Let’s Reboot It All

I’m not a believer in the idea that a childhood can be ruined. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I’m not a believer in the idea that the remake of a once beloved film, good or bad, can ruin a childhood. Those films you grew up with, whether updated to appease today’s crowd, will always be there, despite how hard or how often movie studios along with the bottomless depths of the internet attempt to replace them. What you felt when you saw those classics growing up will still be present. When George Lucas began tampering with the original Star Wars trilogy, fitting each one with a ridiculous amount of updated special effects and in some cases, brand new characters, there were scores of protests from rabid fans claiming that Lucas had marred the integrity of those earlier films, thereby pissing on childhoods across the globe.

To be fair, I was one of them. Those same desperate chants resurfaced when Lucas’s prequel trilogy was launched in 1999 with the release of Episode 1, gradually inviting an even greater amount of scorn from some of the franchise’s devoted fanbase. But regardless of how one saw its portrayal of key characters (do we even need to talk about young Anakin Skywalker and Boba Fett) nothing Lucas did, however curious, ruined my childhood. Watching the remake of Disney’s The Lion King, I was reminded once again of those incessant cries of betrayal. While not nearly as culturally significant as Star Wars, The Lion King is still a classic very much adored by its fans. It remains one of my all time favorites of Disney’s animated movies. But it’s a film I can still enjoy with my family without this newer, and if I’m honest, far inferior version, getting in the way.

The remake, released earlier this month, brings loads of updates. New special effects, some new songs, and aside from the return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa, all new voices. But while sitting in the theater, marveling at the spectacle before me, I couldn’t help but notice how often its special effects soiled the quality of the film’s original story. It was no longer a celebration of character. It was a self congratulatory high five of its own technology. Impressive, yes. But it left me cold. What I got was a sort of new and improved Mr. Ed, a hyperreality that looked, well, kind of silly. Gone are the playful antics and human expressions that made the characters in the original movie so endearing, and strangely, more believable.

What this new outing gives us are very real-looking CG animals designed to mirror the behavior and bodily movements of their real life counterparts, thereby making every moment these animals open their mouths to talk all the more bizarre. What director Jon Favreau did so well with 2016’s The Jungle Book, another remake of a classic that upped the ante on effects, was allow the characters their playful moments, where singing and dancing and goofing off kept the fantastical elements of the story somewhat intact. While not a perfect movie by any right, it was certainly an enjoyable one. The Lion King, however, felt like I was watching footage of a National Ge0graphic documentary being used for a late night television bit, where a yapping human mouth is superimposed over an animal’s face.

When the musical numbers arrived, all the animals really did was walk around. There was no swinging on vines, no karate-skilled baboon. Jesus, even the hyenas were boring. How the fuck do you make hyenas boring? The laughs it did generate, for me anyway, were more reactive than earned. And then there are the characters. A favorite of mine from the original has always been the brooding Scar, voiced to perfection by Jeremy Irons. So, listening to the remake’s completely sterilized rendition of Be Prepared was jarring to say the least. I sat in my seat thinking “Wait. That’s it!?" I’m being harsh, I know. I realize how excruciatingly difficult making a feature film truly is and how much work and moving parts had to go into the making of this. It really is a beautiful looking film. But it confirms that just because you can make something better, doesn’t mean you will.

In all fairness, I don’t believe that’s what Jon Favreau and his team were attempting to accomplish. I feel it was always meant to be a homage to a classic movie he loved, reimagining it in a new era of ever-growing technology. It just didn’t quite work. In a way, it made me think of the trailer for CATS, the film adaptation of the popular broadway musical coming out this December. When the first teaser premiered last week, it was met with a heap of online ridicule. The CATS just looked… odd. Using what director Tom Hooper labeled “Digital Fur Technology” the actors were doused in CG animation I suppose to make them look more cat-like? I really don’t know. Considering they still possessed human facial features, the result was truly horrifying.

Other than commercials I saw on TV as a kid, I know next to nothing about the story the musical tells. So I ask. Is the route the film’s animators took with the characters, no doubt lead by its director, appropriate? Only time will tell. I can say for The Lion King, that it wasn’t. But what do I know? A recent article I read announced that in just five days, its domestic box office approached $243 million. Despite what many critics have said, its momentum appears in no way to be fizzling. In the meantime, let us all bask in the possibility of an avalanche of reboots and remakes that are sure to hit the big screen. Maybe we’ll get a long overdue update of 1987’s Adventures In Babysitting, which follows a physically enhanced, ex-military soldier Chris Parker as she treads a post-apocalyptic Chicago with a band of army brats in search of her mom’s Subaru Forester. The tag line at the top of the poster will read:

In the future, only SHE can get out without singing the blues.

You never know. It could happen. In fact, it should.

18 Hours Of Messy Bliss

On Tuesday morning while grazing social media, I stumbled across an article detailing the apparent release of nearly 18 hours of old Radiohead demos, rumored to have be recorded during the band’s 1997 album OK Computer’s studio sessions. If you know me, or know me well, you’ll get that this is a very big deal. It was reported that someone had stolen Thom Yorke’s minidiscs containing the recordings, and threatened to leak them online unless a $150,000 ransom was paid. You can’t make this shit up. So as a sort of “fuck you” to the perpetrator, the band decided to release it on their own. Via the music website Bandcamp, where you are now able to purchase the demos in their entirety, Thom Yorke issued the following statement:

"we've been hacked 
my archived mini discs from 1995-1998(?) 
it's not v interesting 
there's a lot of it 

if you want it, you can buy the whole lot here 
18 minidisks for £18 
the proceeds will go to
Extinction Rebellion 

as it's out there 
it may as well be out there 
until we all get bored 
and move on 

Thmx
"

To any diehard Radiohead fan, this was huge. To be gifted a never before heard glimpse into the band’s early recordings, which spawned not only one of the most important albums of the past 30 years, but an intimate view of a group of pals simply fucking around, is truly special. Granted, these were not moments the band initially intended to share with the world. The fact that they released it themselves somewhat removed the sting of prying eyes. We weren’t perverts ogling stolen celebrity nudes. We’re simply fans hurling at the treat the band was kind enough to wave in front of our noses. And I am here for it.

Listening to these tracks, labeled only by number, it becomes clear just how remarkable this band is. Even in their most stripped down, they exude an energy that’s downright intoxicating. They’re a group of musicians who have always tested themselves, exploring new sounds, techniques, even studio recording time, which they exhibited with 2003’s Hail To The Thief, recording most of the album in a mere two weeks. Over a decades long career, Radiohead have practically created their own genre of music, which I’ve always believed is what allows them to dip their toes in other genres while still very much sounding like them.

It’s easy to get lost in their progression. From the guitar crunching ballad of 1993’s Creep, a song Thom Yorke for years refused to play live (I finally heard it during their 2004 Coachella set) to the electronic meddling of 2000’s stunning Kid A, their career has travelled to places no one could have expected. No matter a person’s take on their music, denying the significance of their existence is impossible. No two albums of theirs are alike. Love them or hate them, they’re a wholly unique entity. And while this collection of demos may illustrate a band’s growing prowess, it also displays all the typical mistakes artists are destined, if not required to make in order to create art. Radiohead is not perfect, nor have they ever been. They’re just fearless, endlessly curious, and at times utterly fucking bonkers.

Hearing rough cuts of songs such as Karma Police, Paranoid Android and Nude (included on 2007’s In Rainbows) takes me back to the moment I first heard OK Computer. Of course, these renditions are far less polished than the studio versions to which I was first introduced, but in a strange way, it made me feel like I was discovering them all over again. And in today’s black hole of gross over-consumption, that’s a very special thing. At the time of this writing, having barely started disc/track 9, I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to a band sharing with its fans where they are in the album’s progress. I’m romanticizing it, yes. But isn’t that what music deserves?

Studio demos aren’t a new thing for a band to release. Bands have been including them on LPs for decades as bonus tracks. But something like this, with weird starts and stops, near comical approaches and brief discussions of band members between takes, invite the listener to the “cool kids” party for which you pretend to have been invited to from the beginning. There’s even a shared doc to which fans have contributed with the timestamps of each disc to make searching far more easy, even with the element of surprise being kind of the point.

Either way, we’re here. Radiohead fans, unite! This is all for us. Enjoy it.

A New One Every Day

Every year around this time, hordes of people band together to announce their goals for the new year. I have been among this group many times before and have almost always failed to follow through with a lot of what was personally shared. As I sit here, beer in hand, on the brink of staring 2019 in the face, I could easily say “Not this time. I’m doing it. I’m signing that manager, losing that weight, landing that front flip at Rockin’ Jump as my kids glowingly watch.” But I won’t. Not that I don’t feel those things are attainable. But if goals like this are only birthed as part of the ushering in of a new year, like mine almost always were, they may never be fully achieved, if even remotely attempted.

January 1st has always been an interesting date to me. And every year when making my list of things I wish to accomplish, I’m forced to ask myself “So what the fuck were you doing this whole time then?” Until they’re more, words are shit. They’re vanity posts like a picture of a plate of food at an expensive restaurant, or a text message to your mom promising to call her more. But for some people, January 1st can happen at any point. There’s no countdown to change for them. They see the clock only as a barometer by which we measure time itself, not the energy wasted to pretend like we can defy it. We can’t. A period came when making year end goals almost started to feel counterproductive to me.

This is clearly an internal struggle and may not apply to anyone reading this. But for me, getting to where I want is the challenge, and no set amount of resolutions are going to get me there. It’s all about the fucking work, and the abandonment of everything in your world that distracts you from it, playfully tapping your left shoulder while laughing on your right. This is by far my greatest enemy. And one that kicks the shit out of me nightly. There’s the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun.” The HBO show Six Feet Under offered a different view when Nathaniel Fisher Sr., while talking to his son Nate, asserts “No. Time flies when you’re pretending to have fun.” This stayed with me for years. But time doesn’t move fast at all.

Time isn’t just a gauge we examine while doing other shit. It’s the gauge that tells us whether or not that other shit was worth doing in the first place. There is nothing more perilous. It relies on absolutely no one. But everything we do and every goal we make relies on it. It’s just there. Moving along. But we forget how much of it we actually have until the moment we realize how much of it we’ve wasted. There’s a great scene in Die Hard With A Vengeance where John McClane and Zeus Carver are driving a taxi through New York City gridlock trying desperately to reach the location of a soon to be detonated bomb. Zeus cleverly suggests that what they need is a blocker that can cut a hole through the traffic like an offensive line in football.

McClane makes a phony call to dispatch claiming that a man has been shot nearby. After some daring maneuvering, weaving in and out of a maze of commuters, McClane finds his way behind the responding ambulance and follows it as it parts the traffic like the Red Sea, clearing a path for them. That ambulance is time and John McClane and Zeus Carver represent the people fully aware of it, careening past the others who idly sit and allow opportunity to slip by. I’m not making any resolutions this year. As previous years would suggest, it obviously means shit to me when I do. I either commit to the work or not. Or I’ll be sitting at my desk next December 31st writing another post about all the hours wiped clean. I’ll see you then.

The World Belongs To Kayla Day

At one point or another, we’ve all felt awkward and alone. Begging to fit in. Middle school is ground zero of this phenomenon, where your education is often eclipsed by all the weird little things you’re learning about yourself, be it from actual experience or simply years of painful observations. The movie Eighth Grade, staring Elsie Fisher, is about these moments. Fisher plays Kayla Day, an awkward teenager who makes vlogs on YouTube where she spews self help advice on a range of topics, most notably “how to get yourself out there” or “how to be confident”, advice I feel even pretending to be qualified to give at that age demands some respect. But Kayla isn’t so much offering advice as she is trying desperately to understand it all herself.

At the helm of the Fisher household is Kayla’s single dad Mark, played to precision by Josh Hamilton. This dynamic struck a different nerve all together with me, triggered I suppose by my also being a father. The authenticity of the scenes between Mark and Kayla accentuates so perfectly the unease of their world. This lasted throughout the entire film. A scene toward the end had me suppressing tears of sadness and also a gripping sense of fear for what my wife and I can almost surely expect. The two have a “unique” bond, albeit painfully distant at times. There’s a moment during a family dinner where Kayla comes off as the villain in the relationship, though truthfully, makes sense. I mean, aren’t we all geared to be annoyed by our parents, and in turn, destined to annoy the piss out of our own kids? I’m inclined to say ‘yes.’

One of the most impressive things about Eighth Grade is its execution and handling of the subject matter. The cringe worthy moments we see Kayla endure are not uncomfortable merely due to shock value, but more so because it all feels so goddamn relatable. When we come across art like this, be it in film, literature or even a painting, what makes us recoil the most are the memories they evoke. Films like this not only invite us into their world, but make us confront our own in the process. The balancing act that director Bo Burnham achieves in his feature directorial debut is incredible. This movie was hilarious at the right moments, sad at the perfect ones and heartfelt at its most needed.

There were so many times I recalled my own experience from middle school while watching this movie. Sure, I am not a teenage girl. Trust me, I know. Nor was I equipped with the advantages or handicap (depending on how you look at it) of having Snapchat and Instagram to guide my way. But I was an awkward teenager nonetheless, aching to fit in. I tried to be cool. A little TOO hard at times. I did things so people would like me and if they didn’t, wondered why. That eventually changed once my confidence began to grow but it never happens how you imagine it will.  And like Kayla, I too was very curious about my body.

I would daydream about what the touch of a girl might feel like. I won’t go into details of my first encounters with girls but I can tell you they were certainly not the most fluid of moments. They were embarrassing. But I learned from them. And it’s those very memories that made me root for Kayla even more, anticipating what the future has in store for her, which is exactly what great films do, make you think about a character’s journey far beyond what is shared on screen. I may be gushing. But it was difficult for me to find a flaw in this damn thing.

With social media being such a critical component of the grade school experience, it makes me wonder what this means for the growth of our own kids. I thought about this constantly. I didn’t have Facebook or even access to the internet when I attended middle school but that didn’t hinder my ability to relate to the characters in any way. If anything, it made me sympathize for them even more when considering the world social media has created for today’s youth. It’s like an impenetrable wave of over exposure that in a way has cheated our kids of gradual evolution. Friendships born from digital seeds rather than organic ones. Online acquaintances and emoji fist bumps. It’s a scary time for a kid to grown up in, on so many different levels.

What makes Eighth Grade so special is the hope it conveys in the fog of this uncertainty. In addition to the vlogs Kayla records for her audience, she makes short videos speaking to her future self which she tucks away in a time capsule. It depicts a young girl without a clue of what the future holds, excited for what it may.