Monday, October 17, 2016

Recently: The Girls by Emma Cline

At the surface, Emma Cline's The Girls is a book about a murder. But not a murder mystery - you know from the outset exactly who is going to commit the crime and vaguely sense who is going to be the victim. That the book centers around an ersatz Manson Family should be enough to give that away, as does the framing device, which catches up with the narrator, Evie Boyd, 40 years or so down the road in the present day, where we find what kind of person she has ultimately become - shaped by these experiences, and yes defined by them to a degree, but somehow simply the person she was always meant to be.

What's really special about the book is how it fills the moments leading up to that murder. The encounters between Evie and the future murderess Suzanne. The way she grows apart from her childhood friends and turns toward this toxic hippie commune. The way she regards her mother's failings as she settles for mediocre boyfriends and how she resists her father's new wife's attempts to bond. This is a book about the mind of a young woman as much as it is about someone who commits a crime. Moreso.

It's brilliantly written: the way it picks up on stray details and observations from its main character's world and really digs deep into their significance and her opinions on them. I can't emphasize enough how much great work is done with Evie's psyche as the narrator: how she peppers her teenage observations with adult awareness that would have come in later. How deeply and richly the read experiences the mind of this girl.

On that level, it's a timely and engaging read, for this moment when the media (well, really, the Internet) gives more and more visibility to the issues that have been faced by the interior lives of women since time immemorable. Oh did I say timely? Guess I meant timeless.

The language is absolutely gorgeous, nearly every paragraph containing some remarkable turn of phrase. Sometimes I worry, when reading overly "literate" literature, that the authors are trying too hard to be clever with flowery when they can just make their point in simple language, causing me to notice the author's hand and take me out of the world they're trying to build. Cline proves it's possible to do both simultaneously and with ease. Showoff.

It's been a while since I've encountered a book that seemed so well-suited to my tastes, but those looking for a quick thrill and a last-minute gasp should probably stay away or at least think twice, but it's a damn rewarding read.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Today's Jam: Blind Melon, "No Rain"

Maybe you've noticed that most of my jams lately have been dated to the 90's. At my former grounds I used to try to spread it around, but I can't deny that the decade of my youth calls to me.

At the beginning of this decade, the one we currently live in, I feel like we really saw the rise of a kind of Premium on Memories. I have actually experienced the 90's more clearly from the 2000's than when they were actually happening (being that I was 13 when they ended.) By this, I mean the rise of Buzzfeed, and countless articles on what Only 90's Kids Will Remember.

And of course there was the music, to the point where items that would have been extremely passé at the end of the 90's, became rare-sought-after gems for excavation in the 2010's. It's the race for Who Could Be The First To Remember and to remind everyone. Who could find the kitschiest, most random item for appreciation? And of course it must have been popular enough to be part of our shared cultural memory, but have dropped so completely into obscurity that remembering it at all feels like a magic trick. Sorcery of Memory.

This song, and its memorable "Bee Girl" video, is a particular beneficiary of that, I feel like it's more popular now than it ever was in the 90's. And me posting it now doesn't make me any cooler because we are All Remembering The 90's At All Times.

But it's a good song, still a blast to mumble along to on the radio or on rainy days (or sunny ones!) And let's face it, no matter what the weather, most of the time I really don't have much more to say than that my life is pretty plain.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Today's Jam: Frank, "I Love You All"

Last year my girlfriend and I had the pleasure to happen upon this movie (Frank) at the library, where Michael Fassbender plays the reclusive singer of an underground rock band who performs (and lives his life) wearing a papier mache mascot head. This somehow doesn't keep him from singing strangely beautiful indie rock lyrics in a delightful baritone. It was one of the better rock movies I've seen in my time, dealing with the struggles of sacrificing your art for attention and approval, whether that's a worthy goal or whether it's enough to be uncompromising and please only a small number of people. The music is appropriately quirky and, since it's meant to have a cultlike appeal within the movie's universe, strangely deep and moving. Witness one scene's beautiful-in-context tribute to a lone protruding carpet tuft.

I recommend this highly.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Recently: Bad Moms

I feel like, to a certain extent, Bad Moms got overshadowed by the other female-led comedy film of the summer, Ghostbusters. That one had all this dynamite controversy surrounding it, the baggage of a decades-old franchise and much of the crew that brought you Bridesmaids. By comparison, Bad Moms was this little film you could be forgiven for being unaware of. I think in general we're now trained to overlook movies (and TV shows) that are titled "BAD [Thing that is usually wholesome and good.]" I reckon there hasn't been a good one since Bad Santa (the originator as far as I know.) And it's not like Mila Kunis has legions of fans flocking to the theatre anytime she gets a lead role, otherwise Jupiter Ascending would be getting the trilogy treatment.

But you know, there's a really great comedy here. Kunis makes a really enjoyable lead as Amy, an overworked young mom stretched to the breaking point by the demands of modern parenting and getting no help from her manchild husband (played by perennial sitcom "that guy" David Walton.) Her ill-defined "three-days-a-week" job at a trendy millennial coffee company basically amounts to being the underappreciated on-site adult who keeps the whole organization from falling apart. Her kids have a plethora of after school activities due to the college application arms race (the oldest is only 12 and she's already got to learn Mandarin for her resume!) Amy even does her kids' homework for them, which at one point amounts to a giant unexplained papier-mâché Richard Nixon head. When she gets press-ganged into volunteering for one initiative too many by "perfect" PTA Prez Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate in perfect form) she snaps and decides, in a very trailer-ready moment, to be a "Bad Mom," flanked by the inattentive single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn, always a blast) and mousy, repressed mom of four Kiki (Kristin Bell, who can basically play anything.) Marvel as they tear-up a late night supermarket, go clubbing, and throw one hell of a house party.

The movie has a lot of fun watching these women rediscover their independence, learn how to loosen up on their kids and cope with the demands of parenthood. Of course Amy and Gwendolyn get set on a collision course over the PTA election and of course there's a stirring speech at the end about what a "good mom" even is. There's a good amount of raunchy bad behavior and some awesomely candid sex talk, but the tone is never too far over the top to break the movie into farce. Mostly it succeeds on the dialogue and the main characters' chemistry. A one-dimensional romantic subplot is tossed in ever so lightly as to not detract from the main storyline, which is about right. Every beat of the movie is done well, even when it gets a tad formulaic, because it's charming as hell. Watching the way the moms act out, catch some repercussions for it, but then manage to press forward, is just a joy.

There's a lot of good points about what we have come to expect from the women in our lives, and what we should be doing to help out (as men, as children or as a society.) Probably not enough men will see this movie, definitely not without their wives and girlfriends. But that's their loss, not because they need to get a lesson in equal partnership, but because there's too many damn good laughs in there to be missed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Today's Jam: Aqua, "My Oh My"

When you're 10 or 11 years old, as I was when Aqua's first album came out and everyone in my Grade 5 class had it, you feel like you can eat candy all day. Even with the awareness that you do get stomachaches afterward, nothing is going to keep you away if it gives you pleasure. I felt absolutely no pressure to disavow this band despite the distant advisories from the adult world that their music was cheesy, shrill and trite. (Nevermind the fact that "Barbie Girl" is one of the top most biting bits of satire in the decade, considering the source.)

Anyway. Aqua was candy. They had a winning formula for preteen listeners: most of their songs took on some kind of costume and setpiece, thus providing a unique backdrop for their tooth-achingly sweet yearning pop, in this case the harpsichord-laden medieval/high seas pirate/Robin Hood vibe. The contrast between the voices of Lene Nystrøm and René Dif reinforced the romantic back-and-forth: "Baby I miss you" "I miss you too but I can't be there" etc etc. A lesson in schoolyard romance with Saturday morning colours and a bunch of irresistible hooks. And yeah, it'll rot your teeth, but it's good to indulge now and then.

Friday, September 16, 2016

WWE Thoughts: Heath Slater has arrived (and is moving up to a double-wide.)

Initially, I thought, WWE had slightly blown a good thing with the Heath Slater "free agent" gimmick. By being "left out" of the brand split draft, lifetime low-midcard-comedy-heel Slater managed to take on the status of a mythical folk hero, appearing at totally random times on either show, able to interact with seemingly anyone on either roster, and yet devoid of any ongoing feud or storyline. That part is key because it meant Slater had a bit of protection against the gimmick getting stale (feuding with the same party for weeks and eventually re-enacting the same segments half the time tends to cause that) and it made him into a wonderful element of chaos on a show - two shows - that can become predictable too easy. This is especially risky for comedy acts: who wants to see another Golden Truth or Darren Young/Bob Backlund segment? But Heath Slater (baybay) was able to insinuate himself into any segment, at any time, and make a spectacle of himself to the fans' delight. Just when I thought his shtick had long since gotten moldy, he managed to pull focus back to himself, better than ever.

It was a golden few weeks, but it reached its zenith when Slater went eyeball-to-eyeball with Brock Lesnar, boldly proclaiming he didn't want to face the Beast, but would if he had to because "I got kids!" in a moment that was somehow absurd and hilarious in its pretend patheticness. From there came the difficult part of actually doing something with Slater, which meant slotting him in (with Rhyno as his straight-man) to the SmackDown Tag Team championship tournament that seemed destined to be won by American Alpha or the Usos. I was worried. Once you start knuckling down on a gimmick like that and actually, you know, doing something with it, it becomes difficult because all that chaos is gone, all those wild possibilities suddenly aren't possible. No more random visits to RAW, and of course what could be the outcome of this tournament? Because either he loses and he's gone for good, which wasn't going to happen, or they contrive some other BS way of letting him be "signed." And he definitely wasn't going to actually win the titles, right? Because wrestling championships are serious things.

Okay, we know they're really not. Slater's predecessor Santino Marella was Intercontinental, U.S., and Tag Team champion something like nineteen times, and even the blessed New Day were hardly a thing when they first became your double-you, double-you, ee, world, tag, team, chyampionssss. So to go with the joke champions in this case is no big thing either. And now the great experiment begins, for Slater (and Rhyno) to capitalize on this attention and maybe become as big a deal as the New Day. I believe it's possible, I saw it during the "free agent" weeks, but we need a better Slater than we saw in 3MB, or in Slater Gator, or in the Social Outcasts.

What gets popular in wrestling is tricky. Not everyone has what it takes to make it to the top of the show, but as I said when I came back to this blog, if you can't be first be last. Over the years I've seen WWE wrestlers race to the "bottom" of the card to become the biggest joke characters, some more successful than others (who could forget the meteoric rise of Damien Mizdow?) Because since the act of watching pro wrestling is so ridiculous even to those of us who enjoy it, it helps to have something we aren't being asked to take seriously. And yet somehow, within that routine, there's something a lot more sincere and relatable than the stuff that actually is on the top of the card.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Today's Jam: Cake, "Love You Madly"

It's a weird feeling to know the song and know the band but not know the song was by the band until sometime later. How could anybody mistake John McCrea's deadpan, disaffected yet secretly romantic voice for any other singer's? His is the sound of a Gen X slacker who has been taught by society and his own inner impulses to reject the pomp and circumstance of love (and any real feelings at all) and yet finds himself nevertheless drawn to it, swept up in it, loving it. I dug it up after a trip digging around Tidal for unfamiliar songs by familiar artists, and what do you know, I had that moment of "They did this? ...Well, of course it's them!" This song feels like it's soundtracked many a 2000s slacker comedy film... or at least their trailers.

It's happened to me before, with this very distinct band, when I was a little younger and less worldly. When I was in Grade 9, I happened to catch their "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" on the radio when I was in my aunt's car and I found the song so unique and interesting that it stuck in my head for years afterward until someone finally mentioned it to me and I learned what it was called and who it was by. We weren't yet at the point, as a civilization, where if you knew a snippet of a song you would know to just pop it into Google and get all the answers, we've come a long way in a decade and a half.