Most Likely to Succeed

Out from the shadows appears a woman–one we have seen before, but this time, in a whole new light. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the lawsuit dilemma(s) between Kesha and her kind of current, mostly former music producer Dr. Luke. In case you call a rock your home, here’s a short recap:

In 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke after news surfaced that Dr. Luke had allegedly sexually assaulted Kesha, with and without her consent–this lawsuit came about just months after fan-made petitions to drop her from RCA Records due to belief that Dr. Luke was censoring music, including her album Warrior. Dr. Luke then counter-sued, claiming defamation against Luke by Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos. In 2015, Kesha stormed New York Fashion Week with a dress stating “You Will Never Own Me”, and ever since, Kesha’s struggle for freedom from RCA and Dr. Luke has been documented in the public eye.

Since this fiasco in the public eye, our beloved artist no longer has to succumb to the muse of her prior label, (Dr. Luke is no longer at Sony), and may now produce music as she pleases, without unneeded and unwanted censorship behind the songs that matter for her new album, the lyrics that mean something to her–out of this newfound freedom rises Kesha’s first post-lawsuit single from her upcoming album Rainbow, Praying. The song acts as a blow to her demons and an open door for her future, wherever it takes her–in and out of the spotlight.

As there is so much beauty to the meaning of the song, it is only fair that we save the  best for last and speak of the technicalities to the tune first.

In the past, the only music with the Kesha (previously Ke$ha) brand heard on the radio consisted of party tunes about drinking, sex, and glitter. Praying gives us a much-needed breath of fresh air, bringing us, as listeners, a new sound and empowering lyrics to anyone who pays attention. This sound is prominent in the vocals of the single; Kesha hits notes that no one knew possible, following suit to Ariana Grande’s earlier hits with a whistle note in the second half of the song. She has literally never sounded stronger as a vocalist, and I can’t wait to see what comes next after her initial two-single release.

As for length, Praying comes in at just short of four minutes, with a long, and sometimes overly repetitive, bridge and chorus that takes a majority of the song; meaning is important, but so is lyrical diversity, and it seems as though this single has fallen short on the latter.

Finally, price–the label and streaming services have, fortunately, made the ultimate decision to keep the album affordable–this presumably suffixes assumptions that the album will at least hit platinum status, as most comeback albums, or singles, do. On Amazon, the MP3 version of Rainbow is just $9.99 for preorder, and the physical copy is $11.78. For you vinyl lovers, however, you’ll be forking up a little over $20 for this one–but free shipping with Prime, right? Apple users will find that the single is $1.29, but if you are like the majority of Gen Z listeners, you’ll be using Spotify or Apple Music, which makes the album practically free for subscribers, with student pricing as low as $4.99 a month.

On the subject of hidden meaning for the song, you won’t find any. The song is straight forward in its empowerment for Kesha in her battle against depression, the struggle of being a woman in the spotlight, and foremost, Dr. Luke. Praying, albeit, is not a diss track–you will not find any name dropping or hints within the music video, and it was never intended to be that way. We are shown through lyrics and interpretation that the artist will now be focusing on what matters most–herself. This song is something to be proud of as a woman, an artist, and a victim who wants to be seen as more.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on the music video. Unfortunately, Kesha hasn’t dropped the cultural appropriation, specifically of Native American tribes, that she was known for during the Warrior era. This problem is one perpetuated by more artists than one, and as influential as Kesha is to a multitude of coexisting people, I wish that she would be the one to stop the trend, and realize that the practice is anything other than trendy.

If you’re interested in learning more about cultural appropriation and how Kesha is continuing to perpetuate the harmful practice, check out this article: http://culture.affinitymagazine.us/its-time-to-call-out-keshas-cultural-appropriation/

It is a seriously great and educational read.

Aside from the issue presented above, the music video for the single is visually stunning, and captivates watchers and listeners with settings that feel, as they should, free. It is crystal clear that the producers of the video took into account the original meaning of the song and created a visual journey through that meaning, specifically for Kesha; I include specifically not because we ought not appreciate it, but because we have to understand who the song is written for–it is not our place to take that away from the artist and create selfishness amongst the intended purpose. That said, the video creates a landscape that we all can appreciate, and we certainly do.

As expected from a new release after nearly half a decade, Praying has a few bumps in the road. As more of the album is brought into the light, I expect we will see an improved image, sound, and person in the Kesha we know and love. Here’s to praying for new beginnings.

Grade: A

 

 

 

‘Gorilla’ Warfare

With the release of War of the Planet of the Apes just behind us, it feels redundant to have yet another King Kong film appear in our Redbox distributors and movie rental stores so soon. However, throughout the two hours of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be glad you picked it up.

For a film with such a large following, I feel as though I should air the dirty laundry of this one right off the bat. First, the costuming. Viewers have an opening scene circa-1930’s, where we see the ending of an air battle in World War II; this opener only includes two characters, plus Kong, so we don’t see any major time period issues in that moment. Fast forward through the timeline that immediately follows, and we are taken to a government building in 1973–but you wouldn’t have known without the date clearly shown on the screen. While the women are clearly dressed in bright patterns and bell bottoms, the men look like time travelers…from 2017. Tom Hiddleston, our main character, looks like an under-dressed James Bond meets Jurassic Park, and his look never changes. Unfortunately, this drew attention away from the time period, therefore creating a wrongful combination of time periods in the coming sequels to the film.

Next, it is only fair to evaluate the second most pressing problem with the film–its lack of gender diversity. Aside from hopeful extras in the background scenes early in the movie, the only woman that we come to know is Brie Larson’s character, Mason–an anti-war photographer. The personality that Mason has is impeccable; held to a high personal standard of sarcasm, rebellion, and compassion, you want her to be the center of attention among men with battle scars and a need to blood. Of course, just like most action movies released before DC’s Wonder Woman, our sole female character is practically one-dimensional–something we should have known by Larson’s near absence from all Skull Island marketing. Shocker. Throughout the duration, Larson has what feels like ten lines and one touching moment with Kong, but nothing to write home about. She finds a friendship in Tom Hiddleston rather than a romance, which was pleasing to see, but as a viewer and a reviewer, I am pleading with the screenwriter to provide more time on-screen for such an essential character to the film. One final note on this one: please stop allowing the military characters to mansplain war ideals to Mason.

“The world is bigger than this.” – Mason (Brie Larson)

‘”Bitch, please.” – Samuel L. Jackson

Y I K E S.

Let’s touch on those special effects next; at some points, they are so visually stimulating that they feel, for lack of a better word, fake. Recall the effects in Mad Max: Fury Road, which were beautiful to look at–so much so, in fact, that they were literally unreal. This is both a blessing and a curse for Skull Island; it is fascinating to watch, but it almost takes away from the appeal to the characters. There is one scene in particular that looks more like a painting than a movie scene, and it involves Tom Hiddleston and some extraterrestrial-looking, military-grade toxic gas. While the fan girl in me drooled a little, the reviewer was confused. With special effects that take away from the action, it almost feels like lack of confidence in film marketing. Filmmakers should not have to create marketing strategies within the movie to get by, and simple yet engaging effects will always be better. Less is more in action films. On a higher note, the movie monsters on the island and the stereotypical action elements (explosions, specifically) were beautifully done, and I was amazed by how realistic Kong looked, in and out of action-filled scenes.

Since the film’s characterization was about as basic as an island expedition action movie gets, I’m going to skip it entirely in this review and speak about something far more fascinating film connections, most of which were told to me throughout. For those of you who know of Heart of Darkness, or as most of us know it, Apocalypse Now, you’ll know that the author’s name is Joseph Conrad; in Skull Island, we find a nod to this author in Tom Hiddleston’s character, Captain James Conrad. Super rad. The most interesting piece of information that the film provides, however, is found at the end credits scene.

(Note to Legendary: If you want an end credits scene, make the credits fewer than ten minutes long. That was ridiculous.) 

In the end credit scene, we see James Conrad and Mason sitting in a room with those super cool interrogation mirror-windows, and they are later joined by their previous companion from the island expedition. This companion, Houston Brooks (whose actor counterpart is most commonly recognized as Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton), informs the pair of the other dangerous that lurk beyond the bounds of human existence, going as far as saying, “This world was never ours.” This scene teases a new Kong v. Godzilla film, which would be the third installment of Legendary’s MonsterVerse; this new world-building began with 2014’s Godzilla, and will be forced to compete in the future with Universal’s Dark Universe, which began with the 2017 film The Mummy, featuring our favorite scientologist, Tom Cruise. (I chose not to review the film, because I was utterly disappointed in its execution.)

As an early set-up for a new world to be build, I believe that Kong, for the most part, did its job. In future films, I hope the writers and director choose to create more storyline and dimension for characters that will become part of a long-running franchise; stop monkeying around, and please write for the audience, not the box office.

Grade: B

 

Honey, I Ate the Neighbors

Author’s Note: This is the first review in a series of Netflix reviews. You’ll find these under ‘Netflix’ in the categories tab–NOT TV shows.

I’m going to say what every reviewer is thinking–Drew Barrymore is no one’s favorite actress. She has a few cutesy blockbusters (see 50 First Dates and Never Been Kissed), but she isn’t a classic. Santa Clarita Diet, a Netflix original, nearly puts her back on the map…at least for now. Unlike Netflix’s other original, Girlboss, which premiered around the same time period, SCD will be back for another season (yay!).

The first, and only, season of the seemingly underground hit follows a boring, suburban family through their day-to-day life, before the head of household mother Sheila, portrayed by Barrymore, becomes part of the undead. Every episode is essentially a continuation of the family’s trials and tribulations towards finding a cure, and it is just as laughable as it is interesting.

While comedy does typically bring people together, I’m going to include a note here: DO NOT WATCH THIS WITH THE KIDS.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but this show is not appropriate for anyone under the age of at least sixteen, maturity dependent. The show contains adult language, situations, and more than anything, sexual content. So watch out, and use your best judgment before allowing this show to go on your family’s Netflix queue.

With that out of the way, character analysis is a big reason that this show is so enjoyable overall. Joel, Sheila’s husband, is surprisingly okay with Sheila’s condition, which is exactly what makes him a likable character. Rather than giving into comedy’s traditional “reasonable” character persona, Joel portrays devotion rather than insensitivity. His confusion and frantic personality make him entertaining to watch without becoming irritating, and most comedies fail to hold main characters to that standard (wait for it, this show struggles at times, too). This is Timothy Olyphant’s first role that actually matters, and he makes it work. This is one character that I am excited to see more of in the coming seasons.

For the first time in what feels like forever in the comedy television world, the supporting roles matter just as much in Clarita as the main roles do. The most important pair is the dream team, Sheila and Joel’s daughter Abby and the nerdy teenage neighbor, Eric.

Unfortunately, while important, both roles meet a stereotype that studios find necessary to meet the standard comedy agenda. Abby is the typical angst-y teen that hates school and wants to rebel against her parents; I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here, however, because towards the second half of the season, her compassion for her mother’s ‘condition’ begins to show. Skyler Gisondo portrays Eric, and if you recognize him, it’s because he plays the, once again, geeky son in the remake of Vacation. In SCD, he isn’t the most memorable character, but his awkward charm will leave you rooting for his and Abby’s first kiss. Even with their respective stereotypes, I fell for the characterization by both actors, and I will certainly be shipping Erbby (??) in the coming seasons.

I decided to leave our main character for last on this one, because Drew Barrymore makes being a zombie look like a walk in the park–in the best way. Stuck somewhere between sheer recklessness and a fear of harming the people she loves, Sheila does everything in her power to still be the greatest mother, and wife, that she can. Not only will her drive make you fall in love with her, but I had no idea that Barrymore was capable of such a sarcastic comedic style. While some scenes could be considered cheesy, Clarita isn’t a show built upon slapstick comedy, and Drew manages to enforce the mature sarcasm that the show thrives upon. Her characterization of the persona that does it all–parenting, working, being a zombie–is spot on, and I am certain that the show would be nothing without her charm, in and out of her home.

If you are a sucker for cinematography and setting, you may be disappointed with this one. The setting is its own stereotype, think Desperate Housewives suburban scope, and the cinematography isn’t anything to write home about. The true winners for this series are the creator and producer, Victor Fresco, who is also credited with producing the comedy My Name is Earl. If you enjoy good, comedic writing, this one is for you.

Santa Clarita Diet may never become one of the most popular Netflix originals, but you can bet that it will be one of the most humorous; while I wouldn’t call it one of the greats, I can safely say that this show is one worth taking a bite out of.

Grade: B+

 

Despicable…Maybe?

Do spoilers really matter on this one? Either way, you’ve been warned.

despicable, (adjective); 1. deserving to be despised

Walking into the dark theater for this one, I wasn’t expecting more than another Minion-ridden, animated sequel. While I was correct, I was also (pleasantly?) surprised with a little something for the whole family–but mostly, just for mom.

Let me set the scene for you: a washed-up child star turned super-villain steals the world’s largest diamond, with none other than the King of Pop’s “Bad” playing at the heist music in the background. A simple moonwalk was all it took for the moms in the theater to start cackling from nostalgia…and the kids to be confused. I believe that we are all too familiar with hidden adult humor within children’s movies today (see Rango), but Despicable didn’t even bother to keep it a secret in this installment. While this certainly makes the film a little less dreadful for the 40-something’s in the room, it doesn’t keep the focus of the audience that it is marketed to–kids, specifically those who were fans of the first two chapters in the (seemingly) never-ending movie series.

This review wouldn’t even be worth reading if I didn’t mention the Minions, would it? For lovers of the walking Twinkies, you’re in luck. The entire movie, as always, is marketed heavily upon them, even giving the group two full length musical numbers, one performed during a prison escape. Viewers are taught to be weary of them in the beginning, after a strike of Gru’s newfound good-guy attitude causes them to quit and leave their old life “for good”, but expectantly, doesn’t last long. In fact, in the ending scene, the Minions are reunited with Gru and his family, reassuring you that they will most definitely be making a film-length appearance in the next installment. The entire Minion spotlight feels incredibly unnecessary, considering the last movie was literally their own spinoff prequel for the franchise–a serious detriment to the third film. If you’re like me, I’m happy to tell you that there is plenty of other continuing storylines that you will be much more likely to appreciate throughout.

Take, for example, pure Agnes’s love for ~unicorns~. Not only do the children never seem to age in this timeline, but they also have the same passions that they’ve had since the very beginning of the franchise. This time around, the obsession becomes so extreme that she embarks on an adventure into the Crooked Forest on a quest to find a real-life unicorn, accompanied by none other than her sister Edith. A few movie hours and a one-horned goat later, and you’ll be feeling the love along with the characters. While remembrance is nice, especially for the biggest of fans, the truest standout moment of the film is watching Lucy, Gru’s newlywed wife, struggle with understanding what it takes to be the mother of three girls who don’t know her well, or trust her much at all. While this is, again, particularly relatable to the parents in the room, even kids will be rooting Lucy on in the scenes where this dilemma appears, and it even gives the film some depth.

As for how it adds up to the last two (or three, if you include the Twinkie prequel), don’t get your hopes too high. While, as stated above, the animated movie holds some of the original’s values, it is clear that marketing and the media have gotten to the source of this story, making it feel lackluster comparatively. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing, though; in just its first weekend at the box office, it has grossed roughly $18.4 million, hoping to catch up to its predecessor, which has become the sixth highest grossing animated movie in the box office (Rotten Tomatoes). The movie certainly won the weekend, but there seems to be no guarantee that it will win the affection of its young viewers.

Overall, I definitely wouldn’t say that this one lives up to its despicable name, but I also wouldn’t expect any kids I know to absolutely fall in love with it. Between the nostalgia of the 70’s and 80’s looming in the undertones of the main villainous character, and the ‘to be or not to be’ a mother secondary plotline, there’s no denying that this installment wasn’t written with the children, or the franchise’s target audience, entirely in mind. Sorry, Minions, but the parents win this one.

Grade: B-