Reviews for Normal People

Hi. I review things.

Review: Magical Realism and Batman v Superman — March 27, 2016

Review: Magical Realism and Batman v Superman

When the reviews came out for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, people were pretty bummed. The film currently holds a dismal 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite a mostly-positive fan reaction, and analysts wonder if this is yet another false start for the long-gestating DC Cinematic Universe.

Of course, it isn’t. Like I said, there’s been a mostly positive fan reaction. Plus, the film’s already made a metric shitload of money, and Warner Bros. has already invested far too much in Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. The DCCU is happening, whether you like it or not. And based on this movie, you probably will.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people hate this movie, and with good reason. It’s slow, has too many plotlines, and doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’d say that even 15, 20 years down the line, the jury is gonna be hung on whether or not this movie is any good.

But there’s the thing: at the moment, it doesn’t appear to be hung. It has a 29%. That’s a pretty unanimous condemnation. But the film really isn’t that bad, and I think we’ll see more and more people expressing that opinion after the wrath of the critics quiets down. A similar thing happened about a decade ago with Snyder’s breakout hit, 300. At the time, everyone loved it. IGN have it a 10/10. People across the board, critics and fans alike, were wowed. Since then, reception has gotten more… lukewarm. Because 300 is, at the end of the day, alright. And so is Batman v Superman.

Stylistically, I think the film is brilliant. It closely resembles Snyder’s work in Watchmen, using freeze-frames and artistic sits to replicate the feel of a comic. The performances are, by and large, fantastic. You know it’s a good cast when the weakest link is Amy Adams. Ben Affleck turned out to be a fantastic Batman, Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman, and Jesse Eisenberg is… interesting. It was a great performance, but he felt more like the Riddler than he did Lex Luthor.

The symbolism is blunt and across your face. Yes, yes, Superman is Jesus, Darkseid is coming, Metropolis is New York but also Gotham is New York but also Metropolis is Michigan (????), we get it. Zack Snyder’s never been one for subtlety, but good lord, does he try.

This is perhaps the main problem with this movie. Sometimes, it’s a real intense, angsty drama. Other times, it’s a superhero movie with big action and one-liners. Sometimes it takes itself too seriously, other times not serious enough. It may have functioned better as two separate movies: one, a gritty, intense Batman v Superman; the other, a fun, action-packed Dawn of Justice. But with Marvel already in Phase 3, DC doesn’t have time for two Justice League teasers. So we’re left with this.

One part of the film I really did like was Snyder’s use of magical realism. The lines between dreams and reality are blurred, which is probably the best way to do a Batman/Superman crossover. Once again, though, it just lingers on realism a little too long, leaving the audience more baffled than intrigued when fantasy is thrown in the mix.

Overall though, I rather liked the movie, even though I understood why so many people don’t. It might just depend on your opinion of Zack Snyder. Regardless, I give it a solid B. I recommend you see it just to stay “in the loop.” And who knows? You might really like it. Or not.

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Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane — March 13, 2016

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Let’s go back to 2008, probably the most important year of the century so far. We were in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history, we were about to elect the first black president, Barack Obama (who will most likely be historically significant for other reasons, but we just don’t know yet), Iran went to space, Bill Gates retired, we saw the deaths of Bobby Fischer, Heath Ledger, Arthur C. Clarke, Charlton Heston, Bo Diddley, George Carlin, Estelle Getty, Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes, David Foster Wallace, Paul Newman, and others, and that’s not even getting to the entertainment. Iron Man shook the whole industry. The Dark Knight ruined movies for a while. Kanye put out one of the most influential albums ever. And then there was Cloverfield.

What made Cloverfield such a phenomenon wasn’t so much the movie itself as it was the hype, the mysterious allure around what exactly was going to happen. No one even knew the name of the film until the 2nd trailer. People speculated it was everything from a Lost spin-off to a Voltron movie. With the help of Paranormal Activity, it popularized the found footage genre and made JJ Abrams one of the biggest filmmakers in the world. So, how could Abrams top himself?

Surprise drop. 10 Cloverfield Lane, the second installment in what will presumably be a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series, was first announced in January and came out in March. Unlike the first movie, where we at least had the courtesy to know it was a monster movie, this one left us totally in the dark. It could have been a thriller about a kidnapping, it could have been an anti-war tale, it could have just been another monster movie. Hell, I already saw it, and I’m still not sure what it is.

But whatever it is, it’s amazing. The cinematography is great, the suspense is unrelenting, the twists and turns are mind-boggling. John Goodman delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Harold, the captor/savior of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character. It’s best to go into this movie not knowing too much about it, but suffice it to say it just might be one of the best movies of the decade. There seem to be some character inconsistencies, but it’s really a film that demands further analysis, and I’m not in the right head space to provide it.

I give it an A.

Review: Zootopia Hills Cop — March 6, 2016

Review: Zootopia Hills Cop

After the absolute clusterfuck that was the ’00s, Disney’s really pulled themselves together these past few years. Tangled was a runaway hit, Wreck-It Ralph was a phenomenon, and Frozen remains one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Hell, they’ve had a better track record this decade than Pixar. So it’s really no surprise that Zootopia turned out to be a smash hit. But how is Zootopia?

Pretty solid. Maybe not as good as Wreck-It Ralph (which shares a director, Rich Moore, with Zootopia), but definitely a really entertaining movie.

The plot is a tale as old as time. Ginnifer Goodwin voices Judy Hopps, who is just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train to Zootopia, hoping to become the first bunny police officer. Unfortunately, anti-rabbit prejudice prevents her from being a “real” officer, and she is forced into traffic duty. Her luck turns around when she meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who is just a city fox born and raised in south Zootopia. He’s also a master con artist and tax evader whom Judy blackmails into helping her find a missing person. You know, for kids!

The city of Zootopia itself is wonderful. It’s really vibrant and fun and massive. Through Judy, we find ourselves stupefied by all the streetlights, people, living just to find emotion. The film also pulls a Bee Movie, conveying a strong message about racial prejudice under the thick layer of animal puns and questionable family movie material.

The film isn’t perfect by any means. For what is ultimately a buddy cop movie, it doesn’t really have very good action. It has a really good script, full of references that the primary audience wouldn’t get (Breaking Bad, Godfather, etc.), but the plot is pretty all-over-the-place. What I do appreciate is that it has a really nice sense of scale. It identifies three major size classifications for animals and does a really good job putting you in all their perspectives.

It also really struggles with identifying a villain. There’s the police chief, who embodies the prejudices that Judy faces. He believes that some will win, some will lose, and while it’s never shown explicitly, we must assume that some are born to sing the blues. There’s also Mayor Lionheart, who tried to help the people of Zootopia and gets arrested for some reason. I won’t give away any spoilers, but another villain is given away in the last ten minutes or so. It’s frustrating.

Overall, I’d still give the movie a B+. It’s a really sweet, entertaining, and exciting film with a few glaring problems but a great underlying message, telling kids to not judge a book by its cover, to give everyone a chance regardless of race, religion, or whatever else, and never to “stop believing,” as it were. See it if you haven’t already, or if you have and you liked it a lot.

Top Ten Best Singles of the Month (February 2016) — March 4, 2016

Top Ten Best Singles of the Month (February 2016)

It’s definitely an exciting time in music. Big management shifts, tons of great up-and-coming artists, and the recent innovation of the surprise album, which means we never know what’s coming next. But the singles this month, admittedly, weren’t all I was hoping for. These are all good songs, but I’m not as wowed by any of them as I’ve been by previous months’ top picks. Here we go, but first, some honorable mentions.

Hand in the Fire – Mr. Oizo feat. Charli XCX

I don’t know who Mr. Oizo is, but I like Charli XCX, and this song is really catchy.

Bounce – Flatbush Zombies

Flatbush Zombies have their debut album coming out soon, and this grimy, eccentric track bodes well for it.

Pep Rally – Missy Elliott

Not as solid as last year’s “WTF,” but by no means a bad single.

Danger – Vic Mensa

I first heard this song at Kanye’s Life of Pablo listening party. It’s standard for Vic Mensa, but that’s not a bad thing.

Work This Body – Walk the Moon

Another groovy pop-rock throwback from Walk the Moon, but I can’t imagine it getting as big as “Shut Up and Dance.”

Mindful – K. Michelle

Not really long enough to qualify as a song. Two minutes of solid bars.

Hate – Mannie Freah feat. Juvenile, Lil Wayne, and Birdman

This one grew on me. It’s just a fun late-90s rap track. And it’s a significant chapter in Wayne and Birdman’s bizarre relationship.

Alright. Here’s the actual list.

10. MAKE ME LIKE YOU – Gwen Stefani

After 20 years of success with No Doubt and a decently successful solo career, you could say Gwen Stefani is a bit of a legend. At the same time, she hasn’t had an honest-to-God hit since 2007. Could this song bring her back into the limelight? Probably not, but it’s good. It reminds me compositionally of her 2007 hit “Sweet Escape,” which could be intentional, but is more likely just indicative of her style of pop music. It’s really catchy and upbeat while still being unmistakably Gwen Stefani.

9. WE GOT TRICKED – Scotty ATL and B.o.B

B.o.B is a bit of a touchy subject right now. And it doesn’t help that most of his music this past year has been nothing but the conspiracy theorist ravings that made him a national joke. But I’ll do what I can. Atlanta up-and-comer Scotty ATL just put out a mixtape with Atlanta down-and-goer B.o.B. I didn’t listen to it yet. But I did listen to this one song, and it’s really impressive. The production, courtesy of B.o.B himself, is really fun and ear-catching, while Scotty and Bobby deliver pretty solid verses. Yeah, B.o.B’s preachiness is annoying, but it’s still a decent verse, I think.

8. OLIVE OIL – Dave B

You probably never heard of Dave B. In fact, neither have I. All I can tell you about him is that he’s a newcomer from Seattle who released a pretty sweet song about olive oil. I’ll be sure to check him out.

7. TIME – K. Michelle

Here’s another artist you might not have heard of. Despite some commercial success for her past two albums, Memphis R&B songstress K. Michelle has yet to have a hit single. And this probably won’t be the one, but it’s still super impressive. It’s a beautiful Motown love throwback that I get engrossed in every time I listen to, even if it’s not exactly my type.

6. HAPPY DAYS – Brooke Candy

Contrary to what you might think, this is not a song about ‘70s ‘50s-nostalgia nostalgia. It’s actually a really cool pop song about pill addiction. It’s lyrically simplistic, but definitely a great concept, well-executed, and a reason to be on the lookout for ol’ Brooke Candy.

5. BUCKSHOT – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. KRS-One and DJ Premier

KRS-One is considered by many to be among the first “real” rappers, even though he didn’t achieve mainstream success until the early ‘90s. So, Macklemore put him on this new single, as a display of support for hip hop as a genre, because Macklemore really wants you to like him, guys. And with a killer old school beat by DJ Premier, this song pulls out all the stops. Macklemore’s singles have been pretty shaky this year (“Kevin” is lame, “White Privilege II” is disjointed, “Spoons” is garbage), but this is just a really good song. One of the best of Mack’s new album.

4. L.A. GIRLZ – Weezer

In case you missed it, Weezer is good again. After their 2014 comeback album Everything Will Be Alright in the End, they’ve continued with a string of really solid singles leading up to their forthcoming White Album. And this raw, anthemic piece might just be the best one yet. It’s full of classic Weezer angst, and features a spine-tingling guitar solo towards the end.

3. KILL AT WILL (THE SEQUEL) – Joell Ortiz feat. Snow tha Product and Token

Joell Ortiz is perhaps the least-talked-about member of Slaughterhouse, but his skills have always been there. On this track, for instance, he goes in for a lightning-fast minute and a half before handing the mic off to fellow Latino MC Snow tha Product. She’s great, as always. The weakest verse on the track probably goes to 17-year-old Eminem wannabe Token, but he does an admirable job as well. The beat is great and the bars are untouchable.

2. FORMATION – Beyonce

Beyonce surprise dropped this new track just in time for the Super Bowl. But this isn’t your grandmother’s Beyonce. The song is incisive, celebrating black pride and calling out injustice, particularly with regards to police brutality and Hurricane Katrina. It’s also a really good song, further pulling Beyonce in this experimental prog-rap-pop direction she’s been headed in since her 2013 masterpiece Beyonce. Bey has always stood out from the pack, but her art is just getting more and more impressive.

1 . OFFICIALLY YOURS – T-Pain

I think T-Pain made a masterpiece while none of us were looking. When he performed a version of this song on Tiny Desk Concert a year and a half ago, it was a big deal. But not because of the song itself. Rather, people made the performance viral simply because they were surprised T-Pain could sing. Personally, I think the inklings were always there. His voice was still mesmerizing, even under heavy Autotune. But the single version of this song is brand-new, and it’s something special. On the one hand, it’s a really cheesy wedding song, and it still has some clear vocal modifications despite its buzz being around the fact that it was his real voice. On the other, it’s an immensely powerful, upbeat, emotional song, simultaneously artful and genuine, with a beat so creative that it feels perfectly natural and unprecedented at the same time. This might be a shitty song. I may look back at its placement here and laugh. But right here, right now, I love it to pieces.