13 August 2018

August Movie Rundown

Listen, folks - it's come to my attention that I've been hella ignoring most of August's movies. Hell, the only movies I've even seen in the theaters came out in July. Early July. Let me be frank: I really don't care about most of these films. Clearly, nearly does America, since Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) is the only worthwhile film dominating the Box Office right now. Well, The Meg (2018) won this past weekend, but at $45 million I hesitate to call that a big triumph. It seems like August 2018 is without its sleeper hit.

Nevertheless, I feel like it's my duty to go through all these films, why they probably suck, and what cultural impact they might have. I've tried not to look up anything before going on senseless rambles. Please correct me when I'm angry and way off base. Regardless of release date, let's go through the lot:

Family Guy is all over this, right?

The Meg


We've had more a weird Deep Blue Sea (1999) revival than a JAWS (1975) revival in accordance to the release of this Jason Statham Megalodon flick. It's surprisingly hard to pull off a film like this. You've got to go either real self-aware camp like Piranha 3D (2010) or full on Monster mash like Lake Placid (1999). Even the Jaws sequels had mitigating success and failure with striking the right tone. It's weird to me that JAWS works at all, since Shark films in particular seem rife with tonal screw-ups. Deep Blue Sea is amazing, but it's pretty earnest in its ridiculousness. I don't know where The Meg ends up (based on a book...somehow), but it doesn't feel either extremely earnest or self-aware in its camp.

Crazy Rich Asians

The title of this movies just seems really weird. Like a spoof movie or something racist. But it's not... either of those? It's notable for having an all-Asian cast in an American-made Hollywood picture and seems to be getting good word of mouth. It's about a woman who meets a dude who turns out to be the Prince of Singapore or something. I'd be curious if the rich insane people are skewered or not, and what this comedy tries to poke fun at, but either way the cast is full of up and coming talent. I don't really give a shit about fish-out-of-water romantic comedies like this, but since it drops in two days maybe it actually will be that sleeper hit we talked about. It will also likely be pretty good.

Alpha

Also an upcoming release, this is about some dog and caveman or something, I don't care. It's like a sappy pet story - not only that, but the FIRST sappy pet story. First in history. I don't know why anyone would be interested in this.

Mile 22

I know absolutely nothing about this movie except that Mark Wahlberg is in it. Somehow that's all I need to know. It'll probably be some overblown grim shit that Wahlberg is really earnest in, to the point of self-parody. Again, I literally only know the title and Wahlberg is in it. I will not see this movie.

The Happytime Murders

I'm not sure if this looks good or not. I honestly don't know. I feel like the "inappropriate puppets" schtick has been done before, and beyond the initial novelty of the idea, I'm not sure what the movie can really do with it. Generally the whole thing looks like it's trying sooooo hard to be edgy. Melissa McCarthy does thrive better in R-Rated features, but moreso when she's bonkers like in Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013), or yeah, even Tammy (2014). This feels like she's more supporting a zany premise that again, may not stand on its own. Then again, folks seem excited, at least for that novelty aspect. Sleeper.

Christopher Robin

I could give less than a shit about Christopher Robin. I know, I know, this post is coming off as more and more cynical. Like, whatever, I was a big Pooh fan in my youth, but it really doesn't matter how the things we like were created. And it seems like this is a whimsical fantasy more than anything. We're in a glut of this lately, with that fake ass Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) movie last year basically being the same thing. This interpretation of the creative process drives me nuts. Like he had some bro in his fraternity named Tigger or something. It's all just contrived crap exploiting nostalgia instead of innovating anything new or interesting. I'm reflecting with some regret on my vitriol towards what is likely a sweet and innocent movie, but also really sick of people telling me I need to see it.

BlacKkKlansman

There has been this wave of "Spike Lee is back" articles, and apparently this film knocks it out of the park. The first trailer had a captivating hook and cinematically looks like some of the most beautiful work he's ever done. It'll be niche but could be driving some Oscar buzz, which is tight. That awkward spelling, though. I'm excited to see this. See? I can get excited for something.

Slender Man

This has more to do with those girls who stabbed each other rather than the actual Slender Man, right? If a "Slender Man" is really in this, that actually invalidates much of that tragedy and also makes for a far less interesting tale about how we've grown to deal with Internet culture and how we interpret facts and stories in our new shared media. This is all really interesting stuff. Slender Man has gotten next to no buzz, so I think...crap?

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I spend a lot of time staying up at night thinking about Kate McKinnon and her career. She's the current SNL anchor and the first cast member in a while to immediately be able to extrapolate into "She's going to be a star!" It feels like she hasn't found the right vehicle to launch her into the mainstream. Right now she's had the best chances to leap out in Sisters (2015), Ghostbusters (2016), Masterminds (2016), Office Christmas Party (2016), Rough Night (2017), and now this. What you may immediately think is, "Boy, are these a bunch of shitty movies." And yeah, McKinnon is the best part of Masterminds and Rough Night for sure. Office Christmas Party is drastically underrated and she plays against type wonderfully. The Spy Who Dumped Me seems to be trading more on the Mila Kunis Bad Moms (2016) train. She plays a character named Morgan Freeman! How is this not working. Notary Publix. I think this premise is just played out. It's like Knight & Day (2010) or Killers (2010) or Spy (2015) or The Brothers Grimsby (2016) or Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016) or hell, True Lies (1994) even. McKinnon needs a new agent.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I didn't know this was a thing until weeks after it came out. Why does this exist? Mamma Mia (2008) was somehow ten years ago and was pretty popular. I guess more ABBA songs existed? Why is this a thing? Who is into this? I did not see the first one and have no desire to ever sit through an ABBA-based musical. The only ABBA song worth listening to is "Fernando" and I will freely admit that I listen to "Fernando" more than any human ought to. And I know the title is based on an ABBA song, but it totally feels like a Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) kind of lazy sequel title. I can picture saying it with such a sigh.

The Equalizer 2

Here's some trivia for you - what is Denzel Washington's #4 highest grossing film of his career? It's the fucking Equalizer (2014)! I suppose they couldn't make sequels to American Gangster (2007), Safe House (2012), or Remember the Titans (2000), so here we are. I never saw The Equalizer. It just seemed like more aging movie star vengeance Liam Neeson / John Cusack crap. Maybe it's good, I don't know. The Equalizer 2 had the #3 opening of Denzel's career. Suck on that, haters.

The Darkest Minds

How has Hollywood not yet gotten the memo that the YA fad is over? Even the final two Hunger Games movies flopped. Well, maybe $337 million and $281 million aren't flops, but the final installmetn of your epic film series shouldn't be the least grosser. I digress. Someone wrote a book and was really hopeful, and good for them, they probably got paid. No one else did.

Eight Grade

Apparently this movie is really good. I'm kind of excited. Not for the subject matter at all, I already went through Eight Grade, it was really bad. I don't need to relive that again, but I always cheer for competent new voices in cinema. Bo Burnham, better known as a comedian / musician evidently knocked it out of the park. I'm down. See? Ending with something positive. All you need to do is make good movies, people.

What do you think? Have you seen any of this crap? Pumped for Christopher Robin? Leave one below.

12 August 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 14: A New Big Three Takes Over

We're into mid-August now, people, and I'm feeling it. Massive ennui regarding the end of summer and the start of school. Responsibilities. Homework. Leaves changing, an air of death sweeping across the nation as we plunge into a cropless winter of endless black cold - a void to which there is no escape. So let's crank some tunes while we've still got that summer jam feeling in our heart and blood in our veins! Oh yeah!

Hot Jam of the Week: "XCTY" by Kanye



I've had a lot of new crappy Kanye as the Hot Jam this Summer, but not only is this track making a notable splash for Kanye saying he wants to bang all his sisters-in-law in the first line (I don't think it's as literal as that - well, I hope not), but it's a solid artpiece as well. Well, you can always argue one way or another, but it pushes Ye's obsession with using the human voice as a backing beat along with his Yeezy / Poopity Scoop idea of completing breaking down lyrical content. It's basically Cash Green yelling "Nigga Shit Nigga Shit" in Sorry to Bother You (2018) and people thinking it's great rap. The point is in the meta, not reality. Anyway, for a mainstream insane artist right now to be putting out this kind of song (which, by the way, fits its own title / theme of sexual ecstasy constantly and thoroughly) is kind of amazing.

"Youngblood" by 5 Seconds of Summer

I don't know too much about 5 Seconds of Summer because I'm an old man but from what I read in magazines this boy pop band is attempting to mature and make some real music. That's harder to do than it would seem - especially when crafting a more man band image rather than boy band stuff. This track does a nice job and they play instruments and shit, I don't know. Seems fine. Also summer. This jam has been kind of a thing, and more kind of a teenage girl thing right now, but good enough for this week.

"Side Effects" by the Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren

I really like the breakdown of this track. Warren has a solid flow as well throughout the song, although I definitely sense that we won't hear much more from her. Singers on EDM tracks these days seem so interchangeable. I'm not sure anyone besides me likes this tune right now, which is weird because this is totally the kind of song that typically everyone besides me loves. That's all good.

"Psycho" by Post Malone

Post Malone basically has a standing seat at the Summer Jam Table right now. "Psycho" comes in and out, it's gone for a while, comes back on whenever it wants, it's all good. I really dig having so many bottles we can even give some to the ugly girls along with the rest of this jam's flow which is beautiful. It gets points for legs, but hasn't been fresh enough for a while now to really make a Summer Jam splash.

"No Brainer" by DJ Khalid ft. Bieber, Quavo, Chance

It took me a while to figure out that this was actually a different song than the DJ Khalid / Justin Bieber / Quavo / Chance the Rapper song "I'm the One" from last summer. Seriously, it's like the same exact crew. "No Brainer" has kind of been there for a minute, but is a relatively new debut to the Hot 100 and could make a nice splash considering how easy listening it is. Chance does the best job here, naturally, and there are some choice memorable lines. How did Bieber get in with these guys.

"I Like It" by Cardi B and J. Balvin

Before I even really noticed it, suddenly Cardi B, Maroon 5, and Drake took over a swap for the Top 3 spots instead of Ariana, Camila, and well, Drake in the beginning of the season. This is suddenly a legitimate run and we are look to have one of the closest Summer Jam races in recent memory.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

Yeah this song is blasting everywhere. Either way Cardi's having a hell of a summer. I think it has a lot to do with how fragmented everyone's music outlets are. In Summer Jams past we've had only one or two outlets and usually a pretty clear winner that everyone would bow down to. That may not really be the case anymore. Everyone's Summer Jam is different! Should I give this segment up? Probably. Need to make it through 2020, though so we can say he did 10 straight years of Summer Jam Countdowns!!

"In My Feelings" by Drake

Yeah, on to the #1. Upsetting both Cardi B tracks, I actually struggled, thinking this was "Nice for What" this week, but then realized it might actually be a better track. Or it's not and all Drake songs sound the same now. Or my old ears just hear all youth music as the same thing and I'm totally out of touch. I should probably give this up. 2020, baby!!

Next week...

Oh, who knows. Bebe Rexha? This year has been bizarre. Songs I thought would break did not. Songs I wanted to break did not...then did! I'm very excited to see how the next three weeks turn out, and if things stay the way they do, we very may well see the Summer of Maroon 5, which would be crazy. Stay tuned, folks!!

08 August 2018

First Impressions: Sorry to Bother You

Has anyone seen this movie? Because if not, you should go see it. I don't even know how to begin talking about this movie with someone who hasn't seen it. Let's get a SPOILER warning out of the way to discuss this bastard.

Hottest Halloween look this year
I had heard this was a pretty weird flick going in to it, so I was obviously very interested. As the movie progressed it was a little quirky and stylistic but not all that weird. THEN IT GETS SO FUCKING WEIRD. I loved every second. There was one dude in the theater who REALLY loved it, though, and was laughing at literally every line. This was a crazy person, but then again, crazy people made this movie.

This will sound like the whitest thing ever, but I was introduced to The Coup by the movie Superbad (2007). This scene. That's "Pork and Beef" off of the album Party Music, which has the most unfortunate cover choice in the history of music - featuring an exploding Twin Towers. The cover was designed in June 2001 for an initial printing on - wouldn't you know it - September 11th, 2001. That's your Coup trivia for the day. Again, it took my white ass until 2007 to lock in but I've been a solid fan ever since.

I was pretty excited then, when band member Boots Riley finally got to make his Sorry to Bother You movie. The script has been around for a long damn time, and also provided the name for the Coup's 2012 album. If you're still unfamiliar, the Coup is filled with some politically charged hip-hop that defiantly goes against the grain of mainstream acceptance. Riley is a progressive activist with socialist and communist leanings, and frankly it's amazing that he was allowed to go anywhere near a camera to make his cinematic opus.

What works is that the politics here are sly, subtle, and ultimately universal. Regarding Black Cinema we're finally at a point where we're moving away from solely slave narratives that define the Black American Experience and getting into this era of new voices like Jordan Peele and Ryan Coogler who are putting their stamp on popular culture. We even see Spike Lee getting reinvigorated with his BlacKkKlansman (2018) landing this week. Is Black merely a trendy topic right now? Well, this is Hollywood and the goal is ultimately money and nothing else, no matter what you may think about art, so yeah - but if unique and new voices get to tell their personal stories that elevate all of our world perspectives then that's a pretty cool thing.

For a first time writer / director, Boots also does a fantastic job. He's probably a better writer than director - the dialogue and morphing of the plot was a bit sharper than the images on screen, with some off-center frames and other odd choices, but altogether this comes off as a supremely confident masterstroke of cinema. The cast gels perfectly, the colors pop, and the dark comedic tone that skewers everything about the times we live in, from landing a job to media consumption to the nature of art to viral video fame is pitch perfect. I was blown away.

Leading this insanity is LaKeith Stanfield, who after scoring bit roles in every great Black movie of the past five years in addition to being awesome on Atlanta is finally able to anchor a movie. He's a great fit - a sheepish kind of slumped over guy who finds success that totally goes to his head. He doesn't always make the greatest choices and it's until he's met with true horror that he finally recoils. That horror being horse people (I said SPOILERS) but we need to get into the magical realism later.

There's a lot to unpack about his journey. As Cassius "Cash" Green starts off faking his way into a telemarketing job despite the fact that his unscrupulous bosses know instantly that he's faking. In some ways that's all this movie is - faking everything until we find some success. Anyway, he struggles until Danny Glover tells him to use a White Voice. Channeling his inner David Cross he's able to suddenly connect and gain appreciation from his peers and the poor saps he sells shit to. It's an instant indictment of how people interpret Black and White perspectives, the idea being that White People find a lot more instant success and appreciation than Black People. Where the movie finds its niche, though, is how Cash copes with the fact that he's co-opting another race and neglecting his own in order to be successful. Does that matter? Is financial stability and advanced social status worth the personal selling out of one's friends, peer group, and race itself? When faced with no other option but living in a garage and being four months behind rent with no job - is that sell out worth it?

There aren't a lot of other movies that face these questions as frank as Sorry to Bother You. As Cash moves up in the telemarketing world (I've interviewed for jobs in Call Centers like this. It's not great. You really need to leave your soul at the door. This is another aspect the film nails), his co-workers become despondent. Under the leadership of Steven "Glenn" Yeun, they unionize and go on strike. This also presents this massive pro-union angle and again this conflict between working at something you're good at and supporting other people. It's capitalism vs. socialism, for the record. The folks at the top obviously want to keep working and neglect the union - they're rolling in dough. What's important is to note that the only reason Cash finds success is that he sells out his soul and race. There's this idea that success is only reserved for those elite few who find their niche well the rest of the hard-working proletariat suffers through an immense disparity in wealth, working conditions, and daily struggle. So much so that many consider joining the WorryFree organization, a thinly veiled slave-labor commune.

I mean, this has been my go-to video game avatar for years.
The irony of course is eventually that Cash as a "Power Caller" uses his White Voice telemarketing skills to basically sell this slave labor to various companies across the globe. We get a counter glimpse of this lifestyle through Mr. _____ who seems to understand Cash's soul-sucking struggle, but also revels in the advantages being a plugged in Power Caller can afford. As the film goes on though, we actually see a surprising nuance out of actor Omari Hardwick as he goes from being the King of his Element at Regalview Telemarketing to dearly out his element around Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and the real rich, powerful white people in the world. There's a moment where they goad Cash into rapping, and he really can't because he's a multi-dimensional human being and not just a Black Person. Giving up he just repeats "Nigga shit!" over and over, because that's really all that White Rap Fans want to hear. Or maybe it's more that's just what White Rap Fans here anyway. Mr. ____ and Lift himself seem to be the only ones capable of seeing through the facade. Mr. _____ is overcome with his own reflection of his selling out while Lift sees Cash how he sees everything - a way to make money and control people. Mr. _____ also has huge mutton chops, an eye patch, and bowler hat, none of which are ever explained nor should they be ever.

Lift represents this deceptive power structure of bosses and companies that pretend to be your friend but are really just there to make money. His insane science and social control wants to push that further - by yes, creating super-strong Human / Horse hybrids called equisapiens that will be more loyal, whine less, and work harder. It's a damned surreal moment, folks. Knowing that they might revolt, he also wants a faux-Martin Luther King, Jr.-type figure to lead and settle the horse people, tricking them into thinking they've accomplished some Civil Right crusade, but in actuality, it would really just be Cash working for Lift. This was a little (SPOILER) Snowpiercer (2013)-esque and there are class revolution similarities, but these are really different movies.

Got all that? This of course makes implications towards the actual Civil Rights Movement - I don't think Boots is going as far as to say MLK was a fake, more so that we idolize this leader and other Black Leaders like Barack Obama, but it's all an illusion. As long as mega corporations still hold White Interests at heart, Black Interests will be neglected. Some of this isn't necessarily racial in the film, more a class struggle - it's Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) pretending to support the people while ushering in their downfall (for the record, that movie really stumbles with that concept, but whatever, you get what I'm talking about). Cults of personality surrounding one leader doesn't make a difference when it's the institutional systems that are at fault for world problems.

That's a lot to take in. This movie is also a comedy. There is media on an Idiocracy (2006) "Ow My Balls!" level that virtually serves to show people in constant states of schadenfreude. Actually, this movie could have just been called Schadenfreude. Although the biggest bullshit in this movie is that 150 million people would ever watch the same show. There's this running side story of Cash being the unlucky star of a viral video of himself getting nailed in the head by a "Soda Cola" can. It progresses as this flavor of the month that would have only been better if there was some Internet Outrage attached. This eventually works in his favor as he's able to parlay his fame into playing an equisapien clip to the world, thus exposing WorryFree's horrible genetic experiments to the world and ending Lift's reign of terror.

Except of course that no one really cared, WorryFree's stock rose, and investors were excited about both profits and burgeoning gene-splicing technology. That's about how it would work. Cash really needed to get a video of Lift sexually harassing one of the horse-people. That's the current outrage. No one cares if you modify your body to work a little harder. And if they did, another news story will be around in a few weeks that's even MORE shocking and we'll forget all about horse people.

The final major character is Cash's girlfriend, Detroit, who is a performance artist that I'm still trying to unpack. She mostly exists as both Cash's moral conscience as well as his motivation for improving himself. Although, even as he expressly states this, I'm not sure the latter is true because he seems more focused on leaving some kind of mark on the world or existing as a significant individual and Detroit seems to not particularly care about any crap he's trying.

Detroit is played by Tessa Thompson who is crushing her resume right now. As I struggle to come up with what she represents, the simple idea is that her views are never really explained, and ignoring this Black Woman's perspective is the film's one major fault. She is certainly a revolutionary in dress, art, and action, but her seeming comfort in Cash's high-profile scab life (at least at first) seems to indicate that she doesn't necessarily care about what she's trying to care about. Eventually as she hooks up with Glenn (err..."Squeeze"), you get the sense that these two are more right for each other than her and cash.

As for the performance art segment, a lot of it seems overboard - more a way to rile up a crowd into participating in what they think is high special art, but is really just an empty farce. It's another means of control, of faux-revolution - the Facebook era of toe-dipping support of social justice. That fits in line with most of the movie's other messages concerning false prophets, self-deception, and an unwinnable class war.

In that same vein, it's subtly revealed that Squeeze is a guy who more or less goes around to different fledgling companies and goads the workers into strikes and unions. Sure that work has some merit, but he's basically an undercover revolutionary rather than someone organically pushing for change. That topic isn't really addressed again, nor is his hook-up with Detroit (unions and Detroit...a flirtatious yet deceiving and fleeting hook-up without meaningful value - there's the core message of this movie right there), but you know, it had to get in those Horse People.

There's somehow a lot more to this movie than what I've covered here, which I feel is just scraping the surface. I'm prepared right now to name this the best film of 2018 and feel pretty confident that no other movie is going to hit me quite as hard. What do you think? Can you get past the communist leanings? The Horse People? The magical realism? Tessa Thompson's developed but ultimately perspectiveless character? How many Academy Awards will this win? Definitely none? Leave a comment below!

07 August 2018

First Impressions: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Not only did I see Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) extremely late in its run (its 5th week of release), but after seeing it on Sunday I watched Sorry to Bother You (2018) on Monday, which means my brain is all jumbled up. I liked both of these films a lot, and we'll try to keep these impressions to the mild insanity of the former movie and not the full-blown insanity of the latter.

I was first struck by how many people were still in the theater. It was almost a full house on the fifth week of release. Now, the overall theater count is down of course, but people are still seeing this shit. Where its premiere weekend didn't promise that much of a multiplier, it's now outgrossed THOR (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and not to mention its predecessor, Ant-Man (2015). Did you know that people tend to like these movies?

Quite the ANTagonistic relationship
Marvel has packed 2018 with three decent releases in just under five months. We actually have longer to wait until the next one - Captain Marvel (2019) next March. Each of these films has had a distinct flavor. Black Panther (2018) was somehow the most popular, most lauded, and best of the lot, becoming a cultural force on its own. Infinity War (2018) was the grand-daddy (Thanos = Ultimate Daddy) monster blockbuster film, even though its gross ended up shy of Black Panther. I am interested in the emotional investment, though. Black Panther was a politically invested look at the worldwide Black experience as well as a stunning action film with mixes of lost civilization fantasy. Infinity War was an exhausting tome concerning death itself and the balance of the universe. We needed Ant-Man and the Wasp.

See, nothing in this movie really cares about this larger than life stuff. Ironic for a film that mostly concerns size changes. It's a total palette cleanser. Let's just get silly after all this Kingship battling and Universe-ending crap. Let's have giant ants and cardboard tunnel slides with little kids. Hide and seek and shrinking transportable labs. This movie has so much fun with itself, the rules it's made for its little niche in the Marvel Universe and even in the villains it sets against our heroes.

Most importantly, though, this film is filled with what I always look for in a big flick, which is cleverness. The situations, the use of shrinking or enlarging, the action sequences - it's all very clever. It's unexpected. There's an edge to this movie which nails its light-hearted, fun tone to a great degree. It's top to bottom refreshing.

That's not to say there aren't problems. SPOILERS forever from here on out so go out and give more money to Disney if you want to keep reading. Or if you don't care because it doesn't totally matter, keep reading. The weirdest thing this movie does is actually deal with the inconsistent writing in previous outings. Or rather, it doesn't actually deal with any of it. The first Ant-Man's big villain was defeated when Paul Rudd shrank into the Quantum Realm to bust his suit up. However, he was able to return no problem when that was supposedly a Realm no one could return from. The whole point of A-MatW is going to the Quantum Realm to bring back Michelle Pfeiffer, who has been trapped there for thirty years. No one seems to make a big deal about Paul Rudd being able to do it without issue.

Same story for why Hank Pym and his daughter needed Paul Rudd in the first place. Supposedly using the Pym Particles to shrink down over time is hazardous to one's health, so he didn't want to risk his or his daughter's life. No one cares about that anymore and Evangeline Lilly's Wasp is far more capable than Paul Rudd, and Pym himself goes subatomic to bring back his boo. I don't necessarily have a problem with this because who cares, it's kind of a stupid idea in the first place, but it's also the entire rationale for recruiting Rudd. There is a bit in here about needing Rudd's thief skills, maybe a slight retcon, but it ends up a little weird. Like a bad excuse not to have Lilly suit up the first time around. Don't get me wrong, I think saving the Wasp for this film injects it with a lot of distinctive energy and allows the first film to focus solely on Rudd and his journey, but it's all lazy, quasi-anti-woman superhero excuses to get there.

On the same note, the entire basis for this film jumps off of Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) and Paul Rudd's actions against the Sokovia Accords in Germany. For having what feels like a ton of movies since CIVIL WAR this is the first one to really deal with the ramifications of those Accords passing and it's worth exploring. This is a world where superheroes become criminals without falling in line to the government and it's subtle but the constant government intrusion and suspicion makes it clear the film's on Captain America's side. Of course they are.

There are two big questions the movie presents on this subject. One is why the hell did Paul Rudd go help? He didn't really know "Cap" as he calls him now and risked (and paid for) more than many of the other Avengers. More importantly, Evangeline Lilly asks him why he didn't ask her to go. Well, not only did he not know she was the Wasp at that point, but it's also a sly dig at including more women in the greater MCU, and hopefully hints she'll pop up in crossovers to come.

Alright, let's get into this. There are a lot of good tonal things and clever sequences, but somehow it feels both bloated and smaller. The stakes are right where they should be with an Ant-Man movie - Paul Rudd mostly wants to spend time with his daughter but is torn by duties to both his friends/co-workers and mentor / love interest Hank and Hope. All that is grand. There are, however, way too many characters that we are supposed to remember from the first film. You can make plenty of CIVIL WAR references, that's fine, that's a $408 million movie and huge phenomenon. You can't rely on Ant-Man too much. I totally forgot that Judy Greer was even it in. In fact, I still don't quite believe she was. Bobby Cannavale either. Was he a big hugger / Paul Rudd supporter? I have no idea, but he kind of shows up here with some schtick for some reason.

I remember Michael Pena because he's amazing, but definitely forgot that T.I. is in the MCU. I loved how he even wore his hat in classic T.I. fashion. Also while playing an ex-con! Good for you, T.I.! His and David Dalmastchian's characters were definitely entertaining, and I suppose it'd be weird for purists if they were left out, but I'm not sure anyone would care. There were also multiple duplicitous FBI agents (FBI is HYDRA!) and then Ghost and Laurence Fishburne (not a single "Bill Foster looks like Nick Fury" joke?), which I guess existed to give Ghost both the pain of losing both parents while offering her another surrogate father figure? His connection to helping her seemed weak.

You're out of phase! Get in your weird bubble!
Let's get into Ghost. Perhaps the most sympathetic Marvel villain ever, this is a girl literally being torn apart by Quantum Energy. It provides a pretty cool power and backstory, that I'd like to see explored more, and throwing in Fishburne as a random dude trying to help her didn't have a great emotional connection. It all multiplied characters. He could have been an uncle or something. This is another film where the heroes are able to find some sympathy and solve their villains' plight through compassion rather than a beatdown, which is again, clever and refreshing. And she's not cocky or evil - just angry and selfish, perhaps righteously so considering her constant pain and impending death. We probably needed a scene where Hank Pym is confronted for his role in discrediting her father, instead of blowing him off as a "Traitor" but the film doesn't really have time for that.

Speaking of Hank Pym, we need an 80s movie bad starring Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as the original Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel keeps showing off their age reduction technology and while these two are good, Laurence Fishburne, holy shit. That was good. Pfeiffer definitely isn't used as much as she should have been - I'm not even going to ask how she survived in the Quantum Realm for thirty years alone or what freaky powers she picked up. I'd like to the see the angle of Hank's hubris developed a bit more, after all, in the comics he was the one who made Ultron. That was a big boo-boo.

The last angle is Walton Goggins and you might be sitting there thinking what the hell is with all these conflicting parties, and yeah, this movie is mostly each group at different points chasing after the same whatever or whatever. It's like they keep bopping in and out of the film with different angles of attack and each characters has their own little thing. Goggins specializes in black market technology trades, and I can see a connection with Michael Keaton's Vulture one day. Trivia alert: Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas, but he had to change it because of Hank Pym - that'd be a fun movie!

Finallly, Paul Rudd, who is reliably amazing and doesn't have the ego to center the movie around himself. He asks almost meta questions at times ("Do you guys just put the word 'Quantum' in front of everything to make it sound more scientific?") and does a nice job playing both the straight man during the crazier moments and the doof during the more serious moments. There's even a bit of Kafka when he's replaced by a giant ant. This movie is weird.

In general I liked this flick a lot, there are a ton of issues, clearly, but it gives such a good feeling that it's easy to ignore those issues and just enjoy the film. The ending I think paves the way for Time Travel in Avengers 4: Avengers in Time (2019) and we'll fucking see where that shit goes. Until then, enjoy Aquaman (2018) you bastards!

06 August 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 13: Rapping

Sometimes I can't believe that I've done thirteen straight weeks of this. Then I can't believe this is my ninth straight year of this. That's like 149 Summer Jam posts! I don't even have 149 views on these pages. But it's hot, so let's do this again:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Side Effects" by the Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren



Is it weird to be kind of nostalgic for like a 2015 song? I don't think this will be a huge "Closer" or "Paris" Chainsmoker track, but I do really like the breakdown here, and say what you will about these two EDM bros destroying music, they keep finding good new beats which is damned tough to do in a genre where everything is designed to sound the same. It's true, haters, deal with it.

"In My Feelings" by Drake

Drake cranked out a bit 8-minute crappy video this week to a track he definitely wants to land, even though most of his other jams this summer have been better. I heard "God's Plan" a ton this week, too. What's the deal here, man. How come Drake won't die? Do you even remember all that Pusha-T dram drams back in May? Who cares now. I'm kind of confounded - I don't think anyone actually listens to Drake nor critically thinks he's that great, but for some reason he's popular and well-lauded. Maybe I'm crazy. But here's Drake.

"SICKO" by Travis Scott

Real popular on that Spotify thing. This is a decent track. His whole ASTROWORLD album is doing solid and apparently is the rapper that young people like right now. He doesn't sound all that distinct, to be honest, but then again, my ears are old and faded now. I like all this 2017 music like some kind of Neanderthal.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

"God is a Woman" is doing okay but hasn't quite taken over as the NEW Ariana. I threw this on here just because it came on and dammit, I knew every single word and loved it. That's a powerful stage in the pop ballad life cycle. It's a dirty showdown for Summer Jam, and this helps. It's definitely not where it was, but it's been great. At the same time, though, why do I get the feeling that I'm the only one who thinks it's the Summer Queen forerunner?

"Nice for What" by Drake

More Drake. See above. This song is still charging pretty well and remains his most fun summer track. I don't think it can make the push it needs for true Summer Jam status, but fuck, it's trying its damndest right now! We'll see where the cards fall next month.

"FeFe" by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj, Murda Beatz

Man, what a crappy song. There is never a good reason to get a face tattoo. I mean, self-expression, whatever, but that social stigma of being a piece of shit is not dissipated yet. Nicki, I don't know...exists again. She's been around this summer, but just isn't quite having the time that fellow Young Money Drake is. Makes me think of "Bedrock." I wonder what Gudda Gudda and Lloyd are doing these days.

"Girls Like Me" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

This song keeps climbing and is suddenly racking up some serious points to its name. I suppose when I was geling on it earlier in the summer it really was more fledgling and often missed the cut in any given week. Well, now that it's surging, if it can close out August there's definitely a power there to be feared! And respected. Dynamite. You know, "Nice for What" is the same exact video with more art to it.

"I Like It" by Cardi B

This is another one that's suddenly making late summer moves. #1 this week but does it feel #1? Just like everything else these days I suppose #1 is really just my #1. Everyone is off doing their own thing and consuming their own music, movies, and TV in their own ways, it's harder and harder to really judge anything as distinctively the top of the heap. That won't stop me, though, baby! Cardi B gets the top two spots this week, dammit! This is a big threat, and muddles the water for Camila and Ariana. Some brown chick is going to win Summer, that's for sure.

Next week...

We've only got four weeks left and while the aforementioned Camila and Ariana have big leads, it's far from in the bag with a few late tracks being pretty consistent. We had a lot of Hip-Hop this week, and it's far that it's soon becoming the dominant musical genre in this country. If we can get more Jay Rock and less Drake I'm cool with that.

30 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 12: Music That Happened

This was kind of a weird week for me, folks. I didn't get out and experience the wonderful summer music of the world all that much, but something insignificant like that surely won't stop me from an authoritative countdown of the hottest jams in America this week!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Potato Salad" by A$SAP Rocky X Tyler the Creator



This song made a few waves this week and is a solid jam fueled by a chill beat laid under the harsh voice of Tyler the Creator and supreme flow of one of the best ASAPs in the game. We're at a point where no Hot Jam is really going to make a dent, but it's fun anyway.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

Camila returns for a brief moment this week, but this song is pretty much over. This will be a nice late addition when she tallies up her possible Summer Victory come labor day. We won't totally count out this track for the rest of the year of course, but this is a nice exclamation point on her success.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

Another long dead track that's still floating around adding to its legacy. It's still a great track and is a great hit for Bebe, but I think it'll just come short of Summer Jam Winning Status. Actually this is a weird summer - all these songs had such meat in the first three months August is looking like this weird has-been month. I'm sure something will emerge.

"Psycho" by Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign

Yep, see above for the exact description of what this old song is still doing here. It's really a great track that is still charting well, but might as well be Frank Sinatra and the Big Bopper at this point. Grandma music. I do still love almost every line of this rambling, slurry jam, though, and it's definitely made a case for itself this summer.

"Delicate" by Taylor Swift

I've pretty much avoided this track this summer, but it earns its spot this week. For one it's really not that great, and Taylor seems to have burnt off any goodwill and poetically ironic musical prowess she once had. This is the worst song she's cranked out in years but actually doing decent and I've heard it quite a bit recently. Taylor won't win anything this summer, but here's a nice flash of acknowledgment.

"Friends" by Anne Marie ft. Marshmello

This is actually a better friendzone song than I've given it credit for, and after a few weeks in purgatory it's back to show that it's got some potency this summer. That's the theme for this week. Padding stats. I feel like this will definitely eventually become a 2018 trivia song, and Anne Marie will never have another hit ever.

"SAD!" by XXXTENTACION

Crawling up again and actually setting up that August run, "SAD!" comes in strong again this week. It's popular with the young people and that's what matters. Without the young people we're just a bunch of grandmas listening to Post Malone. That's no good for anyone.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

Yep - #1. I heard this jam more than any other this week and still dig it, mostly because it's had quite the slow ascent. It may be making a case for itself after all, even though I had written it off weeks ago. It's endlessly pleasant and making a nice late-season run here.

Next week...

I'm so out of it. Stay tuned and we'll do better.

27 July 2018

Mission Impossible 87 or whatever

At this point there may not actually be that much more to say about the Mission: Impossible franchise. This holds up pretty well. It's not as if the series has really changed significantly in any meaningful way. Christopher McQuarrie returns, who has somehow grown into this productive relationship with Tom Cruise, also directing him in Jack Reacher (2012), but also contributing to the writing of Ealkyrie (2008), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and The Mummy (2017). It all kind of feels like more of the same.

But maybe that's just what we need. Hear me out.

This has been a bit of a weird summer. We've had some big successes, sure, but it's all been in spandex. As it turns out, Infinity War (2018) was such a big cultural force and became so ubiquitous that it feels like it came out years ago (my homies are still casually talking about Thanos' morality and motives). Other big flicks like Solo (2018) and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) have done alright, but nothing really culturally notable. We didn't even really have any major releases last week.

Just watching Tom Cruise go to work is like going back in time to when movie stars were a thing. He branched out and did some terrible floppy movies, but we're getting to the point where the Mission: Impossible series is his bread and butter. It's what he returns to whenever his career needs that reliable shot in the arm. This is also actually the fastest a Mission: Impossible film has turned around, only three years after Rogue Nation (2015).

That could also be why these films just seem like a blur. Or the fact that there isn't much of any plot left. Frankly I can't actually remember the plot to any Impossible movie, but the last few in particular tend to be built around specific set pieces and big stunts - don't get me wrong, this crew delivers better than any other team out there right now, but the films don't have too much going for them. Still, Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation, and currently Fallout (2018) are all ranked in the mid-90s on Rotten Tomatoes.

Not like RT is the best measure possible, but it's surprising for the 4th, 5th, and 6th installments of a series that seemed to be dying. It's like the Fast and Furious series except it only revolves around Tom Cruise. Ving Rhames doesn't do too much anymore. Neither really does Simon Pegg. People are going to these films to see Tom Mapother jump out of airplanes and almost kill himself.

Maybe that's enough, it's clearly earning some hype and this weird position as a late summer burst of frenetic blockbuster energy. Throwing Superman into the mix with the grandest moustache ever is icing on the cake that should promise a solid throwdown. I literally don't care what this film is even about - is Ethan Hunt fighting to clear his name against the IMF? Like literally every other fucking movie in this franchise? Why does it have so much goodwill?

hahahahhahah
It might be a combination of familiarity. That is, both the jump off from the original television show (which the original 1996 film quickly shat all over) as well as 90s nostalgia and then 2000s nostalgia. For a while the cool thing about this franchise was guest directors like Brian de Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, and Brad Bird stepping in and doing their thing. It was like comparing side to side visions of different artists and then being able to parse out which styles spoke to you personally. Like, I am a fan of the original and Ghost Protocol - I suppose that makes me a fan of natural lighting, clarity of action, iconic set-pieces, and high tension. Cool. It took them 22 years to break this style, but I'm not sure it was even a trend they set out to begin with.

Anyway, I'm somehow pretty jacked up for this. It feels like an antidote. You know you're getting a solid product. A movie that cares about action, the audience, isn't trying to set up anything (somehow that world is built just fine for Tom Cruise to pop in and out of every few years), and just wants to entertain you. There actually hasn't been much of that this summer. It's nice.

Oh, also Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) comes out this weekend, which I definitely need to see. I watched LEGO: Ninjago (2017), people. I'm amazed at the life of this series. Teen Titans was a pretty rad young adult show that I was definitely just too old to watch as much as I did, but then they retained all the same characters and voice actors and made it far far goofier with Teen Titans Go!. It's always been this wannabe anime that's also rooted in DC comics lore that's totally insane.

It's a show that has descended down and down into more child-friendly territory, to the point where it uses its superhero characters for doofy shit all the time instead of real-superhero problems. This is brilliant and the series trusts its characters so heartily over the need for mindless action and power showcases. It's lovely. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is an extension of this, one that I did not realize was so popular. Magical. I'm so tired right now. Wondermagic.

What are you checking out this weekend? Kid stuff that's actually pretty awesome? Awesome Tom Cruise movie? Wonder Woman (2017)? Leave it below.

23 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 11: Drake Stuff

We've rounded the summer corner, people. We've still got quite a bit to go, but we can see the end of the bright tunnel and into the dark depths of the Months of Death. Luckily we have Drake and a bunch of other crap to keep us going. This is a bit of a transition week, but a lot of jams are holding strong:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Frozen" by Wu-Tang



This is the first uh...public Wu-Tang track launched in a while, and of course the band holds up. I really just hope some kid searches for Queen Elsa and gets this instead. It's more Method Man-driven, who remains reliably amazing and no group like the Wu laces lyrics around some of the most intelligent artists in group rap.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

Yep this track is back. It crept up on me this week and I found myself not quite hating it tremendously. That's good enough to be an all-star track. Bebe is trying damned hard to launch herself from this big track, but nothing else has had quite the crossover chillwave appeal.

"God is a Woman" by Ariana Grande

This track isn't quite the "No Tears Left to Cry" showstopper or even the "Bed" sex-a-thon or even the "Light is Coming" brilliant track, but it IS a track that exists and is popular at the moment. Regardless of how things shake out it's clear that Ariana is having a great summer and this track does have room to climb.

"Nice for What" by Drake

Another week, another chance for "Nice for What" which actually is building a solid resume for itself. The jam has legs and continues to pop up in our lives. It's charted higher than I think its actual popularity, but it's still a pretty decent jam that's endlessly listenable. It's superb background music, people. It's had enough #1 landings to threaten a little bit and put in a good bid for King of Summer at this point.

"I Like It" by Cardi B

Same as the previous entry, "I Like It" suddenly is making a case for itself. Out of all the Cardi B tracks dropped this summer, this one has emerged as the possible contender. The spicy salsa beat paired with Cardi's latina heritage helps it out (think "Despacito") and at this point it might challenge one of those top spots if it stays consistent. It really needs to gain a few more #1 spots to get up to Ariana or Camila's lead but it's possible.

"Taste" by Tyga ft. Offset

I mentioned this track a little bit ago as a possible Hot Beat but this week it emerged as tracking pretty damn well on Billboard and Spotify. It's one of three rap songs to round out the top three this week. I'd like to think that this song is all about chomping on private parts, which I'm going to roll with. The beat is chill and matches Tyga's cadence pretty well. I don't think it can seriously threaten Summer Jam status, but it's good enough this week.

"SAD!" by XXXTENTACION

We're just going by the music here - a true artist lost. Alright, whatever, but this song is more decent than most would give it credit for. It's emerged as the key identifying XXXTENTACION song who unfortunately couldn't choose a better name before his tragic passing. It continues to gain traction and serves as a tough reminder of a voice we perhaps lost too early.

"In My Feelings" by Drake

The second Drake jam of the week - this one is much less great, but also #1 on Billboard and Spotify and for some reason the most popular song in the country. Cool. It's definitely not great but at this point I'm kind of glad he's emerged relatively unscathed from the Pusha-T beef. All it really takes is great music. Or at least popular music. Just make some popular music and that'll speak for itself. We've talked at length about this being the Summer of Ariana but this could surely be the Summer of Drake, too. 2018 sucks.

Next week...

There were some intriguing jams dropped by G-Eazy, Bebe Rexha, Becky G, and the 1975 that all almost made the cut this week. Becky G is definitely trying to make the word "zooted" happen. I don't know why. We've got six weeks left and getting to the point where any new track would really have to surge right to the top and make a huge splash to make a difference. Tracks with some previous momentum such as "I Like It" and even possibly "In My Feelings" may stand a chance, but we'll have to see. Happy Summer!

16 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 10: All the Summer Hits Are Summer

This is it - the heart of camps, hear of July, hear of Summer! The temperature is way up and so are the skirts! Wowza yowza! It's the best time of the year and the best time for beer! There is a magic dust in the air and up everyone's nose - it's time to live life and love lufe. Let's blast more innate platitudes as we count down some summer jams. I didn't really listen to much this week, so here's a bunch of new crap that's okay:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Summertime Magic" by Childish Gambino



It was between this and "Feels Like Summer." That track is a bit more chill, but this has the thumpier beat. It gives me a big "Sober" vibe, which is totally a good thing. It's not quite the political "This is America" apex, but that can be a good thing. We need songs about good good sweet summer summer lovin' too. Gambino has built a career on underground hits that are secretly massively popular, one of these jams could take off.

"Summer on You" by PRETTYMUCH

I have never heard of PRETTYMUCH, but they are definitely filling a Jonas Brothers / One Direction boy band gap. Key word is trying, because they're definitely not that great. This song is really dumb, but it is also about Summer, and that's cool. Because it IS summer! Wowee! It's actually kind of a cute song that's maybe okay, but none of these kinds of groups have staying power.

"High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey is kind of a country artist, but also kind of a pop artist, and also kind of popular, but this hits that summer listenability vibe pretty hard. Great great background music for like, waiting in a lobby, half-listening on a lifeguard's personal pool radio, or just riding in your mom's Hyundai. Will it last? Kacey Musgraves is an up and coming artist. I'm going to make a definitive statement in saying, "That's a hard maybe, young one."

"Body" by Loud Luxury ft. brando

Little known fact, Loud Luxury got the actual Ghost of Marlon Brando to contribute to this track. This song is almost as old as Brando himself, but is an engaging jam with a subtly sexy video that I heard once this week and could not ignore. For it is great. I will never hear this song again.

"I Like It" by Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny

Does Cardi B have cue cards when she sings? Like, does she learn English songs phonetically? I'm amazed by her articulation while rapping and singing but her ridiculous thick accent whenever she does interviews. I'm not sure this jam will surpass "Bodak Yellow" but it's getting close, and it's one of the better of her solo efforts. It's of course one of 15,000 tracks she's featured on this summer.

"Psycho" by Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign

I don't know what's going on with this song - it's like it was super popular a few months ago, then is like, still popular or popular again right now? The flow is so damn good. It's an easy song to fake sing-along to while you slur the words together on some white boy sizzurp. "Got so many bottles give ugly girls a sip" is also the greatest line since "gotta eat the booty like groceries."

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5

Continuing its climb, this track is growing more and more, and more importantly, I got angry when I caught only snippets of this jam this week. Girl power combined with supportive boy power. It's ultimately a pretty sweet song and one of Maroon 5's good ones. It's amazing to think of a more mainstream popular band in the past 15 years. Thank The Voice and Adam Levine being crazily likable.

"Nice for What" by Drake

"Nice for What" will likely end up getting some nice numbers by summer's end, because it keeps poking its head up here and there. For all Drake's bluster this summer it's telling that all it takes is the most perfectly timed beat drop and "DEEESE HO'S" in music history to take a shot at Summer Jam Kingship. It likely won't happen, but it works this week. Actually this jam is underrated as hell.

Next week...

This is the first week this summer to snub both Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande. This could certainly return. Ariana even dropped a new jam, "God is a Woman" this week. I also really liked Jay Rock's "ES Tales." I've been listening to so much Jay Rock this summer. We've still got quite a few more weeks of Summer to go, even if I think Camila has an insurmountable lead. Stay tuned, people!

13 July 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3 and Skyscraper

July is a surprisingly lax month as far as movies go. Maybe Hollywood is learned from the bloat of a few years ago where solid films like Jason Bourne (2016) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) were totally ignored because they all ran into each other. Can you believe Star Trek Beyond was only two years ago? How did that happen? I was literally think it was 2014 or something before I looked it up. That's disturbing and probably needs its own post about how easily we can turn on a franchise and ignore good work they do. That movie did have a lot of problems, but...okay, I'm getting really distracted by an offhand remark.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018). Alright, so I'm going to be pretty bold here and make the claim that the Hotel Transylvania movies are totally underrated. It is a sincerely weird amalgamation of Adam Sandler and his buddies making childrens' monster films for some reason, but under the guidance of Genndy Tartakovsky, whose animation style guided my entire childhood through Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not the lack of the definite article - The Clone Wars is the CGI show. Moving on...). All this mixes together for a really irreverent and fun animation style. It is a little obnoxious in that soulless Dreamworks pop-culture spouting kind of way instead of that sweet, timeless Pixar kind of way, but it's also SONY Animation, which is its own animal.

I actually really dig the SONY Computer animation films because they aren't afraid to actually be cartoons. Pixar tends to ground its films - they are exciting, funny, and certainly wondrous in ways that only animation can do, but they're hardly ever slapstick. There isn't much Looney Tunes heritage there. No piano drops or flexible reality. Even Dreamworks tend to sly away from this kind of tone. SONY for some reason does that really well, and everyone tends to ignore it. I suppose that's why more profitable studios steer away - either no one but me actually cares or no one else even enjoys it. Or notices.

This blog has been leaning pretty hard into some Adam Sandler love, too, and if you look at my latest movies watched...it's a lot of Sandler lately. And we all seem to constantly forget the fact that Sandler is capable of phenomenal voice work. This includes Sandler himself - he doesn't do nearly enough legitimate vocal work or songs. It's another reason why his personal interests always seem so selfish and frustrating. His Dracula, though is spot on and brilliant, and for some reason, Tartakovsky also animates him exactly as a young Adam Sandler-as-Count Dracula would look like.

Having said all that, I mean, yeah, the plots for all these films are ridiculously thin, the jokes are really easy and obvious, and there's not a tremendous amount of thematic depth anywhere. They are kids films but unlike Pixar, kids films that are tough for adults to get into. They're explicitly juvenile. On some level that should be fine - kids can enjoy them for their own merit, but I think the greater critical and Internet cultural community has ignored them. And to be fair, while I am a big fan of all their technical work - animation, direction, and vocals, literally everything else is awful, which makes them tough to slog through.

I mean, Summer Vacation looks really bad. On its face it's a total cash grab. And we're not even starved for kids animation hits - Incredibles 2 (2018) just passed the $500 million mark. It's amazing that that film, with 14 years in between installments has built up a fan base far surpassing anything Hotel Transylvania (2012) could hope to do. Amazing when you make a well-structured, four-quadrant film, with heart and hope, it can actually connect with people and build goodwill year after year. THAT'S when you drop the cash-grab sequel, SONY. Get it together.

So yeah, I don't see Summer Vacation making much of a splash commercially or culturally, and surely not critically. Still, it'll do okay, lest we forget that Hotel Transylvania was the highest grossing September release for five straight years until surpassed by IT (2017) last fall. This of course doesn't compare to Sweet Home Alabama (2002), which held the September record for ten years before that. That's right. Come to Norwegian Morning Wood to learn all about obscure Box Office Record history. Still, this is July, not September. Summer Vacation won't be nearly as notable.

Next we have Skyscraper (2018). Props to the Rock for trying to launch all these franchises, and between this, Rampage (2018), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), and the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw (2019), his action hero status is pretty secure. As if it wasn't already. I am more concerned, however, about the opposite. Is Dwayne diluting his brand by appearing in a major original (or semi-original) action franchise every three months? I don't know a single soul excited about Skyscraper. In fact, I barely know what it's about.

It's basically like San Andreas (2015), right? Just the Rock like, fighting buildings falling down? I should go watch the trailer. Here, I'll post it because you haven't seen it, either:



It all feels kind of generic, right? "Courage has no limits" could be the tagline for literally every movie ever. Except maybe A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012). Cool that the building is really tall and on fire and Johnson's got a cripple leg - that actually brings the Rock down from god status quite a bit, although it doesn't seem to impair him like....at all.

My deeper impression of this film is that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The premise seems outrageous - a vertical city under attack by Terrorists, or maybe an inside job, or whatever. This could easily get into Snowpiercer (2013) territory where reality is thrown out the window in favor of exploring some wacky themes that still end with some potent bite. Skyscraper, though, also seems impeccably earnest. I talked about this a little bit when watching Blood Fest (2018) - the impossibility of telling a straight story these days. It should be possible, I think sincerity is slowly coming back and there does seem to be an increasing movement away from cynicism, irony, and sarcasm into more genuine moments, everywhere from comedy to major motion pictures, but that also seems to be playing out in different parts of the country.

See, I see this failing on the East Coast. We're still very much a jaded and eye-rolling bunch. I can, however, see this succeeded in more rural or Southern parts of the country that would like to just sit down and watch a movie where good guys fight bad guys in a big burning tower. It's an easy concept to wrap your head around. I think it's too simple and undeveloped for more experienced (some would say arrogant) movie-goers. Maybe this isn't the right judgment call, but that's the vibe I get. I'd be curious what ya'll think. Am I way off base?

Anyway, I can see this being as significant as we remember Rampage three months on. Do we? It should do fine - there's no real competition around it besides Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and for the record, yeah - that's what I mean when I talk about movies that can't take their premises seriously. That isn't doing crushing numbers, though, so it ought to do fine, if it can bring in any seats at all.

What do you think? What are you watching? There's actually a lot to digest this week. Is it okay to have child-like fun with whimsical monster-based slapstick? Or to truly invest in a straight action film? These are genuine moments, movies for their own sake. One could say a momentous weekend, in fact. What say you?

09 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 9: July Loves

We're getting into the thick of July now - and it looks like our massive swath of chill jams last week worked! The temperature's way down. Way down for those sweet summer feels. Listen, I know my method is totally flawed because I listen to terrestrial radio like some kind of caveman. I actually checked out a little bit of Spotify this week. I know, crazy, right? So much Drake on the Top 50. What is wrong with us. I'd like to start incorporating some 2018 methods of musical discovery. For now we've got a bit of a mix going on.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Boys" by Lizzo



It seems like this summer is filled with songs about boys and girls. It's as if everyone wants to bang each other. Charlie XCX's "Boys" might be the better song and sexier boy-driven video but Lizzo brings an attitude all her own plus a dynamite electric guitar breakdown. She's had a couple tracks but no real big hits as of yet. She reminds me of a Meghan Trainor who isn't trying as hard.

"SAD!" by XXXTENTACION

The death of XXXTentacion is sad in the general sense that all senseless deaths are sad, but I still have very little idea who this guy is. He definitely seems like a piece of shit, but this song is kind of hot. There has a lot of XXXTentacion attencion in the wake of his untimely death and this jam does have a nice hook to it. It's ultimately not all that great, though. This is so damn harsh. His death is sad, for sure, but that doesn't suddenly make him a great musician. It's not like we're suddenly appreciating Verne Troyer's great contributions to cinema.

"The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris

I have ceased to like this song, but it crept up everywhere again this week. This was probably just a chance encounter, driven by terrestrial radio too afraid to engage with popular new millennial music. I mean, it's so old. I might as well put the latest Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valley song on this list. If we're looking at a slice of America, though, we've got to include it. "The Middle" impacted peoples' lives this week. My life. Through anger.

"IDGAF" by Dua Lipa

Call this another slow burn track I guess, although my enjoyment is growing. Somehow it's still fresh to me. I suppose because I wasn't into it for a while, and now my ears are tuned in. I know, I know - what's next - a caveman banging on sticks? It's also not very popular on Spotify, but Spotify is like, all Drake and XXXTentacion. What is that about.

"Bed" by Nicki Minaj ft. Ariana Grande

I have a better name for this song - "Boobs" by Boobs ft. Boobs. Jeez boobs. Sorry, I will try to focus. This song is okay, for the record I dug "The Light is Coming" quite a bit more, but this had some increased airplay along with a new video this week. Nicki's other songs never quite took off this summer despite a big push and a lot of effort to launch them. I don't think Nicki is quite passé yet, but she's definitely not the hot new voice she used to be. So, boobs instead. Those are still pretty good.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

I finally started hearing this jam on the radio after getting really into it last month. It's not really positioned to be a dominant song of any kind, but could be a mid-range jam for a couple weeks if it keeps up its upward trajectory. Also on Spotify.

"I Like It" by Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny, J Balvin

The #1 Billboard song in the country somehow and definitely growing into a significant crossover jam, I'm curious if this becomes a definitive Cardi jam. We've got "Bodak Yellow" for sure, and I dug "Be Careful" but she's gotten more notoriety from featuring on every single song ever made in 2018 than a lot of her own stuff. And okay, I was harsh on this and Cardi a few weeks ago but it's fully grown on me. It might even challenge Ari and Camila for some Summer Queen status come September.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

How can we list "Never Be the Same" and not "No Tears Left to Cry"?! Well, Camila continued being everywhere this week. Ariana was still kind of everywhere, but ultimately just got squeezed out. Again, this is a terrestrial radio thing. Billboard and Spotify seem to have already left this track behind. I don't buy that, though. I heard this more than anything else this week, and a few weeks like this getting ahead of Camila bodes really well for Camila's crown. I'll admit I'm getting kind of sick of this, though.

Next week...

I don't know. I'll keep listening to Spotify. I left off Ariana and Bebe this week, along with this Chaka Khan "Like Sugar" song which is funky as hell. There are still a lot of other artists vying to break in, like the Carters and Juice WRLD and Offset and Post Malone and a lot of other crappy to mid-range artists making crappy to mid-range music. Stay summered, people!

06 July 2018

An Ant-Man and A Wasp

Boy, it's been a while since a Marvel movie, hasn't it?! Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) makes it three on the year for the studio that's having a non-stop party rolling in billion-dollar bills. Well, only three billion dollar bills. That's still pretty good.

BBF: Best Bug Friends
We may not see the same kind of insane numbers for Ant-Man and The Wasp as we did for Black Panther (2018) and Infinity War (2018), though. Then again, I'm not sure anyone expected Black Panther to be the film to actually outperform Infinity War (and currently rule Marvel's all-time domestic tally. Ant-Man (2015) followed Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) in similar fashion - providing an entertaining little mid-level clever side jaunt from all the dread and serious world-ending of the main storyline.

In this way these films have done better than anything else at world-building on the periphery of the big name Marvel folks like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. That's a weird sentence to say, but that's where we are now. Ant-Man made about the same as Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), THOR (2011), and a bit better than The Incredible Hulk (2008). It's thus a weird reminder that these films weren't ALWAYS box office juggernauts (still, $180 million isn't anything to laugh at). It serves its role well, though, which is just having some fun.

In the wake of Infinity War where everybody died, it's nice to have a little reprieve. It's a pallet cleanser. Just some madcap heist fun. At the same time, though, it's notable to check in with Paul Rudd's Scott Lang, who did appear in CIVIL WAR (2016) and was observably absent from Infinity War. That alone has piqued some curiosity - where exactly was he and why not in on the action? Does Ant-Man and The Wasp even take place before or after half the world went ploof? There are some serious implications there. I could probably look this up easily, and you may even know, but I'm INFINITE-ly curious yuck yuck.

This how this series has become self-sufficient. I don't really care about Ant-Man. I didn't even see the first one in the theaters. BUT it's still a way to keep involved in this overall grand story they're telling. And to be fair, Marvel seems to have done a better job lately of only peripherally tying in stories, but Infinity War was so monumental and game-changing that its universal implications can't be ignored.

Having said all that, this film does have some exciting merits on its own. Besides Paul Rudd being the greatest superhero ever, a supporting cast of Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, Lawrence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Evangeline Lilly is pretty spectacular. Let's focus on those last two:

Fist, Pfeiffer. She's obviously an immortal 90s actress, but I've actually dug her a lot in some terrible recent movies like Dark Shadows (2012), The Family (2013), and mother! (2017). It's this rare older actress career resurgence that's been wonderful. She's also one of the original superheroines (villains, probably?) from Batman Returns (1992). You what this means, right? Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer are now both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There's your Infinity War 2 (2019) right there. Can we get Danny DeVito to play Mole Man and Chris Walken to play Tyrannus in some underground war Hulk movie? We need to get into the weird underground Kingdoms, people. I want that movie now.

Anyway, Pfeiffer plays the original Wasp, who was lost to the Quantum Realm by taking Steve Martin's advice and I guess she's back. There are a lot of theorists out there that think this Quantum business of existing in multiple states at once is the key to solving the Thanos flinger snapping riddle, which is super-possible.

If the Pfeiff is the original marvel heroine (sidebar, we've got Peggy Carter, Wonder Woman 1984 [2019], and a 90s-set Captain Marvel [2019], why the hell are we afraid of contemporary female heroines), then Evangeline Lilly is good to take up the current mantle, sharing the spotlight with Paul Rudd in a way expanded capacity here that looks to be more than a cheeky War Machine-style sidekick. She's a great character and has been a huge comic and cartoon show presence for years.

Not only this, people, but we get a sweet villain who isn't a carbon copy of the hero - Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen. I don't know too much about the actress, but Ghost is a real bitch of a villain with a power set that's complimentary, not derivative of Ant-Man. She phases and turns intangible, Ant-Man avoids capture by shrinking. She's a tech whiz that can interface with tech, Lang's shrinks and fixes shit manually. It's a nice diversion from usual Marvel doppelganger crap. Also how do you catch a Ghost? Proton packs?! It's all fun and weird and clever and out there in a way that feels really refreshing right now.

What do you think? This certainly shouldn't present any tough moral challenge or arduous blockbuster to ponder on in darkness, but looks like the kind of summer fun very few other studios understand right now. I mean...Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom (2018). It may not be something we're discussing years down the line, but does that even matter anymore? At this point it's all more garbage on the same pile. What say you?

03 July 2018

Let's Talk Zohan

This post is coming out of left field but it's been weighing on me quite a bit for the last ten years.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008).

Yeah, that Adam Sandler Israeli Counterterrorist / Hairdresser film. If you'll indulge me and have nothing better to do while celebrating America this week, let's talk about this film, its legacy, and one of the strangest fictional realities ever.

I saw this in theaters on June 6th, 2008. I really really hated it. At the time it seemed like it was truly Sandler burning his last bridge. As a child of the 80s, I was obviously a big fan of the artist. To this day, Billy Madison (1995) remains an insane nostalgia trip because every single kid in the third-grade class looks exactly like the kids in my elementary school. These mid-90s movies excelled on a level of absurd surrealism, often venturing into some pretty dark comedy treated with excess glee. They're obviously juvenile, but exhibit a lot of heart as well.

Also somehow Sandler got ripped for this
Sandler tried his hand at a few other genres at this time, and it's almost easy to forget how great he was in a supporting role in Airheads (1994) or his budding action career with Bulletproof (1996). Keep that in the back of your mind, because some of his future roles, including Zohan seem to be aching to get back to that action ideal. I recall The Waterboy (1998) being the first significant step over the line. As Sandler became more powerful and less people told him "No, Adam, this is retarded," he ironically acted more and more retarded. The Waterboy is outrageous and obnoxious in every way.

He scaled back a little with Big Daddy (1999), which is nutty, but grounded, then went full retard again with Little Nicky (2000), which was really too extreme for most people and arguably the definitive film that turned many off the juvenile insanity of the Adam Sandler brand. You can see his reaction in 2002 where he dropped his first serious acting attempt with Punch-Drunk Love, a more Big Daddy-style grounded comedy with Mr. Deeds, and a step back from the direct spotlight with the animated Eight Crazy Nights. These are all trying different things, but you see that oscillation between the really insane, in-your-face reality of Waterboy / Little Nicky style comedies and the more grounded Big Daddy / Mr. Deeds comedies.

For the rest of the 2000s this is really apparent. Anger Management (2003) and 50 First Dates (2004) are based mostly in our reality where Sandler is at least a believable human character. The Longest Yard (2005) is more an ensemble comedy that definitely lays ground rules with significant consequences and although ostensibly the protagonist, Sandler's Paul Crewe is a fairly passive character, allowing every zany inmate around him to get the most laughs. I'll be the first to admit I still have never watched I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) because why would you, ever? But my impression is that it fits more in that grounded vein, even as it tries to find a way to show compassion towards homosexuals in the least compassionate way possible.

I will give Chuck and Larry some credit, though, for missing the mark so hard that films had a tougher time from then on explicitly exploiting gay panic for laughs. There are still instances everywhere, of course, but there is a cultural attitude shift of that being more unfortunate and cringe-worthy than in some pretty rough 90s, mid-2000s films, and well, movies from every other time period.

As we're leading up to Zohan we kind of see this diversification of critical applause. That's a nice way of saying some of these movies are great, but many begin some significant misfires. And critics aren't the best word, but more like, those idiot 90s Sandler fans (me) start to realize, "Hey....this sucks." No where is this more apparent with Click (2006). I was excited for this because it looked really goofy, but it fails in that grounded vs. outrageous reality discussion. It wants to be both. On the surface it's a rational family comedy / drama (it definitely contains some of the heaviest Sandler drama ever, and he followed it up with Reign Over Me [2007], which no one saw, it's okay), but more than any other Sandler film it explicitly plays with reality, to Sandler's character's whim. Damn this movie is depressing and heart-wrenching. It's a goofy reality-shifting comedy! How did this happen?!

Finally, Zohan. I think I still had Click and Chuck and Larry in my mouth (never a good taste), and a this point it was kind of like, "Well, he has enough Billy Madison goodwill for me to give him ONE more chance, but I expect this to suck." And yeah, it was rough. Zohan always felt like one bizarre inside joke. It was an examination of the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict (clearly timeless fodder for comedy), with a mix of Middle-Eastern electronics sales, hummus, and hacky sack jokes? It was as if it was using all these stereotypes that no one really knew were stereotypes. Disco disco fizzy bubbler? And it's kind of like "...okay, we'll roll with it."

This is of course, because all that's true. Zohan is essentially based on an inside joke between Sandler and Robert Smigel first conceived as the Sabra Shopping Network on SNL. It all makes you feel really lost when watching for the first time. Everything and every stance is assumed and the characters are so within their own world with little room to invite in any kind of audience surrogate. In the past ten years of reflection, though...I've realized this is kind of brilliant.

See, there's no straight man here. Every single character is completely insane. Maybe Emmanuelle Chriqui. But that's it. Sandler actually plays a well-developed, calm, and reasonable character as opposed to his normal off-the-wall man screaming man child. Where it gets its kicks, though, is what the Zohan is capable of. He's basically an unstoppable superhero whose powers are never explained besides him being Israeli and that being awesome. That alone is a kind of wild idea - there really aren't many other cool Jews on screen that don't descend into stereotypes.

Again, there are stereotypes here, but it's like, putting hummus in coffee and loving Mariah Carey. Are these things? They come off more as running jokes than anything else in this movie. This movie probably wasn't the best avenue for a frank discussion of the Middle-Eastern struggle in America, the casual relationship between terrorists and Hezbollah, and the price of thousands of years of conflict and violence. Again, easy comedy fodder. The film goes out of its way towards humanizing both Israeli and Palestinian characters, and I'd say did a really nice job of casting some actors of genuine Middle-Eastern descent except for a ridiculous amount of whitewashing. Rob Schneider in brownface is particularly cringe-worthy, but John Turturro, Smigel, and Sandler himself are all pretty rough. There is some excuse for the Israelis, since there is a contingent of white Jews who have returned to the country, but it's kind of a Jack Black Nacho Libre (2006) thing, where it's simply a weak excuse to give brown roles to white actors.

It's all part of this film trying to be a lot of different things. The Israelis and Palestinians do find some way to co-exist in America, and there are cogent arguments for both sides of the conflict. It's all surrounded by a bizarre reality of hummus hoses, stopping bullets with your teeth, and making a severed hand come to life and stab a terrorist in the back. To some extent it might be saying that true Peace in the Middle-East is as much a fantasy as John Turturro running around upside-down on the ceiling.

More importantly, though, as I reflect, unlike Click or even The Waterboy and Little Nicky, the outrageous reality comes across pretty smooth. It tends to stick to its own fairly bent rules, and like I mentioned, that lived-in quality comes across pretty clear. Besides Chriqui, we briefly get Nick Swardson as our surrogate before he cries and screams like a baby drinking milk and is ejected from the club. There's also the unabashed old lady-fucking, which is simultaneously played for gross laughs, but also somehow really genuine. It works because Zohan is never banging these old broads to get a laugh or a rise out of his friends. He bangs them because he truly believes they are beautiful and deserve the gift of his banging. That's borderine toxic masculinity (magic man dick solving all of women's problems), but the intent is consistently genuine and there's even moments of sincere vulnerability when he realizes he's in love with Chriqui.

It's also a wonder of writing that the physically invulnerable Zohan still has many emotional flaws and weaknesses. It's like a Superman story where Superman doesn't want to be Superman. That jaded emotional drainage and fear of his true love (cutting hair) being embarrassing or (to go back to the perils of toxic masculinity) feminine and thus demoting his social stature among his peers, family, and enemies is all pretty potent. It's actually a remarkably simple idea, albeit one that would seem to exist in direct confrontation with all the Middle-Eastern conflict and American immigrant experience ideas, but it's a kind of deeper surrealness that makes it work.

It was a Black Wasp!
This is best shown with the villains, who range from casually racist to explicitly racist, which in 2018 seem like precursors to the neo-Nazi movement that's emerged more on the surface of American politics. For some reason Dave Matthews is the head Nazi. I don't know. It's one of the first instances of now-common Sandler movie stunt casting that also includes Michael Buffer as Walbridge, an insane real estate developer who loves screaming his own name at board meetings and talking about how his girlfriend as the perfect Tits to Ass ratio. Watching this in 2018 also really really feels like Walbridge = Trump. I mean...it really could just be Trump. Casual Nazi ties, obsession with the superficial, a ruthless businessman with no love for immigrants. Walbridge is fucking Trump, people. It's way to easy to picture Trump screaming about "THE RATIO!" as he's carted off to jail, as if that's what he's more obsessed about. Except in real life, not the fantasy of Zohan, villains like Trump won't ever be arrested.

This stunt casting would peak with That's My Boy (2012), which blended the grounded and insane realities of Sandler again. That's a film that gleefully revels in its offensiveness, but also has the heart of an absurdly impossible father-son relationship. Since Zohan Sandler has definitively gone downhill. Despite parodying and critiquing his own career with Funny People (2009), somehow the premises of his films have gotten worse. There's a few categories Sandler films now fall into. You have these big ensemble comedies like the Grown-Ups movies and Pixels (2015), more adult-oriented romantic comedies like Just Go With It (2011) and Blended (2014), off the wall traditional Sandler comedies like Jack and Jill (2011) that eventually retreated to Netflix, the Hotel Transylvania series, and finally, a continued attempt at taking more serious roles like The Cobbler (2014) and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017). He's actually pretty great in the latter.

None of these films struck the balance of Zohan, or hit the pointed global political commentary. I give the film some credit for attempting to address such a serious issue in such an obscenely goofy way. It's a really bold film that at least tries to humanize its insane characters that totally exists in its own flexible reality that's continuously surprising, adventures, and in the end pretty fun. There are some damn awful racial considerations looking back ten years on, but looking back it's also weird to think of it as a high mark. Is it the last great Sandler film that's a straight solo comedy? Maybe the only great Sandler comedy of the past twenty years? These are all questions up for debate.

What do you think of the Zohan? It's got Billy Madison guts.
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