West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 7/7/23

Woooooow…I totally skipped the entire month of June! I’m sure something happened in the world of pop culture, but we’re just gonna pretend that it didn’t, capiche? If you know me in the “real world”, then you probably know why I was away, but if not, let’s just say I’m glad I got the trip insurance on that planned submersible expedition (Timely!). We’ve got a lot to get through today, however, so let’s get to it!

Last month, we went as a family to see The Little Mermaid for our youngest’s 5th birthday. This was actually our first full family outing to a movie theater, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, the kid’s got the attention span of a gnat! I’ve seen the first 20 minutes of Frozen about 12 times, but have never seen the entire movie. So, I knew she’d get restless. And she did. But it wasn’t too bad, and I’m happy to confirm that we made it through the entire film.

So, what did I think about the film itself? In one word: Unnecessary. Now, let me back up and say that this was actually the first Disney live action remake I had seen. That’s right, I didn’t care about Will Smith as the Genie, or Beyoncé as Nala, or even Hermione as Belle. Skipped all of them. That’s not necessarily a judgement on them, but rather I simply had no desire to watch them, as I was content with the animated versions. Now, I get why Disney makes them (to reassert copyright claims and, of course, to make more money), but they’re just not for me. This was a different situation, however, as there was a ton of controversy surrounding it, namely regarding Ariel being Black. It appears White folks don’t want their mythical fish women to be Black, ’cause then they feel weird when they think about banging them. I mean, that’s really what that’s about: Interracial Beastiality. Still, I’ve got 2 little girls who were excited about this change, so if they wanted to see Black Ariel, then dammit, we were gonna see Black Ariel!

The movie itself was essentially a soulless, paint-by-numbers adaptation of the 1989 animated feature. Now, whereas the original clocked in at a tight 83 minutes, this live action version had runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes, and NOTHING they added was worth all that. It all felt like pacing issues were the problem, along with new forgettable songs, like Scuttle’s “The Scuttlebutt”, which was really just an excuse to give the spotlight to Awkwafina (whom I usually love, but really didn’t fully appreciate in this role).

Also, despite it being a Disney feature, something about it felt cheap. Almost like they didn’t spend as much on it as they should have. A lot of the cast felt like they were Great Value versions of celebrities Disney would rather have had in the role. Halle Bailey looked like they had used their de-aging tech on Janet Jackson, settling on the era post-Good Times, but pre-Fame. Prince Eric looked like someone tried to make their own Josh Groban at home. And Grimsby was clearly the Stanley Tucci Role, but I guess he was busy filming himself eating his way through Italy. And don’t even get me started on Flounder and Sebastian! The only casting, and performance, that I loved was Melissa McCarthy as Ursela. I know she’s polarizing, but I love her and she can do no wrong by me.

Add all this up together, and you’ve got the cinematic equivalent of eating at Checkers (Rally’s, for you folks west of the Mississippi): sure, it filled you up, but you didn’t really enjoy it. My kids loved it, and they’re the target audience, so I guess mission accomplished. That said, I’d be OK if I never saw it again.

Back during the pandemic, a popular YouTuber told me that I’m always negative, I don’t like anything, and they hope I get some help. Well, they can suck on THIS, because here’s some positivity, all over your face! Ya see, last night a friend and I went to see Joy Ride, and I LOVED it. No, let me try to get through to you: I felt it was the PERFECT film. I have no quibbles, nothing to pick apart, nothing. It was everything I wanted and more. You know how everyone was raving over Everything Everywhere All At Once last year? Well, that’s me now. Considering I was one of only five people in the theater, though, I fear this masterpiece won’t find its audience at the box office.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the red band trailer, but if not, here’s the story: Audrey and Lolo are two Asian American women who have been best friends since they met at a playground when they were kids. Straight-laced Audrey excelled at everything because, as a transracial adoptee, she felt that she always had to prove herself to the White people around her. Lolo, meanwhile, is the carefree, sex positive friend who’s sort of coasting through life. Despite their differences, the friends complement each other perfectly. When Audrey’s law firm sends her to China to close an important deal, Lolo tags along to serve as her translator. Joining them is Lolo’s monotone, K-Pop loving cousin, “Deadeye”, and they all meet up with Audrey’s college best friend/current television actress, Kat.  And, like any road trip movie, hijinks ensue.

Sure, the movie is a sex- and drug-laden romp, but at the end of the day, the core theme of the film is about discovering who you are, and being true to that. Those 4 women are completely changed by the end of the film, and they’re all better for it. The trailer really leaned heavy on the drugs and whatnot, but there’s also a powerful message in there about the effects of transracial adoptions, and how those kids can sometimes feel lost, culturally. Growing up one race, by and amongst nothing but another race, not feeling like they belong anywhere. I think a lot of folks would identify with at least one of the lead characters, as it’s something of an Asian Sex and the City.

While the film was directed by Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim, it was written and produced by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong who, as a longtime Seth MacFarlane collaborator, served as a writer/producer on Family Guy and The Orville. I’ve followed her work for years, so I knew I was in good hands, as she leans toward my own comedic sensibilities. The film is pretty notable, however, for the Asian representation on display: a Malaysian director, Thai writer, and a predominantly Asian/Asian American cast. My old friend, Jenn, is basically Queen of the Asian Political Blogosphere (go check out Reappropriate!), so she can probably convey the importance better than I can. Still, in a lot of ways, I feel like this movie could really do a lot to change assumptions about Asians in comedy, much like the Harold & Kumar trilogy set out to do 19 years ago (God, I feel so old…), but flubbed the landing. Now, we’ve got another outing that aims to subvert Asian stereotypes, while also educating about Asian culture and families along the way. Also, of the four lead actors, three of them are members of the LGBTQ+ community, which also plays a pivotal part for some of them in the film. I really hope this film finds its audience because it’s truly something special that I don’t think we’ve seen before.

Before I move on, I’ve got to say I LOVE this cast. I now want to watch everything Sherry Cola has done, while Deadeye, portrayed by Sabrina Wu, is the breakout gem of the group. They are the kind of character where, had this movie come out 20 years ago, there would be a Deadeye Mini Movie as a special feature on the DVD release. In any case, SEE THIS FILM! You WON’T be disappointed!

My Adventures with Superman premiered on Adult Swim last night, and I’ve gotta say that I liked it. I liked it a lot. I’m not quite sure who thought up “Hey, let’s make a Superman anime series!”, but they were clearly on to something. In fact, it’s the pseudo anime design that helps set the series apart, in that it feels more like an Eastern adaptation rather than just another rehash of what we’ve seen before. It’s like the style allows them to make changes to the source material, while giving them a defense against the protests of traditional fans. If someone says “Hey! That’s NOT Superman!” it can just be countered with, “Well, this is how WE’RE doing him.” Whereas I was scared I would be annoyed by the characters and their designs, I found myself really digging them almost instantly.

It’s not your granddaddy’s Superman, but that’s probably a good thing. Still, there are a lot of “classic” aspects to the show, if you’re really looking for them. The pilot episode involved Clark Not-Yet-Superman Kent fighting what were essentially a bunch of Evas, but it was reminiscent of the Superman from the Fleischer cartoons, fighting giant industrial robots. Here, Clark & Lois aren’t reporters yet, but rather interns, trying to break stories so they can become reporters. It’s the blend of the new and old that I find captivating about the show. Like “What is Amanda Waller doing with Sexy Deathstroke?” or “Was that General Lane there with them?” I’m engaged and excited to see where it goes.

I guess my only question here is: Why did this end up on Adult Swim as opposed to Cartoon Network proper? It was originally developed for CN, back when it was announced in 2021. Outside of the words “murderers” and “killers”, there isn’t much objectionable. I mean, it’s not like they’re still trying to please Fox Kids censors. I know the whole Cartoon Network to Adult Swim to Toonami pipeline, but I almost feel like they’re leaving money on the table, and cutting out a potential audience by not airing this thing at 7 PM instead of midnight. Also, considering this was developed prior to the Zaslav Era at WBD, I fear he’s just gonna cancel it before it really gains any traction. So, I guess we’ll have to cross our fingers and look to the skies!

Trailer Park

Back on the Strip (Theaters, August 18th)

So, this is basically Tyler Perry’s Magic Myke, right? I mean, I’m glad to see Wesley back in theaters, but this was a completely unnecessary venture. I understand how this got made. On paper, it was a no-brainer: Let’s make a Black Magic Mike! Someone, somewhere, felt that there were Black dollars being left on the table, so this was one way to go after that underserved audience. Here’s the problem with that, though: Black women love Channing Tatum, too, and they already came out for Magic Mike. All three of them. Channing’s basically the Great Unifier! Women of all races came together to thirst over him gyrating onstage. It was a done deal. That arrangement doesn’t work the other way. Black women came out for Channing, but White women ain’t coming out for…*checks notes* Spence Moore II. I mean, sure, some will, but that box office ain’t even gonna compare. Now, you can say “Will, this is a comedy, while Magic Mike wasn’t.” Very true, but this film doesn’t have “universal appeal”, as they call it. You’ll see!

Dumb Money (Theaters, September 22nd)

Now, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend to understand the whole GameStop stock situation. Yeah, we were in the middle of a pandemic, and the dude who worked at the 7-11 seemed to think he was suddenly a day trader, but I just didn’t get into the weeds on that one. I’m what you might call “Financially Dumb”. So, this movie is kinda right up my alley. It looks sensational, and I don’t know well enough to realize if they’re embellishing stuff or not. I’m sure the actual story was pretty boring, but at least they’re trying to zhuzh it up a bit. I can appreciate that. They’ve been doing it to Watergate for decades, which was actually a very unsexy scandal. I like the cast, I’m intrigued by the topic, I’m there.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Theaters, November 17th)

I never saw the Jennifer Lawrence movies and I never read the books. So, I don’t really know the significance of this film. I know that it’s a prequel, and you get to see how the Hunger Games began. Since it’s early in the timeline, shouldn’t these just be the Peckish Games? Ya know, since it’s not full blown hunger yet? I will say this, though: there are constant reports of how teen depression rates are skyrocketing, and social media and video games are always to blame. Well, how about this: Maybe it’s the fact that basically every successful YA series of the last TWENTY YEARS has been about teens trying to survive in some dystopian future! Ever think about that? Anyway, enjoy your popcorn!

Kraven The Hunter (Theaters, October 2023)

Ya know, if Sony just keeps making satellite Spider-Man films, without having all these characters come together in a proper Spider-Man film, then what are we doing here? Seriously, it’s just foreplay with no release. Just a waste of everybody’s time and money. I will say, however, that while there are snooty actors, like Timothée Chalamet, who say they’re above comic book movies, I love that you’ve got this guy, who routinely just says ” Sure! Make that check out to ‘Aaron Taylor-Johnson’.” I don’t hate what I see here…

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Netflix is gonna Netflix, as they canceled reality show Snowflake Mountain after one season. I’ve never heard of it, so you’ve probably never heard of it, either.
  • Somebody SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVED her, as Allison Mack was released from prison after serving 2 years of a 3-year sentence for her involvement in the NXIVM sex cult.
  • Cocaine was found at the White House, leading folks to wonder if Aaron Sorkin was in town working on the rumored West Wing reboot…
  • Jordan Peele muse Daniel Kaluuya is reportedly working on a Barney film skewed towards adults. Nope, not the Don Knotts character. The purple dinosaur. When reached for comment, Peele simply said “I don’t know her.”
  • After over 22 years, the Power Rangers franchise has left its filming location of New Zealand, in preparation for whatever the upcoming Netflix/Hasbro reboot brings.
  • Tom Cruise said that he would like to continue making Mission: Impossible movies into his 80s, similar to how Harrison Ford just returned to the role of Indiana Jones. I don’t know about you, but at this point these missions are seeming quite possible.
  • As I predicted in a Tweet once Pat Sajak’s retirement from Wheel of Fortune was announced (I’m not gonna link it, since Twitter might be dead by the time this gets posted), Ryan Seacrest has been named as the next host of the popular game show.
Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

In all my years on the internet, involved in social media, I have never seen a week like this one! It all started last Saturday, when Twitter users woke up to find an error message that stated “Rate Limit Exceeded”. Well, considering the app has been a shitshow since it was purchased by Elon Musk, we all just assumed it was another hiccup that would soon pass. Not true. Musk later tweeted that users’ feeds had been limited in order to combat “extreme levels of data scraping and system manipulation”. At this time, he stated that users would be able to view a daily limited amount of tweets, depending on account level. Free users would see roughly 600 tweets, while verified Twitter Blue users would see 6,000 tweets. Meanwhile, new and unverified users would only see 300 tweets. Well, as you can imagine, everyone hated this. Considering Twitter is used to spread information, like weather updates and breaking news, a view limit could go as far as to possibly endanger people. While users had pretty much gotten used to the Elon Show, where he continues to tank his investment, many users saw this as the last straw, and started making other arrangements.

While there have been many contenders to Twitter’s throne over the years (Google+, Vero, Mastodon, Hive, Mastodon again, to name a few), none of these ever really took off, either due to the learning curve involved or simply a lack of a large user base. By Saturday afternoon, however, the tide was turning toward an app called Bluesky. While Bluesky had been around for a few months, in beta, it was an invite-only app that wasn’t available to everyone. Plus, some folks were wary of the app’s origins, as it was created by Jack Dorsey, who was co-founder and former CEO of Twitter. Were folks basically get out of bed with one snake to simply get in bed with another? Still, when the ship is sinking, do you want to criticize the manufacturer of the lifeboats, or do you want to live?! Bluesky is basically a stripped down Twitter, in that the feed structure is reminiscent, though some regular Twitter features, such as DMs, aren’t available. Still, it’s the closest you’ll get to the “Twitter Experience” outside of the actual app.

Oddly enough, though, Bluesky seems to have a personality problem. Or, rather, it doesn’t have a personality. Don’t get me wrong – there are good things about it, such as the lack of brand accounts and ads (for the time being). That said, it feels almost like it’s trying off as the “underdog”. Despite the Dorsey pedigree, it’s doesn’t feel like as much of a branding vehicle as Twitter. Hell, it doesn’t even have a logo. No little bird or camera or anything that tells you, at a glance, “That’s Bluesky!” So, it’s perfect for online friends who wish to stay in touch, but it’s not great for businesses or professionals who rely on social media for exposure. A lot of comic professionals seemed to have flocked to it, as it really does help to sort of curate a small community. Engagement is better on Bluesky than Twitter, as there’s less noise, but you’re reaching far fewer people, as the user base doesn’t begin to compare. It’s about a notch up from just being “Bare Bones Twitter”, but for someone who’s “terminally online” like myself, it gets the job done.

Not to be outdone, however Mark Zuckerberg and Meta unveiled their “Twitter Killer” in the form of Threads. Basically built on the back of Instagram, you should think of it more as an extension of that app. It syncs over your IG username and follow lists, and pretty much just adds a text component to it. But there are a lot of issues here, too. First up, it’s a Meta product, so your data is being sold to everyone right now. I don’t care about that stuff, but I know some folks do, so beware. Also, once you create your Threads account, you can’t delete it without deleting your native Instagram account. The biggest issue, though, is the feed is utter chaos. Meta kinda gave up on the concept of a chronological timeline years ago, so that’s still the case here. Plus, since there are brands here, you’re inundated by them, as well as posts from people you don’t even care about, because the algorithm is in control. Folks have released tips and instructions on how to customize your experience, but I feel like it requires too much legwork for the user in order to make it a hospitable environment. I hate it. I hate it so much. As someone who struggles with anxiety IRL, I certainly don’t need it in my online experience. It’s like standing in the middle of Times Square at rush hour.

Threads does have a lot going for it, in that it already has the built-in IG user base, so it’s got infrastructure. Also, a lot of people seem to like it. I will say, however, that the common thread I’ve noticed is that the ones enjoying it have not yet gotten onto Bluesky, due to it still being on an invite basis.

At the end of the day, I’m backing Bluesky. I mean, this isn’t my first rodeo, as I also signed up for all those services I listed above. And I’ll continue to do so. A victor will eventually rise to the top, and then they’ll have to make a more enjoyable user interface in order to survive. Or I’ll just quit social media altogether, and come back here to post my thoughts. After all, that’s why I started this site to begin with. In any case, for upending the week’s tech news cycle, and for potentially giving Twitter a run for its money, “Twitter Killers” had the West Week Ever.