27 August 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 16: Bitch Ima Cow

A true tragedy has struck this nation. Only one more week of summer, baby! Also a lot of other real terrible crap. There's nothing like some chill Summer Jams to melt your troubles down to the bone and let us all remember that the real truth of existence is meaningless - awww yeah, baby! Let's get to the countdown!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Mooo!" by Doja Cat

So, "Go to Town" is probably better, but way older. I think this is satire. I...I hope this is satire. It was rough listening to this as some other folk walked in the room this week. I think it's actually literal, like not saying either that women are cows or a play on the male gaze, but just, like a real song that a playful cow might sing. This also has the worst production values of all time. It's great end of summer listening while you fire up the grill for those burgers!

"Honestly" by Gabbie Hanna

This isn't really a song I've heard anywhere, but it came across my desk, you know, where I do all my important work. This just rang to me like an old 2000s pop ballad and I really dug it. It has no Summer Jam chances and exists purely as a way for me to give Gabbie Hanna a shout out. She looks like a weird Maya Rudolph.

"Hopless Romantic" by Wiz Khalifa ft. Swae Lee

Let's add to the late summer pile of non-hits before we get into the real meat here. This crept up on my this week but it's been around for a little while now. Swae Lee owns this track and I dig the rhythm. It weirdly makes me reflect on our digital age, scrolling through our phones lying in bed before we sleep and again the first thing in the morning. Romance in 2018, people.

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

So, at least one more week this comes up, but down a little lower. This is an impressive run that encapuslated nearly the entire summer. We can also start talking about this as one of Maroon 5's greatest hits ever, which is certainly impressive company to be around. (currently their third track to peak at #2, they've also had three #1's). And if I may editorialize (surely for the first time ever), it's their highest ranked song that I've actually liked, so there's that.

"Sicko Mode" by Travis Scott

Anyone follow any of the Nicki Minaj drama this week? She's apparently blaming Travis Scott, Spotify, you, me, anyone else for her album debuting at #2. I've been calling her thirsty all summer but didn't even know about this ridiculous shit. She does seem hella desperate for a piece of the Summer Jam Queen crown. She probably follows Norwegian Morning Wood. I wouldn't say that Scott has really dominated Summer, either, only because Astroworld more neatly follows the paradigm shift of Spotify whole album streams that more appeal to the young people (indeed, "Sicko Mode" is barely a single, and certainly not played on the radio). I'm curious what comes out of this and if Scott becomes a household name. Clearly his current success needs to go somewhere now.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

Yep. What do you want for me? Sweetener actually surpassed Astroworld this week, because obviously it did, and that pushed up the biggest single off her album. I still really dig it and just about anything else Ariana is doing right now. It's great. Take your crown. Or wait until next week.

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

I almost left this off until I heard it three times today, and #1 according to the man most in tune with America's musical preferences, Ryan Seacrest. Anyway, I've never given this song enough credit to actually sample as well as it does, mix in Latino influences, and rise to the top. It's no slouch, and a great late run is the closest Cardi has to a genuine Summer Queen status. I'm sure this is has nothing to do with Nicki's meltdown.

"No Brainer" by Bieber, Khaled, others

Yeah, putting this in the number one spot this week was a... NO BRAINER! Totally in the minority, though, I heard #1's this week anywhere from Cardi B to Drake to Travis Scott to "Boo'd Up." "No Brainer" totally. It hit that nice stride of freshness and ubiquity where I knew it enough to get into it, but it still felt pretty new. Whatever you want to say, Bieber has found a niche here for some reason, and hearing Chance the Rapper belt out some real Chance the Rapper-sounding lines the week the trailer dropped for yes, our #1 most anticipated movie of 2018, Slice was well... a no brainer.

Next week...

I've been pretty close to placing both "Delicate" and "APESHIT" on these lists both of the last two weeks. For some reason they can't push over the edge. We've got only one more week, though, people. WHO WILL BE SUMMER JAM CHAMPION?! You've got to come back next week - some Norwegian Time, same Morning Wood place!

21 August 2018

Against the Crowd Blog-A-Thon 2018

We here at Norwegian Morning Wood are always very excited to jump in on someone else's great idea, so here's our First Ever participation in Dell on Movies' 2018 Blog-A-Thon.

Here are the rules, as per that site. I should note that I was turned on to this by the blog, Surrender to the Void.

1. Pick one movie that "everyone" loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of 75% or more on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that "everyone" hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of 35% or less on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the tomato meter scores of both movies.

4. Use one of the banners in this post, or feel free to create your own.

5. Let us know what two movies you intend on writing about in one of the following ways:
Comment on this or any ACB 2018 post on this site
Tweet me @w_ott3
E-mail me: dellott@yahoo.com

6. Publish your post on any day from Monday August 20 through Sunday August 26, 2017.

So, let's get into this. My choices were instantly easy, because I just saw a movie that was highly recommended to me that I thought I'd love but I hated and there is of course the old staple that I love that no one else does.

Let's begin!

Movie Everyone Loves: Eastern Promises (2007)
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel

Hidalgo himself, Viggio Morgenstein!

I enjoyed every single actor and crewmember involved in this and was pretty excited to watch it for the first time in the year 2018. Totally late to the party, but hey, I acknowledge that, and I sat down to enjoy some great Russian gangsters. A few weeks later I'd struggle to even recall the plot to you. It's all over the place with a large amount of characters that wouldn't be a problem, but tend to be able to stand in with each other. It's a sprawling, multi-decade narrative puzzle that never quite comes together, but it's really hampered by having no one character to anchor the film. Is it Viggo? Naomi? Anyone else? Every character feels on the periphery of their own movie.

Maybe that's the point - creating a world that we get as lost in as the characters. It IS Cronenberg and we shouldn't necessarily expect a traditional narrative, but I did not care about what happened. There are some great scenes of tension, especially in the first half, and the naked sauna fight is some spectacular choreography. Other than that it feels like a big MacGuffin race that never pays off.

Movie Everyone Hates: The Lone Ranger (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%
Director: Gore Verblinski
Stars: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, Tom Wilkinson

This train don't stop for no one

You know that I always appreciate moments to rant about how much I love The Lone Ranger. This is the kind of movie that popular nerd crowds always want out of a blockbuster. It's bombastic, clever, politically intriguing, has a strong message, doesn't care about Hollywood rules, and doesn't have any superheroes in it. Yet it's reviled.

There's this public domain aspect that Patrick H. Williams just critiqued better than I ever could. He essentially says what I've been hammering for years - that even though these properties have superficial name recognition, no one actually knows or cares about the historical narratives associated with them. We don't need a gritty revisionist Lone Ranger when no one can remember the last Lone Ranger and why this would be new, different, or we should care.

It's easy for me to get past all that. I don't care about the cultural context, although if you read this site, you'll know that's integral to our greater relationship to a given film. All this texture got in the way of text with The Lone Ranger and we ignored what should have been a riotous good summer blockbuster. It's iconic, fun, exciting, full of important stakes, epic in every sense of the word, and leans on the William Tell Overture with aplomb. I've ranted in much more detail over the years, so check that out if this is your first time snooping around here.

This was fun - feel free to scrooch and spread this on your own site for the Blog-A-Thon! And read Dell on Movies and Surrender to the Void!

20 August 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 15: A Good Taste

August is rounding the corner, baby and it's time for some hip-hop. There's still a weird mix in there and I have no explanation for our #1 Jam this week. We've rounded another corner in our mix, though, and the mix of songs here rounds corners like no other mix we've ever cornered. It's amazing how round these corners are.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Best Hugs" by D.R.A.M.

There were some high profile jams this week like Cardi B's "Ring" and a new Janet Jackson song that looks really sad and pathetic. So obvi "Best Hugs" wins. I actually legitimately dig this song. It's pretending to be so sweet but it's definitely DRAM trying to smash. We can get into it, though! Watermelons! Old orgies. It's a perfect summer song.

"Smile" by Lil Duval ft. Snoop Dogg, Ball Greezy

This has been around for a month or so but popped up on my radar this week. I tuned into Snoop, who seems perfectly content to hop on guest spots in random tracks like this and yet has the same smooth, carefree tones he's had for twenty-five years. Truly the Dogfather of Rap, baby. Also "Live your best life" has become a sort of Millennial catch-phrase, which this track captures nicely. So, at this point none of these new songs have any chance to really make Summer King status, and are mostly just taking up space from other more important songs. I still like this.

"Let You Be Right" by Meghan Trainor

I generally dislike Meghan Trainor, so I was surprised when I liked this jam and it was her. Actually, that happens quite a bit. She does a nice job of working a catchy flow or hook but her subjects tend to trend towards the more superficial and self-serving elements of the current feminist movement without the attitude or actions to fully endorse what she's saying. Anyway, this jam is cool. If it had more legs it could make a nice run here.

"In My Feelings" by Drake

I think "In My Feelings" has finally overtaken "God's Plan" then "Nice for What" to become the definitive Drake Summer Jam. As you can tell, it's been a hell of a summer for the Toronto Degrassi star. "Kiki do you love me" that works. Ultimately this may not work in his favor as his hits are all split up, but as an artist, he's had a ton of separate spots on this list. Cardi B may come close, if not more.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

Back from the dead! Yeah, this is going to push this jam over the edge, I know. Ariana made some rounds last week, since her album, Sweetener is finally dropping. That may have been why this jam popped up again, but I found myself still loving it. Now "Pete Davidson" needs to become a single.

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

Dropping a little but still a fine presence, this has now made a pretty solid splash all things considered. By now it's had a really long presence since it debuted and really caught on, although it may just be cresting in popularity. We'll see where it lands these last few weeks to really make a case for itself.

"Taste" by Tyga ft. Offset

This track has also been around for a little bit but seemed to click this week. Maybe it just takes a few weeks for new hip hop to sink in these days. There seems to be a lot of homogeneity amongst the B-level rappers these days. Anyway, I picture this is all about cunnilingus, which makes me happy. This has popped up here and there this summer, but likely doesn't really have a case to make itself a relevant Summer Jam.

"Africa" by Weezer

So, totally novelty song here, but I heard the Weezer version of "Africa" four times in one day, and after that it just had to be #1. This is totally just Weezer co-opting a popular older song of the moment (there are lots of weird things going on culturally here), and for some reason "Africa" is a huge song right now. I mean, it's good and classic in that obscure way. Good for Toto.

Next week...

Like I said, there were new Cardi B and Janet Jackson songs this week, but they're pretty suck. It's wide open for the next two weeks for anyone to make a dent. I also narrowly left off Taylor Swift's "Delicate" which has trended along the periphery for a while. Maybe Weird Al can put out something sweet. Stay tuned, listeners!

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.


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.


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.
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