KSR’s take on recent non sports related happenings
In the third installment of The A Block, Hayley, Jacqueline and Claire dig deep to discuss mental health issues that do not get talked about enough. The trio is an open book throughout this insightful conversation. The serious talk is accompanied by plenty of laughs and…
— Life-changing pumpkin cold brew coffee.
— Who attended Jennifer Lawrence’s wedding.
— There’s a new documentary on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
— Things are not always as they seem.
— The debut of a dynamite segment: “Our Favorite Things.”
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By Blake Vickers on ©October 14th, 2019 @ 8:27pm
My favorite show is now one of the longest running sitcoms in television history.
It was around 2 in the morning. I was a 14 year old insomniac in the midst of a freak out about having to get up at 6 the next morning for school. Flipping through the channels, I landed on FX. Now one of my favorite stations, at the time I had associated it with reruns of “The Shield” and “Sons of Anarchy”. In that simpler age of 2011, the channel had a weed themed late night schedule peppered with episodes of “Archer”, “Two and a Half Men”, and other comedies. On that fateful night, I saw it for the first time. FX’s funniest show, its best show. A grungy little man with a voice like Piglet, having a crisis over the countless number of rodents he’s been forced to slaughter. Spaghetti in a sauna. A bird with teeth. Denim Chicken. LEVEL THREE, SON! A group of friends so narcissistic that they make those iconic assholes from “Seinfeld” look like Fred Rogers. And of course, Danny DeVito. The show I was watching, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. The episode, “Charlie Kelly: King of Rats”. I had never seen anything like it. It was vulgar, brash, and weird, with a sense of utter sincerity. I was up for the rest of the night, and I didn’t care. I was hooked. I DVR’d every episode that I could find. For Christmas that year I got a box set of the first three seasons. 8 years later, I’m a 22 year old who sleeps far too much. The show is on FXX now. I’ve seen every episode of Dennis, Dee, Charlie, Mac, and Frank’s adventures so many times I can rattle off every episode title in chronological order off the top of my head. And I would wager that at least 60% of the people who watch the show in my home town can link that back to me in some way. My love for Sunny is all consuming, going far beyond romantic, it’s unhealthy. Stalker-ish, to say the least. Last month, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” returned with its 14th season. Making this show about some of the worst people in America tied with “Ozzy and Harriet” as the longest running live action sitcom ever.
For you poor souls who’ve never watched an episode of Sunny, I’ll give a brief rundown on the premise of the series. The black comedy focuses on the various misdeeds and misadventures of The Gang; twins Dennis and Deandre “Sweet Dee” Reynolds, Mac (his full name is something of a running joke the first 7 seasons of the show), Charlie Kelly, and Frank Reynolds. All of them played to perfection by Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, series creator Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Danny Devito, respectively. The miscreants run Paddy’s Pub, the shittiest little bar in Philadelphia, they’ve all got their quirks.
Dennis, the self-described “Golden God”, is a walking sexual misconduct allegation and quite possibly the finest example of a malignant narcissist to ever grace television.
Dee is as self-aggrandizing as her brother. She’s perpetually enraged, and is a source for brutal, Buster Keatonesque physical comedy.
Mac, low-key the most complex character in the series for the entire 14 season run, is a hyper Catholic dude bro. A wannabe tough guy with Body Dysmorphic Disorder who’s perpetually trapped in the closet.
Charlie, arguably the least immoral member of the group (though that’s stretching things a bit), is an illiterate janitor with a penchant for huffing spray paint. He’s a manic and childlike little creature, desperately in love with a local coffee shop waitress (more on her later). It should also be noted that he’s a musical savant (and very likely Frank’s bastard son).
Last but not least, we have Frank. Dennis and Dee’s father (but not really), a multi-millionaire who comes crashing into the series after divorcing their mother in the opening episode of the second season. Far and away the most depraved member of the group, Frank chooses to live in utter squalor with Charlie; filling his days with filth, drugs, booze, and his beloved prostitutes (or “hoors” as he calls them).
The Gang spends most of their time screaming at each other about nothing at all in a blackout stupor or running outlandish get-rich schemes to varying degrees of failure. Past schemes have included letting under-aged kids drink in the bar, going door to door selling gasoline, pretending to have been molested by a gym teacher to get attention in the media, getting hooked on crack to in order to take advantage of welfare programs, attempting to make a homeless baby found in a dumpster a star in commercials, and putting shoe polish on said baby to attempt to pass it off as a person of color. It’s outrageous, obscene, and about as far from politically correct as it gets. Where Sunny does things differently is that no matter how crude or taboo-breaking it can be in its subject matter, it’s never mean spirited. It never punches down. I think that’s a large part of the reason the show has worked so well and for so long. McElhenney and Company may skirt the line, even cross it at times, but every laugh is at the expense of the Gang or any of the other deplorable supporting characters on the show. Speaking of supporting characters…
Sunny has, without question, the best set of recurring characters I’ve ever seen on a television show. They’re as hilarious as they are well developed, with each and every encounter with the Gang leaving them further victimized physically or mentally. There’s The Waitress, a nameless coffee shop server and the (unwanted) subject of Charlie’s deranged affections. Who could forget Liam and Ryan McPoyle? The filthy, perpetually bath robe-d and likely inbred brothers, quite possibly the most disgusting pair to have ever graced a TV screen. And of course, Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara. Cricket begins the show a virtuous priest, but due to the actions of the Gang, goes on a downward spiral that would put Walter White to shame.
Early on in season 10’s “The Gang Misses the Boat,” a bit of meta-commentary from the creators slipped into a bit of dialogue between Dennis and Frank.
“All of us have become so goddamn weird,” snarls the Golden God.
“We’re just hitting our stride,” retorts the pint sized senior citizen in pair of Crocs.
It goes on a little longer, with barbs about Frank’s endless supply of money funding the Gang’s bizarre antics clearly being a stand in for DeVito’s casting on the show and the bigger budget his presence brought to the series. The back and forth does a fine job detailing Dennis and Frank’s roles on the show; with Dennis, unhinged sociopath that he is, playing the straight man to Frank’s free spirited lunacy. But it also poignantly analyzes the trajectory of the series over later seasons. Sunny and it’s twisted protagonists have gotten weirder, and the show is all the better for it. There have been some truly wild and creative episodes to have come out in the past couple years. Installments like “Charlie Work”, a day in the life look at Charlie’s attempt to clean the bar up in time for the arrival of a health inspector, all done in a “Birdman” style tracking shot. Or “The Gang Saves the Day”, a series of 5 vignettes directed in vastly different styles, each a different fantasy from one of the members of the Gang about how they would stop a robbery.
Sunny is the same today as it was when it premiered back in 2005. It’s still about a group of irredeemably bad people doing bad things. But in the 14 years Sunny has been on the air, it has grown so much. Even in the 8 years I’ve been watching that sense of growth has been there. Not just in the weirder concepts they’ve courted the past couple of years, but the characterizations of the Gang themselves. For better or worse, these characters have grown. The past two or three seasons in particular have mined this. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the show. 14 seasons and they’re still making me laugh my ass off. 3 episodes in and season 14 has been just as good as everything that came before. And I’ll watch it for 14 more seasons with dopey grin on my face for every second. Because at this point, Dennis, Charlie, Mac, Dee, are part of my family.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FXX.
BS: The Joker is without a doubt the most iconic supervillain that the world will ever know, and will almost certainly never be outshined by anyone else. He’s one of those characters that is so much in the American lexicon that even the most lackadaisical grandmother out of Middlesboro could identify the character just by the name alone. Each film iteration of the character brings something completely new and original and has become something of a character piece for whoever decides to take on the role. From the unbridled chaos of Heath Ledger’s take on the character, Jack Nicholsons’s gleefully evil portrayal, and Jared Leto’s used condom laced antics behind the scenes, each actor has brought something different each time. The movie Joker found it’s star in character actor Joaquin Phoenix who certainly adds a lot of his signature commitment to the role and the movie is certainly better because of it.
DD: Let’s take a moment before we really get too lost in the review to at least set the stage of the film. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to spoil anything that isn’t in any of the trailers. Joker is about Arthur Fleck, a n unsuccessful comedian who lives with his mother and struggles with mental illness in his day to day life. Throughout the film you follow Arthur as his life takes twists and turns until he finally reaches a breaking point. It is at this breaking point that he finishes his transformation into the Batman comic book villain, the Joker. On the whole, the movie is a character piece about what makes someone change from a relatively normal life and become the Clown Prince of Crime.
Phoenix really goes all in on his role as Arthur Fleck, giving a very nuanced performance especially at the beginning of the film when he is primarily just someone suffering through mental illness and a general lack of hope. His performance is the centerpiece of the film and full credit to Phoenix for making a character like Arthur Fleck and later the Joker emotional and strangely charismatic. He clearly worked hard perfecting his own version of Joker’s laugh that sounds unnerving but also can carry subtler notes of what his emotional state is at the time and what pain this laugh is actually hiding. The big problem with his performance is that it highlights how poorly written every other character in the movie is. Joker has a strong base to build on but all of the other characters boil down to stock character cliches. Part of this could be intentional since we are in the Joker’s head for most of the film but intentional or not it only highlights the fact that the world feels empty. It exists only to be the motivation for his character and has no other real life to it.
BS: While I don’t think it’s a perfect performance, it’s clear how much time and commitment Phoenix went through to become Arthur Fleck and honestly, his performance is about the only thing I enjoyed about the film. Arthur/Joker is terrifying, and when his evolution to the Joker is complete, I could see him competing with the greats that have come before him. The Joker of the climax feels like the Joker we’ve seen in the comics, theatrical, a dark sense of humor, everything that I expected, and frankly wanted to see in the film when I saw the first trailer.If that Joker were to go up against Robert Patinson’s Batman, I would be irrationally excited because that’s a villain I’d love to see go up against the Caped Crusader. That Joker is only in the film for literal moments and the ride to get there was one of the most disturbing and dangerous journey’s that I’ve seen in a film.
DD: The film struggles at its core as to what kind of film it is. It starts seemingly telling the story of a sympathetic man who is let down by the system when he needs help but then it transitions to taking on an anti-establishment message that blames the wealthy and powerful for everybody’s problems for stealing funding from necessary services. Neither of those are on their own unheard of messages to have in films but the real problem comes in Joker’s final message which is basically that chaos and violence are the only true form of justice. It seem to want so badly the Joker to be a hero that it is willing to ignore the fact that he is a monster. At his core, the Joker is a creature of chaos who doesn’t really stand for anything, but while this movie’s version would certainly say that about himself, the film wants you to believe that in the end he is in the right. It paints every victim as someone who deserved what they got and someone the world would be better without. It riffs a lot on the works of Scorsese but seems to miss a fundamental element of his films. When Scorsese would make a film about someone who is a bad person, you would never lose sight of the fact that the character was in the wrong. Joker wants you to believe it’s protagonist is always in the right which is a terrifying message to put out there.
BS: The message is my biggest problem with the film because it scares me a lot and not in the way you traditionally want a film to scare you. It’s all over the place and I can’t help but feel that a movie like this can only do irreversible damage to the wrong person who sees this. It feels very school shooter friendly, trying to make us feel sympathy for a character who takes control of his life by murdering those who have wronged him. There’s a scene in the film where he spares someone he used to work with because in the Joker’s own words “You were always nice to me.” It’s a shockingly tone-deaf film, a film that has undercover cops and credible threats to showings of the film reported throughout the country. There was a moment in my screening, during a pivotal moment of transformation for Arthur, where the lights in the theater came on and the screen went blank. As I looked into the eyes of my girlfriend and those around us, I saw obvious fear that a Joker inspired tragedy was about to unfold, when really it was just a power surge. We live in a time where mass-shootings have become a common occurrence and we’ve become numb to it and it’s mind-boggling to me that Todd Phillips could make a film so oblivious to the tragedies we face on a daily basis and make a film that can only make them worse.
DD: While my experience with the film didn’t include any potential shooter scares like Bill’s did, it was not without worry. The people throughout the theater that would laugh at some of the darker and more macabre moments and even the people saying “Cool” as he would continue on his murder sprees only showcased that people can easily be taken in by all this, which to me was the most terrifying part of my film-going experience. I don’t think the filmmakers intentions were to inspire people to violence or even to promote it all but the structure of it all does seem to focus the audience’s attention towards thinking that. It has some genuinely impressive sequences with impressive cinematography and one outstanding performance that could have made for an impressive character piece showing the inner workings that turn someone into the criminal mastermind that the Joker becomes, similar to what happens with Walter White in Breaking Bad, but it was not meant to be because they couldn’t acknowledge that one of the most iconic villains of pop culture, might be a bad guy. The film may have started as an attempt to give context to Arthur Fleck’s battle with mental illness but it ends glorifying his acceptance of his own murderous tendencies. Any potential for actually getting an honest picture of a struggling person is sidelined so the film can show you how cool he looks as the Joker. If they had a deeper point to make, it probably sits on the cutting room floor along with any character moment not involving Joaquin Phoenix.
There’s a new podcast in town. Introducing The A Block with Hayley Harmon, Claire Crouch and Jacqueline Nie. The talented ladies explain what The A Block is and touch on a variety of topics, from updates on the royal family to Kroger Field struggles, you’ll hear all of that and…
— “Podcast names are harder than naming a child.”
— How their careers led them to Lexington.
— Do they approve of Justin Bieber’s wedding attire?
— The Kardashians are at it again.
— Has someone already started watching Hallmark Christmas movies?
— European Road Trip!
— How to eat a cupcake and record a podcast at the same time.
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My dear friend and fellow Funkhouser writer Adrian Bryant has always mused that there are two sides to Stephen King. There’s Spooky King, the one everyone knows. He writes things like the criminally underrated ‘Salems Lot, Pet Semetary, and The Stand. Then there’s the other, arguably better, side of the writer. Sentimental King. 11/22/63, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon are a few key examples of some of his stories. IT sits in a vaunted space somewhere between the two sides of the iconic author. Simultaneously a brutal, cosmic horror and coming of age hijinks, the story is one of about 3 or 4 of King’s magnum opuses. Telling the saga of the Losers’ Club, a group of scrappy kids and later adults who come together to battle a shapeshifting clown named Pennywise. 2017 saw roughly half of the book released in the first part of a duology to large critical and commercial success. Riding on the waves of Stranger Things, a series the book heavily inspired, IT took the portion of the story focusing on the younger version of the Losers’ Club and transported it from the 50’s to the 80’s. Offering a strong cast and a few clever scares, the film was a solid, if not condensed adaption of the 1,138 page novel. With expectations high, IT Chapter 2 has ridden the hype train into theaters. The sequel has the unenviable task of telling half of the story dominated by the adult versions of the Losers Club, widely regarded as the weaker half of the story by fans of the book and mini-series adaption. Ultimately, Chapter 2 is something of a mixed bag. The return to Derry, Maine utterly fails as an adaption of Spooky King, but thrives in its attempts to capture his sentimental side.
In the opening minutes of the film, you’ll find out that everyone who left Derry is, at least outwardly, in a very good place. Yet again it appears that Mike got the short end of the stick, not only within the confines of the story, but in his characterization as well. As the one member of the group to have stayed in Derry, he warded off the fame and fortune to have befallen his friends, Mike exists largely as a human exposition dump. When Pennywise reemerges, Mike is the one to make the call to bring the Losers back home, assigning each of them side quests that make up most of the films bloated runtime. James McAvoy’s Bill is the de-facto leader of the group, now a world famous author with a penchant for lackluster endings. Still wracked with guilt over the death of his little brother some 27 years earlier, when the call comes to return to Derry to face down Pennywise one last time, Bill is there to lead the charge. Richie’s a comedian. Stan is a happily married accountant. Eddie runs a limo service and has essentially married his mother. Ben is now a hyper-successful architect and 100% beefcake. Apart from the 6 pack, he’s largely the same soft spoken and good natured kid, still carrying a torch for Beverly Marsh decades on. Speaking of Beverly (played by Jessica Chastain, fulfilling a popular fan casting), her abusive relationship with her father been replaced by one with a husband who’s just as vile. As expected, she’s also still in a bit of a love triangle with the other two people in the Losers club with B names. She’s also a fashion designer now. Despite how much wealth or success they’ve accomplished, it becomes very clear that the adults making their way home are fundamentally the same people they were when they left 30ish years before; all of them in stasis, having never truly conquered the obstacles they faced as children. Making them ripe for the picking by a certain inter-dimensional shapeshifter.
2017’s IT struck gold with in its casting. Finding a child actor with actual skill is a something of an anomaly, but finding 7 of them is miraculous. And all the better too. Because the pre-teen versions of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Stan, Eddie, and Mike are a fantastic ensemble. It’s rather unfortunate that the same can’t be said about their adult counterparts. Barring Bill Hader’s Ritchie and James Ransone’s Eddie, the grown up Losers are serviceable at best. That’s not to say that any of them are bad performances by any means, it’s just that the Trashmouth and the hypochondriac will be the only ones to stick with you when you walk out of the theater. Ransone imbues Eddie with an effective blend of nervousness and befuddlement that’s endearing in all the right ways. He’s also got some of the funniest lines in the movie, sharing some fantastic chemistry the venerated Hader. With regards to the SNL vet’s performance in the film, I was absolutely blown away. I’ve seen the first season of HBO’s Barry (if you’re not watching, then get on that shit), so I know Hader is more than capable of pulling off something dramatic. With Ritchie, Hader goes absolutely above and beyond the comic relief role I assumed he would be playing here. “Trashmouth” Tozier is far more than just being the funny member of the group this time around, he’s vulnerable and empathetic, displaying a wider array of emotions than anyone else in the cast. He’ll laugh and break your heart in equal measure.
Bill Skarsgård does the best with the very little he’s given, still playing Pennywise with that monstrous physicality that got him so much praise the first time around in 2017. The problem is that the forms Pennywise takes on and the horror set pieces he’s given are, for the most part, incredibly underwhelming. Pennywise himself isn’t given nearly as much screen time here, with various CGI monsters taking his place for most of the film. Among them a naked old lady, a giant plastic lumberjack, and even a nice little callback to The Thing at one point. Nothing in the film is that scary. Everything is heavily telegraphed, you’re given ample time to prepare when something is about to jump out at you. And even then, director Andy Muschietti makes some truly odd choices for certain scares in the film. One that I’ve seen pop up in several other reviews is the random use of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” during a fairly intense sequence. It was almost certainly being played for laughs, but it wasn’t funny, and was totally out of place in the film. In one of the most bizarre side plots in the film, Pennywise isn’t the only returning villain, as the mullet sporting bully Henry Bowers makes his return as well. Fans of the novel and miniseries know that the psychopathic Henry’s escape from a mental institute and eventual confrontation with the grown up Losers’ Club is fairly important to the plot. But here, not only does it have zero impact on the outcome of the story, it’s cheesy as hell. Henry’s presence is distracting and meaningless. Doing nothing but adding length to a story that was far too long in the first place.
What Chapter 2 lacks in scares it makes up for in heart. Flashbacks to 1988 are embedded throughout the film, giving the original cast plenty of time to shine. You get the feeling that the filmmakers knew the adult cast just wasn’t as compelling, as the younger versions of the characters are fairly heavily featured throughout the film. The best scenes in the film are those that see the Losers bonding. The first time the group meets back up in Derry is a highlight, seeing these long lost friends eat, drink and laugh together left me feeling warm. A brief moment of levity to be savored before all hell breaks loose later on. Young or old, the friendship between the Losers feels real. Whether it’s a bunch of 40 year olds reminiscing about their childhoods, or those very kids they’re thinking about shit talking each other while hanging out in a fort they built out in the woods, the film does a fantastic job portraying a group of people that truly care for one another. And I’d be a liar if I said that Ben’s all-encompassing and unbreakable love for Bev didn’t make my heart grow a size or two. This is Sentimental King at its finest.
There’s far more bad than good in IT: Chapter 2. Story threads from the novel and first film are abruptly introduced and dropped at a moment’s notice (I’m looking at you, Beverly having an abusive husband). While others are completely unnecessary (Ahem, Henry). There are only two standout performances in a fairly large and well known cast. It’s entirely too long, even with lightning fast pacing it still feels as if you’ve been sitting in a theater for about two days before the credits role. It’s not even scary. But when CGI abominations aren’t parading across the screen and Juice Newton isn’t being inappropriately jammed out, when old friends are reminiscing and falling back in love, it’s beautiful. So if you’re going in to watch a horror movie, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re coming out to spend a little more time with that patchwork family that is the Losers’ Club, odds are you’ll walk out smiling.
By KSR on ©August 27th, 2019 @ 9:00pm
Lee Cruse and Chris Tomlin return for another week of The Funkhouser Situation. In the wake of an awards show you may have forgotten still existed, Chris and Lee let you know what happened at the VMAs, but that’s not all. They also talk about…
— Chris’ questionable wardrobe selection.
— An appearance from The Beatles!
— Big Spider-Man and Marvel news.
— Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie
— How many VMA winners do Chris and Lee know?
— Taylor Swift has a new album, DON’T GEEK!
The terrific tandem of Lee Cruse and Chris Tomlin are back to bring you another exciting edition of The Funkhouser Situation. This week’s main topic revolves around biopics, both on musicians and comedians, but they also talk about…
— How would a conversation with Nicholas Cage go?
— A surprise appearance from a Funkhouser superfan.
— Lee finds new and creative ways to mention Tangled.
— Mixed emotions on Ewan McGregor.
— Who is alive right now that will one day have a great biopic?
— A new show with a huge cast that should produce fireworks.
In this day and age, it’s not often that we get a big budget action film that doesn’t include a superhero. Thankfully, films like John Wick and The Equalizer have gained a healthy enough of an audience to warrant sequels. And while these gritty and smaller films scratch a certain itch in the most satisfying way possible, there’s another itch that they leave tingling. Whatever happened to the epic blockbusters of yore, like True Lies and The Rock? The big, dumb genre fare that didn’t have any business setting up a super team or TV adaptions, films that just wanted to kill 2 hours of time in the most brainless and enjoyable way possible. My friends, if you’ve been aching for something like this, Hobbs & Shaw is the movie for you. It’s mind numbing, over the top, and schlocky, and I loved every second of it.
A spin-off of the Fast & Furious series, the film focuses on The Rock’s (I REFUSE to call him by his lesser, actual name) swole DSS Agent Luke Hobbs, and the formerly villainous Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. Now reformed, Shaw spends the opening minutes of the film doing various Jason Statham things like going to a pub for a Guinness and beating up Russian mobsters for various reasons. This is presented to us in a split screen with Hobbs doing various The Rock things like lifting weights and beating up some other mobsters. The previous films saw the two on opposing sides of the law and pit them against each other on numerous occasions. Here, the two frenemies are brought together when Shaw’s sister Hatty, an SAS agent, is framed for stealing a super virus by Brixton Lore. Who I will refer to as Cyborg Idris Elba for the duration of the review. Hell with it, I’m doing that for everyone. Hobbs is The Rock and Shaw is Statham.
On the note of Cyborg Idris Elba, he’s a character with all the ingredients to make for a decent antagonist. Which makes it all the more disappointing that he’s utterly unmemorable. Along with a couple of Terminatoresque modifications, he’s got ties to Statham’s past and… that’s really it. He’s a glorified henchman working for a mysterious and evil organization in the same vein as Spectre from the Bond films. It’s easily the weakest part of the film, an obvious set up for a sequel that takes up far too much screen time. It’s just a shame that an actor with as much charisma and raw physicality as Elba is so wasted. Fortunately, not every new addition to the cast is so forgettable. A more accurate title for the film would be Hobbs & Shaw & Hatty. The youngest of the Shaw siblings is a key member of the films cast and just as much of a badass as her two co-stars. There’s some rather needless romance with The Rock thrown at her, as well as some believability issues at her being passed off as being two years younger than her brother given that she’s clearly a good 25 or so years younger than Statham. But ultimately, Hattie is strong enough of a character to not be hindered by any of this. Vanessa Kirby is a scene stealer in her role, playing her part with a sense of ease and confidence. As opposed to the hilariously overcompensation coming from both The Rock and Statham. Speaking of those two.
They bicker. They scream. And, yes, there is a running joke throughout the film where our heroic title characters argue about dick size. The constant arguing is an amusing as it can be tiresome. With the aforementioned dick jokes coming off as particularly cringe-y. Despite the uneven back and forth, the pair have chemistry in both fight scenes and the gags that actually work. The righteous and hulking Rock bounces incredibly well off Statham, whose built a career off of playing skeezy British dudes who are super good at karate. The two play essentially the same characters they’ve been playing the last 20 years, that this is embraced works far more in everyone’s favor than you would think.
It’s a film that knows exactly what it is and has no shame in it. Director David Leitch has proven himself to have some of the best credentials in the genre given some of his previous work like Atomic Blonde and the previously mentioned and hallowed John Wick. He can stage a helluva fight scene and that’’s certainly on display here. Fistfights, shootouts, car chases, running down the side of a skyscraper, etc. It’s all there. The action sequences are almost comical. So much so that a few shouldn’t work at all, but I gotta admit, watching The Rock pull down a helicopter with a chain was one of the best theater experiences I’ve had this year. Granted, I may not be the best judge for that. I could watch The Rock punch out the moon and be utterly enthralled.
I’ve been critical of the Fast & Furious franchise on this site before. I remain steadfast in my commitment to Fast Five being the only legitimately good film in the series. (Having since seen Furious 7, I’ll throw it a bone for having some eye-popping action sequences and a genuinely heartfelt send off for the late Paul Walker. So I guess that kicks the total up to 2 F&F movies that I like.) Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t feel like a F&F movie at all. There’s not really any car porn or scantily clad women grinding to the beat of SoundCloud rap. Nor do we have to contend with Vin Diesel’s godawful Dom Toretto character and his constant growling about family and something, something “one last ride”. The film feels a lot more like a Mission Impossible film than anything else, and is all the better for it.
Hobbs & Shaw was never trying to be anything special. And that’s exactly why I loved it. It’s far from the best movie of the year or even the best action movie of the year. But it’s competently made, and the kind of big budget popcorn film that we don’t really see anymore. The kind that was brutally murdered by Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale a little over 10 years ago. Sitting somewhere between “good” and “so bad it’s good”, Hobbs & Shaw is a relic, a blockbuster of a by gone age. An age that I miss, and wouldn’t mind revisiting a time or two more.
By KSR on ©August 08th, 2019 @ 5:00pm
Are you ready for some Funkhouser? Lee Cruse and Chris Tomlin return for another action-packed episode of The Funkhouser Situation. Before they end with a show-stopping spoiler-filled review of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, KSR’s terrific tandem talks about…
— There’s a new Spider-Man and a couple of characters stick out.
— BIG news about the new Disney streaming service.
— If you could be any Marvel hero, who would you be?
— MORE REBOOTS?!?!?!?!?!?!?
— A perfect impression of Dave Chappelle.
— SPOILER ALERT! Lee hasn’t had so much fun at the movies since O Brother Where Art Thou.
You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to The Funkhouser Situation podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
This isn’t the first time I’ve ever reviewed a property with ties to Garth Ennis. He’s an extremely polarizing writer; known for filling his stories to the brim with the most graphic of violence, darkest of humor, and snarkiest of dialogue. To call him the Tarantino of the Comics Industry wouldn’t be too far off. My first go around with him was a review I did for the second season of The Punisher back in January. Ennis is responsible for the best run of comics ever associated with the character. Punisher MAX is bleak, vicious, and as far as I’m concerned the best writing he has under his belt. But it’s far cry from the kind of stories the Irish writer is known for. Preacher is considered to be by many his most beloved and best work. A crass and ultra-violent tale of a newly all powerful and faithless holy man literally trying to find God and make him answer for all of the tragedies to have befallen humanity. The TV adaption is absolute shit. The comic, apart from some juvenile humor, is ultimately a pretty heartfelt story. The Boys, Ennis’ latest book to get an adaption, is just about everything but heartfelt. Where Preacher crosses the line, The Boys chugs about a hundred miles past it, only to turn back around to horrifically mutilate it.
The Boys asks a fairly simple question. What if Super Heroes were giant assholes? The Super Heroes (or Supes, as they are commonly referred to in the show) that inhabit the world of The Boys are largely a sadistic lot of murderous psychopaths, sexual deviants, or often both. And due to corporate shenanigans and an army of lawyers, they get away with their crimes in absolute secret with a heaping side of public adoration. Who will keep these super powered deviants in check? Enter Billy Butcher and his team of miscreants, the titular title characters of the series. A motley group of vigilantes who use any means necessary to keep the Supes in check. Amazon’s adaption dropped last week. Does The Boys succeed on it’s own merits or fall victim to the vulgarity of the source material? In short, it does a bit of both.
Moderate Spoilers Follow
If all the fanfare surrounding Avengers: Endgame made you want to vomit, The Boys might be the show for you. Demystifying the myth of the superhero from the outset, the series begins with the accidental killing of protagonist Hughie Campbell’s beloved girlfriend Robin by resident Flash knockoff A-Train. As one of the members of The Seven, this world’s equivalent of the Justice League, A-Train isn’t just shielded from any repercussions of the incident, he’s made to be the victim.
A distraught Hughie is offered a 45,000$ check to stay quiet by Vought International, a corporate giant that acts sort of like SHIELD; though it’s a lot closer to a talent agency than the spy network of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pumping out enough Superhero flicks and actual Superheroes to make Disney swoon. The normally mild mannered Hughie is enraged by Vought’s offer. This rage is used to the fullest extent by Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher, hater of all things caped and leader of our title characters. Over the course of the first season, Butcher rebuilds his team of vigilantes, starting with Hughie. There’s Frenchie, man of many passions and a master bomb maker. Mother’s Milk, like Frenchie he’s also a member of Butcher’s old team. Unlike Frenchie, Milk is methodical as hell and torn between his family and his love of taking down rogue Supes. Last but not least, we have the ever mysterious and tragic Kimiko/The Female. She’s silent, feral, and nigh on unstoppable. They’re a cunning and ruthless team, and watching Butcher and Company take out the Supes is as cathartic as it is hilarious. Plastic explosives will be stuck up b-holes and laser spewing babies will be used to gruesome effect by a maniacal Butcher. The show finds a surprising amount of success in it’s use of violence. Viewers can expect to cackle and wince in equal measure, particularly in the depiction of the powers of the members of The Seven. You’ll never be able to look at Superman the same way again after you’ve seen Homelander cut someone in half with his heat vision.
While Butcher and Company are our heroes here, they aren’t the only team to be fleshed out; as the simultaneously sympathetic and despicable members of The Seven are given an equal amount of spotlight in all their screwed up glory. The men and women of The Seven are carbon copies of the Justice League in power set and appearance. While they may seem familiar visually, they are anything but in personality. Each offers a certain deranged twist on the character they parody. Homelander, the leader of the team and Superman stand in is an unhinged psychopath with a God Complex. A-Train is an addict. The Deep (Aquaman) is the team punching bag and Weinsteinesque sexual predator. Queen Maeve (Wonder Woman) has grown burnt out and numb due to the actions of the Vaught Corporation and the depraved behavior of her teammates. Meetings for The Seven play-off similarly to a workplace comedy. Members will complain about their merchandising and film rights while others will brag about their latest exploits. It’s a good mix of mundane and absurd. This is all seen through the perspective of newest member of the team and most heroic character on the show, Annie January/Starlight; whose initial excitement and expectations about joining a team of superheroes is quickly and brutally refuted. Watching the bright eyed and optimistic Annie take abuses scaling from annoying to horrific from Vaught and The Seven can be incredibly hard to stomach. However, watching her stand strong and kick ass throughout is inspiring.
The series is at its best when exploring Butcher and Homelander. Tied together by an incident 8 years prior to the series, the pair are two sides of the same coin. One of the most underrated actors to come out in the last 20 years, Karl Urban is equal parts sadistic, cool, and tragic as Billy Butcher. Butcher, the so called hero of the show, is an absolute bastard. If it were anyone but Urban playing him, he’d be unlikable as all get out. But after you’ve seen that swaggering, Hawaiian shirt clad cockney punch out an invisible man, it’s nigh on impossible to not be charmed by him. This is despite the fact that he’s essentially Captain Ahab with superheroes instead of a whale. Butcher’s hatred of anyone with powers is mirrored by Homelander’s disdain for humanity, or the “mudpeople” as he calls us. Played to perfection by Antony Starr, the inverted take on the Man of Steel is terrifying. Functioning as a high school bully, Norman Bates style sociopath, and an angry god all at once, Starr weaves one of the best TV villains since Prince Joffrey. Homelander is a magnetic presence. And watching Starr slip in and out from a very convincing Steve Rodgers impression and into the absolute monster that he is kept me glued to the screen. As the season progresses, the leaders of The Seven and The Boys gradually begin taking more relevance and screen time. Giving the two strongest performances on the show the strongest story arc.
Along with Butcher and Homelander, a good majority of the characters in the show get some solid development and characterization. Hughie, Starlight, and the rest of The Seven come to mind. That being said, the remaining members of The Boys themselves are given very little to do. Mother’s Milk has a silly name and a family, playing the “I’m too old for this shit” Roger Murtaugh to Butcher’s Martin Riggs. Frenchie has a cartoonish accent and is uh… French? And crazy? That’s really it with him. He gets a few nice moments with Kimiko, but that’s really it. Speaking of Kimiko, she fares a little better than Frenchie and Mother’s Milk, as she gets a tragic backstory and a few cool fight scenes. But apart from being sad and good at punching, she doesn’t bring much to the table either. It’s a pretty big flaw that 3 of the 5 characters from which the show takes it’s name are barely fleshed out and boring.
Through the escapades of Vought International, The Boys tries its hand at some social commentary. And while I’ve gotta give them props for trying to say something a bit deeper than the usual comic book adaption, this isn’t exactly an Alan Moore story. Vought International is a greedy and lawbreaking corporation. It covers up senseless collateral damage and whatever else depravity the supes have been up to as well as a litany of other criminal acts. Lobbying in particular is one of it’s many egregious acts that the series spends savaging. While everything the show has to say about the above is about as heavy handed as commentary can get, it isn’t problematic. Where it really trips up is in it’s handling of sexual assault and misconduct.
As mentioned above, The Deep is The Seven’s punching bag and a sexual predator. Early in the first episode, he pulls a Louis C.K. before forcing another character to perform a sexual act on him. It is later revealed that this is normal behavior from him that Vought and The Seven are all too privy too. The show doesn’t stumble in depicting the effect this has on his victim, but in how it treats The Deep throughout the rest of the season. Even after the reveal that he’s a sexual predator, The Deep is portrayed as an almost lovable sadsack whose plight is often played for laughs. A sympathetic loser who just wants to get some recognition and protect the adorable creatures of the sea. Making The Deep a sympathetic character at all is wrong on about a hundred different levels. Giving him a drawn out character arc is absolutely infuriating. There’s nothing sympathetic about about a rapist, and giving one so much attention isn’t just a misstep, it’s completely amoral. His story line pissed me off in every way a piece of fiction shouldn’t.
The Boys is not a show for everyone. It’s ugly, cynical, and about as edgy as an 11th grade poetry slam. It bares mentioning that the show’s attempts to take a look at some of the biggest issues facing the world today range from heavy handed to horrific. But it’s also a hilarious and fairly well written take on the comic book characters that have come to dominate popular culture in the last decade. The action is great and the acting is even better. So if you can stomach some of the murkier aspects of what you see on screen, The Boys is well worth your time.
What’s up, Funkhouser? It’s been a while, but your boy is back with (oddly enough) his first album review on Funkhouser. I have posted plenty about music before, but with the ever-increasing workload of college and picking up on the sports side of KSR, I decided to do a little sabbatical from the fun hobby I have in writing music articles. I’m going to try to do more of these when I can. Usually, when there’s a big album drop or an album I have fallen in love with, I’ll try to review it. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen before that I have reviewed some videos of live reaction music reviews. Ideally, I can turn my written opinions about music into a podcast or a youtube series, but for now, with the busy schedule, these written reviews will have to do the trick. So, without further ado, my review on the debut album from Chance the Rapper: The Big Day.
We all love Chance the Rapper, right? Stand up guy, activist in his community, supportive of music in schools, family man, and holds three of the most classic mixtapes ever. He has revolutionized music and helped bring streaming to the forefront with Coloring Book, and marches to the beat of his own drum.
In a world that most music getting radio is centered around drugs, sex, and having a good time, incomes Chance the Rapper with a little bit of substance. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of rappers out there with substance in their music such as the Dreamville label, the TDE label, Meek Mill, Pusha T, so on and so forth. But, none of those rappers has a bigger audience than Chance.
From hosting SNL to Kit Kat Commercials, Movie soundtracks, and those God awful Doritos commercials. Chance the Rapper has turned himself into a household name and is one of the most marketable artists today. But, with that, the music changes and so does the marketing. Throw in the nearly three-year sabbatical from Lil’ Chano after Coloring Book, some REALLY underwhelming singles besides the Jamie Foxx sampled I Might Need Security, and a marriage and we get The Big Day.
When it was first announced Chance the Rapper was targeting 2019 for an album release I was pretty excited, to say the least. It seemed like all the star power was out in full force in 2018 (In my opinion one of the greatest years in music ever). So, that typically means 2019 would be a little dull in the music industry with a lot of artists taking the year off to tour, find inspiration or just flat out take a break. Therefore, this year could have been Chance’s year as he seemed to be the biggest star that would come out with an album this year. After the pretty solid, but crass, single I Might Need Security dropped the year prior I felt pretty optimistic about The Big Day…then Grocries dropped. Chance’s first single of 2019, and it was TERRIBLE.
Granted, the song coming out the same time as Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR didn’t help, but with a chorus that holds the lines “I used to carry all my groceries in one trip, Minute Maid gone in one sip, too much dip on my chip” it’s hard to make a case for it being any good. From there, I knew this album was doomed. But I Like Chance, Coloring Book was perfect, and the re-release of Acidrap and 10 Day getting everyone excited, I felt like it was worth a listen.
I quickly found out, it was not worth the listen. I regret I even gave it a stream because my apple music profile will always display that I listened to it.
Now, before we get into the what made this album so hard to listen to, I do want to highlight some of the good that came from this album. It’s sad to say, but the best part on this album wasn’t even Chance the Rapper. Instead, it was DaBaby’s feature on Hot Shower.
DaBaby has been on a heater in 2019 with his album Baby on Baby which features the hit song Suge and his feature on Dreamville’s Under da Sun was incredible. Thankfully he and MadeinTYO saved this great Smoko Ono produced track with their verses. While Chance the Rapper was wasting a great flow by saying “DUDE!” and trying to get some sleep then taking a hot shower.
BRO LMFAOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/fOwiLxV0N6
— randy (@yungmanerandy) July 26, 2019
DaBaby actually came through with some funny lines about having a girl in a two-seater, taking a white man’s daughter, and then addressing his legal troubles through his raps. It made for the best verse on this album.
Another highlight (honestly the only amazing thing from Chance on this album) was the song We Go High. It’s a beautiful track with beautiful production, but even still Chance wanted to hit a high note that just threw it off for me. Regardless, the song as a whole was solid and I’ll give him props for that.
There were a few other decent tracks as well such as the beautiful Some Come Down, Slide Around, and Do you Remeber. Megan Thee Stallion had a solid verse in Handsome, and I thought Five Year Plan was passable. Then it took a HUGE nosedive.
For starters, the opening track was just John Legend over a Donnie Trumpet inspired beat that sounded like it belonged on Kidz Bop. However, its title All Day Long was fitting for the one hour and 17-minute monstrosity that succeded it.
I honestly don’t really know where to start with the rest of these tracks, but a safe bet would be the questionable bars on this record. Such as in the song Roo, which he dedicated to his brother who is also a rapper, Taylor Bennett.
It was actually a touching song, something I know I could relate to with my brothers. However, in the track Chance seemed to give a glorifying bar to the notoriously abusive Joe Jackson, when he said: “A lot of Dads left, abandoned the house/ My Dad Joe Jack, start a band in the house.” Now you guys know I’m for any and every Michael Jackson reference there is, but I found myself puzzled by this bar. Maybe Chance’s dad was an abuser? I can’t confirm nor deny, but when you’re trying to compare it a lot of dads leaving their homes, it makes it seem like you’re saying Joe Jackson was good? I don’t know, man. I don’t get it. Not to mention the chorus did not fit with that track AT ALL.
Then there was that verse in Ballin Flossin (As if that title didn’t lead it to be annoying anyway) where he dropped a Peanut Butter Jelly and the Baseball Bat Bar. Chance…dude…how do you expect people to take you seriously going forward in the music industry when you’re dropping bars that would only amuse a seven-year-old in 2011. That’s not even mentioning the Production on this track sounds like a vouge song played in a GAP.
Then there was the ultra-repetitiveness of Chance rapping about his marriage. Once again, in a world where it’s cool to have hoes, I like that Chance is going this route in his music and that he really does love his wife. On that same note, dude, we get it. Even in the album’s description, it said this album would be a reflection of his wedding and while that’s cool and all, but maybe try putting that it into a single. I don’t think we need an album that consists of 397 BARS DEDICATED TO YOUR MARRIAGE.
Chance The Rapper: The Big Day
Punchlines, Similes, Marriage
1,023 Chance bars
17.4% of Chance’s bars are just punchlines
56.2% are Similes (100 total)
397 Marriage bars
38.8% of Chance’s bars are about Marriage
Does this confirm or change your opinion?
— Hip Hop By The Numbers (@HipHopNumbers) July 31, 2019
The thing is, it’s not like he has been married to this woman forever and it’s a true testament of undying love. They literally got married in March. IT HASN’T EVEN BEEN SIX MONTHS!!
When people have been waiting three years for this project, I don’t think that is the best time to bloat an album with throwaway songs about your special night. Again, it’s honorable, I’m glad he’s happy, but this isn’t what his fans have been waiting on.
Lastly, the production on most of these tracks is just eh. Chance the Rapper has proclaimed himself as Kanye’s best prodigy, and if he’s going to be that, he needs to stick with what made he and Ye famous. Soul beats.
I am all for rappers experimenting with new sounds and hopping on what sound is popular to the masses, and right now it’s trap beats. But, Chance just isn’t a “trapper”. Through and through he’s a man who loves Jesus, his wife, and his family. With a subject matter like that, it goes great over a soul beat..a la Coloring Book for crying out loud.
When Chance tries to go in on these trap beats infused with some vocal tones from Francis and the Lights and a little help from Donnie Trumpet, it just sounds forced and unnatural. If chance wants to get back to the standard he was held to in 2016-17, he must get back to his roots. But, if he’s going to change it up for the love of God PLEASE get some better bars and production.
Overall, this record is a bloated monstrosity. Twenty-two tracks, maybe five of them worth listening to, and it’s painfully obvious it is quantity over quality. It’s very reminiscent of a DJ Khaled approach to an album marketing scheme.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 10 and it’s one of the worst records I’ve heard this year.
I am glad I will never have to listen to it again.
Follow me on Twitter for more Music takes and Reviews: @BrentW_KSR
By Adrian Bryant on ©July 30th, 2019 @ 4:10pm
July 27th marked the 40 year anniversary of one of the great rock records, Highway to Hell. The album pushed the up and coming Aussie act AC/DC to true stardom, being certified 7x platinum and creating a title track that – among a number of the band’s other hits – currently lives as one of hard rock’s most iconic songs. It’s impossible to overstate just how relentless this album’s attitude is. “Highway to Hell” is one of the slower songs on the album, and the punch of its three chord riff (the type of which AC/DC has perfected) leaves me seeing stars by the end of its brisk three-and-a-half minute runtime. Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange took the AC/DC’s talent for steady, balls to the wall bangers from and condensed them into crisply produced three minute tracks that made it an instant global success. (It also resulted in a medical milestone. Doctors discovered that if CDs and cassette tapes of the album were smelted in a furnace, they liquefied into pure testosterone that could be – and still is – used to produce booster pills and shots.) Since then AC/DC has been a staple of the hard rock acts that owned the music industry for the last half of the 20th century.
AC/DC was my first pop-culture obsession. I was in 3rd grade when Guitar Hero II overthrew the U.S. government and brainwashed all of its citizenry into obsessively strumming their five-button controllers along to classic rock covers. The genius of Guitar Hero was its ability to convince players that they were rock gods, and 8 year old me fell hard for the ploy. I moved quickly into picking up a real guitar to manifest my inner power. AC/DC quickly became the band whose catalogue I burned through . Their riffs were more than easy enough for beginners, but the myriad patterns they produced with A, D, and G power chords, along with their breakneck speed, made AC/DC songs the ideal target for my early musicianship.
Of course, the reason behind my love for AC/DC as a budding musician (spoiler: I never truly bloomed) is the most frequent criticism against them: their songs all follow the same formula. The riffs center primarily on three to four chords, the chorus likely features some variant of the word “balls,” and the solo is some bluesy shred from schoolboy guitarist Angus Young. Young supposedly once said “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Complexity is not their claim to fame.
I’m not here to deny that the formula exists, but there is more variety in the band’s catalogue than I think they are given credit for. Their whole ’70s career oozes a bluesiness that they shed in the Brian Johnson era. Songs like “Ride On” and “Gone Shootin'” owe as much to Robert Johnson as anyone. And “Beating Around the Bush,” while rooted in the three chord structure, has an adrenaline-fueled two string lick that makes me want to rip off my shirt and toss my brother through a wall. AC/DC may only five tricks up their sleeve, but the combinations of those tricks and the kineticism with which they perform them never cease to amaze me.
And they’re also just so fucking tight. It would be easy to think that, since the barebones of AC/DC’s tracks are so defined and seemingly simple, the band plays pretty loose with them. But if you listen closely to their albums, there is not a single missed note, no strum where Angus and rhythm guitar brother Malcolm Young are out of sync. The drummer (usually Phil Rudd, but Chris Slade took over from 1989-1994) and bassist are essentially breathing metronomes, rocking out to the 4/4 beats of the song and doing nothing else, but that is far easier said than done. The only moment of imprecision I found relistening to their discography comes at the beginning of the genius “Overdose,” where an appregio is simply but flimsily strummed. Otherwise the band is a finely tuned machine that cannot be stopped and cannot falter.
The AC/DC machine spent their first twenty-five years making every other hard rock band look like Duran Duran. Few bands have come close to holding the same power that AC/DC did. Even bands that were capable of rocking as hard as AC/DC did, like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath, only get to that level occasionally. While they are arguable much better bands, they just don’t make me lose my goddamn mind like AC/DC does. AC/DC reduces me to my most primal state, a very specific high where the little intelligence I have is no more useful than a dog turd in the summer heat and I am more than happy to rid myself of it.
And sure, there are times where they aren’t the rock gods I have made them out to be so far. At their worst they come off as lazy; their albums post-Razor’s Edge have been resoundingly mediocre, falling back on mid-tempo jams that have a fraction of the energy they rose to stardom utilizing. But they spent a shocking amount of time at their best, as they didn’t make a truly bad album until 1995’s Ballbreaker, and their albums up to For Those About to Rock are unimpeachable. When they are hitting their stride, AC/DC does not let me sit still. I headbang. I dance. I strain my vocal chords to poorly mimic Bon Scott’s seductive shrieks or growl along to Brian Johnson’s gravelly tones. I want to grab my cherry red Gibson SG – purchased specifically because it is Angus Young’s signature guitar – and plow through a song along with the two brothers. I want to fuck. I want to snort a mile long line of cocaine (okay, maybe that one is a stretch). I want to shed all of my stress and rock out like that’s all there’s nothing else in the world worth doing.
There aren’t many things that I ask of the media that I consume. At the top of the short list of questions I consider when critiquing something is “Does [insert media] know what it wants to be, and does it be that thing successfully?” AC/DC never once wavers from its goal of producing unfiltered, overwhelming, and gut-punching rock n’ roll. From the sex-soaked way Scott mutters “Cut this,” at the start of “Problem Child” to sadistic macho of “Hells Bells,” AC/DC exudes the juvenile rush of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll better than anyone else ever could. Nobody does what AC/DC does as well as they do. My tastes have changed radically since I was an eight year old, as you’d expect, but AC/DC sits comfortably on the Mount Rushmore of my favorite bands. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
For more of Adrian’s thoughts on one of rock’s greatest bands, follow him on Twitter @APBryant32.
In 2019, the board game landscape has never been better. New games are getting high value production with great components, engaging themes, and beautiful art. PARKS from Keymaster Games ticks all of those boxes, with one of the most beautiful games to come around in a long time. However, does PARKS play as great as it looks?
PARKS is a 1-5 player game from Keymaster Games, and designed by Henry Audubon. In PARKS, “players take on the role of two hikers who will trek trails to see sites, observe wildlife, take photos, and visit national parks over the course of the game.” The game is played in four rounds, each of which represents one season of the year. As the year goes on, the trail of tiles will get progressively longer, adding more crucial decisions and special actions. To set up a each new season, you will flip over a season card, which gives everyone a shared advantage for the round, and seeds the trail with a weather pattern, represented by sunshine and water tokens. These provide an added benefit for the first hiker to reach each tile. Also, at the start of the game, every player gets a secret objective that they are trying to complete, which will give you either 2 or 3 points if you are able to attain part, or all of the goal.
On your turn, you will move one of your two hikers any number of spaces down the trail towards the Trail End tile. You will need to choose your movements wisely, as you aren’t allowed to double-back on the trail, losing out on any tiles you may have skipped. Each tile that makes up the trail provides a different action you must take. Some tiles will allow you to collect a number of tokens necessary for almost every other action in the game. These tokens are represented as water, mountains, forest, and sunshine. Other tiles on the trail will allow you to perform actions using said tokens, such as taking photos, collecting canteens, trading for different tokens, visiting/reserving parks, copying actions, or collecting wildlife. When one of your two hikers reaches the end of the trail, you may spend the tokens you have collected to visit parks, each of which require a certain combination of tokens to earn that park’s victory points (see the image below). Parks values range from 2-5 points each. You may also reserve a park that you are working toward, or buy gear with sunshine tokens, providing extra benefits for the remainder of the game
While those are the basics of the game, there are a lot of added actions and bits which add to the strategy of the PARKS. As you may only progress forward down the trail, you also may not go to a space where another player is located unless you use your campfire token. When you choose to share a tile with another hiker (even your own) your campfire is extinguished, and is only relit when one of your hikers reaches trail end. When you reach the “Vista” tile, you may either take a canteen, or take a picture. A canteen can be filled with water anytime you gain a water token, which will give you an added benefit, like extra tokens or a special action. By “Taking a Picture” you can spend any two tokens to take a photo, which is worth one point a the end of the game. When you take a picture, you also gain the camera, giving you a discount for the next time you snap a shot (unless someone else takes a pic and steals the camera). Use all of these abilities to help earn the most victory points on your travels, and the player with the most points from parks visited, photos taken, and personal bonus goal at the end of the game is the winner.
First thing first, this game is GORGEOUS. Already known for beautiful games (Caper, Campy Creatures, Space Park) Keymaster Games has collaborated with the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, which has a series of posters celebrating the 59 National Parks in the USA. 48 of the 59 parks are featured in the game (yes, Mammoth Cave is in) as the remaining 11 parks have/had not been released at the time the game art was finalized. Five percent of Fifty Nine Parks sales of posters annually, as well as a percentage of sales revenue from PARKS will be donated to Tee National Parks Service . I encourage you to head over there after this review and check out ALL of the beautiful art their artists have put together of these amazing locations around the US. But, the beauty of the game is not just related to the art of the Parks cards. Every inch of this game is an incredible thing to look at. The individual tokens are perfect. The wildlife tokens, which represent wild resources *of course* are each a DIFFERENT wildlife animal. The first player token is enamel, there’s metallic ink on the cards, and the tray that holds all game components in the box are perfectly crafted (resource trays are made to look like stumps of wood). I seriously could go on forever about how good this game looks.
But, what’s most important is that the gameplay is SOLID. While the game seems like a very serene trip down a trail to visit national parks, there is a lot of strategy and gamesmanship to every turn. Your decisions are meaningful as you only have one trip down the trail with each of your hikers each season. You have to decide which tokens are most important to you, and if you’re willing to pass up other actions or tokens to get to them. If someone is on the spot you want, you have to make the choice to use your campfire. But, if you use it too early, you’re jammed up until you can get one of your hikers to the end of the trail. The ability to reserve parks not only lets you plan ahead, but you might take a park away from someone else who is working towards that park.
Also crucial for the replayability of the game, is the order in which special trail tiles come out. There are four of these tiles in the game, which provide special actions, and a new one is added to the trail each season. The first game I played with my wife, the tile to buy/reserve a park didn’t come out until the final round, so jockeying for the camera and bonus points became a high priority. But, in our second game, that tile was available from the very first season, meaning there were at least four opportunities to buy or reserve a park every season, so token collection was now of the utmost importance. While those games felt strategically different, the scores remained tight with no more than three points separating us each game. In games with 4-5 players, the trail fills up more quickly, meaning your campfires could make/break your success. Also parks are being snatched up faster which will alter your planning multiple times per season. With so much variability styles of play in both player count, as well as special tiles, there’s a lot to love in PARKS.
It was hard for me to find anything I didn’t like about the game. The game is a great weight for both families and experienced gamers. I do, however, think that all of the game concepts that are being combined in the game might be confusing for first time gamers with short attention spans. When going through set-up with someone new to the game, you need to explain canteens, seasons, secret endgame goals, weather, campfires, gear, taking pictures, and park actions. In explaining to someone new to gaming, you find yourself going “and also, and also, and also,” which might be a lot for someone new to more hobby style games. Once the game gets going, everything flows really, really well. But, if someone can’t stay focused during rules explanations, this might not be for them (or you might just have to take longer on rules explanation).
I highly recommend PARKS as a game you should add to your collection. The art alone is worth the purchase of the game, but it’s combined with a solid game that will attract both gamers and families alike. Since the last time I played, I keep thinking about the next time I can play PARKS and who I can share it with. It’s a great game to introduce to non-gamers with a pretty attractive theme, but implements the VERY beginnings of concepts you would see in heavier strategy games. This one is going to stay in the collection for a long, long time.
PARKS is available at Gen Con this week, and should see a retail release later this month. Check out the Keymaster Games website here.
** Just a couple of notes. 1) PARKS was provided as a review copy by Keymaster Games. However, I did purchase a copy in the Kickstarter campaign for the game, so the review comes a few weeks earlier than it normally would. 2) In the pictures of this review, the game is being played on an optional neoprene playmat. It does not come with the PARKS, but is available for additional purchase. The board that comes with the game will hold the cards for Parks, Gear, Canteens, and Seasons, while you will just put the trail tiles and token trays to the bottom and side of the board, respectively. The playmat is 100% not necessary to play the PARKS, it’s just a nice cosmetic touch.**
Every year in July, the nerd community gathers at San Diego Comic-Con or SDCC to celebrate the comics, movies and shows that they love. And every year, the rest of the world doesn’t understand why people fight crowds to go sit in conference halls watching movie trailers. I get it. It’s a bit weird but it’s also a huge part of pop culture now. Movies that have no connection to comics at all, like Top Gun Maverick, have panels at SDCC with Tom Cruise actually showing up.
What if you want to seem hip and in the know with pop culture but don’t want to pay constant attention to Geek Twitter for the four days required? Don’t worry. Your friendly neighborhood supernerd is here to help with five things you most need to know from San Diego Comic-Con. Let’s get started with the biggest one first.
Marvel is still happening. I know you were worried.
Marvel went into San Diego Comic-Con with a blank slate. Sure there were rumors about some movies but nothing concrete. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, confirmed A LOT in Hall H on Saturday night. Sequels to Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, Black Panther, and Thor Ragnarok were announced, as well as new titles, including The Eternals, Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings, and a Black Widow solo film. That’s a lot. And that doesn’t even cover the fact they announced 5 new Disney+ shows: The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If…? and Hawkeye. Marvel owned the convention this year. They dominated media coverage.
But what does that mean? To put it simply, Marvel’s not going away anytime soon. Many people weren’t sure if the film franchise could continue after the goliath that was Avengers: Endgame. They needed to prove that they weren’t going anywhere. Kevin Feige put up a board showing a very packed and strong two years of content. They are expanding into streaming and expanding their stories to include multiverses and cosmic conflicts. On top of that, Marvel finished by hinting at what is beyond Phase 4, with the Fantastic 4, the X-Men, and Mahershala Ali starring as the title character in Blade. Marvel is still going, and if history is any indicator of the future, they are probably going to be successful.
If only the same could be said for their main competitor.
DC is still trying. Good for them.
DC Films didn’t show up this year, despite having upcoming movies they could have talked about, namely Joker, Wonder Woman 1984 and the terribly named Birds Of Prey And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn. Instead, most of the news that came out was from DC Universe, their online streaming service, and The CW. The CW has built a lot of its identity recently off the backs of comic books. Even if you don’t like superhero stuff, Riverdale is still based off of Archie comics. The core of their programming is the CWverse, an interconnected universe of shows that all started in 2012 with Arrow. Well now Arrow is ending and honestly, speaking just for me here, most of the remaining shows didn’t impress me much at Comic-Con. Black Lightning still shines as the best of them, but the rest of the shows seem to be coasting and rehashing plots we’ve all seen before. Batwoman kicked out a very underwhelming and frankly boring trailer for Comic-Con, and no one else really impressed.
Honestly, the surprising news came from the online streaming front for DC. DC Universe has been under a lot of pressure recently since it was announced that WarnerMedia was launching their own streaming service. That move, along with canceling Swamp Thing less than a week after it premiered, didn’t inspire much confidence in the service. They decided to use Comic Con to reassure people that they were still relevant. They renewed multiple shows including the cult favorite Doom Patrol and the fantastic animated series Young Justice, but the big surprise was the trailer for Harley Quinn. This animated series aimed at a more mature audience seemed like a quick cash grab while Harley Quinn remains popular, but the trailer spotlighted the show’s sense of humor, visual style, and phenomenal cast in a way that gave me hope for the project. The cast alone is an incredible “who’s who” of the alternative comedy world, and with the level of talent there, and a fun trailer, the show might just become the hit that DC Universe needs right now.
Hey, do you know who else could really use a hit right now?
HBO really wants their next Game of Thrones. Like really badly.
Did you know Game Of Thrones is over? HBO sure does and they really want to find their next big hit. They made a big push for Westworld with its newest trailer, and they also heavily promoted two new shows coming out: Watchmen and His Dark Materials. It’s too early to tell which of the shows might take HBO’s Iron Throne, but we did learn a few things. His Dark Materials sure has that Game Of Thrones feel. The trailer showed lots of shots over snowy landscapes (even mentioned the North a few times) and with it being based on a popular book series, it’s the most obvious choice for HBO’s replacement series. It has a hell of a cast too, with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, and James McAvoy to name only a few. The concept seems interesting and it could pull in people looking for another fantasy hit with a unique flair.
Watchmen is another beast altogether. Set in an America after the events of Watchmen (the movie or the book, not the TV show, that would just be complicated and recursive), it explores a world in which masked vigilantes have declared open war on police, who have hidden behind their own masks. This probably won’t have as wide an appeal as His Dark Materials, simply because it relies on you having knowledge of the source material. For those who have read Watchmen, or those who saw the movie, you might appreciate getting to live a little more in that world. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, you might find it too hard to get invested in. I fall into the category of people who have read and watched Watchmen and are cautious about whether or not you can even make a sequel to it without missing the point it was trying to make. Though I will say, I was incredibly surprised by the return of Dr. Manhattan at the end of the trailer.
But we’ve talked enough about comics. Let’s look at something else.
Horror had a big presence. See? It’s not all comic book stuff.
You might not think that horror would find a home at SDCC, but it had a big year. Two more Halloween movies were announced. Guillermo del Toro headed up a panel getting people excited for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark that talked about the practical effects that brought the movie’s monsters to life. In the past, the movie It earned points for creative marketing at Comic Con with actors scattered around the convention center, silently standing there in yellow raincoats holding balloons. It’s no surprise, then, that they decided to return to SDCC for the sequel. It Chapter Two released a new trailer and had a panel with the actors playing the adult Losers Club, as well as the director of the film. The trailer promises an equally terrifying experience.
On the streaming side, there was Creepshow. Based on a 1982 anthology film from the minds of George Romero and Stephen King, the Shudder original series will tell twelve horror stories across six episodes. The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero is one of the big names behind it and judging by the trailer, it will certainly live up to the Creepshow name.
And speaking of horror . . .
What can you say about Cats? The trailer dropped on the first day of SDCC. I know a lot of people love the Broadway show, but I think I speak for everyone when I say “What is this trailer?” This might have the best cast of any movie I will never watch. The trailer doesn’t just dip into the uncanny valley, it builds a nice little cottage there and starts an organic subsistence garden. This movie could be filled with the best performances ever seen and no one will because everyone in the theater will have to avert their eyes from the half cat/half Idris Elba hybrid on screen. If I wanted to watch a bunch of people dancing around as naked cat creatures, I would just go to San Diego Comic-Con instead of reading about it online.
Well, I hope that has helped you have a better understanding of the biggest pop culture moments from this year’s celebration of geekdom. You now have some talking points if you are forced to hold a conversation with someone in a Justice League T-shirt holding an Aquaman action figure. No, not Jason Momoa, the Superfriends one. And if you run out of stuff to say, just say that the movie was way better than the original source material. That will get them talking nonstop and you can just slip away while they are distracted. Trust me. All my conversations end with me ranting alone about the Green Lantern movie.
You’re going to hear a lot of the overused term “love letter” thrown around in terms of Quentin Tarantino’s nearly three-hours long drama/comedy Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and that shouldn’t and won’t surprise you. After all, even when Quentin Tarantino was making movies set in Germany (Inglorious Basterds), the Deep South (Django Unchained) and Old-West Wyoming (The Hateful Eight), he was really only repeatedly paying homage to past decades of American filmmaking. So turning the director loose in the playground of late sixties Los Angeles delivers what you might expect — a comprehensive, almost virtual-reality experience of what life, culture and “the scene” looked like on Sunset Strip at the corner of action-movie machismo and the free love movement.
One thing Tarantino has always excelled in, perhaps above all, is creating the parameters of a world and setting a voyeuristic spot for the viewer within it. In Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, for instance, he created a seedy world of low-budget crime and allowed us to see the mundane and everyman conversations even the most violent thugs chat up to pass the time. His Kill Bill films delivered a half-real life/half-anime world where it seemed completely plausible that an all-female team named after venomous snakes could move freely within its margins. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (a film destined to be abbreviated for the rest of time as OUATIH, because that’s just way too much to have to type out over and over again) is a complete visual feast, with no stone unturned; every kitchen cabinet item, every park bench movie ad, every store front seems to have been pored over and hand-picked by the director himself. It’s not just a world of which, after three hours, you feel a part — it’s a world in which you wish you could live.
OUATIH’s (see?) tandem protagonists this time around are has-been television actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his ex-stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff’s main job is to chauffeur Rick around Hollywood, as his wellspring of work has dried up with Rick’s, and the two seem to spend an awful lot of time just bro-ing out. As Rick courts new work and desperately tries to cling to the last tendrils of television stardom, Cliff lives a simpler life as Rick’s valet, retreating to the outskirts of Van Nuys by night where he lives with his dog in a run-down Airstream camper. The duo’s day-to-day exists as the film’s main thread, with Pitt oozing McQueen-style bravado (though Steve McQueen himself is a character in the film) and a drunken DiCaprio killing it with comic pathos as Rick overzealously tries to make the rounds and stage his comeback.
Tangentially related to the duo’s exploits is the parallel storyline of Sharon Tate, played with bubbly sweetness by Margot Robbie. Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have just moved in next door to Rick, which thrills the aging actor in hopes he’ll end up in one of the lauded Polanski’s next films.
Casting a queasy cloud over all of this is the inclusion of the fringey, cultish Manson family, which lives on an abandoned movie set outside of town. It’s difficult, knowing history, not to let this add a certain uneasiness to the proceedings — especially considering you know Tarantino features them in order to address the events leading up to Tate and Company’s brutal murders on the night of August 9, 1969.
And this is all I’m going to tell you about this film narratively, because you don’t need to know anything else. Trust me. Just forget it and let’s move on.
You will be happy to learn, however, that all of Tarantino’s most oft-visited fetishes are on display here. Mid-sixties television references abound, as do brutal violence and gratuitous, lengthy scenes of people driving in classic cars (at least twenty minutes of the film’s runtime is dedicated to POV of people driving). Soundtrack-wise it’s probably the director’s most populated yet, and here’s hoping an extended cut of it will include the classic radio banter between songs during all this aforementioned driving. Noticeably absent is a memorable long-form monologue scene, a la Walken’s pocket watch scene in Pulp or the guns-under-the-table tavern scene from Basterds, but the indulgences Tarantino in the past has funneled into hearing his own words have somehow, almost sweetly, been replaced in OUATIH by visual indulgences of old-school Taco Bells and clips from classic television. Rest assured, though, that there are still plenty of shots of bare feet. Dirty feet hanging over the backs of chairs, feet mashed up against car window glass — it’s all here in true QT fashion.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some argue that this is Tarantino’s best film — I think there’s certainly a case that a particularly rabid lover of it could make (personally, I don’t think anything can top the brilliance of Pulp Fiction). But while I don’t think it’s his best, it’s probably very close to the top of the director’s list. I do think it feels like his most loved film, in that it has a certain quality of feeling like a favorite child, a true pleasure for Tarantino to make. If you’re counting at home, this victory means Tarantino is nine for nine, which is no mean feat, and this gentler, funnier Tarantino may signify a more chilled-out and less violently frenetic latter half of his career. It may not be completely perfect but it’s pretty close and a lot of fun; at the very least, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one hell of a Hollywood Hills hang.
Last Saturday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. There were a myriad of tweets, articles, news stories, documentaries and other forms of media coverage. Many people looked to the moon landing as a means to wonder what could be the next great challenge we face as a country and as a people. Many others debated whether or not the moon landing actually happened. (Spoiler alert, it did). No matter where you fall on those topics, or whether you even cared much about the moon landing, one thing is certain. That big gray rock has served as a backdrop for some awesome movies. Even though the moon landing anniversary has passed there is no reason why the celebration of Earth’s lone natural satellite shouldn’t continue. Here is a list of the best moon-related movies which you should pull up on your screens this week:
Dumb and Dumber
In case you’ve been living under rock, this is one of the greatest comedies of all time. Lloyd’s discovery of the moon landing, 20+ years after it happened, is just one gem in a movie full of comic gold.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Some may think Moonraker is the best moon-related spy movie because it has the word “moon” in the title. They’re wrong. The Spy Who Shagged Me gave us Mini-Me, Fat Bastard, one of the best movie intros ever, and an actual base on the moon. Sure, many of the bits are recycled from the first Austin Powers movie, but they’re still funny. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this or you feel like you’ve lost a bit of your mojo, I highly recommend you revisit this one.
The film opens with an ominous shadow growing over the moon where we see the moon landing plaque and American flag. As the spaceship travels beyond the moon we see Earth set in it’s sights. What the aliens in that ship don’t know is that Russell Casse is there…waiting for them.
Man on the Moon
This one is for you conspiracy theorists out there. Andy Kaufman was one of the most enigmatic entertainers of his time, maybe of all time. He lived in the gray area between fiction and reality and nobody ever could really tell what was real with him, including his death. The movie itself is pretty much like any biopic, but Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Kaufman is widely considered to be one of his best performances and makes the movie worth watching for that alone.
One of the most famous moons in film history.
Oh, sorry Ben.
An American Werewolf in London
There are a ton of werewolf movies but this one is tops. As most know, the full moon is the catalyst which causes a human to transform into their werewolf form. An American Werewolf in London takes the horror concept of the werewolf, sprinkles in some comedy and Oscar Award winning makeup effects to create what many consider one of the best horror movies of all time.
The most realistic depiction of actual space travel on this list, Apollo 13 tells the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon. Still inspired by the success of the Apollo 11 mission, this movie tells the story of the astronauts as they prepare for their mission all the way its end. The cast is absolutely fantastic with Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Kevin Bacon all bringing their A-games. Not only is this movie one of the best moon-relate movies, it is also a cornerstone of one of my favorite games, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Perhaps one of the lesser known movies on this list, Moon is one of the best sci-fi movies I have ever seen. Led almost exclusively by Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey’s voice, Moon tells the story of a man overseeing a mining operation on the moon. After an incident which requires medical treatment, we come to find out that not everything is as it seems on the space station and an hour and a half of suspense and intrigue follow. If you haven’t seen this movie and are fans of sci-fi drama, I can’t recommend this movie enough.
2001: A Space Odyssey
2001 is the best of the best when it comes to moon-related movies. It’s a classic and genre-defining movie. If you haven’t seen it, now’s a good time to pull it up and give it a watch.
By Blake Vickers on ©July 14th, 2019 @ 6:00pm
My first writing job was as an Opinion Editor at a college newspaper. In the semester I ran the Opinion page at the Eastern Progress, I spat out a lot of stories. Some I’m proud of. Others not so much. The one hallmark of all of my stories at the Progress was that I tried to imbue them with a sense of emotion; whether that be in the form of disgust over a certain restaurant on campus loading my burger down with onions or a mouth frothing rant about whatever horrific thing was happening in politics at the time. Given the time we live in, I got political a whole lot. Be it a defense of Collin Kaepernick that shit on anyone out there feckless enough to be burning a brand new pair of shoes or multiple op-eds savaging Brett Kavanaugh, I spent a fair deal of time writing stories that were more than capable of starting a Facebook war. So why am I so nervous about putting this story out? It has nothing to do with kneeling NFL players or Supreme Court Justices who have quite possibly butt-chugged. For whatever reason, those stories are divisive. Stranger Things has never been close to divisive. I apparently exist alone as the only soul in the world who doesn’t care for Stranger Things. So until I get a biopic in the style of I Am Legend (Surely a riveting yearn depicting a grunt-y Jon Bernthal type as yours truly sitting around in a cave drinking Irish Coffee and watching Community over and over again to hide from the spooky 80’s show.), I’m airing my grievances on Funkhouser.
If anything, I’ve never seen a show more universally praised in my personal life or online than the hodgepodge of 1980’s references and rehashed stories from that era than Netflix’s behemoth. Like, I’ve literally never heard it take any criticism. Even on the fucking internet! Am I just schizophrenic or something? Has my life become a really niche version of The Truman Show that’s just about mocking the only person who doesn’t like Stranger Things?
There’s been a trend in film and television kick started in the last few years to mine the hell out of nostalgia for the decade of the Gipper and hairspray, and it’s sure as hell not exclusive to Stranger Things. IT, GLOW, Halt and Catch Fire, The Americans, Guardians of the Galaxy, Snowfall, and the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 are just a few prominent examples of that trend. That’s to say nothing of Ready Player One, which was the cinematic equivalent of Stephen Spielberg folding up like a contortionist and giving himself a rimjob to the sound of the best decade of his life. Of all these titles, none have went pickaxe in hand into that mine with as much glee as Stranger Things. There are Eggo waffles in vintage packaging, vintage D&D campaigns, 8 track players, Ghostbusters, bad haircuts, Wynona Ryder, and more. And in the new season, there’s even a shopping mall! (Honest to god, I heard someone squeal about the mall thing in a Kroeger the other day.) It’s always felt so disingenuous. Giving the people who were around during the time a heavy dose of nostalgia, and giving those of us who weren’t an outlet to a seemingly brighter and simpler time (that in reality was still pretty fucked up). There’s certainly nothing wrong with setting a show in this time frame or enjoying that sense of nostalgia. But it shouldn’t be the reason you make the show.
Among other things, Stranger Things is also derivative as hell. Let’s take a look at all the primary story arcs on the show. There’s a group of socially outcast kids who find themselves on a mission of sorts, both fighting one scary supernatural thing and protecting another much more vulnerable and charming supernatural thing. A John Hughes-esque love triangle between a popular girl, a popular guy, and a weird guy. A perpetually drunk lawman with a tragic past on a punch filled quest for redemption, paired nicely with a desperate parent hell-bent on rescuing their missing child. All storytelling is derivative in one way or another, but it’s so blatant here. For every good compelling story beat in Stranger Things, there’s something else that does it better. You want kids on a mission? Go read IT or watch E.T., The Goonies, or J.J. Abrams’ criminally underrated Super 8 (Super 8, for those of you who haven’t seen it, was essentially Stranger Things 6ish years before Stranger Things.) You wanna see a John Hughes style love story? Watch one of his movies. Drunk and punchy cop or desperate parent? Like 50% of all action movies are this. Sure, it’s certainly possible that this is an intentional move on the part of the showrunners to ape these classic films, that doesn’t make it any less lazy.
It’s not to say that I hate every bit of this show. Far from it. I think Wynona Ryder, David Harbour, Charlie Heaton, and Mille Bobbie Brown act their asses off. That’s reflected in the characters they play. Having two younger brothers myself, Joyce and Jonathan’s manic quest to find Will hit home on multiple levels and kept me pretty engaged with the screen. The same goes for the sad, frumpy Hopper. Who, despite being a pudgy alcoholic, still came through to kick ass and unravel the grand mystery back in season 1. Even with my aforementioned criticisms, I still very much enjoyed those parts of the show. I’m not just saying that because I was essentially a louder version of Jonathan in high school and will very likely find myself a louder version of Hopper in 20 years’ time.
What ultimately weighs down Stranger Things for me more than anything else, are those little preteen shits that make up the bulk of the story. Mike, Lucas, and that obnoxious little asshole Dustin make up the most derivative and nostalgia-bating sections of a show that already leans waaay too heavily into that. The trio are paper thin and charmless nerd caricatures. But apart from not being well acted or likable, they commit the greatest sin a fictional character can commit, they’re boring. Eleven, Max, and Will are all a bit more compelling than the rest of the kids here; but like the rest of the show, they get bogged down by these low-rent, screen time eating Goonies knockoffs.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with liking this show. This is made all the more apparent by the show’s massive popularity and the fact that I’m a contrary bastard. Regardless of whether you like the show or not, it’s hard to deny that it isn’t a story that hasn’t already been told about a hundred times over. And if you like stuff from the 80’s, don’t vicariously live in the decade through the characters on the show. Go watch all those movies they reference. Play some D&D and listen to The Clash and Bowie while you’re at it. Odds are you’ll at the very least get a better understanding of the show you love so much, and the decade it loves even more.
This weekend thousands will flock to Louisville’s waterfront for three days to see talented musical acts from across the country perform at the 18th annual Forecastle Festival.
One of the most exciting weekends in the Bluegrass, it’s impossible to have a bad time at Forecastle (unless you forget to drink water; bring refillable bottles for the hydration stations to stay in the game). I am in no way shape or form a music expert, but I dabble. Like many others, I do not have the time, energy or funds to traverse the country for dance festivals. Forecastle brings the acts to me, and this year there are a few I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time.
I’m not the biggest fan of purely electric music. That’s exactly why I love the falsetto that defines Jungle’s (Ocean Stage, 8:30) groove. Like Busy Earnin, most of their videos are one-cut choreographed wonders. If their shows are anything like their videos, it’s going to be a thrill.
Chromeo (Boom Stage, 6:15) is not too different in genre. You’ve probably heard Jealous at some point, but I think their grooviest song is Old 45s. After their Friday evening show, they’re hopping on the Belle of Louisville for a midnight DJ-set on the Ohio River.
Judah The Lion (Boom Stage, 8:15) and Portugal. The Man (Main Stage, 7:15) are the final warm-ups before The Killers take the stage at 9:30. Who would’ve thought when Mr. Brightside debuted ten years ago it would be a favorite amongst high schoolers?
Between you and I, Friday is the weakest sauce. Things kick into fifth gear for Saturday and Sunday.
By Adrian Bryant on ©July 08th, 2019 @ 5:44pm
Even though 2019 is being bemoaned for its low box-office sales due to a hard case of “franchise fatigue” with all of the sequels and spinoffs hitting theaters, the year has seen strong outings from Hollywood’s biggest properties in terms of both box office and quality. Avengers: Endgame is approximately three inches away from taking the Highest Grossing Film title away from Avatar, and is also among the MCU’s best films. Shazam!, a terrifically cute superhero re-imagining of Big, did surprisingly well at the box office given DC’s lackluster filmography. While films like X-Men: Dark Phoenix and MIB: International make the franchise pool look murky, Endgame, Shazam!, and non-superhero fair like Toy Story 4 have made 2019 a decent year for franchises so far.
But this article isn’t about those movies. Shazam! doesn’t need my help in getting people to see it (although you definitely should). While my Top Ten of 2019 holds several big-name blockbusters, there are a number of small movies that were quietly uploaded to Netflix or did not attract the audiences at the box-office that they deserve. I would like to give a shout-out to the little guys of 2019 who deserve as much attention as the likes of Toy Story 4.
Alex Ross Perry’s film Her Smell is filthy. Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), the lead of both the film and its fictional punk band Something She, is rancid. Her messy mascara overcoats the cocaine-dust foundation she applies before every gig. Becky’s band mates, ex-husband, and manager attempt to babysit her while she disappears, with or without her neglected child, to snort God-knows-what or perform an impromptu seance with her “spiritual guide.” Her Smell uses the Steve Jobs approach of using five long, frantic scenes across backstages and recording studios to track the rise and fall of Becky Something as she succumbs to drug addiction, the loss of fame that plagues all musicians, and her own refusal to live on other people’s terms.
Her Smell’s scenes put the viewer in the place of her band members and friends trying to keep her in line. We go through the ebb and flow of “she’ll get better, just wait,” “I can’t deal with her bullshit any longer,” and “I think she may just be lost.” People who have experienced addiction themselves, or have loved ones who have struggled with addiction, will likely relate to the stress that Her Smell swims in by imbuing Becky with such unreliability and instability – while still making her engaging and funny enough to see why people stick around, despite the heartless way she treats those around her. Even though the film ends on a largely hopeful note, the journey to Becky’s resolution is gruesome. Despite terrific performances from supporting players Agyness Deyn and Eric Stoltz, Her Smell is Moss’s movie: our connection to Becky Something rests on her shoulders, and Moss is unhinged and charming enough to make Becky a character worth dedicating our time to.
Her Smell can be rented digitally on Amazon Prime, or can be streamed through Kanopy. (Kanopy is a streaming service that you can access through your public library. It has a terrific selection of documentaries and independent film. On top of its quality, it is free through your library. Support your library and yourself and use Kanopy!).
Paddleton centers on the friendship between Andy (Romano) and Michael (Mark Duplass). Their lives in their shitty apartment complex is highly routine: they eat lunch together, go behind a billboard to play a racquetball-like game called Paddleton, and return to Michael’s apartment to eat frozen pizza and watch the same kung-fu movie every night. The routine is jeopardized once Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Rather than living his last six months in pain, Michael decides to purchase assisted suicide medicine, which ends up being the central conflict of the film. Andy, largely in denial that Michael will die at all, tries to hide the medicine from Michael – despite the fact that Michael is mostly okay with dying.
Paddleton is so affecting because Romano and Duplass sell the friendship. The film is fairly simple thematically, but it feels more dense than it actually is because Andy and Michael are such a lovable pair. Even in their most heated arguments, the bond between the two never breaks. Paddleton is a straightforward tale about what it’s like to lose a friend, and the friendship at its center makes the loss heartbreakingly poignant.
Paddleton can be streamed on Netflix.
Alita: Battle Angel
I have been accused – by readers online and friends in life – that I am too pretentious with my film taste. I only like “high art” that makes me think; I am incapable of “turning my brain off.” I argue that is not the case, but because I don’t like half the MCU movies nobody ever believes me. So here is my retort: the love that I have for Alita: Battle Angel runs deep. In my veins courses affection unfettered for this Robert Rodriguez sci-fi action movie that has almost nothing on its mind. Critics were mixed on it, as it got an overall 60% Rotten Tomatoes score. But I don’t care. Of the thirty-four 2019 releases I have seen, it is number five on my ranking. It slaps, as the kids say.
Alita: Battle Angel’s titular character is a cyborg found in a scrap heap by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). After Ido restores Alita’s wrecked body, she admits that she has no recollection of who she is nor where she is from. Alita then follows the template of an action video game. Alita explores the city, meets friends like love-interest Hugo (Keean Johnson), takes out Iron City’s miniboss criminals one by one, gets a suit upgrade, uncovers more about her backstory, fights more people, lather-rinse-repeat. It’s script lends itself well to Robert Rodriguez, whose career has been one large attempt to make dazzling action in digitally rendered environments (see Sin City and, oddly enough, all of the Spy Kids movies). But with the aid of producer James Cameron, Rodriguez uses the massive 200-million dollar budget to achieve his long sought after goal. The action in Alita is bananas. The Motorball sequence, which follows Alita’s playing of a NASCAR/soccer hybrid against giant-weaponized robots, is the most visceral action I have seen on-screen in years. Alita promises nothing more than incredible fights and set-pieces, and it absolutely delivers them.
Alita: Battle Angel can be rented digitally on Amazon Prime.
Knock Down The House
2018 saw a record amount of women (and more broadly non-politicians) seeking local, state, and national government offices. It was a year when voters saw more everymen on the ballot than they likely ever had before. Knock Down The House follows four such women – Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, and the now-ubiquitous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – as they join the national trend and run their respective political campaigns.
By mentioning this movie I assume countless people will call me a radical socialist cuck for even thinking to mention a documentary that focuses largely on AOC. And it is worth mentioning that this documentary follows only Democratic candidates. But Knock Down the House really is not that concerned with policy – the most political it gets regarding legislative action is examining the various reasons each of the women ran. Swearengin has seen her state of West Virginia destroyed by mountaintop removal mining and is seeing countless neighbors die from its affects; Vilela is running after the death of her daughter, which was the result of the family’s inability to cover the medical bills. These women want to fix the issues through liberal policy, sure, but Knock Down the House isn’t as concerned with their agenda as it is with their desire to do good for their constituents. All of the four women’s campaigns are rooted in a deep love for their communities and a want to better them, which makes Knock Down the House one of the most optimistic portrayals of American democracy’s future that currently exist. All Knock Down the House asks is that you believe that America is worth fighting for and that the grassroots citizenry are the people to do that fighting.
Knock Down the House can be streamed on Netflix.
– Glass: This movie joins the Alita club of Movies I Like that Critics Hate. M. Night Shyamalan’s follow up to Unbreakable and Split is a very quiet movie where all of its superpowered characters sit in a mental hospital and talk about their emotional problems. It is very subdued and very slow, but its unique portrayal of the characters’ traumas is worth staying for. Glass can be rented digitally on Amazon Prime.
– Anima: Paul Thomas Anderson’s collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is a treat (and my second favorite film of the year), but is perhaps not the best viewing for a casual movie watcher. Anima is a 15-minute experimental short film set to the music of Yorke’s newest solo album of the same name. It looks like a dream, as the physics of its dancers feel impossible and the projection-art that decorates the scenery feels aquatic and ethereal. It it a very out there film, but at such a short run-time it is worth watching if you’re feeling adventurous. Anima can be streamed on Netflix.
– Midsommar: Perhaps including Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary on this list is a cop-out, since it just opened last week. But it opened against (and was demolished by) Spider-Man: Far From Home so I don’t feel too bad. Midsommar is a hilarious break-up movie that is every bit as disturbing and gruesome as the last 20 minutes of Hereditary. It is not a horror movie, per se, but it is one of the most unsettling viewing experiences I have had. The cultish practices of its Swedish community are chilling, and the terrible deeds of its douchebag boyfriends are infuriating. It is my favorite of 2019 so far and I implore you to see it while it is still in theaters (it is great to watch with a big crowd).
For more of Adrian’s reflections on cinema in 2019, follow him on Twitter @APBryant32.
BS: In the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Hello There!” and welcome to another one of Bill and Daniel’s Excellent Reviews! Before we get started, we think it’s important to give you a spoiler warning, not for Far From Home, but for Avengers Endgame. If you’re one of the three people who haven’t seen that film yet, you’re gonna wanna go see that movie first because it relies pretty heavily on a plot point from that movie. We’ll keep it spoiler free for this film, but we will need to talk about that plot point! I mean, it is even in the second trailer for the movie. Just wanted to relay that message before we get started. Onwards and forwards!
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been more than two months since Avengers Endgame was released and took the world by storm, breaking almost every box office milestone and taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride that I should have prepared myself more for. I cried, Daniel cried, we all cried, we’re adults we can all admit it. It was a sprawling epic that was an endeavour just to find the time to watch, at just over three hours it was a substantial commitment. That’s honestly why I was so excited for Spider-Man: Far From Home, because it looked like such a light and fun adventure continuing the consequences of Endgame, while not being the emotional gut-punch Endgame was. In a lot of ways it 100% succeeds in that, and does so while nailing everything you love about Spider-Man but never reaching those highs from the first MCU Spider-Man film, Homecoming.
DD: That is not to say that Spider-Man: Far From Home is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is still really good and it works as a perfect capstone to the Infinity Saga in the MCU. Where Endgame packed it’s runtime with content, Far From Home leaves the characters with a bit more time. It’s as much about Peter’s life outside of the costume as it is about his life wearing it. But most of all, it’s about grief. Here is the big Endgame spoiler here for the two of you who haven’t seen it but we have to rip off this bandaid to talk about what makes this movie so special: Tony Stark died. There we go. See that was relatively painless. Tony’s death fills this movie with an emotional depth that might not have been there for any other film that could have come after Endgame. Tony was like a father to Peter Parker and was also the face of the Avengers. In a world without him, Peter is left rudderless while facing pressure on all sides to step up and be the new Iron Man. It’s a lot for a 16 year-old to handle and Tom Holland delivers a performance that is complex and at times heartwrenching. He is so good at showing the subtle signs of grief for his mentor.
BS: Beyond just showing his grief for losing his father figure, Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, period. In my eyes, he’s the best Spider-Man that’s ever been put to film. Don’t get me wrong, there are great things about Tobey McGuire’s and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men, but I think he completely encapsulates that character and is actually still really close to Spider-Man’s 16 year old character. There’s something genuine about his Peter Parker and it feels like the Spider-Man that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created is jumping off the page and onto the big screen. He’s a kid dealing with the ultimate power and responsibility of an Avenger and he just wants to be a kid again. As Daniel said, he’s facing pressure from all sides to step up, and in particular, Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, who needs him to be the next Iron Man. Fury in this film feels like the most harsh version of the character that we’ve seen, and throughout much of the film feels like the strict parent, constantly scolding Spider-Man. He’s the dad from Footloose, and Peter just wants to dance with the pretty girl that he likes.
DD: Before Bill goes on too much of a Footloose tangent, let’s swing this review back to Spider-Man. Nick Fury is doing the same kind of things he would do with Tony Stark: give him a mission to save the world and a stern talking to that in his mind might be a motivational speech and watch as he becomes the greatest hero in the world. But Peter isn’t Tony Stark. He’s just a kid and Fury has trouble connecting with him. Peter is on his own journey and feels like he is all alone on it. Or at least, that is until Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck aka Mysterio shows up. Gyllenhaal’s performance is charismatic and charming. He makes Mysterio incredibly likable and gives Peter someone to talk to about the superhero life. All of this ties into the narrative of the story, a story about Peter’s internal struggle between his life as a superhero and his desire for a normal life with MJ the girl he likes.
BS: Speaking of MJ, Zendaya is awesome in the role. I had reservations when they revealed who she really was in Homecoming because at that point, she had only done a couple of Disney Channel shows, but man has she really expanded and gotten better. She’s definitely not your traditional MJ, but I really liked her awkward and dark humor and her chemistry throughout the movie with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is excellent. You really feel like you’re actually watching two awkward teenagers that like each other come together, and it’s really sweet and reminds me of interactions I had as a teenager with the girl I liked. To talk a little bit more about Quentin Beck, he’s basically exactly what Peter is looking for in a mentor after Tony dies and as Daniel said, he makes it work because of his charisma and charm. There’s even a point where he puts on an important plot device in the film, and he kind of looks like Tony Stark. While I really enjoyed a lot of the action set pieces, it was those little moments of Mysterio and Spider-Man talking about being a hero and loss that really stand-out especially really early in the film.
DD: But let’s talk about those set pieces. They are fun and action packed making use of the variety of locations that Peter’s trip through Europe opens up to them. One sequence in particular is incredibly inventive and creative, making use of everything we know about Peter’s past and making use of one of the bigger twists that is in the movie. It really is a sight to behold and ties into the world of the film nicely. While we’re at it, let’s talk about that world building. Far From Home expands our understanding of the MCU in ways that help us understand a lot. They give us a look at what the Snap looked like to people who were left behind as well as giving us an understanding of what it was like when people returned post Endgame and even some of the challenges that caused. There is even backstory for characters you might not expect to have fully fleshed out backstories that tie into the theme of Tony Stark throughout the movie. The post credits scenes (there are two and you should stay for them) really expand on the MCU and set up interesting plot points for future movies in a cool and creative way.
BS: Those post credit scenes really do an effective job of making sure you walk out of that theater with an “Oh shit” look on your face and there’s one in particular where I went through every emotion except sadness because it takes a point in those set pieces and expands it and introduces some really, really interesting characters that we haven’t seen in this universe before. Now that I’ve talked at length about why I like it, let’s get into what I didn’t. I can’t exactly put my finger on what one thing it was, but in my opinion, it just never reaches those highs that the first Spider-Man did. It can be really, really slow in some parts,and it feels more like teen romantic comedy in spots. Now I’m not against that at all, and it can be really funny when it does that, but I just felt like Homecoming did a better job of conveying that original spirit of Spider-Man and how a kid living a normal life in Queens would deal with that kind of power. Far From Home feels like a Spider-Man movie that jammed in some famous European destinations and I just didn’t really like that aspect of the film.
DD: The pacing does struggle a lot, especially at the beginning. It isn’t slow but goes from high octane action to slower paced character moments without that much grace. This probably comes from trying to merge a teen romantic comedy in with your standard Marvel superhero movie as well as the emotional climax to Endgame. It’s ambitious but stumbles a little bit on the landing. The other main problem I have is that there is a moment in the movie where the plot’s resolution comes down to Peter overcoming a problem that, while slightly hinted at, isn’t really shown to be an issue throughout the film. It feels more like the movie telling you this is a problem rather than showing you why it’s a problem. It’s not a dealbreaker and you will still enjoy the movie but it makes him overcoming that obstacle feel a little hollow.
Overall, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a really fun movie that handles its source material well. It understands the emotional complexity of its characters and their motivations and treats them like real people living in a crazy world. Peter’s journey of figuring out his role as a superhero and what kind of hero he wants to be is handled incredibly well and one moment in particular triggered my nostalgia and brought back fond memories of watching the MCU kick off 11 years ago. The movie is flawed but fun and full of heart. A lot like Peter himself.