DOPE Digest is a weekly roundup of pop culture miscellany, with succinct analysis from our contributors.
Beauty and the Beast (trailer)
BK: The most popular trailer in the world had to make our list this week, and I will admit that I got a little tingly once that piano played over the opening shot of the 3D Magic Kingdom. This movie is guaranteed to be a global hit, and there is the chance it might even be objectively good. Emma Watson is as charming and lovable an actor as there is in Hollywood, and that Dan Stevens really looks like one helluva beast! (You may remember Dan Stevens from his excellent, Ryan Gosling-lite work in The Guest, one of the biggest controversies in syvology history.) And of course we have Luke Evans as the hyper-masculine buffoon Gaston – I swear if he doesn’t sing about eating 5 dozen eggs I will walk out of the theater stage a protest.
All this is well and good, but I am worried about the essential shot-for-shot simplicity of this trailer. It looks EXACTLY like the carton, but not quite in a way that makes me excited, but rather one that makes me squirm. There is no creativity, no showmanship, no love in making an exact replica of a classic movie, even if you are converting from animation to live-action. I want to see some dynamic filmmaking, either visually or textually (though I am afraid big budget movies may not be so interested in anything except making $1 billion). I’ll have to wait until March 17th to find out whether this is just a major cash grab, or whether I’ll be singing ‘Little Town‘ walking out the theater.
syvo: What to make of Disney’s recent spate of live-action remakes of its animated classics? It only makes sense that the ultra-gendered myths forming the psychosexual bedrock of normative subjecthood should lend themselves to reliable commodification and critical praise. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Disney movies are as much a part of the feminist narrative of society as superhero flicks are to a Marxist one. The massive dominance of these spectacles provides an opportunity not only for fresh analysis of the reproduction of normativity through culture industry, but also the crucial recognition that the widespread existence of guilty pleasure reveals our most deep-seated desires don’t always line up with theory.
Julia: That is one seriously charming candelabra! Disney, in fact, calls him “Lumière, the casanova of all candelabras!” Mon dieu. This seems like it will be a totally acceptable while highly unnecessary remake of a cartoon classic. Emma Watson sure does loooove being in castles all the time! I don’t feel warmly toward the hyperrealistic-looking the household characters, and the whole vibe seems to be quite shadowy and serious – can we get some “Be Our Guest” preview in there and lighten up a little?! Also feeling very surprised that they’d attempt this so soon after the hugely popular, Olsen twin-backed creative triumph, Beastly. I remain skeptical.
Sleigh Bells – “I Can Only Stare” (music video)
syvo: Okay, look. I ride for Sleigh Bells. They’re a fully solid alt-pop act, and over the years I’ve grown prickly over what seems to be an elitist critical contempt for their music. What’s worse, I can’t tell if that contempt is a product of my own weirdo insularity or just pure imagination. Granted, their albums frequently have spots of sonic ostentation that come across as unnecessary, irritating, or simply uninspired. But that’s a totally unremarkable condition of any modestly experimental pop project, and the tracks that don’t land are too easily overemphasized. This is my humble contention: take the best half of Sleigh Bells’s last three albums since Treats, and it’s as good as better than any comparable pop act of the last five years. Jessica Rabbit is already one of my favorite albums of the year.
Anyway, this song sounds like a baroque Sky Ferreira and/or early Lady Gaga. It’s earnest in an abstract, subjectless way that only pop music can be. The video is co-directed by criminally underrated film director Alex Ross Perry, the quaint genius responsible for Listen Up Philip (2014) and Queen of Earth (2015).
BK: Jessica Rabbit is an amazing name for an album. I could not be more on board. Sleigh Bells has come a long way from ‘Infinity Guitars,’ which seems to be the featured soundtrack on every ‘uh-oh, here comes a bad girl!’ portion of film and TV trailers. ‘I Can Only Stare’ has a much bigger, more populist pop sound than some of their previous work and favorably compares to a lot of similar music on alt-radio. And the video is, quite frankly, dope.
BK: I am pretty much down for any movie with Colin Farrell, and equally down for any movie with Anthony Hopkins. So well played, Solace – you got me!
The movie itself is tough to get a read on – even the trailer has a ton of exposition and that does not typically bode well for the full-length feature. HOWEVER! I have always wondered what it would be like if Hannibal Lecter played the role of Clarice Starling but also had psychic powers and was chasing a much better-looking (and also psychic?) Buffalo Bill. So how bad could it be?!
syvo: This looks beautiful and absolutely incoherent. I am tremendously interested in seeing this movie.
Julia: Loved Colin Farrell in Phone Booth, and I’ve supported him ever since. I’ll see this!
Gabrielle Aplin – Miss You
Her latest song keeps the melancholic lyrics of her previous work but adds a backing track that could easily be lifted from a late 90s Britney Spears album. I’m completely on-board for this evolved sound and can’t wait for more.
syvo: Among the myriad brutal realities of the Trump Decadence is the simultaneous defeat of two female role models: not only was the first female presidential candidate defeated by a loathsome pig, but the title of First Lady also passes from Michelle to Milania. The former, an intelligent, gracious and outspoken woman universally beloved at all levels of society; the latter, not. In this particular moment, a Jackie Onassis biopic might carry special import.
Anyhow, what I’m most excited about this movie is Mica Levi’s score. Levi is the composer behind the unbearable notes of anxiety that make Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin (2013) such a terrorizing and atmospheric experience. Jackie will be a different movie at its surface. But both films explore feminine subjectivity, the complex treatment of which Natalie Portman is quite capable based on her Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan (2010).
Julia: Feeling so excited for this! Natalie Portman is great at playing “unhinged” – see Black Swan, Closer, that SNL digital short where she’s rapping. I’m very interested to see her approach to Jackie, a character who is hugely iconic in terms of style and mannerism, as well as a challenging and fascinating symbol of public versus private life. Post script – if anyone can recommend the best (i.e. broadest and most scandalous) biography on the Kennedy family, please give me the tip. The fun doesn’t have to stop when you leave the theater, people!
BK: This trailer was hard to watch before Trump was our President-Elect, and right now I can’t really articulate much more than this: the movie looks great, I will definitely be even more depressed after watching it, and I’m sorry that bad things happen to good people. And that good things happen to the worst people. Stupid politics. : (
Charli XCX – After the After Party (music video)
syvo: For public supporters of the fun-sexy-goth-pop that Charli XCX stands for, “After the After Party” is properly received as a modest return to form. After some disappointing and strangely uncharacteristic work (see e.g. our confused reception of “Vroom Vroom” last April), this song is just catchy enough to remind us of Charli’s natural talent. The outstanding video is the aesthetic cousin to Miley Cyrus’s high-decadent pop masterpiece “We Can’t Stop,” with director Diane Martel crafting both videos.
In a recent interview Charli admits, “I really just wanted to be Britney Spears when I was younger.” She describes her upcoming record as “the most pop-commercial album I’ve made, which I love because I’ve always loved pop-commercial.” Charli says the evolution of her work has been a roundabout way of making peace with the fact that “pop” is not a dirty word. It’s an artistic posture that evokes the generative thesis statement of Lady Gaga’s early career: “Pop music will never be lowbrow.” If Gaga’s own career trajectory has cast aspersions on that notion, it’s okay. Maybe Charli XCX can handle it from here.
Julia: The year is winding down, and thus so is the reign of Tumblr Pink – may this video serve as a well-executed victory lap before we embrace the 2017 Color of the Year. What’s it going to be?! I think probably a blue. Check Lauren Conrad’s instagram theme in like a month, it’ll be everywhere. This song is fun and good, about 80% of the time, but Lil Yachty should not be there. Despite historical evidence, I rarely find that a rap feature actually elevates a pop song, particularly if the song is good to begin with. This goes for Sean Paul too – get him out of that “Cheap Thrills” remix! Sia doesn’t need any help, thank you!
BK: The first thing I told the Dope Digest crew a few weeks ago when this song debuted was that I felt nothing for it – to me it seemed like a bland sell-out version of what syvology.com-darling Charli XCX is all about.
Well I am here to say that I was dead wrong. This song kicks ass, and even overcomes the vocalized farts that are Lil’ Yachty’s lyrics (seriously, give me Snoop’s verse in California Gurls over this garbage). I have changed course and decided Charli XCX is going to be just fine, much to her great relief (I presume).
And Julia, how DARE you!? Sean Paul’s verse in ‘Cheap Thrills’ is basically honey dripped down from heaven. Heaven honey, if you will. Show some damn compassion for chissake!
Justice League Dark (trailer)
syvo: Normally a trailer for a DC Comics animated feature would be a little too low-brow for even this disreputable publication. But a few things are notable here. First, I love how DC is doubling down on its oft-ridiculed reputation for excessively morose spandex fare by releasing a movie that not only has “dark” in the title, but also comes with a gratuitous R rating.
Second, the cartoon may be a placeholder for the live-action film currently on hiatus. Assuming Guillermo del Toro is ever able to make it, Justice League Dark might end up minimally interesting. Unlike Marvel, DC has been generally willing allow directors to speak in their own cinematic voice (even if that artistic freedom might actually come as detriment). If del Toro’s previous work (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) is any indicator at all, Justice League Dark could be an aesthetic accomplishment or, at the very least, something different in a blockbuster culture infected by repetitious sameness.
BK: I love how much DC Comics seems to hate making money – it is genuinely refreshing. Who exactly is the audience for this? I can think of exactly one person – but goddamn syvo I will gladly watch this with you just because DC has the guts to make something truly outrageous.
DOPE Digest Throwback: Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) – Keep It Thoro
BK: The new A Tribe Called Quest album came out last week (it’s solid, definitely worth a listen) but what caught my ear most on the first run-through was Consequence’s verse on “Mobius” referencing this epic Prodigy track. I haven’t been able to turn it off since.
Dropping an nearly-unfathomable 16 years ago, H.N.I.C. was Prodigy’s first good-not-great solo effort that featured “Keep it Thoro,” one of my favorite songs of all-time. I can’t think of a better track to kick off the weekend. Or close the weekend. Or listen to on loop all week. Just, give it a listen and imagine Queens.