If you’re not into it, “jog on” would be an altogether apt response

I went for a jog last night for the first time in ages. Things are warming up here in Toronto and it was a balmy -1°C. My nose didn’t run that much, my fingers barely froze and my joints were only mildly clunky. Inhaling oxygen wasn’t remotely like swallowing blades. I stretched out my decrepit limbs, tossed on the Black Panther soundtrack and set off down the road.

Listening to the soundtrack, I started thinking about music that’s been released so far this year. Black Panther ended up being so much more than a score to a film (especially since so many of its fantastic tracks didn’t even make it into the finished movie). Kendrick managed to weave together an assortment of songs that stood on their own, playing on larger ideas and concepts the film brought to life. Saying that it seems effortlessly engrossing probably betrays the amount of work put into the album, but it’s such an enjoyable listen.

I then thought about Janelle Monae’s song “Make Me Feel”, which might already be my favourite track of the year, regardless of what else is released. It’s simply incredible and, well, I have a lot of gushy and effusive thoughts. It’s so funky and sensual. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve been able to shamelessly listen to it on repeat. The production is tight, the influences are worn on its sleeve (or they will be if it gets a vinyl release) and the video is gorgeous.

As I jogged, I wondered if there was some way of preserving the resonance of these songs in some kind of time capsule. To take what I’d been enjoying and catalogue it for the sake of retrospection. Would they hit me the same way a year down the line? A few years down the line? I’ve always been a fan of putting together playlists, why not turn this into an excuse for one more? The idea came to me, why not make an annual playlist? I could pick my favourite song each month and add them to the stack as the year went on. February could obviously be “Make Me Feel”. January could be “All the Stars” from Black Panther (unfortunately the rest of the album was released in February. Otherwise my answer would clearly be “Redemption” by Zacari and Babes Wodumo). It seemed a low effort way to produce a punchy snapshot of an audible year. Perfect for the gym or more jogs. Best of all, it could jog my memory. Eh? EH?

Thinking of this made me realise how much more attention I used to pay to the music I consumed. I mean, for sure I still really get a kick out of finding a new release. When something grabs me I listen obsessively, as if to absorb it into my very being. And yet, I’ve lost the thirst for knowledge surrounding music. In most ways, this is great. I know a huge part of my desperate search to seek out what was new and fresh definitely had roots in an identity I was trying to cultivate. I desperately wanted to be cool and part of that for me was being on top of pop-cultural movers and shakers. At 31, my desire to discover new music is more pure. It’s a sincere wish to consume art that speaks to some part of me. Even if that’s just a track that makes me nod my head or move my hips.

This playlist concept is kind of exciting to me. It’d help me refresh myself on the cool releases throughout the year. Occasionally I’ll wholly forget large albums that dropped, but this will help me cement exactly what it was I loved about them in the first place. The more I talk about it, the more I’m convincing myself I need to get onto it right away. It’s only two songs so far, I can manage that, right?

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Can I get away with calling it Panthastic just this once?

So how long did we realistically think I’d wait to talk about Black Panther? Without exaggeration, it’s one of the most exciting films Marvel has put out in years. Of course I want to deep dive in. Spoilers will abound. With that note, I’ll give you some space to check out just in case.

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Are we alone now? Good. Wasn’t that a bloody fun film? A plethora of excellent performances, a great soundtrack, cool visuals and a nice departure from the formula we’ve become so accustomed to. Where should I start?

Let’s start with what you see onscreen. The colour palette was hands down fucking gorgeous. So much rich purple and gold. Hell, everything was vibrant as hell, but I specifically noticed the repeated use of purple and gold as a thematic element. Why? Purple and gold are traditionally royal colours. Not only that, they pair so goddamn well with black. The production design of this film looked sick and the palette was a big part of that. You think it was just incidental that T’Challa’s force feedback effect coruscated with purple? It’s a multi-hundred million dollar film. Nothing’s incidental. Throughout this film they drew with bold, flashy colours and it really helped lift it from drab overly self-serious shit like Civil War (I guess I’m especially down on Civil War because I re-watched it the other night. Way to spend an entire film to justify one airport fight scene). The film oozed style throughout and the fact that I’ve dumped 100+ words on joyously ranting about purple and gold speaks truth to how evocative it was.

Next, Wakanda looked like a dream. Choosing to begin the film in Oakland really paid out once we arrived in Wakanda. The dichotomy between the Oakland projects and lavish futurism of Wakanda really spoke to Killmonger’s central plight. I wanted to pause the film to drool over the architecture. The Afrofuturism fusion of traditional African style and motifs with sci-fi form was awesome. The concepts drawn not only in the buildings, but abundant technologies was dazzling and provided constant eye candy. Costuming isn’t something I normally pay much attention to (excepting maybe Phantom Thread as of late), but it was impossible to ignore. Everything oozed style and panache, likely drawing on ethnic influences that are way beyond my reach. If I enjoyed it this much, I can only imagine how much it’d resonate with someone who grew up with a culturally aligned background. So fucking cool.

Look, I could spend the whole time talking just about its audible and visual splendour, but this was a movie not an art exhibit. Let’s talk characters. Let’s talk the fact that we had a huge mainstream film in 2018 that managed to sideline its white actors into marginal roles. Fuck yeah. Serkis was a gratuitous cartoon villain and it was nice that they used Freeman as a proxy for a know-it-all white audience member. The restraint showed in not making him a total caricature was remarkable.

With them out of the fucking way, wasn’t the rest of the cast fucking great? Bold characters who lived and breathed without becoming walking tropes. T’Challa was a splendid depiction of a good male role model. Humble and soft-spoken, but confident and self-assured. Sensitive and loving, but uncompromising in principles. So often comic book heroes are these Marlboro Man cocksure embodiments of walking testosterone with a plastic smile. Amongst these dopey hero fantasies, T’Challa stands tall and proud. The best part too is that he’s fallible and knows it. His own rigidity works against him in the film’s central ideological conflict. In his desire to be a good and noble king, he has to face the fact that in order to do the best for his kingdom he has to break from tradition and face change. It’s not the newest notion in the world, but they sure represented it well.

This is going long, so I’m not gonna get to talk about the whole cast here (which sucks. So many well-defined characters. Does this film have more competent, formidable and balanced female leads than all the previous Marvel films combined?). I do want to talk about Killmonger. This is what we want from a villain. From the same well as Magneto comes an antagonist with a meaningful ideological struggle. His father killed, banned from his homeland, brought up to see nothing but systematic abuse and degradation. It’s a solid background for an imminently sympathetic, tragic anti-hero. Michael B. Jordan sold this role so well that it’s hard to look at him as a true villain. He had good points. His methodology may not have been 100% on the money, but you can’t fault his motivation. Plus he was fun as hell to see onscreen. Please Marvel, give us villains we can root for. If you want there to be conflict in your films, make us question our protagonists. Let this be a solid sign of things to come.

Anyway, as you can tell, I loved the film. The action scenes were a blast. It was dynamically shot and narratively enticing. The pacing made sense. It was great to get rooted in the cultural tapestry surrounding our hero before plunging into the wider story arcs. The casino heist was great not only as a way to give us a black James Bond (please sir, can we have another?), but it was a riot to strap in and enjoy the ride. The central conflict was both personal and drew well into wider global ramifications. The cast was stellar and the production design was outstanding. With that, I’d give the film a solid 8.5 out of 10.

Where did it fall down? Like most big blockbuster films, it took clumsy and unearned narrative steps to vault towards its conclusion. Of course we had to have a large, expensive looking battle, so after all the groundwork was carefully laid, we got there tout-de-suite. I know Wakanda was isolationist, but are we to believe that after the time spent to establish T’Challa as a considerate and thoughtful character he’d make colossal sweeping snap judgements that could destabilise his country overnight? They’re supposed to be a socially progressive and advanced nation, yet there’s no part of their government that respects due process? That wouldn’t look at Killmonger and think well, you do have the right to live here and have been unfairly dealt with so maybe let’s try easing you into society before making rash decisions? I mean, just ’cause this dude makes a challenge, there’s no reason why it has to happen right away. They even say “oh, it’ll take ages to prepare all this” and he’s like “nah, do it now” so they’re all “okay”.

Also they’ve spent time setting up Killmonger as this master spy, slowly and systematically taking apart governments from the inside. Then when he turns up in Wakanda they throw all of that aside in favour of “but I want it” and T’Challa’s like “okay.” They do so much good work in setting up this villain, but then also don’t do enough to buffer his motivations with realistic social change. He’s so into helping out struggling communities and dealing with inequality, just think how much more effective this could’ve been if they’d shown one 20 second montage of him helping out in the community, to show a deeply balanced villain. Instead he’s just like “well I kill people, so let’s just kill the rest of the world. Then there’ll be no more inequality.” So much wonderful subtlety thrown out the window.

Then once the battle occurs, this wonderful and advanced society immediately flips on its head and thinks “well this new guy won the battle. I guess we’ll just do whatever he says”. So without internal conflict or anguish they start following his plans? They set up T’Challa and W’Kabi as being close friends with an emotional connection, then W’Kabi so willingly tosses away all of that in an instant? They’re willing to turn on the rest of their country on a whim with no ideological misgivings? I know we want to see rhinos in battle, but for fuck’s sake it has to be earned. I know it’s a blockbuster, but that’s no reason not to demand more from our films. Of the 200 million or whatever spent on this film, how much was spent on the script? THESE ARE FIXABLE ISSUES, PEOPLE.

All of which is to say, I had a fantastic time. I thought the movie was excellent. The ending was great and felt immensely satisfying. It was wonderful to be plunged into this piece of the MCU which, for the most part, stayed the fuck away from the tiresome and grotesque franchise building. It felt self-contained and this only strengthened the film. It’s okay to be critical of things you love and want more from material that delivered. Nothing is perfect, but Black Panther is testament to the fact that they’re getting better. Now with its financial dominance inarguably proven, can Hollywood stop bullshitting through its mouth that the market doesn’t want more minority super heroes?

Whether you Winfrey or Losefrey, some games shouldn’t be played.

Would I like Oprah to be the next president of the United States? Most definitely not. Would she be leagues better than Trump? Most assuredly so. Is there more to it than that? Well I’d hope so.

A few months back I realised that I knew very little about Oprah. I knew she was part of the elusive Single Name Club with Prince and Adele. I knew she once gave away cars to the audience, and took another audience to Australia. I knew she was immensely popular, enough to have her own magazine, television network and book club. I knew she often shilled products, perhaps not as repulsively as Gwyneth Paltrow, but enough for it to bring in significant amounts of cash each year. I knew where Oprah had gone, but I didn’t know where she’d come from. Was she ever Jenny from the Block?

It turns out Oprah’s rise to fame was actually badass. Born to a broken home, she was tossed around various family members throughout her childhood. Over this time she was molested by multiple family members. After she’d had enough, she left home at the age of 13. She became pregnant at 14, but her son was premature and passed away shortly after. She eventually moved back in with a family member who pushed her back towards education. She flourished and got top marks, earned a scholarship, etc. She went into communications and entered a career first as a radio newscaster, then onto television news. This led to talk show work and I’m sure you can guess the rest.

Oprah struggled throughout her life and learned resolve. She had to fight to get to where she is and she’s become an industry. Donald Trump probably never even learned to spell the word adversity. He was born into a family of excessive wealth and ushered through life on a figurative palanquin. Even when the Vietnam war loomed, he managed to dodge being drafted multiple times, no doubt because of family connections greasing the wheels. Trump started his adult life with a loan of one million dollars.

Oprah is an articulate and experienced public speaker. She’s experienced real loss and met others who have. She’s had to be compassionate and warm to get to where she is. Trump is an ageing buffoon who stumbled his way through a presidential run, buoyed by the mantra of “anyone but her.” He’s in no way fit to lead the Western World’s economic superpower.

You know what though? I still don’t think Oprah should be president. I don’t think Kanye should be president. I don’t think we should be looking to celebrities and opinion leaders to the head of a nation. Of course it’s not unprecedented (unpresidented? -Ed), but that doesn’t entirely justify it. Politics, like any other career, has steps of experience and skills to learn. I’m sure Oprah has a vast array of skills at her disposal and, at her prime, would’ve had the thrust to take on such a role. Thing is, Oprah isn’t at her prime. She’s become too large. She’s too much of a persona with the constant drone of yes-men buzzing around her. She’s a corporation and, as we’ve learned with Trump, a corporation should not be President of the United States. I have tons of respect for Oprah and her journey. I just don’t see it leading to The White House.

Frankly, I don’t know if she’d want to take the pay cut.

Maybe I just don’t like movies after all.

A spoiler warning for the new Star Wars film. I may or may not spend the whole entry writing about it, but at this point I don’t know.

It was just pretty okay. Not terrible by any means, but neither was second film in the new trilogy the second coming. I like the mentality of burning everything down and starting anew. I like how they handled Luke’s character. I’m glad they’ve rightfully made the story about the new generation rather than the gratuitous fan service and hero worship of having Skywalker come back and anime style speed blitz everyone. Star Wars films have always had this sort of winking overly theatrical space operatic atmosphere and this one felt a little more down to Earth. It makes sense to update the franchise to a modern day aesthetic. At the same time (and this (like the rest of this entry) is just a personal taste thing), I thought a bunch of the dialogue was a bit too quippy. Cheesy “oh no you di’n’t” style comebacks and generally poorly written lines. I dunno, was I looking for a bunch of iconic quotes? I didn’t really catch any. Has the dialogue in Star Wars ever been its strong suit? Not sure. I’m pretty ambivalent to porgs. I thought they had more screen time than necessary, but Disney wants to sell toys, right? I like the interplay between Rey and Ben, which continues to be the most compelling part of the series. A couple of female characters felt like throwaway tropes used to buffer the male characters and teach them lessons. Laura Dern was great in her role, but her role felt like a proxy Leia. The whole casino planet felt quite flashy, unnecessary and hollow. A lack of great substance, but merely used to introduce a couple of new characters and some horse critters. I was very happy to hear about Rey’s lineage being entirely insignificant (and I hope they stick to that. Isn’t the story more inspirational if she’s come from nothing rather than descended from some royal blood line? It seems to be the way they’re going with most of the new cast). I would’ve been happier if it’d come in at two hours instead of two and a half. I was expecting a lot from Rian Johnson and came away pretty disappointed. I’m by no means a big Star Wars fan. I enjoyed the last one far more than I thought I would. I might see the next one, but I’m not super enthused about it. These films aren’t really made for me and that’s fine.

Cool, that’s probably all the Star Wars talk I have energy for.

New Jurassic World movie looks really dumb. Like they turned that stupid Game of Thrones episode about capturing a zombie into a feature film. I’ll probably pay to see it and be incredibly unhappy with my decision.

New Avengers movie looks bloated and quite un-good. Once again, it’s a personal preference thing. I think I’m just more into smaller scale stories that focus on character development and progression. The large scale Marvel films have become this absurd juggernaut (, bitch) of characters who all need screen time and a couple of smart-ass lines. How many characters are in this new movie? Are they all gonna have to talk? Or have specific character moments? Surely we’ve already discarded the notion that anyone gives a shit about Hawkeye? Is the “cataclysmic” conclusion of Civil War gonna be resolved in a five minute conversation? Couldn’t they have done that in the first place? Then again, let’s not shit ourselves that the comics were any better. Colossal crossover events were always a tad silly.

You’d think after all that Christmas cheer I’d be in a more positive mood. Perhaps my cup overrunneth and now I’ve got stains to clean out of the carpet.

Adventageous for some, mayhaps.

You know what’s always great? Discount candy! Especially here in North America, where capitalistic excess is the spirit of the season and holiday candy supply drastically outpaces demand. Because of this, the supermarket opposite work was selling advent calendars for 24 cents each. Naturally I did what any responsible adult would do and bought 15 of them for my adult co-workers. What could make their day better than being given Paw Patrol or Disney Princess calendars? They even came with colouring segments on the back! My grand gesture cost me less than I’d spend on a coffee and lifted the spirits of 14 others. It was a pretty choice exchange and one I’d happily make at any time. Every now and again, capitalism can be pretty damn fantastic.

Then again, net neutrality was repealed today in America, so maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon. I don’t know enough to make an informed, well researched post, but I know it’s not gonna lead to anything positive for consumers. The tl;dr is that in the U.S. depending on your habits, you’re soon likely going to have to pay more for the luxury of surfing the web as we do now. Internet service providers are going to be able to restrict speeds to certain websites, based on whatever package their customer has purchased. Do you primarily use the internet for social media? Cool, get the social media package. But what if you want to play games online too? Well you’ll have to get the gaming bundle as well. Streaming Netflix? That’ll be a different package too. Of course they’re going to sell it as a benefit. There’s a slim chance that for you, it may be. More likely though you’ll have to pay more to use the internet as you currently do. It’s bad news and is most likely the result of powerful lobbying groups slipping fat stacks of cash into the back pockets of the politicians involved in making this happen. Here in Canada we’re safe for the moment. Trudeau himself has come out as saying it’s a threat to personal freedoms. We’ve got no reason to be smug or complacent though. Never underestimate the desire of big business to place profits over people.

Oh also in big capitalistic moves, Disney bought a ton of Fox properties today for $52B. That’s a whole lot of schmeckles. In the short term, it’s gonna make a lot of comic fans very happy. Fox owns X-Men, which means that now Disney does too. This means they can stop clumsily pretending that mutants don’t exist in their Marvel priorities. Yay. So it’s all good, right? I’m a lot less optimistic. Fox didn’t only own the X-Men, it owned a ton of adult entertainment (not porn, but probably not far off either). Disney is famously litigious and tight about what kind of material makes it into Disney owned properties. In a perfect world, Disney lets FX and FXX keep running as they always have. They continue producing creative and risky television that pushes the boundaries in wonderful ways. This seems likely for the short term at least. I wonder though. Logan was one of my favourite films this year. It was an emotionally cathartic farewell to a longtime fan favourite character. It was heavy, violent and wholly inappropriate for kids. How would Disney feel about killing off a cash cow? Or the lack of marketable action figures from such a film? Will we ever see another “Logan” under Disney’s Marvel? What about the Netflix properties? The Defenders stable? Will Disney continue to fund adult targeted original content? There’s hope that maybe with the acquisition of Hulu that they could continue where Netflix left off. Or possibly Netflix negotiates some kind of deal where they can keep keeping on. Once again, not hugely hopeful.

Oh well, at least I can console myself with cheap candy.

As the wise philosophers Destiny’s Child once said: “Question”.

I’ve got no salient thoughts right now. One of the pitfalls of my current schedule is that I often end up writing at the end of a workday. I’m drained and mentally flaccid (though alternatively being mentally turgid is equally as abhorrent. Perhaps I should stop comparing my brain’s most complex organ with my most cum-plex one) and the result is commonly lacklustre. Surprise surprise, it’s hard to be inspired when your day hasn’t been. I hope you’re not looking for some grand proclamation here. This isn’t time for a state of the nation style address. I’m moreso looking to fill time and pad out while making it seem like I have a topic to roll with. Spoiler, I don’t. So I’m gonna look elsewhere for inspiration. Note, the questions I’m getting are unlikely to match yours.

Have you ever been in any YouTube videos?

I might be in more, but I know that somewhere on the internet there’s a video of some dude on a drug freakout at Lollapalooza 2011. I was not that dude, but I was watching that dude. It was hard not to. He was garbed in a tartan skirt, rolling around in the mud while his peen was lollapalooza-ing all about. I was pretty drunk at the time, but I was doubled over with laughter. My hope is that I’ve learned to dress better, but at the time I was garbed in not only a silly trilby, but white socks with black shoes. If I needed some kind of indication of emotional growth, that’d be it.

How would you define success?

I’d say some combination of self-satisfaction and love. On a personal level, it’s having people to confide in, feeling like you’re contributing to the lives of those around you. Warmth and humour in abundance. Meeting goals and challenges set for oneself. On a professional level, there’s gotta be fulfilment in the work you do. You don’t have to love every moment of your job, but being able to sit back and think you know what? This is alright every once in a while means something.

What do you like to do on a rainy day?

The same thing I do every day Pinky, marathon TV shows, play video games, eat excessive amounts of delicious food, snuggle up with a warm body and drape myself in cozy things.

What things are you passionate about?

Mostly things that don’t matter. Good writing in pop culture. Clever, emotionally devastating or gripping. Humour that challenges pre-existing structures and does its job of punching up. Hearing music that makes me feel something, whether that’s giddy, distraught or cowed with wonderment. Words. Puns, mostly. Apples.

Are you smarter than your parents?

No idea. I’m more educated than my parents, but I feel like that’s symptomatic of a generational divide. My parents encouraged me towards education, so that’s points for them. They’re certainly wiser than I am, but in that case they’re older than me. With age comes wisdom, or thereabouts the maxim goes. At the same time, my brain is younger and thus probably more pliable, quick. This question is odd.

What was the last book you read?

I don’t read nearly enough, but when the film adaptation of The Dark Tower was announced, it encouraged me to go back and start the series. I got two books in and fell off the wagon. I’ll probably go back maybe. Possibly. Aren’t TV shows the new literature these days?

What do you wear to sleep?

Ennui.

 

Well wasn’t that a fun departure from the norm? It feels like cheating, but considering there’s no real point to this project other than getting words on a page, I’m not sure if cheating is possible. Is it? Ask my parents, they’re clearly wiser than me.

Let’s call it PUP-y love.

It’s been a long workday and I’ve got very little gas left in my brain. Let’s find out what it wants to talk about today.

I’ve never been hugely into punk. Even in my teens I veered hard into metal territory and didn’t look back until I hit age 20. Emo surged into popularity during my time in high school and by association, punk lost its lustre. The closest I came to punk fandom would’ve been my appreciation for Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come and anything by At The Drive In. If there’s any point to my preamble it’s this; I’m no authority on punk music.

That being said, yesterday I finally listened to PUP’s The Dream is Over and it has to be the finest punk album I’ve heard in years. Toronto hometown heroes kicked the shit out of their sophomore slump. Discounting the fact that it’s the only punk album I’ve heard in years, I’m still of the opinion that it’s a remarkable showcase of what the genre embodies. It’s punchy and energetic. The riffs are explosive and the growls are backed by short sharp harmonies. The lyrics are wry and aggressive, cheekiness to the core. The whole album clocks in at 30 minutes and, in my experience prompts an instant replay. I’ve listened about 12 times since yesterday morning. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long and I’m gutted as shit that, seeing as they’re Toronto locals, I’ve missed so many live performances over the years.

Once again, I’m taking a weird unearned amount of glee at hearing that another DCEU film is an expensive, bloated, tedious poorly directed piece of shit. Justice League sounds like its tagline should be “Better than Suicide Squad at least.” I’ll call my reaction exactly what it is: A holdover from the 90s where fandom came with this bizarre sense of tribalism attached. I was always a Marvel kid and now as an adult, it feels like my faith was justified. I can’t speak for my ardent defence of the Sega Saturn though. Surely I should want everyone to get great superhero films that showcase all the wonderful facets of their favourite childhood characters. Really though, I’m a petty, snide asshole who’s still rooting for the downfall of DC comics. Boring heroes who’re for the most part too pious for my tastes.

It’s like dumping on the newest DCEU film has become a sport and the winners are the readers.

From The AV Club:
“Don’t let the slick, well-chosen production stills fool you: This is for the most part a cramped and cheaply ugly movie, with crappy special effects. The nicest thing that can be said is that the producers have made it impossible for viewers to tell what is and isn’t a reshoot; a significant part of the movie is set in cramped, windowless rooms or in front of obvious green screens.”

From Variety, on Whedon’s late game additions:
“Whedon’s humor is grafted on in too-obvious ways; it sticks out incongruously amid all the stilted mechanics of this alarmingly basic movie. All these Whedonisms have the opposite of the intended effect. They give off a strenuous hum, the desperate sound of a turd polished in vain.”

From The Hollywood Reporter:
“Fatigue, repetition and a laborious approach to exposition are the keynotes of this affair, which is also notable for how Ben Affleck, donning the bat suit for the second time, looks like he’d rather be almost anywhere else but here”

Metacritic has it at a 51%, which is actually remarkably respectable for DC’s hit rate. I was probably never gonna see it anyway, I’m really only here for the reviews.

Anyway, I’m out. See you tomorrow, same Bat Channel.