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.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Recently Consumed: Dark Matter, Drop Dead Diva, The Last Shadow Puppets and more

Blake Crouch, Dark Matter (2016)

Shockingly, the first thing discussed on this blog ostensibly dedicated to being behind the times is a recently-released novel about alternate universes and the self. We're not going to get into it here though: I have a guest blog up at my friend the Literary Counsellor and I highly recommend (with total impartiality) you check out my thoughts, at length, there.

The Last Shadow Puppets, Everything You've Come To Expect (2016)

The side-project of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner doesn't announce itself as boldly as their work (especially their career-highlight fifth album AM) but it is a delightful, irresistible slice of retro-psychedelia, calling up Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles alongside the Powerpop-Funk-Indie-Alt-R&B-Boyband-Crooner-Hard Rock fusion of Turner's other band. Check out the Madman Across the Water/Honky Cat era Elton John-esque "The Dream Synopsis."

Drop Dead Diva (2009-2014)

The ultimate Lifetime watch-with-your-someone series. We're 4 and a half seasons into the 6-year saga of model Deb Dobkins in her reincarnated life as lawyer Jane Bingum, and while I have to admit I can see the plot beats coming a mile away (wait, they're about to introduce some new evidence and amend the complaint! The judge is going to allow it, but tell them to be careful!) I do enjoy the often-quirky cases the firm of Harrison and Parker takes, which provide challenging, usually frothy puzzles for their legal minds. The show is also buoyed by the charisma of its star Brooke Elliott, who wears the tics and traits of a runway model as well as those of a ferocious legal shark who only wants to make the guilty pay, and is always a delight to watch in doing so. Only, the ensemble has really lost something since the departure of Ben Feldman as Guardian Angel Fred, who left midway through to pursue a position with Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Could also do with more Margaret Cho.

Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts (2011)

Having been a fan of Larson's Devil in the White City, I was glad to finally get around to reading his account of William E. Dodd, American ambassador to Germany in 1933, and his scandalous daughter Martha. This book doesn't live up to the quality of the previous, owing to the fact that we are essentially reading the tale of a man who is patently ordinary in temperament, in over his head from the get-go, with the foregone conclusion that he doesn't prevent the Holocaust and everything is going to get a lot worse by the time it's over (and then some more afterward.) It's not as rich and full of a story (from a beginning-middle-end standpoint) as White City, since Dodd's part just misses some of the most fascinating, dark moments of the Third Reich. It doesn't help that the key event of the book - the Night of Long Knives purge - has little to do with Dodd at all, underscoring the notion that maybe he wasn't someone who made history as much as someone history happened around. But Larsen's writing style kept me turning pages; the man writes facts as gripping as any fiction, by including fascinating details but never letting them dry out the story. The intrigues surrounding the many loves of Martha Dodd are a revelation, it's as much her tale as her father's.

WWE RAW and SmackDown Live (Week of Sept 5)

I can quibble about some of the awkwardness that has accompanied the return to a brand split, the way the ascent of Kevin Owens was pretty much a reminder that it's HHH's world, and the fact that 3 hours of RAW is just too damn much but the real scandal is the tasteless scripting of the Sasha Banks return promo designed to ape the retirement speech of Daniel Bryan (just a few months ago) or the title forfeiture of Finn Balor (just a few weeks ago!) To play on those real life sympathies only for a wrestling story makes me feel upset as an audience member, reminds me that these entertainers are constantly putting themselves in real danger just for my amusement (at a rate that surely could be decreased with some new policies) and that the people in charge will do just about anything to get a reaction. Makes me wonder why I ever watch. And yet there I am every week. I'm not happy with myself, let me tell you. That Sasha Banks promo really took me to a dark place. But at least we've got Owens on top, Enzo & Cass and the New Day in the middle of the show, Bayley's "inflatable tube man" aesthetic and Chris Jericho alluding to people about to get "it." There's maybe 40 good minutes in every 3-hour RAW and somehow that's enough.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015 film)

Watched on a lark for potential "so bad it's good" qualities, but was honestly disappointed in that regard. There just wasn't that much in there to laugh at, let alone follow along as a story. It's as bad as everyone says, sure, but not in quite the way I was led to believe or hoped. It was just a snooze that could have used a bit more sex (to bring it up to the level suggested by the reputation) about two exceptionally boring human beings (I think) who engage in an unconventional courtship, but boringly. It's almost like there's something unhealthy about deliberately consuming media with the intention of disliking it. Huh.

Here We Go Again Coming Back For The First Time

Sometimes I get concerned that I'm not living my best internet.

The world wide web is full of great people, smart people, funny people, interesting people, creative people, insightful people, people with perspective, people who make taste. I was absolutely flummoxed one day recently to wake up and realize that, at the age of 29, having spent two decades walking the smoldering pit of damnation that is online discourse, I had made my mark as none of those things.

It occurs to me that for the most part, people who garner a lot of attention online are the ones who catch onto things first, can tout them or tear them down as needed. This is a problem for me, since I always seem to be a latecomer to these trends. By the time I have something to say on a given subject, everyone has already moved on to the next thing, or possibly several things after that. This inability to be on time for anything seems, in retrospect, to be an ongoing theme in my life.

So I realized, not long ago (but longer ago than you'd think) - if you can't be first, be last. Embrace your lack of punctuality. Be the guy who chimes in an causes everyone else to wonder, "Is this still a thing?"

I'm not even going to work particularly hard at it. I'm just going to sit back and let my natural inclination against rushing into anything take its natural course. This blog might not even get updated ever again after tomorrow, because I'll end up putting it off so badly. And if so, then isn't the promise of a new beginning the best way to end?

(No, that's dumb and I shouldn't have suggested otherwise.)

So for context's sake, in case you somehow managed to get here without already knowing any of this, here are some facts: You are reading the blog of a 29-year-old Canadian male of white complexion, who works retail (currently selling mostly books in a mostly book store) and has been in a serious relationship for the past 21 months (we figure after the two year mark we can stop counting by months. You know, like a baby.) I have variously written about comic books, music, TV and movies, and most notably music* where my passion for the subject matter constantly competed with my instinct not to be absolutely up-to-the-minute current. I want my media to be intellectually stimulating or else sickeningly over-the-top (or both!) I promote diversity when I can but I also dismay myself by liking many entertainments that are in some way regressive. I struggle with the concept of "guilty pleasures." I wish I were funnier on twitter but I always considered myself the kind of class clown who kept his humor hidden up his sleeve for surprising moments when he deemed his audience worthy, rather than desperately seeking everyone's approval. Basically everything I watch on TV is chosen by my girlfriend anyway, and in case she's reading this, I'm totally cool with that and love her very, very much. I don't care about sports but I watch pro wrestling. I wear plaid shirts exclusively.

And you, my dear, are still reading this blog. We're going to have fun.

Keep on rockin'

*I only didn't keep up with it because the mission statement I had set out for myself started to make it time consuming and I couldn't figure out a way to cut back while still enjoying it, a weird contradiction.