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.


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?

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.


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.


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.

02 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 8: Independence Week!

As the nation welcomes July with indiscriminate air explosions and holy shit temperatures, we can let the smooth salty fresh jams of eight great tracks to cool our brows and blow our minds. Yeah... This year we have the Fourth of July on a Wednesday, which basically means we are writing off this whole week. How will you stay cool? These jams:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Crush" by Tessa Violet

I actually listened to this song so much this week it feels like I discovered it years ago. The video is a hypnotic millennial exercise with a really sweet and honest exploration of those first crush feelings. SUMMER Crush feelings?! I really dig this - it could be a breakout for Violet who's been around a while but I don't totally see it becoming a dominant jam or anything.

"Hunnybee" by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Alright, so I threw this on last week as a lark, and then for some reason kept hearing it over and over this week until I was compelled to add it again. No, this isn't really a mainstream hot track. It's a cool track. A cool track for cool cats. Yeah - no fur licking for us. We stay cool just by listening to "Hunnybee."

"Sit Next to Me" by Foster the People

This jam has popped in intermittently, and as both the only rock song I currently like (is it actually rock? Or pop? Pop rock?), along with a jam that crept into my ear again and again this week, here we are. I haven't yet put that much thought into this jam at all, but it is a cool track. If you haven't guessed, we're all about cool tracks this week.

"Yikes" by Kanye

Here is another song that's kind of weirdly positioned as either a Summer Jam track, or frankly, a commercial track at all. It's all about mental health and getting help and the cultural stigma attached to both. It's fairly open for a Kanye song, except for the fact that despite all the accusations about his ego, Kanye's actually one of the most open artists ever. I suppose that's a little ouroboros, but as the lyrics of this track strike me more and more it's a notable track to drop here.

"Bed" by Nicki Minaj ft. Ariana Grande

So, what do you do when "Chun-Li" doesn't quite hit like you wanted it to? Bring on the most popular artist of the moment and drop "The Light is Coming." Oh wait, I meant, switch who is featured on whose song and drop "Bed" instead. Nicki and Ari have partnered up a lot and their chemistry is always fantastic. This could be primed to be pretty good, although I'm not sure its catchy stickiness is really there. But is chill. This week we're

"I Like It" by Cardi B and lots

I was just reflecting on the fact that Cardi must have filmed like fourteen different video appearances before she got pregnant. In this day an age, she should have just pulled an Ali Wong and went for it, but as you can track my dealing with this song over the past few weeks I think I've finally come around. It's surging on the charts, too, because everyone loves Cardi B for some reason. She somehow sings with way better English than when she speaks.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

We're a bit past halfway, but can we call it? It's a low down dirty drag race between Camila and Ariana this summer. We'll see who gets crowned Queen unless something really really big comes along. They do keep negating each other, so we'll see. I am kind of just reaching the crest of the wave where I don't much care about this anymore, but for now it's still being played everywhere, so dip.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

Yep. For Independence Week we have women of color in the top four spots and people of color in the Top Five. America! Blatant immigrants, too! Ariana is actually just super Italian, but are Italians white? I don't know. This isn't a productive area of discussion. Productive ariana of discussion. The song is still killing it after I keep doubting it, and it's still Ariana's world - I could have easy thrown "The Light is Coming" on here, too, which may be my fav song of hers at the moment.

Next week...

"IDGAF" was close this week. As was Taylor Swift's "Delicate," which I've kind of ignored so far this summer because it's not all that great. The Carters keep coming out with new stuff, but none of it really does anything for me. Other than that, for some reason we suddenly cared about XXXTencion because of his tragic death, which is hella sad, but I mean...didn't make his songs any better.

Note the harshest NMW comment ever - 07/02/18.
Related Posts with Thumbnails