03 December 2021

First Impressions: No Time to Die

Believe it or not, I watched No Time to Die (2021) as a double-feature at a drive-in with Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). That was two months ago. Let's talk about it! SPOILERS for every Bond movie ever from here on out. To sum up - I liked it. Now let's get into details.

First, superlatives and history and all that stuff. Dan Craig is the longest-tenured Bond by a wide margin, having played the role for the better part of 15 years now. And even if NTTD had come out in 2020 like it was supposed to, he would have still held on to it for longer than Roger Moore, who played the role for a mere twelve years. However, he only made five films, which is well short of both Moore and Connery (even if you count Never Say Never Again [1983] or not). Is it weird that Never Say Never Aagain came out the same year as Octopussy (1983)? Can you imagine having like, a Pierce Brosnan knock-off Bond also coming out this year?

Anyway, the less movies in more years thing is assuredly a product of modern movie-making that takes quite a bit longer than just throwing up whatever on a sloppy green screen. This film feels like it's fighting for attention and relevancy amidst all the other modern blockbusters, while it's always good to remember how Bond lead blockbuster filmmaking in so many ways. It was the original franchise, of course, and continually smashed box office records in the 60s and 70s. Somewhere along the way it assuredly started chasing trends rather than creating them - from Moonraker (1979) trying to be Star Wars (1977) to Casino Royale (2006) trying to be The Bourne Identity (2001) you see it over and over again. So, No Time to Die comes at an interesting crossroads - it is both the culmination of the Daniel Craig era, but it's also trying to acknowledge that the Daniel Craig era was an important thing amidst the simultaneous Era of Reboots, Era of Superheroes, Era of Disney Hegemony, and hell, Era of COVID!

The Craig Bonds seemed to eventually find their niche by just making really good movies. It's the Planet of the Apes method - just straight competency porn. Now, I am actually pretty divided on the Craig Bonds - all the odd ones are pretty good, and the even ones are pretty not. They exist in this weird zone where there's actually an attempt at a coherent storyline through all of them, but through a combination of not having a plan, forgetting the plan over fifteen years and four directors, or just the audience forgetting what the hell happened last time (or we didn't know we were supposed to be paying attention), this all got muddled. How many times can we reveal a secret bad guy that has an even more secret and more badder organization than last time? Every time. That's what's up.

No Time to Die centers around Bond and some French woman who I vaguely remember from S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (2015) combatting a dude worse than S.P.E.C.T.R.E. who wants to kill S.P.E.C.T.R.E. There's some fun here and the latest movies have certainly struggled to find a way to bring Bond out of the 60s and into the modern age. That was always the weirdest part of SkyFall (2012), how the progressive female M was killed to pave way for an old fashioned man to take back control. That's a really great movie but the ending is insanely regressive.

Anyway, remember when Bond was old and washed up in SkyFall? That was like nine years ago and he just keeps trying to either retire or die. I love when he's shot on that desert wall and he doesn't care. Like he's been shot so many times it's just annoying to him. But this movie pulls out all the stops and finds a way to be very Bond-like but also break a lot of the mold. He has gadgets and fun tricks, which have creeped their way up through the Craig Era as it became less ashamed of its pulp, but also Bond has a kid, loses his 007 designation, and then also he dies. Spoiler, although I think he plausibly escaped. Or at least this iteration of Bond is dead forever. Someone keenly pointed out it's the exact same ending as The Rock (1996), which is just great.

So, Rami Malek is a poison-loving dude who makes a nanobot virus that insta-kills specifically coded DNA in close contact. There is some fun when he gets revenge on S.P.E.C.T.R.E. when you think S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is going to kill Bond, although for a major villainous organization that's been supposedly behind everything in this whole franchise, they go out like a bunch of punks. So does Blofield, but I was never that hyped about Christoph Waltz being Bond's long lost brother, so whatever. Bond has to save the day, but for once in his life there isn't an escape. There's no raft to make out with the girl in as it floats away. It's very clear that Craig is so done with this franchise and unabashedly had no desire to return. But also, it's certainly been long enough.

It makes me consider the Era as a whole, and like I said, most of these films have been very good. But Casino Royale feels downright ancient. Remember when they just tried to capitalize on the poker craze? Poker and parkour with a ton of shaky cam - that is such a mid-2000s escapade. I mentioned the competency, this, SkyFall, and to a lesser extent S.P.E.C.T.R.E., really reveled in breathtaking vistas, unique lairs, and a huge sense of scope that I REALLY noticed after watching Venom 2. SkyFall probably still has an edge, but NTtD is easily the second-best looking cinematic Bond of all time, which is saying something for this franchise that is not dying any time soon.

So, how did everyone do? Daniel Craig is fine, he really knows the ins and outs of this character by now, and I've liked the bent that this series has taken where we're not totally letting Bond get away with his trauma and alcoholism. There are the wry one-liners of course, but in this context he's always hiding some significant pain that creates this underlying sadness. Or you can just take the surface level fun.

Lea Seydoux is fine. I guess. It's not much of a role and she's mostly pouty. Ana de Armas is so underused, she really just bursts in, kicks a bunch of dudes in a slit dress and then bounces. I don't totally know why she was even there, but I will always take some Ana de Armas in my life.

Let's spend a little time talking about Lashana Lynch, tho - she takes over the 007 mantle from Bond, and she's fine and all, but I never really got the sense that she was suave or charismatic enough to handle that responsibility. I didn't think she was that great in Captain Marvel (2019), either and thought she was a weird choice here. Now, it's become tough to criticize this diversity move, and I am sure that I will come off as an old racist, but if Lynch is the person to pull this off, the film never gave her a chance to show what she can do. It's ultimately another regressive film flaunting its diversity in an attempt to appear progressive. She even kowtows to Bond near the end, rescinding her 007 designation back to him, which was wholly unnecessary. She needed a bit more to do if she was going to earn this mantle transition. Ultimately the movie was just too packed with Craig goodbyes to make it a transition film, and I'm not sure that's even what they wanted to do.

I don't think they are moving towards having a black woman Bond, I mean, I guess they could, but what makes Bond Bond is the fact that he's a privileged womanizing asshole. I mean...Archer. And I'm not saying this as a way of complementing the character or saying his maleness and whiteness are sacrosanct, but they do inform that specific character, for better or worse (and the Craig Bonds have done a better job highlighting the worse), and it'd be hard to have the same character played by a different gender or ethnicity. I know I'm going to get in trouble for this. That's okay. A black female spy movie would be great, but create a character that's informed by that background. Ultimately it comes down to brand awareness more than anything, so we as loyal manjamunching consumers need to just consume a product with a new character and we'll be all good.

Finally, there's Rami. He's a good actor, I guess, but even though he's a great natural villain, he seemed miscast here. I think the producers were excited to get him hot off an Oscar win and again, he was just born to be a Bond Villain. But he's a little too young here, especially for someone who supposedly encountered Lea Seydoux as a young girl. Malek is only four years older than Seydoux. I remember that's what took me out of Oldboy (2003), too. The ages just don't line up. Also, Malek is 40?! I lowkey thought that dude was like 25, although yeah, I guess he's been around for a while.

But I also struggled to understand his motivation, like, yeah he was pissed at Blofield for killing his parents, but why did he want to destroy the world? They kind of brush past that, and it never seems that strong. Or how he got his face scars. I guess he got burned at some point. Probably got too close to some hamburgers on the grill and they jumped up and got his face.

So, anyway, I really liked this movie. It looked great, it had an engaging, if not convoluted plot, but this is James Bond after all. The character work is solid, even though I complained, and they find a way to make a sixty-year old regressive dinosaur character feel relevant and interesting. It's cool. The Craig Bond just spanned so many eras of blockbuster filmmaking, and we're headed into the murkiest post-COVID world yet.

02 November 2021

I Watched Every Treehouse of Horror in October

Last year we reached a momentous occasion - with 32 seasons of The Simpsons, we finally had enough Halloween Specials that you could watch one every day for the entire month of October! I forgot to do that, but THIS year I watched every single Treehouse of Horror, 1-32, plus Season 27's "Halloween of Horror," which is the only canonical episode to actually take place on Halloween.

Now, I'm not going to rank the shorts or anything, because there's 96 of these, and that's always kind of redundant. The classics are better, what do you want from me? But I'd like to dig into some trends I noticed.

Little Things

So, we all know that there were a handful of traditions that were dropped because they became too exhausting, like the amusing tombstones and the wrap-around stories. The scary names have actually come and gone a handful of times, but seem to have latched on. But what's weird is that the on-screen title was "The Simpsons Halloween Special" and then the roman numeral up until Season 14. That's crazy long.

Regarding the wrap around story, this was actually an interesting departure. Leaving it behind freed up the writers to dive more into parody, often generic (and tragically dated) parody. The first few episodes were ostensibly stories told in-universe by the characters themselves. I found myself a bigger fan of this kind of groundedness. The best stories felt like they could have happened in the actual Simpsons universe, just one step removed. Like, Homer could have bought a homicidal doll, or yeah, there was a space between a bookshelf no one explored before, or suddenly sounds in the attic.

There are obvious exceptions - "The Raven" of course, which is an extremely bold choice that you can believe would never have been done today (or at their peak for that matter). "King Homer" in Season 4 is the earliest movie parody that takes place in a wholly separate universe until "Easy Bake Coven in Season 9. To contrast, we don't get another until Season 12. So we had four in the first twelve seasons. That doubles in seasons 13-24, Season 25 has two in the same episode, and then we get eight more from then to present.

Reused Stuff

I'm not sure if any Simpsons writer is as big of a fan as the fans are. I don't mean this negatively, just that I think we tend to get obsessive. The writers may not necessarily realize the similar themes they use over and over again. There are a handful of odd ones.

Maggie gets possessed in three segments, which would be less jarring if it weren't in Season 29 and 31, which is almost back to back. In XXX, she is in an extended prologue parodying The Omen (1976), which went so long I thought it was the first short. She's also a victim of attempted kidnapping by a demon in Season 24, which feels a lot like "The Exor-Sis" segment of 29. And for the record, I find listing by season a bit easier than deciphering the roman numerals, so that's what I'll go with.

They really like people with two heads. There's "If I Only Had a Brain" early on in Season 3, which ends with Burns' head attached to Homer's, which inverses slightly at the end of Season 16, where Homer growns large inside of Burns, but they still share a body. Then Bart's head is attached to Lisa's body in Season 25. It's largely bizarre how often they revisit this.

It also seems to be a requirement that large figures eat people. King Homer does it, Homer as the Blob does it, the 50-foot eyesores do it. Stampy does it. The Grand Pumpkin. I guess it makes sense, but it seems like they specifically always eat people instead of just stepping on them or something. It's definitely funnier.

I also generally enjoy the trend that whenever they have an alien movie to spoof, they always use Kang and/or Kodos, which is great because of their intrinsically awkward design. They substitute for ET, Na'vi, War of the Worlds, and the Gillman from Shape of Water (2017). It's a solid consistency that I really enjoy.

Zombies appear early on in Season 4, then again in Season 21, but the presentation is radically different, and I consider both to be pretty strong. It's actually pretty fun to see how they adapt to how Zombies have shifted in pop culture during that time to fast Munchers instead of the classic Return of the Living Dead (1985)-style campy shuffling dead.

Likewise, I enjoy how the did King Kong early on, and then Godzilla 23 years later. The Godzilla parody gets real weird, though, and ends up being a film that is then re-made, but then a real Godzilla wakes up? So many of these just...don't know how to end. Let's get into that stuff:

Trends Through Time

The Treehouse of Horrors have always been a nice check-in on the general attitude of the show through time. The early years during the classic seasons are reliably great. There isn't really a bad segment from Seasons 2-9. I think the Itchy & Scratchy segment in Season 10 is a little weak, although it has its share of great gags. Like the show itself, these still have plenty of classic moments but the cracks are starting to show.

The first straight up bad sketch is undoubtedly "Wiz Kids" from Season 13, which is their Harry Potter parody. A lot of that stems from the fact that the writers admittedly just straight up didn't read Harry Potter beforehand. So it's a parody, but doesn't actually know anything about the source material, so it's more a parody of what they thought Harry Potter probably was. It ends up being generic magic jokes instead of making any interesting connection between Hogwarts and Springfield Elementary, which should have been ripe territory. I still like that Death Frog.

Around this zone The Simpsons always seemed to be trying to prove itself. Suddenly the genre it had created was becoming saturated and they were trying really hard to stand out and be relevant. There are a lot of forced jokes and frankly sloppy attempts at political satire (looking at you Season 18 / Iraq War critique). It took them awhile to get out of their own way and settle into the legacy they assuredly had established.

Then we get to Season 21. Treehouse of Horror XX is fucking spectacular. There are individual segments that stand out in later seasons, but from start to end, XX is just an amazing feat. It ignores trying to live up to legacy and just concentrates and writing and every short stands out.

As the 20s go on, it occasionally gets really weird, they get into super body horror with "Coralisa" and "Mmm...Homer" which I still have difficulty watching. These were actually from the same episode, in Season 29. "Coralisa" is good but it ends so abruptly and without catharsis. More episode analysis later.

They seem to be even more cavalier with casual violence than the early years. Looking back, there really aren't that many episodes that feature massive deaths until Season 4 with "King Homer" and the zombies. But there is more casual violence played for laughs in "Mr. & Mrs. Simpson," "Telepaths of Glory," and jeez, all of Season 28.

To be clear, I'm not making any kind of moral judgment, but it does feel odd that they swing so hard into torturing their characters without a ton of motivation or more importantly, humour. These segments definitely get rough and most of them end up not going anywhere, which is typical for short sketches that can't get all they want in, but again, somehow those classic seasons condensed The Shining (1980) into seven minutes.

"Mr & Mrs Simpson" is probably the first really random parody, spoofing Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), which is just not a horror movie...at all. It's also two years late. Then they did a Transformers parody the next year, Jumanji (1995) a few years after that (15 years after that movie came out, which is bizarre), AVABAR (2009), Back to the Future (1985), Chronicle (2012), The Hunger Games (2012), Kingsman (2014), Jurassic World (2015), The Shape of Water, Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and the worst of all, Toy Story (1995), which I guess is still culturally relevant through its sequels, but still feels so damn out of place in an episode coming out in 2020.

Also as we go on, I was surprised about how often Homer took on the villain role when needed, especially in later episodes. He's the assigned big bad in the parodies "Freaks no Geeks", "Moefinger", and "Oh The Places You'll D'oh" in addition to being the general focus of evil when he becomes the blob, Godzilla, kills celebrities, or eats himself.

Stand Out Segments

Fine, you want a ranking? Let's do a quick Top Five. Listen, it's not fair, because the Classic Episodes are going to win. Let's break it down by era with a quick synopsis so you remember:

Classic Years (Season 2 - 8)

#5: "Citizen Kang" The Clinton / Dole Kang and Kodos
#4: "The Devil and Homer Simpson" the one with devil Flanders
#3: "Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace" Willie the Freddy
#2: "Dial Z for Zombies" "He was a zombie?
#1: "The Shinning" Don't be readin' Willie's mind between 4 and 5 THAT'S WILLY'S TIME

Transition Years (Seasons 9 - 14)

#5: "Hell Toupee" Homer gets a Snake hair graft
#4: "Send in the Clones" Homer has a hammock that clones him
#3: "Life's a Glitch, then You Die" Tom Arnold eating peaches
#2: "The Homega Man" Homer is the last man on earth
#1: "Night of the Dolphin" snorky

Crap Years (Seasons 15 - 20)

#5: "You Gotta Know When to Golem" the one with that golem
#4: "I've Grown a costume on your face" The town of Springfield becomes their costumes
#3: "The Ned Zone" Flanders can foresee deaths
#2: "Frinkenstein" Jerry Lewis is Frink's wacko father
#1: "Stop the World I Want to Goof Off" Bart and Milhouse have a watch that can stop time

Redemption (Seasons 21 - 25)

#5: "Freaks no Geeks" 1930s carnival parody
#4: "Master and Cadaver" Homer and Marge are on a boat and kill a guy - whoopsie!
#3: "The Greatest Story Ever Holed" There is a black hole in Springfield
#2: "Don't Have a Cow, Mankind" Munchers!
#1: "Dial M for Murder or Press # to Return to Main Menu" Criss-Cross!

Eating Itself (Seasons 26 - 33)

#5: "School is Hell" Bart excels in Springfield Hellementary
#4: "BFF RIP" Lisa's imaginary friend kills people. Sergeant Sausage!
#3: "Be Nine, Rewind" Lisa is Happy Death Day
#2: "Multiplisa-ty" Lisa is Split
#1: "Wanted: Dead, then Alive" Sideshow Bob Halloween!

General Episode Thoughts:

Here are some random thoughts about specific episodes for you. Let's start beyond the Classic years, because those are just great and I have nothing really insightful to complain about.

XI from Season 12 is pretty weak, except "Night of the Dolphin just elevates it so high.

"Reaper Madness" from Season 15 is exactly like Family Guy when Death sprained its ankle and Peter Griffin took over. But I think that Family Guy came first so who is really at fault for that Clone bit?

Season 17 has great premises that are so rushed. It also has the weirdest ending ever, with the town turned into pacifiers, but what's weird is that Dennis Rodman as a pacifier shows up and talks about the importance of literacy.

Season 20 is the most 2008 episode of television ever. It opens on Homer at the voting booth choosing between Obama and McCain, then goes into Transformers and Mad Men parodies. I have never been a Charlie Brown Halloween fan, and this series has pushed the Great Pumpkin hard into its historical mythos. There is also a solid amount of homophobia in this episode, which is surprising for a generally progressive show like The Simpsons when it comes to this topic.

XXIII from 24 is probably the second most all-around solid episode from the modern era, besides the flawless XX. This is sandwiched between two pretty rough installments.

The by far best part of XXIV from Season 25 is the Guillermo del Toro opening. The episode then immediately grounds to a screeching halt with an out of no where Cat in the Hat parody. I was so high on this after remembering that opening, but I failed to remember how bad the rest of this episode was.

As far as openings go, this might be a reason why some of these sketches are so rushed. VI from Season 7 had Krusty as the Headless Horseman. That's it. Season 27 has a very solid animation from John Kricfalusi. Season 28 strangely has both a lengthy opening featuring famous Simpsons villains, and then an additional lengthy Planet of the Apes parody couch gag that doesn't have anything to do with Halloween. 29 has a Pixar-style CGI candy bit. 30 features Homer out-doing Cthulu in an Oyster-eating contest. I enjoyed that one, but it's long enough to be its own segment!

I wanted to talk about Season 30 more. The Apple stuff claims it's not being paid (and sure, they don't actually say Apple), but it's definitely weird. Especially because The Simpsons is old enough to have made fun of fledgling Apple Computers in the 90s. I really like watching Lisa cut loose in the Split parody, that's very fun. But then the Old People as Dinosaurs in "Geriatric Park" just makes so little sense, it's such a stretch that it wrecks the whole episode. Other than that, it's actually pretty good.

Finally, Season 33 (yeah, the one that came out just a bit ago) actually dramatically broke precedent. Wikipedia claims it has five segments, I don't think that's really true. It does open with a Bambi (1942) parody, and at this point I was confused if I had clicked the right show on Hulu or not. It's not good. There are still three main segments in here, but in between the second and third is a lengthy poem read by a faux Vincent Price ("Quiet, Jody, you're not helping!"). None of this is bad if it were funny, but the episode is a bit of a dud.

Anyway, I could talk at length about each segment, and I promised I wouldn't. In general, if you're looking for episodes to watch, I - VIII deliver, IX - XIV definitely have their moments, starting around XV they really start tripping over their endings and get wonky, but we have solid entries from XVII, XX, XXIII, XXV, XXVI, XXIX, and XXX after that.

See? I told you the roman numerals were tough. Now on to "Thanksgiving of Horror!"

29 October 2021

First Impressions: Venom Let There Be Carnage

Oof. I saw this a while ago and October has been a fairly wacky month, so just getting to it now. What can you say about this? I liked it...sort of...but it was certifiably a bad movie. Let's just dig into this right away with SPOILERS everywhere for Venom Let There Be Carnage.

So, most of my complaints are just going to come out of nerdiness. I was a Carnage fan as a kid (okay, maybe that's weird to say), but he was red and fun and creative, and the movie doesn't even really get any of that right. Hopefully if you read through this blog you'll know that I am never one who gripes hard about films that ignore the source material, but the replacement material has to be equally as compelling. Carnage is pretty much just an edge character, but there are bits in there that are interesting and dangerous, which this film heartedly avoids, and the end result is disappointing.

Let's get into it. Venom (2018) always felt like a fun throwback movie, and by that I mean something like a pre-MCU superhero film like Daredevil (2003) or Ghost Rider (2007). It wasn't connected to anything, wasn't building anything, was dark and sloppy, and didn't really care about the source material. But that was all, fine, it was a stupid movie, but pretty fun, and Tom Hardy is somehow super game for the kitschy material. People gripe about the Venom model, but I enjoyed the take that the symbiote was a bit of a buffoon and tongue-in-cheek evil. It's campy and fun! Now, that movie had a ridiculous amount of problems, mostly due to its Big Grey Villain at the end, inscrutable visuals, and weak character arcs. But it's pretty fun, and never sacrificies that.

Originally, Venom was really designed as a beefier, suped up doppelganger to Spider-Man. And then Carnage was a beefed up, supier doppelganger to Venom. And then they also had a literal doppelganger named Doppelganger who teamed up with Carnage. In many ways, Let There Be Carnage is the Carnage to the previous Venom. It doubles down on what worked, namely, the nonsense, tries to be bigger and badder at everything, and loves its life on edge.

There isn't a story here. Or, there is one but it's relatively incomprehensible. Eddie Brock is impossibly bad at his job as an investigative journalist. I mean that quite literally, he sits there, seeming to not understand anything that Venom is trying to tell him as it pieces clues together about Cletus Kassidy's murders. But it's always unsatisfying because none of this ever really goes anywhere. Eddie finds Cletus' bodies but so what? We don't see that help the victims, Eddie's career, or change what Cletus was ultimately going to do. It's a lot of noise signifying nothing.

And how did Carnage work, anyway? Cletus bites Eddie and swallows his blood, so that's just how symbiotes spread? It just seems like Eddie would bleed a lot and leave bits everywhere. Venom proclaims that he's "a red one" like that's something bad, but we don't know what they can do or how they're different. I guess it has more tendrils? But it doesn't seem tougher than Riot. There is a logic here that's difficult to follow.

But again, my gripe is just nerdy. They seem to have made Carnage too powerful, so they try to neuter him down by removing the biggest difference between him and Venom in the comics - the bond between that symbiote and Kassidy is so powerful that they refer to themselves as "I" and not "we." That's an important distinction. Venom is always a team, but Carnage is a singular menace and that's what makes him so dangerous. The film just decides to go in the complete opposite direction and signifies that Venom and Eddie's bond is stronger so they win. They also reach this destination without doing any of the character growth necessary to get there. They just kind of...are, which is the same theme from the last movie. It just feels like a cop out, that instead of finding a creative way to solve a problem of fighting a stronger opponent, they just win because the Carnage symbiote is an idiot who can't stop trying to kill Shriek.

Who is fine. Shriek was never that well developed in the comics and this movie gets credit for creating a fleshed out character out of her. However, she ultimately doesn't do all that much, except be a motivator for Carnage. This just could have been a bigger ordeal. The obvious title choice, first of all, is Maximum Carnage, which is the most famous run of the character. Maybe they're waiting for Disney to buy SONY and throw Spider-Man into that one. But Maximum Carnage had like, Kassidy and Shriek taking over NYC on a mass murder spree that totally decimated the heroes trying to stop it. Maybe that was too much for a film like this that is trying to have a fairly limited scope, since at that point we need to bring in a few more heroes to deal with it all. But eh, it's nothing that Deadpool 2 (2018) didn't pull off.

Anyway, there is a disturbing lack of murders here. Like, we are supposed to understand how bad this dude is, but we never quite get that sense. He feels like the writers watched a show about serial killers and then wrote all his dialogue. He never really gets under your skin. Some of that is casting Woody Harrelson, who feels like Natural Born Killers (1994) here, which by the way, came out when he was 33 years old, or two years before we see the boyhood flashback for Cletus. That casting was always off. Why not Jackie Earle Haley? Hrmm...as I look him up he's actually exactly as old as Harrelson. Oh well.

But we never really feel the danger of Kassidy. The whole premise of the movie is that Eddie doesn't like Venom eating peoples' brains and is always trying to resist the immeasurable power the symbiote offers him. That's also what always made Carnage a compelling villain - here was a mass murderer suddenly paired with unstoppable power and an alien voice who encourages all his homicidal predilections. We just don't really get that here. And he's red! Why didn't they make him red!? Look at that RED. I did always like the idea that his tendrils were always bubbling around him, like he was so psychotic that he couldn't be contained. This movie does that a little bit, mostly in the first scene when he bursts free, but it kind of calms down after that.

And then he dies! Just like an old movie that finds no reason to keep its villains alive, Carnage just straight up dies. Now, he's been killed many times in the comics, notably when the Sentry took him into space and ripped him in half, but it always just seems like you're burning up your best characters instead of setting up repeated encounters.

Venom himself is well done. Hardy brings it yet again, even if his character is dumb as hell. This Venom is doofy and childlike in his alienness, and I particularly like his hunger for brains, although I wanted to see him eat more. Like, we didn't get a single brain chomp. The whole movie was building to that and we really didn't get anything satisfying. Venom needs to walk that anti-hero line a little bit, and despite the build up to Lethal Protector, we don't really ever see that. The movie seems to be trying really hard to not make its protagonist a homicidal brain-eating maniac for some reason. I understand that that is how they can create the tension between the characters, but I just wanted to see more brain eating. Throw the alien a bone! A skull bone!

Now, I said I was split on this movie, right? See, there are enjoyable bits. Besides all that crap I just said, the movie is wonderfully fast paced, and wastes no time at all worrying about overexplaning anything. Sure, I complained about that, but this film does do what so few contemporaries don't - KNOW WHAT IT IS. It definitely knows it's a weird fun romp and doesn't worry too much about making sense. I just contend that you can have a goofy movie that's still competent, but there are scenes like Venom in the club that largely work. The plot zooms so fast and it's a pretty crisp 90 minutes. That's all that we want from this - it totally doesn't overstay its welcome. Now, the fact that that's definitely an issue and I wouldn't want it any longer is its own problem. Like I said, it's bigger and badder than Venom. It's funnier, meaner, louder, and faster. Everything Venom did right, this movie dials up. That's as good of a good thing as it is a bad thing.

I watched this as a Drive-In double feature with No Time to Die (2021), and the difference was extremely jarring. It was nice to remember that a big blockbuster CAN look good when they want to, and the pacing felt like a screeching halt. But yeah, VLTBC is really a dark, ugly mess without any regard to cinematography. And I truly only say that because I saw Bond right after, which was trying really really hard.

Lastly, should we talk about the post credits? The symbiote seems to have some multi-dimensional powers, or maybe it's just funny business from Loki or WandaVision or Doc Strange, but for whatever reason it seems like we'll see Tom Hardy go against Tom Holland. While that's weird for a lot of reasons, namely, this incarnation of Venom has no reason to hate Spider-Man, it's jarring to see an old man beat up on a young boy, and they tried really hard to make Venom the hero here, so what's going to happen next? At any rate, I'm definitely excited. The Topher Grace venom really wasn't there.

Despite everything this movie was fun. It's a great rainy day throwaway film and I do like this interpretation of Venom, if not Carnage. Go see Bond!

22 September 2021

First Impressions: Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings

Here we go again - another Marvel movie! But this one's different...it's Asian! Shang-Chi was a pretty solid entry that is somehow both safe and extraordinary, which is all typical Marvel stuff by now. But I've always rejected that idea, I think these movies are really just movies. But let's get into how great this flick was, with assorted weird moments. SPOILERS abound, ye mateys, ye be warned.

Any way you go about it, Shang-Chi was an odd character for Marvel to pick as the next hero to get the big screen treatment. He's not very popular or well known, and his adventures peaked in the 1970s mostly as Kung Fu exploitation with stock Asian characters and stereotypes. The villain was literally Fu Manchu. Obviously it's a tall order to upgrade this stuff, especially since he's an obvious character to thrust into 2021. Disney, as is everyone, is looking to expand into the burgeoning Chinese market, and wants a Chinese hero to center its next phase on. I suppose that Shang-Chi is the only Asian hero Marvel has? Besides Amadeus Cho or like...Jubilee? So from that angle it makes a lot of sense.

But in-universe it's also a natural play. After Infinity War (2019) blew the wad on just about every hero ever, it's tough to dig up anyone else reluctantly hiding wherever. I guess Shang-Chi didn't feel the urge to join anyone in the final conflict or maybe he just didn't get the memo. He wasn't on HYDRA's secret person list. But the film puts a bow on the Ten Rings organization first presented back in Iron Man (2008), then teased more in Iron Man 3 (2013). I don't think anyone was really looking for answers for these burning questions, that were more a fun reference to the classic Iron Man villain the Mandarin, who is cool but just so damn racist. This is why we can't have nice things. His fun ring powers and magic that ran counter to the logic of Tony Stark's science would have been a great conflict, but c'mon you can't have this dude on the big screen. That's nuts. So instead we got like villain after villain of jealous corporate assholes trying to copy his technology. Great.

Shang-Chi shines a like on Wenwu, who is an immortal conqueror who found ten alien rings that granted him all sorts of fun powers. There is a little bit of Mandarin reference, like they can do things like create shields, fly through the air, shoot energy stuff. Not really any Mento-Intensifiers, though. What's even the point? He falls in love with a secret forest woman, they have a baby, she dies because of his old crimes, he blames his 8-year old son for being a weak baby, trains him to be an assassin, he doesn't like it and they become estranged. There is all sorts of great character work here, especially between the principal father, son, and sister. It's full of regret, delusion, blaming, attempts at redemption, sliding back into evil, oh it's so fun.

This movie does its character work well, but it still falters. Shang-Chi becomes less interesting the more he embraces his destiny, but it was nice to see a hero not so obsessed with quips. It exists in contrast to the What If... series going on right now which seems to have gotten stuck on the quip setting. Just let them be actual characters! It's like when something works once it's driven into the ground and sucked dry for all eternity. But Simu Liu is charismatic, fun, and will be a great addition to this universe. It's another great example of Marvel's fantastic job with casting, the foundation for everything else that works afterwards.

But we already get into problematic territory. It's a weird zone when it comes to Awkwafina's Katy. It's as if they didn't want every female co-lead to exist only as a love interest to give their main heterosexual male hero motivation, and this film works by solidly announcing them as only friends. However, this was maybe not the right time to pull this off, because it tends to feed the stereotype of the sexless male Asian, who is never allowed to have a romantic interest. It feels like addressing surface level stuff, like romance is okay if the characters have agency and desires. We obviously want to avoid Rachel McAdams in Doctor Strange (2016) which is probably the worst of these, but we can have someone be interested in somebody. Maybe I'm just horny.

As for Awkwafina, she's good, but I felt the same way in Raya and the Last Dragon (2021), where her Awkwafina-ness keeps bubbling to the surface above any character she's doing. It was hard to see her as a character and not just Awkwafina. And I don't know if Awkwafina worked in a magical setting shooting arrows at giant Cthulu monsters. This isn't really a new thing, we can argue that the same thing happened with Gilbert Gottfried's Gilbert Gottfried-ness with Iago. And please don't get me wrong, I think it was great that Katy's character arc ended with her decisive action against the Cthulu monster. But she still hasn't found the right vehicle for her Awkwafina-ness.

So, is this thing racist or not? I don't know. Not every Asian American is enthused. It is a nice celebration of another culture, but I get how it's not actually distinctive, just generic Asian, and full of magical Asian whimsy. I also get how I am a heterosexual white dude who shouldn't be planting my opinion in other people's voices. So, maybe see what other people's opinions are? It is assuredly a great step towards representation, but there are still some hang-ups here. So with the understanding of all that, let's just talk about the screenplay, plot, and structural bones stuff (and lore!) and stay in that realm.

As I mentioned, the character works is all very good. There is an ebb and flow to the relationship between Wenwu and Shang-Chi that is all articulated and motivated. And by ebb and flow of course we mean sometimes trying to kill each other, sometimes begrudgingly loving each other. Okay, most of the time fighting. Everyone in the MCU has daddy issues, but this is one of the only movies where the father is actually the main villain. Okay, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). And yeah, I guess Thanos. Okay, this trope has actually been done to death, but the characters are really nuanced here!

The films starts off great as MCU's kung fu epic. The best scene is probably the bus fight, which is clever, surprising, and oddly comical. We avoid a big laser battle, mostly, but the left turn into the Dweller in Darkness is a bit jarring, but fun. It may have worked better if that was set up in some more coherent fashion instead of throwing it at us as a huge existential threat so late in the film. There are again easy parallels with Dormammu here. Except they do get to fight this one.

Lastly, there are all kinds of weird implications for the universe. These Rings may end up being a pretty big deal. Why on earth was Wong training the Abomination? I am happy someone finally acknowledged that the Abomination is one of the few villains still alive and kicking in this universe. Just more 2008 throwbacks. It's all fine, although I still find myself a little exhausted and struggling to care about new people in this universe. My hype for The Eternals (2021) is at an all-time low. When does Moon Knight come out?

I have to compare a little bit to Black Panther (2017), because obviously, minority MCU heroes are such a rare thing (and Shang Chi definitely got dusted. Only white people and Rhodey remained). But really it felt very similar in establishing a whole secret world in another country, where the hero was this prince of destiny, in some fashion. I'm wondering when they will feel comfortable giving a minority hero an American story, or is America reserved for white people?

Shang-Chi was an enjoyable romp full of competent movie-making, great action scenes (yes, it beats Black Widow [2021], which may have been the previous high bar). It doesn't quite match the lofty heights of the best MCU films, but it's far, far from the bottom of the barrel. It works well as an origin story that evolves organically and sets up some interesting points to keep spinning in the future.

13 September 2021


Another summer is officially over, people. And so we have yet again come to the time to crown our Final Eternal Champion. This artist's name will echo across the heavens, joining the immensely illustrious crew of the greatest Summer Jam Kings and Queens of this or any other lifetime:

2007: "Umbrella" by Rihanna
2008: "Bleeding in Love" by Leona Lewis
2009: "I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas
2010: "California Gurls" by Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg
2011: "Park Rock Anthem" by LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock
2012: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
2013: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell
2014: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charle XCX
2015: "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon
2016: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake
2017: "Despacito" by Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi ft. Justin Bieber
2018: "Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello
2019: "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus
2020: "Blinding Lights" by the Weeknd

Now for my critical time, I still think "Blurred Lines", "Shut Up and Dance", "Can't Stop the Feeling", "Never Be the Same", and "Blinding Lights" are weak entries that haven't held up. I especially don't think "Shut Up and Dance" is synonymous with Summer 2015 like it is supposed to be. But we are not ones to pick, merely ones to report the rock solid mathematical formulas that go into creating these lists. Who is the 2021 Champion?! Read on to find out:

#8: "Build a Bitch" by Bella Poarch

Weeks on List: 5
Peak Position: #2 on 8/12 and 8/19

"Build a Bitch" never made it to the top of the countdown, but it was a little too niche of a song to make it there. It operates in an odd zone, where the melody is so sweet, but the lyrical content is honestly dark and sardonic. Its first appearance was all the way back in May, but it held on for a few weeks in June before peaking in August. Decent legs, bigger boobs, it's all there. It worked because it was a really novel and distinctive song in just about every way. A great debut for Bella Poarch, who I hope may continue to stand out amongst a sudden influx of female artists exactly like her this summer.

#7: "Butter" by BTS

Weeks on List: 5
Peak Position: #2 on 6/10

Listen, I never really liked "Butter" although I will be the first to admit that it's catchy as hell. It also held the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for most of summer, but I never heard it on the radio, Spotify, or in general conversation that much. I don't know if BTS is actually popular or people just think they're popular. Anyway, it did well in June, and then had some sporadic appearances in August. Definitely not their biggest song, but significant enough to warrant mention here!

#6: "Deja Vu" by Olivia Rodrigo

Weeks on List: 5
Peak Position: #1 on 7/08 and 7/15

Olivia Rodrigo tapped into something big this summer, and her whole album ruled Spotify for pretty much three straight months until Kanye and Drake crowded all the spots at the very end. This is one of two (spoiler alert) big hits she had, which is a rare feat for anyone. This list is competitive as hell, and there are many many artists who try and fail to get even one song into Summer Jam relevance. This is definitely the slower, chiller jam of the two, but it's still pretty fun. In that break-up sort of way. It debuted in our first week back in May, then hit three straight in July. To be honest, though, I'm still hearing it and I'd probably throw it on a September 13th list if we had one...

#5: "Astronaut in the Ocean" by Masked Wolf

Weeks on List: 6
Peak Position: #1 on 6/24

You know, I didn't realize until today that this song came out like two years ago. Good on Masked Wolf for being patient and finding his niche in Summer 2021. Last summer was so hip-hop heavy, this was really one of the only true crossover hits, and I loved jamming on this beat when it came on. It debuted in May and appeared every month, peaking in June, but hanging around all the way to the final week of summer. I also hope he finds a good career, he has a distinctive cadence, although it's not revolutionarily distinct from contemporary Migos-style artists. It's some hard-hitting stuff, though, and I hope he sticks around.

#4: "Kiss Me More" by Doja Cat ft. SZA

Weeks on List: 7
Peak Position: #1 on 7/29

"Kiss Me More" was one of those staples of summer this season. It was one of only two songs to feature in both Week 1 and Week 16. Lyrically it's decently generic, but becomes an earworm from Doja Cat's effortless flow through singing, rapping, and rap-singing. This was a great summer for her after she's been present in the last couple years, notably "Say So." Her album was another great Spotify presence, and she had her share of other songs that would crawl up and down, but this is still a song I enjoy listening to.

#3: "Peaches" by Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon

Weeks on List: 8
Peak Position: #1 on 5/27, 6/03, 7/22

Now we're into the really heavy hitters. I thought this was for sure the Summer of Peaches early on. No one could touch Bieber during those first few months. It spent the first six weeks in an unbroken streak, including back to back wins when no other song seemed like a real threat. It hit the #1 spot more than any other track this season. Then it dropped off, though and couldn't really sustain through July. Of course, it won a week in July, and came back once in August, but although it proved to have a great showing, it wasn't enough. No one has EVER repeated as Summer Jam champion, but Bieber came really really close. It's still a fun song and one that I think will be appropriately associated with Summer 2021.

#2: "Leave the Door Open" by Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic

Weeks on List: 11
Peak Position: #1 on 5/20 and 6/17

I struggle to get sick of this song. It didn't totally light up the charts, but I kept hearing it and it still makes me crack up as it finds that perfect zone between sexy and wacky. It was also a very strong song early out the gate, winning Week 1, and then appearing once in every other month. It was the only other song to also appear in Week 16. It "only" had a five-week streak in June and July, though, but it was in the Top 3 during eight of its eleven weeks. This was so close to claiming it all, if it had had just one or two more weeks it would have gotten it. Still, a great showing of Bruno Mars, who continues to be one of the more unique creative voices in the industry. But the undisputed #1 QUEEN OF SUMMER is...

#1: "good 4 u" by Olivia Rodrigo

Weeks on List: 13
Peak Position: #1 on 8/12 and 8/26

Yep. In the end this wasn't really a debate. This song was huge, and a bit cultural force on the Internet and in the greater real world. I was actually surprised looking back that it hit #1 crazy late in the season, and only twice. It made its butter by only taking three weeks off, Week 1, 10, and16. So basically it owned the heart of summer. We should note that "Deja Vu" was present in Week 1 and 10, so she actually only missed the final week of the season. It was in the Top Three during eight of its thirteen weeks and put together nice meaty streaks of eight and five week campaigns. It dominated Spotify for most of summer and is ultimately the kind of no brainer song that makes me proud to solidify for Eternity as THE One True Summer Jam.

Honorable Mentions:

You know I hate these but I do them anyway. We actually only tracked 39 songs this year, but we had basically cut out a lot of the riff-raff in our new system. "Levitating" deserves mention for having ridiculous legs and we had pretty much ignored it for not being a Hot Jam anymore. Same with "Girl from Rio." Lil Nas X had two pretty big songs that didn't get any radio play, insert whatever homophobia or racism you want there.

I really liked Camila Cabello's "Don't Go Yet" but it debuted too late and ran out of time. "Heat Waves" was perfect, but actually missed some of its June lyrics. Then we had a ton of great new female-led rap tracks, from "Thot Shit" to "Best Friend" to "Twerkulator" and "Whole Lotta Money." It was pretty fun that studios are actually signing and promoting these women trying to find the next Cardi B. Maybe they can just realize that there is room for all these great artists?

Alright, I know what you are thinking. Is this it? We have been cranking this out for 11 years, now, which is one more than I had planned. It is definitely taking a bit of a toll, and we're at the point where we're realizing there is no endgame. There is no exit strategy for this blog. It exists as artificial stress to complete every week. Ugh, I hate that I can't fully say no. Maybe in the way that we did it this year, without worry to hit the magic 8 number each week or talk about nothing for a while. Or maybe we just recount it in September off of feel.

I don't know if I would be able to resist the temptation to do this again next year, but these have never been popular. I like the idea of this canon of Summer Jams. Never say never, I suppose, but if so, this was a fun summer that I'd like to leave on. Better than the summer where "Blurred Lines" beat "Get Lucky."

Until May of 2022, stay honest, true believers!

12 September 2021

First Impressions: The Suicide Squad

I may have missed my window on this. But I watched Shang-Chi (2021) last night and am bound to crank that one out. But The Suicide Squad (2021) is in my queue! Maybe these don't have to be 3000+ words each? But I liked these movies. Okay, I'll try to blow through context, because it's pretty wide known at this point. SPOILERS from here on out, though.

What I do want to espouse on quite a bit is how ridiculous it is that Warner Bros notably micromanaged the hell out of all their mid-2010s DC properties, including David Ayer's Suicide Squad (2016), and this feels like the most auteur Superhero movie of all time. Did anyone say no to James Gunn on anything in this? I can't imagine what Ayer was thinking when he watched this. Now, to be fair, Ayer himself isn't the kind of wacky creative brain to really run with this concept, and Suicide Squad's generic formula, for all our whining, probably isn't wholly the fault of the studio. But we also know that WB took it out of his hands, gave it to a trailer making studio to edit, and somehow tried playing it safe and edge the whole time.

I continually get a crack at the fact that they're just allowed to redo all these movies that totally bombed. But it's somehow even more irritating that their second chances have been so good. Although it wasn't wholly without problems, the Snyder Cut demolished Justice League (2017). And I gotta say that the studio's attempt at doing this exact same concept again, except right, resulted in one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. I said it.

It works by simultaneously poking fun of its concept but also taking itself seriously. It's a weird line to walk, but one that comic book themselves do earnestly all the time. There needs to be a tacit acknowledgment that everything going on is ridiculous and far-fetched, but there are still real consequences and characters. It's not ashamed of any of its pulpy origins, but it still finds ways to imbue genuine emotion into the insanity on screen. It's a lot similar to what Gunn did with racoons and talking trees in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), except with rats and talking sharks, but it still finds its own throughline towards originality.

We ought to talk a bit about how much this is a sorta half-sequel. It's basically not, although it brings back about half of the primary cast. There's no real reference to any previous adventures, and the barest references to the greater DC universe. They use this to their advantage, though. People like Captain Boomerang who you'd think would be an "unkillable" character (even in a Suicide Squad movie) are offed in the first scene. The marketing wisely avoided that whole spoiler, by the way, which is truly commendable.

Looking back, we should have probably figured it out that the dumbest characters would all die first (well, I dunno, Polka Dot Man...), but it's a truly amazing bait and switch, especially how much it focuses on Michael Rooker as our main character in the first five minutes. For a second I was sitting there thinking, "Is this really going to be a Michael Rooker movie?" and then when they all get offed it really leaves us in the lurch. But that's also what the title promises! It's so fun to have some genuine cannon fodder, and no one is safe for this whole movie. Well, except Harley Quinn. It's pretty guaranteed that she's safe. There isn't a ton of reference to her solo movie, but that's also totally Harley. Who knows where this takes place in her life or in relation to anyone else. She's certainly broken up with the Joker, though.

This kind of story fits the Squad so well, though. It's a dirty black ops mission that the US government can legit deny. And they also completely screw it up. There's this easy going-with-the flow nature to the story where you may expect anything to happen at any time, and there's so many set-ups to left-turn payoffs. Like when Harley is captured, of course she is able to escape on her own and doesn't need saving. That was a gratifying moment - Harley should never be a damsel in distress.

The movie is also genuinely dark and funny with a surprising amount of legit gore. It again serves its premise of taking the ramifications of giant sharks seriously, but also stretching reality just enough to add some comedy to the gorefest. It also doesn't do what the original Suicide Squad did, which is constantly acknowledge that they are all horrible people and criminals. They think nothing of killing their enemies, and sometimes accidentally their friends. Still, there are surprisingly touching deaths, like Colonel Rick Flagg, and Polka Dot Man, which pairs with Yondu as touching moments. Nothing to it, but how do we feel more for Polka Dot Man than we do for Superman? Maybe because we knew Superman was going to come back? Or because his arc isn't nearly as satisfying as the man who conquers his obsession with his abusive mother and finally gets a chance to use his horrific powers to do some good in the world?

Idris Elba has pretty much the same motivation as Will Smith in Suicide Squad, so take that with whatever racial overtones you'd like. There is some nice parody there when they talk about how they all have the same origin story. But all the acting is all reasonably solid, especially John Cena who does better the more he relishes his insanity.

Finally, Starro. I can't believe they put fucking Starro in this movie. I like to think that it was a little nod to him being the villain in the first Justice League comic, which is a nice sardonic commentary on this group of idiots now being the ones to fight him. But he's also a tragic figure in the best of Gunn ways, really only wanting to journey back to the stars after years on his earthly prison. They also genuinely use tactics and powers to beat it, which is so unlike every other superhero movie these days where they have to go back in time, or flick a switch, or grab a gem or something. No, use your actual powers, this is what we came here to see!

This film is just refreshing. It's violent, carefree, funny, dark without being edge, and just very genuine with itself. I've said that a lot because it bears repeating. It's everything the first Suicide Squad wasn't, which was a hot topic try hard. That makes such a critical difference. It also finds a way to have real heart, inside all the starfish facehuggers and shark bites. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it (although it's certainly not a four corner tentpole like a normal superhero movie). Two fins up.

08 September 2021

Summer Jam Week 16: Old Beginnings with New Endings

Well folks, all fun things must come to an end, and this summer is no different. We conclude Summer 2021 with a momentous occasion. I got married this weekend! But most importantly, we boogied to some sweet salty sultry summer jams all night long. Let's go through this one last time and then we will tally up to see who will become the FINAL Summer Jam champion!

"Psycho" by Dixie ft. Rubi Rose

Our last hot drop I think will be a big one - it helps that it sounds a bit like Ava Max but it's got a fu n beat and flow to it. You can get down. Obviously it's a little bit Ms. Irrelevant blowing up in the last week of Summer, but this could be a great Fall Jam!

And that's it. Forever! We'll attack this with some math and see who comes out on top as the TRUE SUMMER ROYALTY!

Thanks folks, it's been fun.

30 August 2021

Summer Jam Week 15: Cruel Cruel Summahh

Heh, are you ready for this one?! We've got some new Kendrick, new Kanye, new uhh... Miranda Lambert. With but one week left we really don't have any chance of seeing any of these tracks doing any kind of real Summer Jam Damage. But in what is clearly going to be the last Summer of doing this crap, here is what we're ending with!

"family ties" by Baby Keem, Kendrick Lamar

You know, it's getting to be a long while since Damn. and it's about time Kendrick has some new tracks. This is fun and engaging, while also emblematic of his sly and darkly humourous style that's also not that humourous at all. It's a good track, maybe not as explosive as some of his earlier output, but it'll definitely do.

"Jonah" by Kanye

Haha, how does a song feel overproduced and underproduced at the same time? It's this weird blend of maximalism but also holding back. Dondai was big music news this week, I haven't quite yet listened to the whole thing. Modern Kanye isn't as bad as most people think, it's not nearly at late-2000s levels, but what can be?

"Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)" by Elle King ft. Miranda Lambert

Elle King is looking more like Rob Schneider's daughter. This is old as hell, but whatever, I heard it this week and it's so rare that I like a country song. Miranda Lambert does it, man. She's got the pipes. This is obviously in no state to be a real Summer Jam, but I like it. Who knows, it's probably been popular for months down south. It's fun as hell.

I'm not sure if I've ever heard a more forced collabo that definitely didn't alter the song at all except for throwing in additional vocals. Maybe the "Summertime Sadness" remix that had nothing to do with Lana Del Rey. It works that Megan's bars hit hard, the song isn't great to start with, and I love how it preserves the other BTS rap breakdown. Whatever, it does work in that I like the song a lot more now.

I was tracking it a bit this week. Olivia killed it again, and is hard pressed to not be SUMMER QUEEN.

Well, we got one week left, folks. We'll see how I do next week. I am in fact getting MARRIED this upcoming weekend, so this might not be high on my priorities. Oh who am I kidding, ALWAYS ROOM FOR A SUMMMMMER JAAAAAAAMMMMM!!!!

25 August 2021

Summer Jam Week 14: Birthday Week

That's right! It is my birthday week. Certainly cause for national celebration. Or just another fantastic day in summer! It's hot, though. It's not going to get cooler. We suck, destroyed this planet. ARE YOU READY FOR A ROUND OF JAMS?!

No hot jam this week. Let's just get into it:

This song is generally too long, slow, and dramatic to be a summer jam I'm into, but it's been around long enough it deserves some recognition here. Someone's listening to it.

Yeah Ed Sheeran kind of came out of no where this week. It's been around for a while and I really don't like Ed Sheeran that much so I've been conveniently ignoring it. But it just kept flapping me in the face this week, so there you go.

We've only got two more weeks left, people! This is a shorter summer for whatever reason, maybe because last year's calendar was an unprecedentedly long 18 weeks! This has definitely been an okay summer, and we'll see if Olivia can pull it off!

I really debated "Rumors" because it's hot, but honestly hasn't broken out that much yet. And Bruno Mars is always in the equation but is "Leave the Door Open" played out yet? These are all big questions. But my decision is final! See you next week!

16 August 2021

Summer Jam Week 13: Build a Summer

Mid-August! We're almost there! We've thrown in an assortment of new hot jams to jam to this week for your audial pleasure.

"Rumors" by Lizzo ft. Cardi B

It's about time these two got together! They did co-star in Hustlers (2019) after all! This is a funky beat and a great vehicle for both of their impeccable flows. I think it's deserving of the hype. Unfortunately it's dropped far, far too late to be a realistic Summer Jam contender. It hasn't totally lit up charts yet, either, but I think it could do great.

I do want to mention that "Industry Baby" came on at the Gym today and it was changed very quickly.

Olivia reclaimed it this week. It was unambiguous to me, I heard this track everywhere. I would surmise that it's going to win it all, I don't necessarily see it slowing down yet. We've got just a few weeks left to find out!

I know we don't ever do honorable mentions or anything, but I did hear (relatively) new Foo Fighters this week, but it came out six months ago and isn't popular. So I can't in good conscience list here as a Hot Jam, but I always like throwing out some Modern Rock (as rare as good Modern Rock is), and this is surprisingly solid for new stuff from a nearly 30-year old band.


10 August 2021

Summer Jam 2021 Week 12: Peaches in Rio

Here we go. Getting into mid-August now. It's hot as the devil's titty but fall is right around the corner now. We're entering into the solid last third of summer. Are we counting this right?

"Don't Go Yet" by Camila Cabello

I don't have too much commentary this week. This track is good enough. It's not nearly "My Oh My" status, but it's fun enough for a late summer jam. I'm not sure if we're getting a "WAP" this year. But the WAPserversary is coming up. Other than that, mostly sort of the same this week.

I just heard "Girl from Rio" a ton this week and I like it. Clearly Spotify, Billboard, local radio, and my own personal tastes are NOT on the same page. That's fine, I expect as much. But I really dig this song! Totally not a Summer Jam Contender.

But at this point we do have to start talking about how these points are going to add up. I think it's going to be Olivia or Bieber. At this point if either miss a week it's a huge deal! Keep blasting those sweet summer jams!

04 August 2021

First Impressions: The Tomorrow War

I had been anticipating The Tomorrow War (2021) for a while now. At least January 2020. Doesn't that seem so damn long ago? So it's been in the back of my mind for some time and I was excited that it dropped on Amazon Prime. I am such a fan of the cinema experience but to be really honest the ease, immediacy, and no-time pressure access of streaming services is such a relief. I felt the same watching this as I did Black Widow (2021) in that during the film I was feeling pretty good, but when I reflected for a split second all the flaws rose to the surface. Are you ready to complain about this film!? Let's gooo! PSOILER-OOOO!!

First of all, we need to talk about some basic questions the premise creates. The controlling idea is that in the future aliens have invaded earth and since we're losing badly. As Earth runs out of soldiers in the future they turn to draft humans from the past. This is a great concept, but as I watched it, the natural implications became apparent, but unexplored. And I will say right now that I hate this kind of bad faith film criticism - we can't say a movie is bad because of what it could have been. We should always be evaluating the art from its own merits.

I am, however, going to ask you to indulge me on this one because I feel like some of these creative issues are baked into the screenplay and emblematic of some other issues currently problematic to modern blockbuster filmmaking. So, let's start with this - future war, needs a draft of past soldiers. Cool. My first thought is that they would collect a wide array of past soldiers. Mongolians, Samurai, Crusaders, Spartans, Maori, and more and throw some sci-fi guns on 'em and send 'em into battle. It'd be easy to avoid paradoxes, same as they sort of do in the actual movie, just zap 'em up right before they die in whatever battle they're in. This gets into a little Loki territory, but they were already ripping off a dozen other movie ideas, I don't think that's egregious.

Maybe that's the problem with time travel. All the constraints imposed in this film (past and future moving in real time, sending present folks to the future at set points for a week) are all things made up by the script. Time travel isn't actually real, we can do anything we want with it. But, once you open that container it gets rough. They could have time traveled all the ancient warriors to some isolated time and location (how about like...5th Century BCE New Zealand) and trained for years, shared language, brought everyone up to speed. Make the Dream Team Army. Then zap them right where they're supposed to go. That sounds like a more fun montage that fully explores the natural consequence of a wide open premise.

Because the natural consequences within the confines of this movie makes no damn sense. They zap up folks who are going to die soon, so as to not mess with the timeline too much, but this then naturally leads to an army full of old folks dying of cancer who have no training at all. They then wonder why they're losing, after drafting only sick and old people who have no boot camp or intel about their enemy. Why then do anything at all? Get Genghis Khan in this shit.

The draft has a lot of weird implications, as I said. For such a momentous occasion, the inciting incident feels incredibly weak. People arrive from the future, say that aliens have invaded and we're losing and they need to draft current citizens. But they can't say who they're fighting or offer any proof or information. It's downright bizarre that the US alone would participate, much less global cooperation. We see this start to break down by the end of the film, but we really should have seen some kind of descension or build-up instead of the flash-forward where we're apparently all okay with being drafted. We aren't even on board when being drafted to fight our own wars, much less some one else's. What's the natural consequence? Maybe recruiting a Civil War soldier who's about to die?! Would that work?! A movie exploring the global reaction to the draft would be more interesting than this movie, or at least it should have been this clear edict from the future established through technological superiority, which places all kinds of fun implications on authoritarian desperation and what we're fighting for. THERE'S A GOOD MOVIE IN HERE.

This film is stuffed to the brim with set-ups and pay-offs, but it's all plot-related. When that kid is talking about volcanoes, I knew it'd come back in the end (I was picturing a big volcano fight to defeat the aliens. How silly is that?!). We've got the plane operator who hates the government. It's literally like, when the end comes around everything is set up so well that it's all just dominoes. Don't get me wrong, this usually makes for a good screenplay - but it did the opposite here. Everything became so dang easy to solve.

Despite all this, there's hardly any set-up and payoff to the characters. Chris Pratt is apparently all about leaving his family? No he's not. It's not a big character growth thing when he solemnly decides to stay with his wife and kid at the end. Generally I've come to the conclusion that Pratt needs to keep playing doofy characters. When he's in this and Jurassic World (2015) being the most serious dude in the room it just doesn't work. He's got too much charisma to be wasted being boring. You're Chris Pratt, not Sam Worthington. Do something here instead of being generic.

See, the core issue is that this movie has no idea how fun its premise actually is. Everything is just played super straight and serious. What is it going to take for movies to shake themselves off and just own their wackiness?! The crucial thing is that this is exactly what movies like Chris Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) did. Audiences are savvy and cynical, and it's hard to accept a movie played this straight that could have been so much more fun. Everything about it just feels very arbitrary, which is exasperated by how much this film is just a pastiche of every other alien film ever made.

Let's go through this. The first major inspiration is clearly Edge of Tomorrow (2014). There are a LOT of similarities. The hopeless, humanity-spanning conflict, the global draft, and obviously the time trial element, although used drastically different. But not only that, the monster design is evocative of the style used here. The "White Spikes" are fast, spindly, seeming without consciousness or weapons, and have separate castes for smaller and bigger versions. That's all Edge of Tomorrow. There's also the incredibly tired bit of finding one alien to kill all the other ones. I'm so done with this.

Now, Tomorrow War isn't totally like this. Technically they go back in time, ask a High Schooler about volcanoes, and then zap a smaller group with toxin while they're sleeping in the ice. I would, however, like ONE movie where one thing doesn't kill all the aliens and we actually used tactics. To be fair, this trope affects great movies like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones and The Avengers (2012). Even Endgame (2019) falls into this a little bit. Independence Day (1996) is the classic example, and maybe the trope originator. And you're going to plotz, but the only film in history that actually uses creative tactics to defeat an established alien invading force based on tactics is fucking Battleship (2012).

The aliens in Tomorrow War are not only like Edge, but visually similar to the white scrawny Clover in Cloverfield (2008), although obviously smaller. There is a heavy lift of Alien movies, from a small covert team searching drippy tunnels like Aliens (1986) to a surprising lift of Prometheus (2012) of all things when it's revealed that the White Spikes aren't a spacefaring civilization, but rather a weapon to be deployed on a planet to wipe it out. It's exactly like the Black Goo from the Engineers that lead to the xenomorphs. Oh, and the wintery battle against a queen is like, uh, Alien vs. Predator (2004)!? They didn't think we'd remember. 

To talk more about these aliens, I had a tough time believing they would overrun the world so quickly and unstoppably. Sure, they are fast and armoured, but they're far from impossible to kill. Bombs seem to work. It's clear in Edge of Tomorrow that although the aliens ARE tough to kill, the reason they're winning is because they keep resetting time until they win each battle. It's tough to believe that they would rout humanity so quickly despite being just animals. There was maybe a little implication that the queen could see and reason, but we didn't develop any advanced weapons or higher caliber rifles to counter them? It just feels like another stretch.

This idea that they're an ancient crash landing that then rose up from under our feet is also straight out of the most recent War of the Worlds (2005), which didn't quite work there and doesn't work now. Okay, to be fair, it works better here than the pilots riding lightning down to their ships, which doesn't make sense on any level. Who was the hack director who came up with that?! No, this is more like Transformers (2007) where Megatron lost control of his ship and crashed in the ice, to be frozen for years until thawed out.

All this points towards the least subtle climate change analogy of all time. I mean, they're literally flashing monitors on the background while the younger generation talk about how their future is doomed. Then they zip down to MIAMI in 2051. MIAMI, people. Was this set in Miami? Everyone seems to be Dolphins fans. Nah, that means it can't be in Miami. The entire ending bit is also the fact that the Russian Glaciers will melt and release these bastards in the first place. I don't disagree with any of it, but subtly is an art that this movie is not trying to avoid at all. There is virtually no other reading possible

Like I said, this isn't totally a bad thing. But instead of a clever nod it's a sledgehammer. There are other things that aren't completely awful. It is surprisingly good looking, and has both great sets, great green screen, and some notably impressive shots from first-time live action director Chris McKay. I also generally don't understand how the dude behind The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) couldn't find the humor or irony here. I'm going to chaulk that up to studio fudgery. JK Simmons as a right wing conspiracy nut is solid, they present him as a quack while avoiding the kinds of easy liberal criticism that would have made him a cartoon character. And I really liked how the final queen was killed via three generations of Forester, the science of the daughter, the skills of the father, and the guts of Chris Pratt. It's cool.

I just spent 1700 words whining about this, but despite all the core problems, the actual movie we got isn't that bad on its own. It's as if we had two branching possibilities, and this great interesting, fully realized possibility is on one branch, and the safe, repetitive, yet competent film is on the branch that we got. Events happen sequentially, and characters grow and rebound. I liked when the weird fat draftees find some courage and sacrifice themselves. It's certainly too long, but doesn't super feel like it, and although the beginning is rushed and can't answer its own questions fast enough, it gets better as it goes along and I'm relatively satisfied with the conclusion, although again it avoids any kind of twist or creativity with its time travel premise.

What did you think? Am I right? Is it too much to ask for more basic fun and creativity out of our movies?
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