‘Vice’: an overwhelming satire

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Vice” (2018) is, at the end of the day, a damning portrait of former Vice President Dick Cheney. It is also a bit of a documentary, a bit of educational entertainment, a bit of a comedy and a lot of finger-wagging. 

Some of director Adam McKay’s non-traditional concepts work. Many of them don’t. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer “Vice” to about any hum-drum historical biopic that would warrant multiple looks down at my nonexistent watch. McKay has a vibrant, particularly meta style of satire (at least in “The Big Short” and “Vice”) that makes important, but potentially dull historical material more interesting.

But at the end of the day, “The Big Short” told a coherent and effective story. “Vice” leaves me with a somewhat perplexing stew of thoughts on its subject matter. The film is heavily condemning (at times almost fatiguing) but also reveals a more tender, family-driven and loving side to the character as well. Cheney as a character is well rounded, but his motivation is a bit cloudy (perhaps that’s the point).

“Vice” is humorous throughout, with the non-traditional storytelling often being the joke itself. The film is narrated by a character that is revealed at the end, and this narrator interjects with overwhelming consistency. The problem with the constant explanation is that it undercuts the drama at times, and throws the tempo out of whack. Though the narration gets tiring, a solid-as-always performance from Jesse Plemons helps it out. 

The film is flawlessly cast, from the transformative performances of Christian Bale and Amy Adams to Steve Carrell’s rather hilarious portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld.

I was not a big fan of “Vice,” but it was an interesting experience, especially for the politically interested. 

Status: Recommend for Fans (poltics, big Oscary prosthetic performances, history). 

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

‘LM5’: the return of the queens

Pop Odyssey features Jackie Goff’s thoughts, reviews and analysis of popular music.

By Jackie Goff

“LM5” is the best Little Mix album since their 2013 album “Salute” (their best in my opinion) and the two share theme that has only been magnified over time: women.

The songs on “LM5” are more about empowering women and supporting women than it is about sex, love or men that have done them wrong (though there is a bit of all of those from time to time). All in all, this is the kind of pop record we need in 2018 and it’s beautiful.

Here are a few of the record’s standout singles:

“Woman Like Me (feat. Nicki Minaj)”: The debut single from the new record featuring Nicki Minaj, which addresses the things we all deal with but shouldn’t hold us back, such as insecurity or regret for past mistakes. These flaws don’t make you make you any less desirable or worthy of love. In fact, they are trials that make you stronger, more powerful and deserving of someone who can take the good right along with the bad.

“Strip”: Whisper-singing has a way of driving me bat-shit crazy until it eventually grows on me until the song is an earworm that I can’t get out of my head. It was true for Selena Gomez’s “Hands To My Self,” and the same goes for “Strip”. My first couple of listens I wasn’t overly into it melodically, but the underlying message of self-acceptance and confidence meant that eventually, I was all for it. “Strip! / Take off all my make-up ’cause I love what’s under it / Rub off all your words, don’t give a uh, I’m over it / Strip! / Jiggle all this weight, yeah, you know I love all of this / Finally love me naked, sexiest when I’m confident.”

“Told You So”: “The only thing I love more than an empowering Little Mix jam is an acoustic guitar-based song that showcases these women’s insane voices. This song is about the importance of girlfriends who are around to love and support each other in moments of despair and heartbreak. Picking up the damage without dealing out handfuls of shame, even if they saw it coming because, well, he never did treat her right. The whole record is more heavy-handed about supporting your fellow woman than the men who have done wrong, this song is more tender than the rest of the record and supportive about the fact that sometimes your friend gets their heart broken, and your job isn’t to say “I told you so,” but be there with a bottle of wine or a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on.

Honorable mention: “Woman’s World”: A beautiful tribute to the trails and tribulations of what it’s like to be a woman in this world hoping for a day where women are heard, recognized and respected not for their body, but their brains.

Jackie Goff can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com or @jackiemaemusic on Twitter.

Pop Oddessy: Cher Lloyd Returns

By Jackie Goff

Cher Lloyd is another testament that British talent shows actually have a far better chance to produce musicians who go on to have to have a career in music, unlike their American counterparts (Kelly and Carrie aside, winners don’t go very far).

In fact, Cher Lloyd didn’t even WIN the UK X-Factor, but came in FOURTH and still put out two full-length albums (now name a fourth runner-up in ANY series. I’ll wait.).

Lloyd’s first album “Sticks and Stones” was released in November 2011 to mixed-to-positive reviews. Fun and infectious, Lloyd’s debut has enough charisma to carry the album. With one notable exception… I’m sorry, Cher…

SWAGGERJAGGER

The stand out track from the album is the third single from the record, “Want U Back.” This is the kind of song that makes me crank the car volume to near dangerous levels and sing along dramatically. Honestly. It’s embarrassing. At least I know I’m not alone. Consider this text exchange with my best friend…

12513633_10153584306040897_6608830067907207863_o

“I Wish” (feat. T.I) was a single that preceded Lloyd’s second record “Sorry I’m Late.” I have a love/hate relationship with this song, which has solid retro-styled synth trumpet hooks with an infectious beat and deliciously sing-along-able melody, but the lyrics…

Yikes… Lloyd said in an interview with The Guardian that the song is “about being cool with insecurities,” but it hardly comes across that way.  It speaks less about accepting yourself, and more about changing your fundamental features to better attract the attention of a man. Not a message I particularly endorse.

More so, T.I’s bridge is a nightmare. Besides using the term “retarded” (not here for it in 2018), as well the lines “you like to run your mouth, well you about to learn a lesson, girl” (what the fuck T.I.?) and “you the one but I’ll replace you in a second, girl” (what a charmer). Basically, by T.I., I just feel gross.

I thought it was a pipe dream. It had been years since “Sorry I’m Late,” and I had reason to believe that the ride was over. But Monday, Oct. 22, I was shaken from my slumber to see it had happened… Cher Lloyd had released a new single. But would it be in preparation for an album, or would this be just another disappointing pitstop on the way in obscurity? Only time will tell, but I’m hoping the former. 

“None Of My Business” is more restrained than her exaggerated persona of albums past, which could be a sign of maturity after being absent from the scene for four years. Though the song,  about pettily stalking her ex and his new girlfriend on Instagram, suggests we’re still up to the same pop game, just in the 2018 style. Perhaps it’s the influence of German production company Hitimpulse (Kygo, Ellie Goulding, Steve Aoki), with whom Lloyd has been collaborating.

Regardless, I’m here for more.

Jackie Goff can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @JackieMaeMusic

Semler at the Cinema: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

By Brandon Semler

The first 10 minutes of “Bad Times at the El Royale” immediately plants an image of what the film could be. Eyes brimming with secrets, conversation that is often guarded or fronting, and immediate clashes of personality lay the groundwork for the violent, straightforward thriller that is to come.

Well, at least it ended up being violent.

As he is one to do (remember “Cabin in the Woods?”), director Drew Goddard manages to flip this predetermined image on its head quickly and permanently, tossing the more conventional film up into the desert air.

“Bad Times” features several strangers meeting at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown desert hotel. Through a night of strange and violent events, alliances are formed, battles are waged and nothing is quite what it seems.

Goddard puts the film’s twisted timeline to good use, as we see different perspectives of the same events through different characters’ eyes, and snapshots of their lives before the hotel. The film takes a more straightforward approach in its last act (aside from one deviation) as the culmination of madness plays out.

Goddard’s use of musical numbers — mostly Motown —  form a natural glue to the multiple layers unfolding throughout. The songs bring light to what seems to be inevitable blackness, and offer a slice of hope to what the future could bring for some of the hotel’s residents.

The film hinges on the relationship between Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who form a fatherly/daughterly relationship, one of the few silver linings in the chaos. Get used to seeing Erivo on the screen. Her presence was something to be reckoned with.

While it never completely derails, the third act loses its way a bit. Chris Hemsworth, an actor I enjoy and respect greatly, is dreadfully miscast*. His performance just lacks a necessary energy, as well as much-needed subtlety. The film also grinds its momentus conclusion to a screeching halt for one final detour packaged with a helpful convenience for the wrap-up*. This time it was less welcome.

I want to see more films like “Bad Times.” It is unique in 2018 to see a film with a star-studded cast that is not attached to a comic book property or franchise, and VERY unique to see such a film on the big screen, not on Netflix or Amazon Prime in my living room. I recommend this film; let’s support it so we get more of them.

Status: Recommend

Spoiler notes (if you haven’t seen the movie and care about what happens in it, DO NOT read)

* Chris Hemsworth plays a cult leader that is specifically called out for faking philosophical and religious knowledge and leadership in order to get girls. Perhaps the dull performance could have been intended as a dull guy who was completely faking his charisma. But I think that’s probably generous. Anyway, still love you Hems!

* The film reveals that Miles Miller (Pullman) was a sharpshooter in Vietnam (flashback and all), and he is conveniently able to help get Daniel Flynn (Bridges) and Darlene Sweet (Erivo) out of the culty mess they’re in, while unfortunately dying along the way. Though I mostly enjoyed the unexpected flashbacks, this one took place in the midst of the film taking a more present approach in the third act, and tripped up the momentum. Terrific performance from Tom Holland though…I mean…Pullman.

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @BrandonSemler

Pop Genealogy: Niall Horan

Niall Horan is the second former One Direction member to release a solo record after the boybands hiatus (we don’t talk about Zayn Zach, here). Considering Horan was One Direction’s biggest fan, and the self-proclaimed lover of boybands (See the One Direction movie “This Is Us”), his debut release would surprise the casual listener if they didn’t actually know a lot about this irishman and his background. Ahead of release, he described the record to Entertainment Weekly as “folk-with-pop feel to it;” however, since it’s been available to the public, Horan has been embraced by the country scene, even being invited to since at the Grand Ole Opry with Maren Morris during the 2017 CMAs. However, Horan is rooted in classic rock.

Eagles

Horan says that the Eagles have had an enormous impact on what he listens to and how he writes. There are definitely some melodic inspirations and warmth from prominent Eagles songs such as “Peaceful Easy Feeling”.

 

John Mayer

I can personally hear a lot of pop-era John Mayer in a couple songs off Flicker. For example, Horan’s “Since We’re Alone” is made up of a chorus of completing guitar tones and textures that echo songs from Mayer’s Heavier Things.

Pop Genealogy: The 1975

The19751“Girls” was the first track I ever heard from The 1975. I was captivated immediately captivated by their groove, lyrical flow, and riff-heavy sing-alongs. I downloaded their first full-length album, simply entitled The 1975 and was surprised by the variety and nuance it contained. “Chocolate” was their breakaway hit that catapulted them into stardom. Pro-Tip: Never attempt to sing “Chocolate” at karaoke. Even if you think you know the words, you probably don’t. I thought that they were just… cool. Like, the definition of cool. What’s there not to like? Well, as I should have known, the appreciation isn’t universal. In fact, their music video for “The Sound” contains a succinct list of the kinds negative criticism I have heard when I say I love The 1975. That they have “unconvincing emo lyrics,” “terrible high-pitched vocals over soul-less robot beats,” and are just “punch-you-tv obnoxious.” Well, to those people I just want to say, “get over yourself. Seriously.” Yes, maybe the music harkens back to the polished pop of the 1980s, and the lyrics are inspired by depression and recreational drug use, and perhaps The 1975 have acquired a boyband-esque fanbase, but get over it. Their records, especially I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, are an ambitious mixture of infectious ‘80s pop with somber lyrical content, and electronic textures influenced by a variety of different sources.

UK Garage

UK Garage is a genre of electronic music with syncopated beats and chopped up samples that compliment a rhythmic structure. “This is a type of music I grew up with heavily and a subject I’m quite knowledgeable on,” said singer Matty Healy.

The Streets

The Streets’ Mike Skinner has been a major influence on The 1975’s Matty Healy’s lyrical style. “‘He was somebody writing about a pretty much middle-class scene of people who were within a world of the garage scene… It was the social narration that Mike Skinner always had that was a massive influence,” said drummer George Daniel. “ That kind of beat poetry inspired and really, really informed the way that I wrote lyrics,” Healy told MTV. “I never really had a formula for writing lyrics, but the only thing I did know was that I wanted it to be as earthy.”

Rock

David Bowie

The 1975 isn’t without its classic rock n roll influence. The funky intro in “Love Me” is highly derivative of David Bowie’s “Fame” and the verse and chorus like Bowie’s “Fashion.”

 

The Blue Nile- Hats

“‘This is the best band of the ’80s. Well, fucking hell… no, that is my favorite record of the ’80s,” Healy told Dan Hyman from Vulture. “Musically, they’ve inspired so much.”

From the first song, you can hear The 1975. With a low-tempo drum machine to the synth atmosphere, The Blue Nile’s “Over The Hillside” sounds a lot like 1975’s “If I Believe You.”

 

Works Cited for this post can be found here.

A Merry Christmas to all…: A brief review of “…And to All A Good Night” by The Maine

TheMaine-SquarePhoto
Photo source: https://www.themaineband.com/album-marketing/

It’s that time of year again. The same holiday tunes we have heard every year since our birth inundated us yet again. From TV commercials on TV to the radio and grocery stores, I’m sure you will catch “Let It Snow” more than once this season.

Now I’m not trying to be a modern-day Grinch. I’m not really against Christmas music. However, I do enjoy a bit of a respite from the monotony of traditional holiday tunes with something that still embraces the season and fits in like a crackling fire.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite bands has released their second holiday single and B-side that perfectly fits the bill. But be warned: while these wintry songs may aesthetically match a holiday theme musically, but “…And to All a Good Night” from The Maine doesn’t exactly bring on festive cheer.

“I’m having trouble sleeping like a child on Christmas Eve/ I’m restless in the night like the lights upon the tree.”

Even tingled with sadness, “Winter Means Nothing (Without You)” is an achingly beautiful song. It is a melancholy love song about the loneliness that accompanies the winter season when you have a broken heart.

12.25 follows a similar trajectory in lyrical content and musical sound. In fact. If I were going to offer any criticism, it would be that both songs on the single are thematically so similar.

“Snow falls in the quiet city/ while a fire burns inside/ and I’m wrapped up in a feeling/ got you wrapped up in my mind.”

So if you’re looking for a little break from “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “All I Want For Christmas is You,” look no further than “…And to All a Good Night” by The Maine.

 

Pop Genealogy: John Mayer

John Mayer is an American guitarist and singer-songwriter is a controversial character, but regardless of the things he says outside of his records, he’s come to be known as one of this generations most prominent guitarists. Mayer has redefined his sound multiple times. Starting out as pop, veering into blues, then a mixture of folk/western and suddenly back to pop. The point of this blog is to go back through the influences of my favorite artists to see what inspires them, this is exactly what John Mayer did when he first picked up guitar. When his neighbor introduced him to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood, he said said he had found the sound he wanted.  But more than that, Vaughan opened new doors. “Stevie also began this amazing genealogical hunt for me: Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Otis Rush and Lightnin’ Hopkins.” Mayer told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.

Stevie Ray Vaughn

As far as songwriting styles go, Mayer usually sticks to pretty consistent pop structure, but his influences are heard most in his lead guitar styles. Phrasing similar to Vaughn can be found from Continuum, to Mayer’s most recent album, The Search For Everything.

Jimi Hendrix

I mean Mayer said it best himself in his essay for Rolling Stone… “Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix.” – John Mayer

Works Cited for this post can be found here.

Pop Genealogy: Halsey

 

You don’t have to go further than Halsey’s first record to find her influences; she tells you point-blank in the chorus of “New Americana” she was “raised on Biggie and Nirvana.” A rather eclectic taste comes from her childhood being raised mixed race. “my dad’s black and my mom’s white,” Halsey told Nadeska Alexis from MTV in 2005. “So growing up my dad was listening to a ton of old school rap, and my mom was listening to a ton of ’90s grunge.”

Alanis Morissette

As far as lyrical content is concerned, Halsey takes considerable influences from Alanis Morisette’s grungy ’90s style. They both share lyrics that are usually full of angst and mature content.

Tupac

So while her mother was introducing her to grungy ’90s singer-songwriters, her father was showing her hip-hop. “Tupac, Biggie, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Slick Rick — just old school bouncy hip-hop,” (Alexis). This could account for some of the musical influences across both records. Drums samples, synth pads, and leads carry the tunes as opposed to tangible instruments.
In true hop-hop fashion, “Alone” from Halsey’s 2017 record sampled Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.’ “Nothing Can Stop Me” and turns it into a Tupac-esque alt-pop/hip-hop jam about the loneliness in spite of fame.

 

Works Cited for this post can be found here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑