THE QUEST FOR THE MOST ’90s FILM OF ALL TIME
Considering that I had trouble finding a suitable image of its poster, this soccer comedy, a relic from a time when we demanded far less from children’s entertainment, might not be a cultural touchstone. But The Quest has never been a popularity contest; it’s about respect. Like the tagline of this film, it knows that “Respect is one big goal” [+1]. Get it? Respect? Like Rodney Dangerfield? You know how he says, “I get no respect” all the time? And then “goal” has a double meaning because it’s also a soccer term, and this is a soccer movie? If you think I drove that joke into the ground by over-explaining it, then please do not subject yourself to Ladybugs, which drills its jokes into the center of the earth and then drowns you in magma.
- Actors Who Are Unquestionably Tied to the Decade- Rodney Dangerfield [+10]
Rodney Dangerfield’s best stand-up and best film work was in the ’80s. But as a caked-up parody of himself, recycling his own tropes to the point that a nine-year-old could still get the “no respect” thing, I have to declare him a ’90s star.
In Ladybugs he of the exophthalmos plays Chester, a middle manager at something called Mullen Industries [+1]. The film never explains what this company does, which is sort of maddening. I imagine it’s some sort of non-profit workshop for insult comics because Dangerfield is just walking around the office chopping wood. Here he is insinuating that the receptionist is a prostitute [+1]. Here he is saying, “If I’m an asshole, there’s a reason for it: You’re contagious!” [+1]. All appropriate things to say if you’re desperate for a promotion [+2].
- Other Notable Actors/Characters- Jackee, Jonathan Brandis, Ilene Graff, Vinessa Shaw [+5]
Dangerfield is angling for a promotion because he needs to scrounge up the cash for a wedding to his sweetheart, who’s wandering around her garden talking about how desirable Tom Cruise is [+1]. He tells her, “My promotion’s in the bag,” and she replies, “That’s great, Chester, but I’ve heard it all before” [+2]. The same screenwriting crutches that demand expository dialogue and direct address also necessitate a disapproving jock stepson. And we get one of those in the dreamy Jonathan Brandis, whose Matthew character comes into play after Dangerfield’s showdown with The Boss.
Mr. Mullen, played by Dangerfield’s real-life weed carrier Tom Parks, is the real engine of this ship. He doesn’t have much time for Dangerfield’s promotion entreaties until he remembers that he needs a coach for his daughter’s youth soccer team. Dangerfield does that bad-lying movie thing (“What position? I, uh, played them all.”) [+3], as if he doesn’t even know what a goalie is, but he agrees. Maybe if he can continue the Ladybugs’ winning tradition, he can gain the respect of his boss, which would translate into a promotion, which would translate into love and happiness. Mr. Mullen is my favorite character because he provides the worst dialogue of the entire film. Here are his most absurdly expository lines:
1. “As you know, I’m a very competitive man. I love being the best.”
2. “Well, Mr. Vice President, I’m very proud of you. This new year-round sports program of yours has been very good for Mullen Industries’ profile. By the way, how’s married life?” [spoilers I guess]
3. “You’ve forgotten what’s important.”
4. “We’re in the championship!”
Anyway, after he hands out the SCORE-brand uniforms [+1], reads from a book about soccer, and cracks a few double entendres about balls [+1], Dangerfield learns that it’s a rebuilding year for the ‘Bugs. Most of these girls have never even played before. He’ll have to depend upon his sarcastic assistant Jackée, who delivers her usual complex and sophisticated performance. She says things like, “You know Black people are the best at sports,” [+1] and it isn’t even really a bit. That’s just the character’s contribution.
I have to mention this. Throughout a whole scene, Jackée does this totally bizarre thing in which she eats a sandwich starting with the middle [+10]. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It seemed like an Andy Kaufman bit. What if I completely reimagine something people do every day by doing it in the least logical way?
At the same time he’s trying to create a winning team, Dangerfield finds out that his home-life is falling apart too. As his fiancee communicates through more garbage dialogue, “It couldn’t get much worse. Because of his poor grades, they kicked Matthew off the football team and the JV soccer team.” Lightbulb! Before Dangerfield can ridicule an Asian player named Chu by making sneezing noises [+1], he turns Matthew into Martha, his new girl soccer star. Because clearly someone who is expendable on a boys’ JV team would automatically be the best girls’ player ever, right [+3]? Bring on some contrived conflict.
- Could the Plot Reasonably Occur with Current Technology?
No [+10], because I’m guessing one of these girls would try to approach Martha on social media or, like, want to know her last name and would find out quickly that she’s made up. Apparently, Dangerfield never had to present any paperwork to let her play in the league. Matthew never even changes his voice or does anything beyond putting on a wig to disguise himself [+3], so wouldn’t they just recognize him from the nearby school? The audience: We don’t get no respect.
You can tell Martha is intense because she says things like, “Save this, sweetheart!” as she’s playing [+2]. Wouldn’t you know it, the team starts to win as she comes up with new soccer techniques, such as pushing players down and not toeing the ball (Thanks for nothing, Soccer Technical Advisor Garry Moore. [+1]). The Ladybugs start to win, as we see in a Things-Turning-Around Montage, which is SOUNDTRACKED BY A RODNEY DANGERFIELD/JACKEE DUET OF “GREAT BALLS OF FIRE” [+5].
(You know who loves the Ladybugs’ winning streak? Mr. Mullen, who, on one hand, doesn’t care enough about the team to even vet the coach in any way, but on the other hand is willing to restructure his entire company based on its potential success. Peep him at the games with his sweater tied around his shoulders and a flute of champagne in his hand [+1]. During this montage, Mullen dedicates a blackboard of his office to chalking up wins and toasts with champagne in the boardroom. Is this how corporate America works?)
Martha obviously runs into some sticky situations. For example, there’s a post-game pool party, and all of the girls are skinny-dipping. And no girl is allowed to leave unless her parents pick her up personally! What is Martha going to do amidst this exploitative sexual abuse? Say, “No. That’s creepy. You can’t force me to strip naked”? Or call up Coach on the corded car phone [+1] and have him show up in drag as Martha’s mother [+3]? Path of least resistance, you know?
Similarly, we have a Twelfth Night scenario in which Matthew is attracted to one of the other players—he even fantasizes about their wedding, like most fifteen-year-old boys do [+2]—but she only knows him as a girl. So that creates one of my favorite devices: As the young couple watches MTV on a wooden furniture TV [+2], we get the quick-change “Hold on one second while I check on something in the other room!” [+5]. Zany madcap hijinx.
I’ve gone pretty long on this. Uh, Martha gets found out and can’t play, but the Ladybugs win the championship against some aggressive military squad because the kids play as a team [+3]. Dangerfield gets his promotion, though I wonder how Mr. Mullen explained that to the board. I’m leaving out a lot of Exaggerated Homosexual Panic and Explaining What Yellow Cards Are, but you get it [+4].
To make a joke about Jonathan Brandis hanging himself in real life or to not make a joke about Jonathan Brandis hanging himself in real life: That is the question.
Most of the female characters are in soccer uniforms, so the men have to pick up the slack in the form of suspenders with t-shirts, jean jackets, snapbacks, Color Me Badd suits, overalls, all-over-print shirts, high-waisted jeans, and black hi-tops with white socks. Don’t sell the women short though: We’re treated to a lot of scrunchies [+9].
’90s FILM CONVENTIONS
You’re So Pretty Once You Change Everything about Your Appearance! [+3]
Reading from a Book about How to Play Soccer While the Opposite of Those Suggestions Plays Out on the Field [+3]
"Go long" [Dives for the ball and gets a girl to notice him] [+3]
"Oh, uh, why am I taking you so high up? Uh, you see, this seat is actually much better. You can see everything!" [+3]
A Kid Commiserating Over Milkshakes As If They Were Alcoholic Drinks [+3]
Tommy Lasorda cameo [+1]
This is an awful movie, and it’s an awful movie that doesn’t even have an audience. It’s too pandering and unimaginative for adults—plus, it looks as if it was filmed for $127. At the same time, Dangerfield’s comedy, tired as it is, is inappropriate for kids. Everyone stands around, and the entire movie grinds to a halt so that he can toss out, “The only thing faster than that is when I’m having sex.” And it’s not even as funny as one second later when a kid says, “Holy boogers” [+1]. Sometimes Dangerfield doesn’t even make sense. For example, Mr. Mullen says, “I understand Matthew and my daughter are becoming very close.” And Dangerfield responds with “Ha—more than you know.” What does that even mean? You’re aware of the sexual relationship between these fifteen-year-old minors under your care? Why is that funny? Who is that for? I complain a lot about how focus-grouped entertainment is, how rigged everything is to score with certain demographics. But if Ladybugs is the alternative, then we’re all better off.
For obvious reasons, the scores favor abysmal films made in the first part of the decade. Accordingly, Ladybugs scores a hearty 112, which makes it number four all-time. In case you were wondering, here are the standings. I can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for four years. Thanks to my buddy Dr. Travis Jacobson for doing most of the leg-work on the scores.
Man of the House (120)
Singles (114 )
Can’t Hardly Wait (111)
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (107)
Blank Check (101)
I Know What You Did Last Summer (101)
The Truth about Cats and Dogs (100)
Independence Day (96)
The Lawnmower Man (95)
Point Break (95)
Little Big League (93)
Jurassic Park (90)
Cruel Intentions (89)
You’ve Got Mail (88)
The Bodyguard (87)
Jerry Maguire (84)
The Santa Clause (83)
Varsity Blues (82)
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (82)
The Net (78)
Encino Man (75)
3 Ninjas (74)
Happy Gilmore (73)
Ace Ventura (70)
Home Alone 2: Lost in new York (69)
Devil’s Advocate (64)
All I Want for Christmas (63)
The Mighty Ducks (62)
Mrs. Doubtfire (62)
The Fan (60)
Fight Club (47)
Kindergarten Cop (33)
The Indian in the Cupboard (28)
This is a really interesting article, but The Dissolve ain’t got no love for “Treefingers” in Memento?
2nd Quarter of 2014
I haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Locke, or Obvious Child yet, but I feel pretty caught up otherwise. In addition to the films below, I also liked We Are the Best! and Snowpiercer.
1. Only Lovers Left Alive- Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch’s films always have a tinge of elegy (cf. Broken Flowers), but this time the stakes are different. His mouthpiece for the despair of an aging hipster is a pair of people who actually have seen it all. The Swinton and Hiddleston characters are so fully realized, disengaging from the world until they find their separate breaking points, clinging to each other with Gothic promise. It would almost be too much to take without the non-stop wit on display. Some of that comes from the injection of life that Wasikowska’s character brings in the second half, but I kind of preferred the Ozymandias-core of Hiddleston cruising around the ruins of Detroit, focusing on the matter at hand of finding clean blood so that he doesn’t have to think about everything else. (It should be mentioned that Jarmusch explains all of these circumstances of being a vampire. Usually when an auteur makes a genre film, none of the genre elements hold up. You have to excuse it with: “Well, he doesn’t actually care about the science of it. It’s just a device.” Jarmusch is completely willing to let us in on what is myth and what is real in this universe.)
I’m actually not a big Jarmusch fan, but his work here seems more elegant and careful than it has in years. Not just in the screenplay that gracefully tells me everything about these characters, but also in the visual storytelling. There’s a pointed shot of a musician finishing a set and setting his guitar down so that it faces an amp and emits feedback for a few minutes. That feedback is kind of what this whole world is to the protagonists: the remnant of something that used to be quite pleasing, giving off just enough of its essence so that you can remember what it used to be. The end of the world doesn’t come with a bang. It comes when you no longer recognize yourself in anyone around you. Which is actually a lot worse.
2. The Immigrant- James Gray
The Immigrant is about opportunity. Since it begins with characters checking in at Ellis Island, you would probably assume what type of opportunity it analyzes. But you would be wrong. It’s actually a dire, direct interpretation of what happens when people reduce a human soul to only an opportunity. Phoenix’s character takes advantage of Cotillard’s character when she is at her most vulnerable, using her body for his own purposes, lowering her to an object. He starts as gracious, then becomes despicable, then becomes desperate. The film then morphs into something more tragic and fascinating because she does the same thing in response, projecting any chance to survive on him or his cousin. The film comes down to how much humanity someone has to have left in order to be redeemed. That’s a complicated thing to get across, but James Gray has the help of Marion Cotillard, whose haunting desolation here elevates her to the absolute top of her class. The type of lonely hope she shows is uniquely religious, and kudos to Gray for addressing that head-on. It’s a shame that the film is unique in its even-handed treatment of faith.
Every one of James Gray’s films has been better than the last. God bless the foreign money that allowed him to make this. The budget is estimated at $16.5 million, which is either a lie or a miracle since the period detail, shot on gauzy, grainy, luminous film by Darius Khondji, rivals any other Ellis Island film, including the big dogs. And it’s available on Netflix Instant starting today!
3. Godzilla- Gareth Edwards / RoboCop- Jose Padilha
In the second half of Godzilla, there’s a bus full of kids stranded on the Golden Gate Bridge as the title character goes ham all around them. One of those kids is the son of Ford, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s lead. Most films of this type would exploit the viewer’s natural instinct to protect a child, any child, from harm. In Godzilla I wanted the kid to live so that Ford didn’t have any more pain in his life. That’s such a crucial difference of audience investment and character building. This is the first post-Nolan event film to matter because, unlike something like Man of Steel that is checking off boxes, it actually understands the foreboding austerity that it’s lifting from The Dark Knight. My initial reaction might have been, “I could have used a joke here or there.” But Edwards’ discipline pays off by not wasting one cutaway on an office drone who is, I don’t know, upset that Godzilla destroyed the Excel file he had just saved. No one is playing, so it has some weight when Edwards evokes the imagery of every American disaster of the last fifty years. Just when I thought, “What’s next? A plane crashing into a skyscraper?”—yeah, a plane crashes into a skyscraper. And on top of that, there were still at least three visuals that, in the theater by myself, made me say “wow” out loud.
Similarly, The new RoboCop is the remake that everyone promises but no one actually delivers. How many times have we heard “a Movie X for our times”? While most remakes are trying to work their way around the changes in the world since the original—as in, “Hmm, how do cell phones not make this all irrelevant?”—RoboCop is actually more appropriate in 2014. For example, Detroit is just kind of a nondescript Metropolis in the ‘87 RoboCop, but Detroit means something in ‘14. Calling a mechanical cop a “drone” is just a synonym in ‘87, but it means something in ‘14. The relentless need to expand through innovation existed for a company like Omnicorp in ‘87, but it’s essential in the post-Google market. And just as it took a Dutch outsider to critique American fascism and spin control in ‘87, it takes a Brazilian outsider to do it today. Padilha’s hand is creative and knowing in the way it depicts American greed, political division, and technology. The film is futuristic in some intriguing ways, but there’s no need to jam it down our throats with flying cars. To use those remake buzz words again, this is a “more realistic” update and, despite its PG-13 rating, a “grittier” one because, like Godzilla, none of the violence is a joke.
And these actors! Samuel L. Jackson relishing his chance to mimic cable news outrage, Gary Oldman projecting genuine disturbance. Playing a studio franchise with absolute commitment and sincerity is the new version of cashing a check.
4. Palo Alto- Gia Coppola
"April, I love you."
"That doesn’t even make sense."
Despite my theater’s crappy presentation of this film, I was quite taken by it. Coppola’s characters live pathologically in the present tense: Twice, the words of adults are heard in voiceover as the next scene advances, the young people traveling further and further away from their admonishments. (One of those disembodied voices is an uncredited Grandpa Francis as a judge.) The one time that the Emma Roberts character is faced with the future, she retreats to the bathroom to cry; the one time that she contemplates the past, she seems so unpracticed that she can’t even do it (“…that was fun…”). Yet the film is in so many ways about that moment in a person’s life when he is the person he’s going to be and has to live with the consequences and possibilities beyond just today. One day those cars won’t swerve for you, and one day you won’t just get community service. You’ll just have to sit with yourself and live. The screenplay, along with Devonte Hynes’ feathery score, seems to know that, but it’s never precious or preachy about it. The kids will learn.
I had seen Roberts only in a few studio offerings (Scream 4—never forget) and her Manic Pixie Dream Girl trilogy (Lymelife, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Art of Getting By). She’s pretty great here, full of nervous fidgets and upcast eyes. Franco, especially in his pathetic fumblings with her, is ego-free and relaxed.
5. Joe- David Gordon Green
Joe is missing the profundity—real or feigned—that would have put it over the top. But even more than last year’s tone poem Prince Avalanche, it’s what I would like to see from David Gordon Green. Just as Winter’s Bone, Wendy and Lucy, and Frozen River established a neorealist microgenre documenting America’s new poor, Green and Jeff Nichols seem to be at the head of a new take on the southern gothic. This one has the generational curses and chained dogs and depressing trips to brothels that would have made Faulkner proud, but the performances keep the film from being paint-by-numbers. People raved about Cage’s restraint here, but he’s still doing very Cagey things—we just wanted to see him in a movie worth a damn. I think Green might care more about non-professional actors than he does about the real deal, and the world around the principals is much fuller as a result.
You Can’t Tell Me That You Kiss Your Mother with That Thing: Best Songs of 2014 So Far
Ranked sloppily and limited to one song per artist. This counts as the June mix, but my favorite album of the month is How to Dress Well’s “What Is This Heart?” My favorite song of the month is Riff Raff and Childish Gambino’s “Lava Glaciers.” Or maybe Hamilton Leithauser’s “11 O’Clock Friday Night.”
1. Rick Ross feat. Kanye West and Big Sean- “Sanctified”
2. Frankie Cosmos- “Birthday Song”
3. How to Dress Well- “Words I Don’t Remember”
4. White Hinterland- “David”
5. Woods- “Moving to the Left”
6. Mas Ysa- “Shame”
7. You Blew It!- “Gray Matter”
8. Bleachers- “I Wanna Get Better”
9. Future feat. Young Scooter- “Special”
10. Lykke Li- “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”
11. Pharrell Williams feat. Justin Timberlake- “Brand New”
12. Cam’ron feat. A-Trak- “Humphrey”
13. Frank Ocean, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Diplo- “Hero”
14. Drake- “Trophies”
15. Real Estate- “Talking Backwards”
16. Hamilton Leithauser- “Alexandra”
17. Parquet Courts- “Instant Disassembly”
18. Todd Terje- “Delorean Dynamite”
19. DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon- “Turn Down for What”
20. James McMorrow- “Cavalier”
21. YG feat. Drake- “Who Do You Love?”
22. Doughboyz Cashout- “Started As a Worker”
23. Taking Back Sunday- “Flicker, Fade”
24. Migos- “Peek a Boo”
25. Neon Trees- “Voices in the Halls”
26. Beck- “Wave”
27. Cymbals- “The Natural World”
28. Girl Talk and Freeway feat. Waka Flocka Flame- “Tolerated”
29. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- “Eurydice”
30. Ivry- “Thru My Veins”
31. Modern Baseball- “Your Graduation”
32. Nicki Minaj feat. Young Thug- “Danny Glover (Remix)”
33. Mac DeMarco- “Brother”
34. Coldplay- “A Sky Full of Stars”
35. Caribou- “Can’t Do Without You”
36. Evian Christ- “Propeller”
37. A$AP Mob, A$AP Nast, Method Man- “Trillmatic”
38. Damon Albarn- “Everyday Robots”
39. Tiesto feat. Matthew Koma- “Wasted”
40. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX- “Fancy”
41. CEO- “Ultrakaos”
42. Freddie Gibbs feat. Madlib and Danny Brown- “High”
43. Mac Miller feat. Earl Sweatshirt- “Polo Jeans”
44. Tune-Yards- “Water Fountain”
45. Capital Cities feat. Andre 3000- “Farrah Fawcett Hair”
46. Curren$y feat. Action Bronson- “Godfather Four”
47. Wild Beasts- “Wanderlust”
48. CyHi the Prynce- “Mandela”
49. Riff-Raff feat. Childish Gambino- “Lava Glaciers”
50. Jamie XX- “All Under One Roof Raving”
She did it again.
EXCLUSIVE: Emma Stone & Colin Firth are having a roaring ’20s romance!
Take Photoshop away from Hollywood marketers.
That poster is actually Microsoft Paint quality.
Allen is one of my favorite directors, and Stone is one of my favorite actresses (fresh out of franchise jail). But I’m not sure I even want to see this. I’m going to go ahead and write my review without doing so.
Magic in the Moonlight- 2.5/5 stars
With Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen returns to England for the third time in his late period. That location shift freed him up for ruminative tragedy in Match Point but relegated him to stiff stateliness in Cassandra’s Dream. The frothy tone of this latest film has little in common with those two, aiming more for the enchanting tall tale quality of something like Sweet and Lowdown. However, the ’20s countryside of this new entry splits the difference in Allen’s body of work: Too concerned with the time period and class to be spontaneous, too busy juggling the ensemble and farce to be ordered. It’s a shame that the screenplay’s parallel action is so problematic because this is a technical marvel otherwise. The brilliant Darius Khondji eschews his usual trick of heavily diffusing interiors in favor of a narrow-lensed style that is much warmer.
Some of the laughs land as well. (Marcia Gay Harden definitely gets the rhythm of the dialogue, and Allen supplies her with zingers like: “Wilfred Owen’s poetry? Dear, I already know about the dangers of being gassed to death. Why do you think your father-in-law and I sleep in separate beds?”) However, Harden and Colin Firth seem to be in a different movie from Emma Stone and, more notably, Jacki Weaver, whose zaniness is thankfully limited to three scenes.
Ultimately, Stone’s Sophie is the biggest problem here. Stone tries her best, but Allen doesn’t do her many favors. We find out early on that there’s a very good reason that she seems able to accurately tell people’s fortunes, but the way the film drags out that reveal makes it tiresome instead of satisfyingly ironic. The second half of the film actually could have used a bit of the cynicism that was on display before Sophie appeared. It’s that knowing quality that keeps an early scene in which Firth poses as a “sage of the Orient” from being offensive, laughing with instead of laughing at. Eventually, only after Sophie is exposed, the film slows down into the expected May-September romance. (Kudos though for giving us a little bit of time with them in love, rather than just blacking out on a kiss or something.) Despite the age difference, Stone and Firth have ample chemistry; they’re just trapped in a film that doesn’t channel that energy correctly.
For every year of my childhood, there was a model of Air Jordans to covet on my family’s trips to the mall. Come February, the Air Jordan V or VI would be released, and I would crane my neck to catch a glimpse at Foot Locker as my mom dragged me away. Since the shoes were part of a year-long cycle, I could occasionally hound my parents into getting me a pair for my birthday, or I could save money for a couple of months. I had time to choose the black pair or the white pair and set my mind to obtaining them. (I wish I had used that energy to preserve the sneakers for an eBay that didn’t exist yet. I owned these exact Olympic VII’s.)
I realize I’m being nostalgic about empty consumerism, but that year-long process was engaging and realistic for a child. Compare it with how cynical the fancy Nike experience is now. LeBron James wears three base models in games, (LeBron 11, Zoom Soldier VII, LeBron AirMax 11 I think.) and each of those options has high-top and low-top versions. Every couple of weeks, new colorways drop in each of those variations—some of them in conjunction with corporate partnerships!—to an extent that it’s impossible for someone to “have the LeBrons.” Maybe a kid could be fortunate enough to persuade his parents to get him one pair, but it would be “outdated” instantly (although that probably isn’t how young people think about it). And it’s worth mentioning that only some of those transactions would happen in a brick-and-moral retail experience. Now a kid (or, more likely, an obsessive adult with disposable income) notes upcoming limited releases on a calendar, seeks a ticket from a store carrying that shoe, gets his ticket drawn randomly, and picks up his reserved shoe after waiting in line. Sometimes those tickets go out on twitter, so he might have to program bots to ensure that he can get his LeBron 11 2K14 Cheetahs before everyone else marks them up on eBay.
I would prefer for a black and white version of a shoe to be available at the mall year-round, and I’m as exhausted and overwhelmed by the process as some people are by staying on top of the hottest new bands and records. I know I like Air Jordan III’s. Why don’t I just wear those for the rest of my life and take the one remaining toe I have out of the designer sneaker game? Why don’t I leave that to the kids now that I have more responsible and less superficial things on which to drop $275?
As you can tell, this thought process, fetishizing the way things used to be and decrying the way those early processes have developed, is the beginning of being uncool.
No one will ever write about them with the passion reserved for Jordan Space Jam XI’s, but the New Balance 623 is the most important sneaker in America because it is the symbol of that conversion into uncool dadhood. LeBron James doesn’t wear them, but he is outnumbered by rotary club members, church ushers, and assistant Little League coaches across the country. The 623’s are a minivan for your feet, designed to get the job done sensibly regardless of how one looks.
Feast your eyes on that picture at the top of New Balance MX623v2’s. Discount that technical model number or even the more colloquial 623. You don’t need to know it because you can recognize the New Balances you like on sight at the sporting goods store, which, after all, is the most logical place to go when you need new tennis shoes. The 623’s are solid white and navy shoes that match with everything, and they’re clean. They’re free of flamboyant* lines and straps—just the back ring to help you pull them on. You can find them, depending on sales, for between $45 and $70, which is right on the edge of what is reasonable for walking shoes, what with the new brake pads you need. They’ve got some real grip to them too. (I’m aware of how derisive this paragraph is, but I think it accurately reflects the rationalizing of someone like my dad, the sixty-year-old White guy I’m afraid of becoming.)
So to the main audience, the 623 is mostly an item of utility. But it got me thinking about another group of people who might want a pair for aesthetic reasons: normcore kids. In Fiona Duncan’s now-immortal piece for New York Magazine, she defines the normcore style as “self-aware, stylized blandness,” a way of “embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity.’”
I once knew a girl who, I guess, was proto-normcore. 90% of the time she dressed in jeans and a plain t-shirt. We were in the fashion week of a Senior Colloquium on Pop Culture Studies, a class that I, an undergrad with way too much confidence, designed; and she explained herself thusly: “I don’t care about fashion. I think it’s superficial, so instead of buying into that, I’d prefer not to have a style at all.” She, of course, failed to realize that this predictable blandness was an outlook itself, a more stylized stance than any I could have made with my clothes at the time. Her lack of fashion purely accomplished what fashion, at its best, is supposed to do. Through sameness she was still expressing herself, whereas normcore embraces sameness only to reflect—and that reflection is ironic and distancing. The style is doomed to fail anyway because “sameness” is a stylistic illusion: Anyone can still be more normcore than someone else. That Times Square Female Body Inspector hat is “better” than a plain Nike swoosh hat in the same way that Purple Label is “better” than Polo is “better” than Lauren is “better” than Chaps.
I don’t think I need to convince you that normcore is short-lived and silly, but I took issue with Duncan’s claim that it strives for authenticity. It is the opposite of authentic in that it’s imitating other people, people of whom the normcormites are contemptuous. But why? Like the girl in my class, the men who legitimately wear 623’s have their reasons. For example, one reason old White males buy 623’s? New Balance is the only major athletic company to offer multiple widths. So paint him with any brush of “bland sameness” you like, but a man with a narrow B width might be buying 623’s because he’s unique. He values that fit more than aesthetics, which is the type of tough decision that fashion sometimes necessitates. No one believes that he’s the same as everyone else because no one really is.
Because the patriarchy does terrible things every day, it is tempting to paint its members as a faceless monolith. (It helps that painting other people as a faceless monolith is how old White men often exact their ills. I’ve been pretty charitable to them so far, but they’re dangerous in their search for legitimacy toward making their own values the default. They’re allowed to believe that 623’s are the most sensible and attractive shoe available; they’re not allowed to believe that no other shoe should be sold. But you know that.)
Searching for a Father’s Day card for my dad last week, I couldn’t believe the straw man being pummeled by Hallmark. Each card took aim at some barbecue-obsessed doofus who preferred watching golf to talking to his own kids. Whom is that even for? Why should I ridicule a guy on a day designed to honor him? The man being described in those cards is oddly specific but empty of any higher, instructive purpose. You know, like normcore. That stereotype in the cards is inaccurate and unhelpful, but it is easy. And too often, we do the easy thing instead of the authentic thing. The olds see a guy like me trying to pull off Aunt Pearl KD VI’s and think it’s foolish posturing when it’s actually much more complicated. The normcore kids think that the olds are blind to unique beauty of expression, which is absurd.
If natural, genuine life decisions take me closer to the olds, I’ll have to deal with it. It’s going to be difficult to stay cool, but it’s difficult being uncool too. In fact, it’s difficult to live life for many reasons beyond the superficial elements at stake here. And if that doesn’t sound like an old man talking, I don’t know what does. It took us a long time to get to what is basically a rhetorical shrug, but it’s a shrug that is super-authentic.
*- This is old White male code for “Black.” When I wanted a pair of Reebok Shaqnosis, my father told me they were “too flamboyant.”
Best Song of May
Parquet Courts- “Instant Disassembly”- Somehow Dame Dash said, “You about to feel this—no homo” on a song in 2014, and it is not my favorite of the month. But this is the world we live in, in which Parquet Courts made an interminable Bob Dylan ballad. I mean that in some jokey ways—like the Dylanesque “mamacita” that opens each verse, equal parts affectionate and condescending. Or using a patently un-catchy word in a chorus. Or the guitar lick that frames the whole thing and sounds like “Tomorrow” from Annie. Or their hastily drawn, incongruent half verses, sometimes three lines, sometimes five, sometimes rhyming obviously, sometimes refusing to rhyme at all. But I’m mostly talking about volume. Like “Desolation Row” or “Visions of Johanna,” there are so many lyrics that you can’t help but get lost in them. When your ears perk up at something new like “the last classic rock band’s last solid record creeps in / A call out of the blue from an old, old friend,” it’s rewarding every time. (If only because I spent a half-hour trying to figure out the last classic rock band’s last solid record. I doubt Andrew Savage would sing about All That You Can’t Leave Behind.) I haven’t heard the album surrounding “Instant Disassembly, but if even one more song reminds me of Uncle Bob Dylan, it will be a quantum leap for this band.
Best Album of May
Lykke Li- I Never Learn- This is a meticulously crafted, consistenly aching record, just like Li’s first two. It helps that I think the lyrics have gotten better for her, English being her second language. Her natural voice sounds reverbed and flanged, as distant as it is intimate. I’m not sure any DJ in any club has ever played her music to see what it would sound like with any additives, but I don’t want it to be any more otherworldly. (“Here come the timpanis [foghorn, siren, gunshot]!”) But her voice here is something more than haunting and fragile, which it always has been. It sounds squinty. When someone squints, it’s a usually futile attempt to see more clearly, even for a second. It’s proof of your vision’s weakness, it makes you look stupid, and it’s going to eventually give you wrinkles. But, contrary to what your mother told you, it actually strengthens you. It lets in less light to the pupil to enhance your focus. People do it because it works. The speaker of all of these songs is squinting past heartbreak to get to the other side. Especially since it’s barely longer than thirty minutes, go ahead and “get squinty with Lykke Li!” (I’m not in advertising for a reason.)
Honorable mentions go to Cam’ron’s hungry “Dipsh!ts,” which is referenced above; The Roots’ searching …and then you shoot your cousin; The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s incandescent Days of Abandon; Arcade Fire’s revelatory “We Exist” video; and Riff Raff’s inimitable “How to Be the Man” video.
"And in the last 10 years, no company has exploited that more effectively than Marvel. The M.O. of its movies and TV shows is always to suggest that you are entering a world that will reward your commitment to consume more Marvel products — one of which is teased in a post-credits sequence at the end of every film. The idea is that interconnectedness enhances the content, but in practice, interconnectedness often becomes the content; the stories themselves can play as flat, by-the-numbers action enriched mainly by the way they link to the larger whole. It’s not a particularly big deal that in 2012, the Avengers defeated a bunch of otherworldly bad guys while they laid waste to the streets and buildings of New York City; we get three summer movies like that every year. The point is that it took five earlier films to build to that humdrum grandiosity and you had to see them all! In Marvel movies, the anticipation is the orgasm.”
First, I gave you the House of Lies’ Deadbeat Summer Mix. Then, I hit you up with Redacted Breeze: Summer Songs with neither “Summer” nor “Sun” in the Title. Then, I gave you Build Barns: Summer Songs from 1983-2012. (And this is in addition to playlists like The Flag Bows to No Earthly King: The AHoL Summer Olympics Playlist. Or No Cutting: A Black Friday Playlist.)
Today, on my official first day of summer, I’m proud to present:
Remember When Cats Used to Harmonize?: Summer Hip-Hop from A House of Lies
[Sketchy Download Link]
It’s a first in a couple of respects. The cover is a gif, for example. And after a few years of steering away from summer rap, I dove into it completely. It’s also the first year that I’ve done an hour-long mix instead of a zip file or Spotify playlist. So much amateur beat-matching and clumsy cross-fades. (They get better as it goes I think.) This decision was also necessitated by the many remixes and mash-ups that weren’t available on Spotify (or even YouTube). Anyway, I tried to avoid the obvious—though “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Vivrant Thing” are damn close—and I spliced in some ’80s baby clips as transitions. I kept it under an hour. Enjoy it from the bottom of my heart.
1. Nelly- “Ride wit Me (Viceroy’s Jet Life Remix)”
2. 3rd Bass- “Brooklyn Queens”
3. Action Bronson, Riff-Raff, and Dana Copafeel- “Hot Shots Part Deux”
4. Trick Daddy- “I’m a Thug”
5. Masta Ace- “Take a Walk”
6. Kanye West feat. Talib Kweli- “Get ‘Em High (Ratatat Remix)”
7. 2Pac- “Old School (Cookin’ Soul Remix)”
8. Clipse feat. Pharrell- “Mr. Me Too (Z.A.K. Remix)”
9. Nas- “My Book of Rhymes (Jah’s Son Remix)”
10. Young Dro- “I Don’t Know Y’all”
11. Chance the Rapper feat. Childish Gambino- “Favorite Song”
12. Soulja Boy- “Zan with That Lean”
13. Kanye West feat. Rick Ross- “Devil in a New Dress”
14. Ahmad- “Back in the Day”
15. Lloyd feat. Andre 3000 and Nas- “You (Remix)”
16. Violator, Q-Tip- “Vivrant Thing”
17. Danny Brown- “Grown Up”
18. N.W.A.- “Express Yourself”
19. G-Unit- “Staplin’ Them Thangs Together (Nerd-Esque Mash-Up)”
20. Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z- “Go Crazy (Remix)”
21. Lauryn Hill- “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”
22. Rappin’ 4-Tay- “Playaz Club”
23. Notorious B.I.G.- “Going Back to Cali (Viceroy’s Jet Life Remix)”
24. Meek Mill feat. Drake and Jeremih- “Amen”
25. Trinidad James- “Female$ Welcomed”
26. Drake feat. The Weeknd- “The Ride”