (2012), American Hustle (2013), and JOY (2015), which are not coincidentally three out of her four Oscar nominations (the fourth being the aforementioned Winter's Bone). Those are all outstanding dramatic roles, but all pretty loose drama Oscar bait-y works. Also all David O. Russell works. I'm curious what she does in a film that looks like a somehow creepier more intense version of Queen of Earth (2015). There's a lot to look forward to here.

The rest are probably good. Ed Harris has never won an Oscar. That fucking blows. Neither has Michelle who is actually putting together an underrated little comeback between this year and next. I do think she was kind of underrated in Dark Shadows (2012) and The Family (2013). Ugh I watch so many terrible movies.

At any rate, I think mother! can be pretty distinctive, at least enough to leave a solid cultural crater, even if it feels smaller than The Wrestler or Black Swan. That could just be pre-Oscar shit, too. If it takes off and gets second to IT (2017) this weekend it could find a nice audience, although it is coming out damned early to really do some damage. Anyway, I'm pumped.

08 September 2017

Attack of the IT Department

That's right - Information Technology is a scary thing. Clowns are worse and seem to be the rave right now, from the Joker to American Horror Story: Cult to uh...real life creepiness lurking in the woods and stabbing people. And the Clown Consortium is actually trying to defend themselves. Clowns were never wholesome entertainment, people. Always, always creepy. Today we see the remake of a movie (adapted from the book) that many blame as originating the central scary clown concept. I've always thought that John Wayne Gacy, the Joker, and hell, HIS inspiration, The Man Who Laughs (1928) all paved the way. Hell, Pagliacci was pretty creepy. But today, precisely 27 years after its first incarnation, we get the return of IT (2017). I hadn't thought about that 27 year thing. Damn.

2017 is turning into a big year for Stephen King adaptations, even if The Dark Tower (2017) flopped pretty hard. It was at least hyped up quite a bit. IT has arguably hyped up even more, but that's also in part because it has a lot of iconography to draw from, and by all looks, does a fantastic fucking job with remaking it. I wasn't really old enough to watch the Tim Curry IT (1990) ABC mini-series (how was this ever on Network Television), but I've caught up since then. It may be my jaded millennial approach to horror films, but it almost seems quaint these days, not creepy. Pennywise could pull off being just a normal wacky clown, until his teeth come out and blood shoots everywhere. Or when he turns into a giant monster crab spider.

This is all to say relatively unknown actor Bill Skarsgård looks downright amazing as the new Pennywise - one who is positively creepy throughout. You may know his father, Stellan, who has made a career out of appearing in every movie ever, and his brother Alexander, whose roles ranged from ripped but shitty in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) to the underseen but brilliant War on Everyone (2016). Now, part of IT's fucked up charm was that this relentlessly jolly Tim Curry creep was killing everyone with glee while looking like he belonged at a 5-year old's birthday party. Not so much here, which I think works better, and as a rep to everyone who wants to pay money to see this, that's a good thing.

The difficulty here is preserving all those great moments from Steve King's excessively long novel, along with the iconic mini-series, while somehow forging its own path. The marketing campaign has demonstrated that pretty well, and I at least as not a huge IT '90 fan am pretty interested. It's got to be nerve-wracking for the producers having just seen another magnum opus King work flop worse than a limp dick at the box office, but IT '17 ought to do better. Probably. Over / under on child healing orgy scene?

For real, the movies need IT and they need it badly right now. All due props to The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) for winning three weekends in a row, but they've also been some of the lowest weekends in two decades. I'm eternally curious if Hollywood will ever learn to actually put out good original movies, although with the failure of Logan Lucky (2017) in that mix, that might not even be the problem anymore. Even though we're hot off the heels of Annabelle: Creation (2017), the haunted doll Conjuring (2013) spin-off spin-off we never knew we needed (and one of Summer 2017's bigger box office success stories), IT feels like a much different kind of horror, even if it's not. It seems prouder and creepier, and more steeped in both tradition and genuine 2017 scares. September is pretty rough, too. It could make a ton of coin.

Then again, September Horror is notorious for falling on its face. I think the hype has been there for a while, though, and there's enough build-up, expectation, and previous interest that this will be fine. There's a difference between this and the random cash-grab horror schlocky stuff that's filmed and churned out within a few months, given a traditionally crappy September release date and let free.

Critically IT's done decently so far as well. More and more that seems to be a bigger factor in a film's success than it was even a few years ago when spectacle still ruled. It's far from absolute, though, as there have been a tremendous amount of well-received blockbusters that didn't quite reach the heights of their predecessors (see: War for the Planet of the Apes [2017]). If anything in 2017 has felt like a sure thing, though, IT is it.

Get it girl
On the subject of September 8th releases, I'd also be remiss to skip out on what I can only describe as the underhyped Reese Witherspoon cougar orgy movie, Home Again (2017). Now, it's important to remember that Sweet Home Alabama (2002) held the September release box office record for ten years straight until Hotel Transylvania (2012) and later Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015). Anyway, people do actually like Reese Witherspoon, even if she definitely peaked in like 2003. She is riding some good vibes though, she's got Wild (2014) of course, that big movie where she also had public sex in an alley, Hot Pursuit (2015), which I really thought would have done better, and a voice in SING (2016), which I'm sure no one cared about.

I don't really know anything about Home Again, it's definitely counter-IT programming and geared towards the mom crowd, but also seems like a bizarre mom fantasy of banging young ripped dudes. That's really fine by me, practically every movie in history is filled with bizarre creepy male sexual fantasies. I guess I'm most curious about the lack of stakes and danger in this trailer - there seems to be no repercussions between banging all these dudes and her husband. I guess maybe she's not banging all of them. Nah, she definitely is. But what is this is about? Divorcée mid-life crisis finding love? Or reconnecting with Michael Sheen? It's Nancy Meyers, so you can expect a bit of tasteless romance almost indistinguishable from smut, but hey, maybe that's just what America needs right now. Who am I kidding, I would definitely pay and watch a Reese Witherspoon cougar orgy movie.

I think IT will bury Reese, but both are pretty fresh films after a damned long drought of pure shit from August. Well, apparently Home Again is still pretty rough, but I still think it can do some damage. Next week we get mother! (2017), a Blake Lively film (that's literally the best quality trailer I could find - she also plays some blind woman who regains her sight and then I dunno, shit happens? What the hell, Blake Lively), a Nic Cage film, and a Taylor Kitsch film. Yeah. Holy shit. That last one looks so bad you didn't even notice it's Dylan O'Brien, not Taylor Kitsch. The latter is actually in the movie as a minor role, which makes this joke even more confusing. The point is, IT can print money all day.

What are you checking out? Child orgies or Witherspoon orgies?

05 September 2017

Summer Jam 2017 LIVE -- All Hail Your New God-King of Summer!

The time has come at last, folks. After seventeen long weeks of tallying, cataloging, guessing, and skipping summer jam weeks, we're finally here at the alpha and omega of all things pop, which is life. As is customary, let's recount our past summer jam winners - now, this is the magical tenth year in the official reckoning, although of course, the weekly rundown is a relatively new phenomenon, having started around these parts only as recently as 2010. But here is the auspicious company the New King of 2017 will join, to be forever echoed in the Halls of Valhalla:

2007: "Umbrella" by Rihanna
2008: "Bleeding in Love" by Leona Lewis
2009: "I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas
2010: "California Gurls" by Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg
2011: "Park Rock Anthem" by LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock
2012: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
2013: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell
2014: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charle XCX
2015: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon
2016: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake.

Let's go through this for a second, particularly the last couple jams. First of all, the grammar of "I Gotta Feeling" is terrible, that would mean like, "I have to feeling" like will.i.am is compelled to feeling. We don't talk about this enough. "Blurred Lines" is probably the worst-themed rapist mainstream pop anthem of all time. And I will forever have a disclaimer that I was upset with the past two summers, kind of regretting how things shaped out, and believing they should have belonged to "Bad Blood" and "Cheap Thrills" respectively, that I think have aged a bit better. Then again, I hear "Shut Up and Dance" all the time, so who knows.

So, we tracked an amazing fifty-seven songs this year, about half of which are notable. Let's get them into three big groups:

Tier 3: Songs That Were Sort of In Your Head for a Week

These suckers came and went pretty fast, but a lot of them were pretty good, so let's acknowledge them here:

"Element." by Kendrick Lamar
"Rockabye" by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie
"Bon Appetit" by Katy Perry ft. Migos
"The Cure" by Lady GaGa
"Look At What You Made Me Do" by Taylor Swift
"Redbone" by Childish Gambino
"Feel It Still" by Portugal. The Man
"I'm the One" by DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Lil' Wayne, Quavo
"High" by Sir Sly
"Genghis Khan" by Miike Snow
"Attention" by Charlie Puth
"Swish Swish" by Katy Perry

Tier 2: Solid Songs that Came Close to Being Ubiquitous

This next batch of eight all made great cases for Second Team All-Summer Jam. Do not doubt their power, for they are treacherous.

"Woman" by Ke$ha ft. The Dap-Kings Horns
"iSpy" by KYLE ft. Lil' Yachty
"That's What I Like" by Bruno Mars
"Something Just Like This" by Coldplay and Chainsmokers
"Wild Thoughts" by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna, Bryson Tiller
"Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles
"Slow Hands" by Niall Horan
"Now or Never" by Halsey


Here we go, folks. This is the cream of the crop. They're so good they even each get an embedded video. Let's run through the final countdown until Avengers: Infinity War (2018) comes out:

#8: "Feels" by Calvin Harris ft. Katy Perry, Pharrell, and Big Sean

Weeks on Jam List: 5
Peak: #2 on 08/28/17

I really liked "Feels", way more than anything Katy did on her own this summer, which always seemed like a lot. It had such a nice summer-y beat, and although it didn't reach the Summer Heights both Katy and Pharrell have been in the past, it had a solid late-season upsurge despite dropping way back in mid-July. It was such pure pop collabo, not really trying to hard to do anything it couldn't reach. Again, the exact opposite from most of Katy's Summer 2017 - surprisingly off-brand, but in the best way. Everyone filled their role and did a great job.

#7: "Stay" by Alessia Cara, Zedd

Weeks on Jam List: 5
Peak: #3 on 07/31 and 08/14/07

This was kind of an old one (dropping in April), that stayed (heh-hoo!) around for most of Summer, never doing crazily good, but always kind of there in the background. It's a perfectly fine song, even if that "Rum in Cola" line is the only one I tend to clue in every time it comes on. The instrumental is a little bit too busy and overreaches Alessia's fantastic vocals quite a bit, but this kind of pop drop is hardly concerned with something so incidental. On its own merits it does fine, and that's where it lies.

#6: "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran

Weeks on Jam List: 4
Peak: #1 from 07/10 - 07/24/17

Somehow "Shape of You" only made the Jam List four times this Summer, but it feels like it was around way more, doesn't it? I think it just missed the cut in favor of more interesting tracks quite a few times, but it did score three straight weeks at #1, the only track to do so. The only other song that came close was "Despacito", which had three weeks at #1, but not consecutively. Ed Sheeran had a weird summer and is almost certainly a weird lazy eyed ginger pussy but somehow masculine sex symbol? I don't know. The song's okay, I really thought it was Timberlake. It's also been around forever I guess, but really peaked in July, which gives it is Summer Jam boost.

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

Weeks on Jam List: 5
Peak: #1 on 06/12 and 07/03/17

Selena had a maybe great summer? At least early on she seemed pretty unstoppable betweent his and "Bad Liar" but the latter certainly petered out. "It Ain't Me" seemed to always blend together with "Stay" and "Issues" and will surely be remembered in that glob. This is kind of a nice triumphant break-up song, though, a sweet and bitter elegy to being too fucked up to drive drunk and face the terrible morning to come. The beat is whack of course, and it sounds like more of a 2017 song than anything else here, but proved some whiskey neat staying power.

#4: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

Weeks on Jam List: 5
Peak: #1 on 06/19/17

Speaking of Selena... This was a total early summer jam that seemed pretty powerful, but didn't even make it through July. Still, its early potency was enough for it to survive here. You can see we're averaging about five weeks each, although from here on out, you need at least one #1 spot to surive. I wonder if this great jam's precipitous downfall had anything to do with the bizarre Selena-only gym teacher / dad-fucking video that defies all kind of logic and really shows how much Gomez looks like a pre-teen still at age 24. I really do like this song, though, which is a great showcase for her voice and really smooth and sexy, like most of what she's done lately. Gomez is totally an underrated artist, although that also probably has everything to do with the artist in the #2 spot, who wrote "Bad Liar" with resident weirdo but pop savant Justin Tranter.

#3: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

Weeks on Jam List: 8
Peak: #1 on 07/31/17

I had no idea "Body Like a Back Road" had made such an inways until I was tallying everything up. It wounded up on an astounding eight countdowns, beginning in Week 3 and ending on Week 17. That's an appearance in all five official months of summer. It started off consistent, and actually had five weeks off before finishing on five out of the final seven Jam Lists. There's a lot of power in a crossover country hit and one of the four official Country Songs I can stand to listen to. I don't think Sam has really gotten much credit for this, and it may be more radio play than digital, but considering a primarily country and pseudo-pop audience, that fits his wheelhouse pretty well.

#2: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

Weeks on Jam List: 8
Peak: #2 on 07/03 and 07/17/17

Alright, fine, so I lied. "Issues" was somehow never a #1 song, which wasn't necessarily the reason why Julia Michaels isn't Queen of Summer, but she assuredly needed a little more consistency down the stretch. She started off excellent, and despite dropping on Week 2, was the only song that week to maintain a presence up through Week 13 with only four breaks in the middle. She peaked in July, and really represented the perfect meat of Summer. At any rate, Julia Michaels is one of the most brilliant minds in pop today, and it's great to hear her behind a microphone after writing a slew of excellent contemporary hits. I did like "Uh-Huh" a bit better, but it never had the traction. I think that she could have stood a chance if "Issues" had dropped a little later, but this is a great outing for someone who could be around for quite some time.

#1: "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber

Weeks on Jam List: 9
Peak: #1 on 06/26, 08/14, 08/21/17

I remember this song being around in mid-June, hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and being pretty dismissive. "Populist skewed crap" I said - not a true jam! Oh how I was wrong! Already an international hit, Bieber hopped on and lent his voice to the Fonsi / Daddy Yankee jam and pushed it into the stratosphere domestically. This is the first Summer Jam Remix King and yet is a legit great jam. It's a sexy as hell Latin-infused Caribbean opus - perfect for a Summer Thrill. How did we never have a song like this reach the highest heights of Summer before? I feel as if my soul is at rest. "Issues" made a nice run, but as soon as we got into August and "Despacito" showed no signs of slowing down, I knew it was the unequivocal champion. More weeks than any other song on the Jam list, even though it didn't really get started until the end of June. Its first run was four weeks in a row where it debuted at #1. Its second run to end out the year saw five weeks where it never sank lower than third, and that was only as Summer bowed out in favor of "Look What You Made Me Do" which will almost assuredly take over Autumn. Bieber finally has a Summer Jam. Where you at, GaGa!?

As always, folks, it's been a long and awesome journey this summer. We'll be back with this crap again starting the Monday after the first full week after the first weekend in May. I suppose that is a little ridiculous, but that's how we've always reckoned Summer to begin, for the record. That'd be May 14th, 2018. As in most years we'll take a little break as we cease to care about September's pop cultural crap, but we'll definitely have an upcoming IT (2017) post up here soon. Stay golden, Jam Lovers!

04 September 2017

Summer Jam 2017 17: The Final End of It! LIIIIIVE!

This is it, folks. The Final Day of Summer. This is of course an absolute tragedy unparalleled with anything else currently going on in the United States of America. By far. For sure. But that also means that we're at The End of All Things - the last of our Very Special LIVE Editions of the Summer Jam Countdowns. Stay tuned for the final announcement of the Summer Throne tomorrow!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Houston #1" by Coldplay

The devastation from the flooding in Houston is unbelievable, and it's awful nice of Coldplay to write a song about it. Sure. Does anyone even like Houston? I don't think it's that great. It's hot, the Texans suck, can't even win a consistent division title against the Jags and Titans. Terrible. Still sad, though. Amazing they cranked out this tune and apparently played it once in order to pander and capitalize on a National Tragedy.

Body Like My Back Hand: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt

This track just barely made it in at the last second this week, but concludes a pretty solid summer campaign for a mainstream crossover country jam. I'm mystified by the lack of a music video, but who cares, it'd probably be Sam Hunt in his truck with some hot chick in cut-offs prancing around anyway. Damn. Where is this video.

Cop A "Feels" by A Bunch of People and Katy Perry

"Feels" ended up being pretty impressive this summer. Katy, Pharrell, and arguably even Calvin Harris have all had bigger and better summer jams, but this is probably a solid candidate to at least make the Final Top Eight based on sheer longevity in a Summer that was fairly merciless to many tunes out there. And again, this is by far Katy's best video this summer because she's actually being sane and humble.

Money Moves: "Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B

It's amazing it took some artist this long to rip-off Nicki Minaj, but here we go. And it's not like all black female rappers are like Nicki, but damn Cardi is totally Minaj-y. Especially this bit that just seems a ton like Nicki's mannerisms in "Bottoms Up" in particular and a few other vids. She's actually somehow a bit harder than Nicki, though, with a deeper, raspier, less listenable voice. It's decidedly rap instead of rap-pop which is rad, but in general I'm not totally a fan. Track is hot right now, though, even after having been around for a while now.

Don't Wanna Fight Right Now: "Now or Never" by Halsey

This track has come and gone in and out this Summer, but at least got in one last solid week before the leaves fall. I like like 20% of this song, the other 80% is really typical forgettable pop that I can go the rest of my life without ever hearing again and be perfectly happy with. Damn I'm cold this week - the deathly snows of Winter are on their way, folks!

Manos Fritos: "Despacito" by Daddy Yankee Bieber Fonsi

I'll have to tally everything, but this is your presumptive champion. I'm not even really sick of this jam yet, to be honest, and it's probably got some legs left to go into September. Who the hell knows what these Latin guys are saying, at least one part of it is "slowly" so we got that down pat. A bit of a dip this week, but it's gotten its work in!

Dat Bass Tho: "Strip That Down" by Liam Payne ft. Quavo

This is kind of old and I think I talked about it earlier this summer, but this just seemed fresh to me this week and kept popping up. The hook is actually damned sexy and a great summer panty dropper. Classic back-to-school stuff now I suppose. That's right. Not going to do much in lieu of being a Real Jam at this point, but could be a fall thing.

Autumn Queen: "Look At What You Made Me Do" by Tay Sway

Yeah....this song is going to be big. Almost double Katy Perry's "Swish Swish" views already, Taylor makes everyone else look like a joke right now. I'll admit this track has grown on me a bit this week, and the video may actually be brilliant if you know anything about Taylor and her history. I really don't, so it remains indecipherable to me, but it might be a more canny critique of fame and media than first glance. Then again, it's an insane testament to her white girl ego that she expects everyone to be so knowledgeable about her. Again, I really like the breakdown, and the steady confidence of the camera work here is cooler than the forced meme-ing of "Swish Swish." That's not how memes work!

Next year...

We obviously don't know. Maroon 5's terrible new song, "It Ain't Me", "Stay", and the Foo Fighter's terrible new song all missed the cut this week. Tough tummies. Tomorrow we tally it all up and crown our new Summer Royalty! Stay tuned, folks!
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