Month: November 2015

UPTOWN FUNK

I hate songs about songs. Just as you aren’t allowed to use a word to define itself, your song should not be allowed to be about how great the song itself is.

Can you imagine any other art form using this strategy? When was the last time you read a book that was all about how fascinating and enjoyable that book was? Has there ever been a movie about itself, where the characters stand around and talk about what an amazing film they’re in (Quentin Tarantino movies don’t count)? Why, then, do we allow musical artists to write songs like this?

“Uptown Funk” is a song about an amazing song called “Uptown Funk.” This song is the song you’re listening to when you’re listening to “Uptown Funk.” Do you see my confusion? Are we listening to the song they’re singing about, or are we listening to a song about the song they’re singing about? I can only hope that this much-hyped-but-unheard version of “Uptown Funk” is better than the one we actually hear. Because it sucks.

There are very few tunes that make me change the radio station as soon as they come on. This is one of them. From the annoyingly repetitive lyrics to Bruno Mars screeching like a 14-year old girl with a 2-pack-a-day habit, it grates on me in a way nothing has since “Blurred Lines.”  Why? I’ll attempt to explain.

This hit, that ice cold
Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold
This one for them hood girls
Them good girls straight masterpieces
Stylin’, whilen, livin’ it up in the city
Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent
Got kiss myself, I’m so pretty

The very first line declares the song to be “a hit.” How dare it?!? It’s like having your characters announce how they feel. I’m going to interpret the next line as implying that the song will “go gold” – as gold as Michelle Pfeiffer. Is Michelle Pfeiffer having a career resurgence that I completely missed out on?  Vance Joy’s “Riptide” states, “I swear she’s destined for the screen, closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you’ve ever seen.” There has to be some reason for all the Pfeiffer hype, but I’m missing it.

The verse closes with the singer describing his attire (which apparently involves wearing shoes along with clothes). What that has to do with the song being a hit is unclear.

I’m too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire man
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Say my name you know who I am
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Am I bad ’bout that money, break it down

Alright, so the song is good. We got that already.

Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you
‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you
‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you
Saturday night and we in the spot
Don’t believe me just watch (come on)

How can these girls “hit” their “hallelujah”? I’d assume that’s the singer urging his chorus to sing “hallelujah” effectively, but instead they just sing “whoo.” The singer then repeats his previous assertion that the song will be great. And why would I not believe that they’re in the spot on Saturday night? Why would I doubt that statement? I’m sure they’re in the spot. What does this have to do with the song?

Don’t believe me just watch uh

Don’t believe me just watch
Don’t believe me just watch
Don’t believe me just watch
Don’t believe me just watch
Hey, hey, hey, oh

I BELIEVE YOU! JE-zus!

Stop, wait a minute
Fill my cup, put some liquor in it
Take a sip, sign a check
Julio, get the stretch
Ride to Harlem, Hollywood
Jackson, Mississippi
If we show up, we gon’ show out
Smoother than a fresh dry skippy

What? What’s this? Now we’re literally stopping the song so he can have a drink and get in his car? What is going on here? Is the singer inside the song as he sings it/about it? Should I know what a “fresh dry skippy” is and why it’s assumed to be smooth?  At this point, lyrically, it’s basically over. “Hey we got a great song here, it’s SUPER great – oh hang on let me drink this real quick – ok here’s the song, it’s great!”

I’m a nerd – I made a pivot table to break down just how insufferable and repetitive this tune is. Don’t believe me? JUST WATCH.

There are 102 lines in this song.

‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you: 6 lines

Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo): 6 lines

Hey hey hey oh: 3 lines

I’m too hot (hot damn): 8 lines

Uptown funk you up: 23 lines

Don’t believe me just watch: 18 lines

These six phrases constitute 63% of “Uptown Funk”. The title of the song itself accounts for 23% of the lyrics. That’s lazy. That’s REALLY lazy. That’s like reading a version of A Tale of Two Cities where “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” makes up 31,147 of the words. I’m not even addressing the fact that they’re basically saying “fuck you up” 23 times.

No punishment is enough for composing this lyrical compost heap. Mark Ronson should have his eyes put out, his ears sealed, and his fingers cut off, and I’d suggest castrating Bruno Mars if I didn’t think it would maybe make him a better singer.

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FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD

Friday the 13th Part 7 buzzsaw

1988 – A disturbed young woman with telekinetic powers accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery prison, sparking yet another murderous rampage.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

You give the people what they want, and the people want Jason.

Like Madonna at the age of 50, the Friday the 13th series decided to reinvent itself for a hip new generation. Gone are the days of Jason remaining unseen for half the movie or being hidden behind constant POV shots. Now the big guy is on-screen constantly, and while this might drain the suspense and horror from the film, Part VII makes up for it with sheer entertainment.

Tent spikes! Machetes! Boobs! Spines punched out Mortal Kombat-style! Party horns to the eye! More boobs! Axes! Tree trimmers! Jason is like a flamboyant stage magician, daring us to question whether he can use any object for purposes of butchery. This is the perfect entry in the series to show a 13-year-old kid. “Want to stay up late, watch a ‘scary movie’ and see your first pair(s) of breasts? Well buckle up!”

Fragile, virginal Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) is headed to her family’s old home at Crystal Lake with her mother (Susan Blu, a.k.a. Arcee from Transformers the Movie) at the urging of her obviously evil psychologist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser). Years ago (shortly after the end of Part VI), Tina’s latent telekinetic powers resulted in the accidental death of her father, and she’s been in the nuthouse trying to get over it. Crews secretly schemes to heighten her stress and anxiety, which causes her abilities to manifest more strongly. Why? Uh… it’s sort of a “Step 1: patient has telekinesis; Step 2: ?; Step 3: PROFIT” plan. After a traumatic therapy session, Tina’s wild powers accidentally release Jason from his chains at the bottom of the lake. Whoops! There’s also a rowdy band of teens next door, waiting to throw a surprise party for their friend. Double whoops!

"...Surprise."

“…I didn’t bring a present.”

That’s all the set-up we need. You don’t have to be concerned about whether any of these people will survive because you know most of them won’t. Oh, there’s a hunky nice guy named Nick (Kevin Spirtas) and an over-the-top hostile bitch named Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), but beyond that the characters are just “the stoner” and “the nerd” and “the quarreling black couple.” Why are they quarreling? Who cares! They’re just here to die. And die they will. Horribly.

Every murder is a set-piece. In one scene Jason slashes through a tent with his machete – but he’s gonna save that machete for later because he can simply batter his victim to death inside her sleeping bag:

Friday the 13th Part 7 sleeping bag

When I saw Kane Hodder at an event in college, he noted that this was one of his favorite kills. Jason will often dispatch a victim in one location, then plant their corpse somewhere else for later, but here he makes that trick an art form. In one sequence he kills a guy in the kitchen, decapitates him off-screen, and plants the head on the window seat of an empty room upstairs – just knowing that someone is going to wander in there and discover it. Then he cuts another guy’s head off and puts it in a potted plant! For no reason! Who does this? WHO DOES THIS?!?

Jason does this.

The performances are mixed. While the supporting characters are a forgettable dump, the main cast is strong. Hodder gives Jason an aura of enormous size, strength, and fury. When people flee him, he stomps after them like an irate father after his recalcitrant son – the kid can run, but inevitably he’ll be caught and he’s only making his punishment worse. Susan Jennifer Sullivan makes Melissa THE archetypal horror movie “bad girl” – petty manipulative, spoiled, and unrelentingly antagonistic to Tina. I first saw this movie over a decade ago, and I still remembered Melissa’s character. Looking at these images, there’s no doubt which character deserves our sympathy and which one’s death we should be rooting for. Lar Park-Lincoln manages to convey kindness and vulnerability with each look, while her rival radiates an empty, icy contempt:

Friday the 13th Part 7 girls

Tina’s showdown with Jason is, of course, the centerpiece of the film. Chris from Part 3 (Dana Kimmell) might be my favorite “final girl,” but Tina is Jason’s worthiest opponent. The final duel between the two elevates Part VII from horror movie to super hero origin story, as Tina finally takes control of her powers and unleashes them on her antagonist. It’s the most action-packed climax in the series, and it helps make The New Blood the last true standout for the franchise. Sure, there are entries that are scarier and have more emotional resonance, but if you want to have fun – this is the one to see.

SPECTRE

Spectre title

2015 – Bond’s pursuit of a personal vendetta leads to a confrontation with an international criminal organization bent on taking control of the world’s intelligence services.

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

As you could probably tell from my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I’m a hardcore classic Bond fan. Despite the excellence of Skyfall, I was very nervous about this fourth entry in the Daniel Craig Bond era. Would the series revert to the putrescence Quantum of Solace? Or would we finally see a full-on REAL Bond movie from Craig?

Well, overall, Spectre was decent. It’s an entertaining movie, but it doesn’t say or do anything particularly new (especially in the context of the franchise as a whole). You’ll go through the entire movie waiting for a real Bond “WOW!” moment, but it won’t come (although the opening credit sequence comes close). It tries to take the series back to it’s spy roots, which is a good thing, but the plot feels loosely strung together and sags during the bloated 148-minute run time – it could easily have been a half hour shorter. However, it has a fine villain, a good henchman, fine chemistry between Bond and love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), and doesn’t do anything truly wrong. What the producers missed was the opportunity to get things amazingly rightSpectre had the potential to be a Skyfall-level hit. Instead, it’s only the third best of Craig’s tenure.

If this was Daniel Craig’s swan song in the role, my honest assessment is that he leaves it in even worse shape than Pierce Brosnan did after The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.

Grade: C+

A warning to those who want to go into the movie with fresh eyes: the next section is a scholarly-essay-cum-insane-rant by a Bond nut. Stop here if you don’t want to know every intimate detail of the film!

REVIEW ***WITH MASSIVE SPOILERS***

We all know the “Bond cliches” by now: he sleeps around, he drinks a lot, he’s got a license to kill and does so frequently. I submit that, after the last six films or so, these are no longer the cliches of the series. The new cliches, which are just as formulaic as the old ones, are pointing out and making a joke of the Bond cliches. What was “new and edgy” about the Brosnan era is the boring old boilerplate of the Craig era. Yes, we KNOW that Bond originated in the Cold War. Yes, we KNOW that he burns through women like a blowtorch. Yes, we KNOW that he kills a lot of people. It’s not interesting or clever to keep harping on these facts.

Speaking of Craig’s Bond – although he didn’t really become Bond until his third film, I feel we can finally give him a fair assessment. He’s a brute. He isn’t particularly handsome (in my opinion) or charming. He may come out with a quip every once in a while, but it’s delivered in a flat monotone with a contemptuous curl of the lip. We never get the impression that he enjoys anything he’s doing. All in all, Craig’s Bond is a miserable asshole. He may dress sharply and enjoy stylish sunglasses, but his apartment looks like shit. Everyone who hasn’t read the original Bond books likes to say how faithful Craig’s Bond is to the character; Fleming’s Bond would never have kept an apartment as slovenly as Craig’s. His Bond is about outward style but inward rot. But what about his performance in this particular film?

Bond: Well, he’s finally Bond. He actually does some spying in this movie, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t Bond running around dual-wielding machine guns and blowing away armies of henchmen. He uses a little stealth, deduction, and detective work. Unfortunately, he unconvincingly falls for yet another woman. The lame core trait of Craig’s Bond is that he’s supposedly the most ruthless, heartless bastard of all Bonds, but he’s also the one who falls to pieces over a woman every single time. It reminds me of Christopher’s assessment of Swingers from The Sopranos: “You guys patterned yourselves after Frank and Dean, but there was, like, a pussy-assness to it.” Skyfall‘s strength was that they didn’t give him a woman to cry and whimper over (unless you count M). He’s still a mush-mouth mumbler, but that’s Craig. Thumbs sideways.

Pre-Credit Sequence: Probably the highlight of the movie, with an incredible long tracking shot of a villain in Mexico’s Day of the Dead parade, Bond and a woman going up to their hotel room, Bond exiting through the window and walking across the rooftops to kill his target. Did you notice how Bond adjusted his cuffs walking along the edge of the roof? Just like he did in the Skyfall opening sequence! And when Bond looks at that Spectre ring… awesome. We haven’t heard from the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion since Diamonds Are Forever. I got chills and hoped that something truly legendary was on the way. Thumbs up.

Bond Song: …Aaaaaand they blew it. What IS this? This is the plagiarist guy singing, right? If you didn’t know “Sam Smith” was a man, you’d swear it was a woman wailing out this boring, cringe-inducing anthem to the watered-down Bond that they’re trying to promote. The opening credits also provide a montage of characters from the previous three Craig Bond movies, which is the closest thing we come to ANY INDICATION WHATSOEVER that the events of those movies are interconnected. This is the movie’s major flaw. Thumbs down.

M: I like this M (Ralph Fiennes). He’s a man. I despised Judi Dench, and thank God we don’t have to deal with her this time around OH DAMMIT THERE SHE IS. Yep, she appears, briefly, in a video, to give Bond his next assignment. Judi Dench’s M is such a one-note snore-fest. GET HER OUT OF THE FRANCHISE FOR THE LOVE OF FUCK. That aside, this male M is a cool guy who isn’t afraid to go for a little field work once in a while. Thumbs up.

Q: I don’t like this Q (Ben Whishlaw). What happened to R? If they illogically carried Judi Dench’s M into this weird reboot phase, why not John Cleese? Too “goofy”? Like this emasculated chump isn’t a goofy character? Is it so bad to have older people in a Bond movie? We’ve replaced the legendary old, witty Q who went toe-to-toe with 007 with a loser who wilts as soon as Bond looks in his direction. Ha ha, he’s a pushover. We get it. Thumbs down.

Moneypenny: Wow, what a trendy, dangerous choice to make Moneypenny a young black woman (Naomie Harris)! Actually, it’s neither of those things. It’s predictable, just like every attempt they’ve made to “remake” the franchise for the 21st century. She really doesn’t even need to be in this movie, nor did we need that weird scene where she talks to someone in her apartment and Bond is like, “Who’s that?” and she’s like, “Just a friend.” Why did we need to see that? Who was it? Who cares? This is one of the many reasons that Spectre runs way, way too long. Thumbs down.

The Villain: It’s Blofeld. BLOFELD. He amazing was it to just see Blofeld again?!? They kinda got this one right. He wears collarless shirts and Nehru jackets. He has a Persian cat! He has a scar and a creepy milky white eye! He’s played by Christoph Waltz, although he basically plays Blofeld like every other Christoph Waltz character (he smiles, he’s goofy yet sinister, he’s calm yet creepy). These are all good things about the “new” Blofeld. But suddenly BOOM! He’s Bond’s brother. Um… what? Did Bond ever have a brother referenced before? No? Okay. Also, all of a sudden all three previous Craig-era bad guys were working for Blofeld. Um… Le Chiffre and Greene worked for Quantum, didn’t they? I thought Quantum was going to be sort of “the new Spectre” until Quantum of Solace sucked so badly. Then they dumped that whole angle and had Silva as the stand-alone bad guy of Skyfall, a madman with a personal vendetta against M. Except now he was somehow also working for Blofeld. How? Why? This is just too much to swallow and seems really slapped together. Blofeld’s big “It was me behind it all!” scene would have been much more amazing if there had been ANY indication that there was an “it all” for anyone to be behind. Instead we get a massive info-dump as though it’s expected to instantly make this feel like some kind of grand finale. It doesn’t work. But, all in all, Blofeld himself is good. Thumbs up.

The Henchman: Blofeld’s henchmen are mostly interchangeable except for a big, silent, unnamed tough guy played by Dave Bautista. The credits identify him as “Hinx,” which is awful. They should have just called him “Bautista.” He hearkens back to the golden age of Bond, where every movie needed an enormous physical henchman for Bond to battle. Unfortunately, he only pops up a few times. If the movie needed MORE of anything, it’s this guy. He keeps surviving his encounters with Bond, sort of like Jaws. The two even start to develop a bit of personal rivalry. Then he gets killed off abruptly and rather disappointingly during a train fight, and as inconclusive as his “death” is he never re-appears for a surprise attack. It was nice while it lasted, though. Thumbs up.

The Girls: Swann has possibly the most obscure backstory of any Bond girl: she’s Mr. White’s daughter. Remember Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale and Quantum? I sure didn’t! He was a bad guy, but suddenly he’s almost an honorable good guy. Anyway, Swann is hot and a good actress and gets a requisite “girl power” moment where she shows she knows how to use a gun. WOW! A GIRL using a GUN?!? I’ve never seen anything like it before! Monica Bellucci is also a Bond girl, but she’s only in it for five minutes and gives Bond some information he could easily have gotten elsewhere. She could have been left on the cutting room floor, honestly. Thumbs up.

The Plot: Loose. Sloppy. These are words that describe both my bowel movements and the plot of Spectre. What is going on? Why are we going here? Why are we going there? There’s no real rhyme or reason for anything to happen in this movie. It moves along at such a leisurely pace that you never get any sense of urgency. Even Blofeld’s scheme isn’t that compelling: basically Spectre is making a bid to control the collected intelligence of the world’s secret service agencies via a double agent. Why? For what? Profit? Blackmail? Or is it just kinda what they’re up to at the moment? Even when there’s a literal ticking time bomb at the end, I didn’t feel any compelling drive to the events. Thumbs down.

Gadgets: Hey, know what’s hilarious? James Bond always has a bunch of gadgets! Can you believe that it’s somehow STILL considered revolutionary to point out this apparently obscure and little-noticed fact about James Bond movies? Still, the “gag” of Spectre is that Bond barely gets any gadgets. His car’s gadgets don’t work. His watch is just a normal watch (except it’s also a bomb). The producers of Bond have lost the ability to find a happy middle ground in terms of gadgets – they either go WAY over the edge like the last few Brosnan movies, or they barely have any at all. But here’s the thing: gadgets are a part of Bond, just like quips and crazy plots. If you take those things away, it’s no longer a Bond movie – it’s Jason Bourne Lite. I want to see gadgets. Thumbs down.

IntangiblesSpectre isn’t especially funny; the obvious “laugh moments” all fell flat with the audience. There are some nice call-backs to other Bond movies, like the villain’s base being in a crater like You Only Live Twice and the train fight like From Russia, With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. There are an inordinate amount of call-backs to other Craig movies in an unconvincing attempt to make it seem like they’re all tied together, but amusingly there are VERY few references to Quantum of Solace. Like even THEY realize how crappy it was. There’s a torture scene with Blofeld where he starts to drill into Bond’s head. It was pretty gruesome at first, but then Blofeld announces that the next drill will deprive Bond of all his memories. Except, it doesn’t. Whoops! Blofeld was off his game. The villain DOES have a pretty classy lair and a guy serving champagne. Thumbs sideways.

Again, this wasn’t a bad movie. It was entertaining. It’s main flaw is not what it did wrong but what it COULD have done BETTER. I’m not saying “they needed to take more time” – they used to crank out a Bond movie every other year, and they were usually better and more fun than this. They just need to get correct, quick. For a film that may be Craig’s last in the part, it simply couldn’t compare to the excellence of Skyfall or the serviceable Casino Royale.