Reviews for Normal People

Hi. I review things.

Review: Central Intelligence Is a Misleadingly Boring Name — June 19, 2016

Review: Central Intelligence Is a Misleadingly Boring Name

Rawson Marshall Thurber holds the dubious distinction of being the director whose name most sounds like a generic white guy name from a Key & Peele sketch. He’s also a pretty solid director, having been one of the minds behind Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, DodgeBall, and We’re the Millers, which has developed a surprising cult following in the years since it came out to lukewarm reviews. Now, he’s got Central Intelligence, a buddy spy film starring Kevin Hart and world’s greatest man Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sounds like a recipe for success, but Hart isn’t nearly as big a box office draw as his popularity would have you believe and Johnson tends to be only as strong as the movie around him. This really could have gone either way.

Luckily, we wound up with a winner. Hart and Johnson actually play really nuanced characters, and Johnson especially delivers one of his greatest performances. There’s plenty of cool twists and turns, although some of them really don’t make any sense. I’d say that’s probably my main complaint about the film: the characters’ motivations go out the window as soon as a twist enters the fray. Amy Ryan comments on having broken Johnson’s fingers as part of some cover-up, but it still doesn’t make any sense.

My friend and I observed that a lot of the characters are, shall we say, Deadpool-esque. There’s a “douchebag” character early on in the movie that seemed sort of like a straight guy version of Deadpool. Over the course of the movie, the Rock’s character becomes a non-straight version of Deadpool, which is just Deadpool but bigger. And of course, when Aaron Paul’s character fakes his own death, that’s DeadPaul.

Still, it’s a very funny, surprisingly nuanced movie, with great action to boot. I’d probably rank it a few notches above We’re the Millers, which has grown on me but I still can’t really say I see the appeal of. It keeps you guessing the whole time, even though this is partially due to the occasional detail not really making sense. It’s far from a perfect movie, but I enjoyed it a lot. I’d give it a B+.

Review: You Can’t See Me (A John Cena Film) — June 10, 2016

Review: You Can’t See Me (A John Cena Film)

Now You See Me was a decent film. Perhaps the second-best Louis Leterrier film behind Transporter, it was also one of the most unique action films of its time, even though it suffered from paper-thin characters and massive plot holes. It successfully won a People’s Choice Award for best thriller movie, so clearly it has its fans. But enough for a sequel? It’d take more than sleight of hand to make that one believable.

I’ll start with the simple fact that Now You See Me 2 is better than the original. By some margin, in fact. Jon M. Chu isn’t anyone’s idea of an auteur, but this is easily his most impressive work to date. Where the original overuses jump cuts to create illusions that feel real only a couple times in the film, Chu manages to take the implausible world he was dealt and make something pretty cool out of it.

For instance, the first film uses a very convenient and bizarre misinterpretation of how hypnosis works, so the second one sets up Dave Franco trying and failing to hypnotize people with relatively normal hypnotic methods. The big reveal of the first one (that Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan was actually working with the Horsemen all along) is absolutely fucking preposterous, which is why in this one it becomes a secret that’s much harder to conceal.

Plus, I feel the cast is generally stronger in this one. Mark Ruffalo makes a better hero than he does a villain, Daniel Radcliffe is phenomenal, Woody Harrelson is good, other Woody Harrelson is even better, and Lizzy Caplan kind of blew me away. She’s one of the best-written female characters in a heist movie I’ve ever seen, and she’s so funny. Based on her, let’s say, poor track record of film roles, I really didn’t know she had it in her. Damn, Lizzy.

But even though they worked with the holes they had from the first one, there’s still a lot of shit that doesn’t make sense. Oh, it turns out that Morgan Freeman is a good guy, too. And he always knew that Ruffalo was a good guy, so now the first one makes even less sense. There’s also a big event at the very beginning that’s revealed to be a set-up, but it’s never revealed how they set it up. The implication is that the chip wasn’t real to begin with, so how did they convince everyone that it was? Is the tech guy working for the Eye? Was any of it real?

On the other hand, perhaps that’s part of the appeal of Now You See Me. You don’t know what’s real and what’s trickery. If I had to predict from clues throughout this one, I’d say we won’t find out what’s really going on until the end of the fourth movie (4Now4You4See4Me). Still, it’s a very entertaining movie, but you can’t throw these huge reveals in our faces and expect us to believe that everything suddenly makes sense now without going back and analyzing it. It really takes away from the overall spectacle of the film.

Still, I’d give it a B. It’s a solid improvement over the first one, and it has a lot of cool moments and great cinematography.

Top Ten Best Singles of the Month (May 2016) — June 3, 2016

Top Ten Best Singles of the Month (May 2016)

Here’s a recap of June of 2016 in music: nothing of note happened at the BBMA’s, Rage Against the Machine formed a supergroup with members of Cypress Hill and Public Enemy, alt-rock Belly got back together, hip-hop Belly put out a new album, my belly stayed pretty much the same, Meghan Trainor actually released a song called “Dance Like Yo Daddy,” Marshawn Lynch’s cousin put out a really good ’90s hip hop album, and things were in general pretty good. Also, all this stuff came out. Let’s start with the honorable mentions:

Against Us (Remix) – Dee-1 feat. Big KRIT and Lupe Fiasco

I’ve never heard of Dee-1. Apparently his gimmick is that he doesn’t have curse words in his songs. Sure, whatever. But he is a really good rapper. And when he joins forces with Big KRIT and Lupe Fiasco, I gotta acknowledge it. While we’re on the subject of Lupe, wasn’t he supposed to release three albums this year? What happened to those?

Dark Necessities – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead both made big comebacks this month, and they both sound a little too much like Coldplay. I gave RHCP a slight edge for no real reason. More fun to listen to, I guess?

THat Part – ScHoolboy Q feat. Kanye West

This starts out as a pretty generic ScHoolboy Q song. Oh, the beat is backwards! Spooky! He doesn’t cover any new ground, and the hook doesn’t make much sense. But then Kanye comes in and suddenly it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard. Honestly, Kanye’s part at the end is arguably the best thing Kanye’s done all year.

Fool to Love – NAO

It’s good.

Acid Test – River Tiber

River Tiber is some dude. I don’t know. I started hearing about him last month because of a decent song he did with Pusha T. Honestly, this one (which is just him) is a lot better. I don’t have anything against Pusha, but his whole thing is starting to wear thin for me. I’ll probably still love King Push either way.

Life Itself – Glass Animals

I could have sworn Glass Animals had a hit, but it seems they’re relative newcomers. I think I know them from the song they did with Joey Bada$$ a while ago. Regardless, I really appreciate this song. It’s super catchy, it has a cool beat, and the lyrics are pretty interesting. I’ve talked about how much I love songs that are uncategorizable. This fits neatly into that non-box box.

Alarm – Anne-Marie

This song kinda has that island feel that a lot of pop these days has, which is something I’m getting tired of, but at it’s core it’s just solid power pop. I like songs about alarms. They pack a lot of punch.

Send My Love (To Your New Lover) – Adele

Adele’s finally back to doing what she does best: weird shit. This might be the most radio-friendly single Adele’s put out in years, but with layered vocals, acoustic guitar, and practically nothing else, it’s far from her safest. It has all the things that made “Rolling in the Deep” great, but consequentially, it feels a lot like a “Rolling in the Deep” retread.

Power – JMSN

One of the most exciting developments of the month was Justin Timberlake putting out his first new song in three months. And while “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is an irresistible feel-good jam, it’s not the best “Justin Timberlake song” of the month. That honor goes to R&B up-and-comer JMSN, whose new song “Power” packs all the eclectic instrumentals, Southern vocal stylings, self-back-up-singing, and music video shenanigans that we expect from JT.

Champion – The Roots

After a few years playing second fiddle to the star of Taxi, the legendary Roots crew is finally back in the booth, with a perfect workout track about achieving your goals and just being excellent, something Black Thought knows quite a bit about (what with his being excellent and all). I don’t plan on seeing it in any greatest hits collections, but it’s always nice to hear from the Roots.

Inland City Blues – Audio Push

Audio Push is best known for their 2009 novelty hit, “Teach Me How to Jerk.” The late aughts were a time when mainstream hip hop was full of one-trick ponies with new dance crazes that swept the nation for a week and a half. But here’s the key difference with Audio Push: they’re good. With their dense rhyme schemes and chill flows, this song feels like Weezy in his prime. Not groundbreaking, but a really smooth track.

Leave Me Lonely – Ariana Grande feat. Macy Gray

I can’t deal with slow music. I think it’s my ADHD, but I just struggle to get through songs that have a slow rhythm to them, especially ones that are also sad. So, even though I can’t properly enjoy this song because of my condition, I’m pretty sure it’s a masterpiece. It’s powerful in a very visceral sense, with emotional tribal background vocals and Macy Gray’s awesome voice, along with Ariana’s radical pipes. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be awesome, but I can’t really get into it.

Stars and Shards – Loyle Carner

Loyle Carner is some weird English dude who makes emo rap and while I can’t really comment on him as an artist since this is the only song I’ve heard from him, “Stars and Shards” is impressive. The beat is expedient yet mellow, and they perfectly complement Loyle’s dense rhymes. I’m still not 100% sure what it means, but it sounds pretty deep.

Now then, on to the real shit.

10. JAMBO – Kamau

Kamau was an artist I was put onto about a year ago when Pigeons & Planes brought him up as a little-known artist to watch. I soon fell in love with him, but I’ve come to realize that he doesn’t put out music very often, which is frustrating. So with that in mind, it’s possible that this song is only making the top ten because I haven’t heard from Kamau in a minute. Still, it’s a pretty solid tribal-infused hip hop track, even though it’s definitely a bit short at under two minutes.

9. YOUNG & REALISTIC – The Faint

I can’t say I’ve really listened to new wave indie punk group the Faint before this month, but just off this one song, I’m pretty impressed. It’s an immaculately-produced track with great ’80s vibes to it, and it’s pretty catchy, too, although the overwhelming amount of  production make it a bit hard to keep up with. I can’t really say why this song stuck out to me among the whole wave of ’80s nostalgia music (the true current nostalgia wave), but what can I say? I love that Daft Punk shit.

8. GOTTA LOTTA – Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz

I’m really glad they made “Gotta Lotta” the next single off Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz’s collaborative album ColleGrove, because this song is important. It’s just so… ridiculous, and they’re taking themselves so seriously, and they’re having so much fun with it. The hook goes, “We gotta lotta dope….. ba ba da bope!” But they do it with such conviction that the results are amazing. Plus, it features some solid competition for the best 2 Chainz verse ever. But once again, a bit short, right? The album version has a breakdown at the end, but this video version ends abruptly after the third chorus. Kind of a shame, but it’s not like there’s any new information covered in the last minute or so.

7. THE FIRST TIME – Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

Hot on the heels of Chance the Rapper’s earth-shattering new mixtape Coloring Book, his loose-knit collective Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment is back with a ten-minute opus that feels like (and might be) about four or five different songs. It never quite reaches the dizzying heights of certain Surf tracks, but it’s still a fantastic song.

6. SURVIVE – Mistah F.A.B. feat. Kendrick Lamar, Kobe Honeycutt, and KXNG Crooked

Kendrick Lamar is one of the best rappers alive. This song doesn’t affect that point in any way. However, by the time you get to the end of KXNG Crooked’s verse (which is also the conclusion of the song), you find yourself asking, “Kendrick who?” Now, don’t get me wrong. Kendrick does a great job with his verse. He’s back on his GKMC shit and his lyrics are as dense as they are powerful. And I should point out that Mistah F.A.B. (the Marshawn Lynch cousin I mentioned earlier) also spits a fairly solid, if less compelling, verse. But Crooked’s verse is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. He methodically lays out a single tragic story, putting the listener in the shoes of an inner-city child finding their father dead of a heroin overdose. The child pulls out their father’s gun and attempts to kill themselves, only to find that the gun doesn’t have any bullets. It’s a devastating verse, full of not just emotion, but also with impressive flows, rhyme schemes, and wordplay (“So you grabbed his chrome gun, handle all pearl, aw nah girl / Put it to your head thinking ‘fuck everybody’ like a call girl in a small world”). If I had to lodge one complaint about the song, I’ll point out that the beat is super lame, and once again, F.A.B.’s verse is pretty unimpressive.

5. MOSES – Apathy feat. Bun B and Twista

Connecticut MC Apathy teams up with rap legends Bun B and Twista on this track about Moses, but mostly about how cool Apathy, Bun B, and Twista are and how good they are at rapping. Still, even though I haven’t been able to find the lyrics printed yet, all three artists absolutely demolish this track. Apathy holds his own against two legendary lyricists, so he’s definitely an artist to watch. Also, the beat is kinda cool, I guess. But those flows? Damn.

4. GOOD AS HELL – Lizzo

Lizzo could be a big deal one of these days, but I’m glad I found her. Her music is just really positive and fun. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s exactly my type. It’s also just a super catchy song, with a great Motown beat behind it. And Lizzo’s not a bad writer, either. It’s just a warm and fuzzy upbeat soul jam. And that’s all you need sometimes.

3. GIRLS @ – Joey Purp feat. Chance the Rapper

In 2004, a survey found that 43% of songs played on the radio in the US were produced by the Neptunes. While Pharrell has come back in a major way these past couple years, and the Neptunes have even started popping up again here and there, it’s safe to say that those days are over. But if you ever want to revisit the percussive bounce of early-’00s Pharrell, this is a good song to do it with. Joey Purp was ten years old in 2004, so it stands to reason that the Neptunes sound influences his style from time to time. He’s also a really good rapper, with tight and methodical bars. However, the real star of this song is Chance the Rapper, who sets himself apart again by {gasp} treating women like individuals. He opines, “Where all the girls with the book in the club, with the reading glasses on, getting shook in the club, reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, humming “SpottieOttieDope,” with the why-I-let-’em-drag-me-here look in the club,” and sets up an image for the type of girl he’s looking for that’s actually different from what every bling-and-bitches rapper talks about. He proceeds into a few really funny bars before spreading a message of body positivity and peacing out. I would have expected nothing less.

2. LOVE + WAR – Banks and Steelz feat. Ghostface Killah

This month’s other new rap/rock supergroup, Banks & Steelz (Paul Banks and RZA), has finally come out with their first single, “Love + War,” a surprisingly fun track about, well, love and war. Ghostface and RZA are as sharp as ever, and Banks’ hook will get stuck in your head for days. The song’s distinctive trumpets, guitars, and bongos lend it a real mafia vibe that fits the song, and the artists, really well. I also love how, in Ghost’s berating of his ex-lover, he says “So what the hell? We used to hold hands on the regular.” It’s always great when hardcore rappers get bizarrely sweet on a track. I don’t think this is the best that Banks & Steelz have to offer, but that’s really saying something.

1. GREEDY – Ariana Grande

Note: I wanted to find a version of the song that was accessible to everyone, and the live version was the only way I could do that. “Greedy” invites you aboard the soul train, but first, it hits you like a soul bus. It’s a practically-flawless disco jam that could be the song of the summer if it weren’t for Grande’s strict one-megahit-per-album limit. Quite frankly, I think it just might be better than “Dangerous Woman.” But none of that really matters. It’s just a cheesy, magnetic track that managed to rise above among the Dangerous Woman album’s nine (nine!) singles. If you have heart problems, you may want to skip the first few seconds.