Jem and the Holograms

by Kate:

It seems like everything is having a comeback these days. Disney recently launched a sequel of Boy Meets World called Girl Meets World, in which Cory and Topanga are married and their daughter is the main character of the show. CBS is talking about a Charmed remake, FX recently re-made Fargo. It seems that now that children of the 80’s and early 90’s are entering the workforce, nostalgia has a firm place in pop culture. We are the first generation to have access to Youtube clips of our favorite cartoons; Netflix streams The Magic Schoolbus, and Buzzfeed writes articles about our favorite childhood toys. So I can’t say I was surprised when I heard that Jason Blum, director Jon Chu, and Scooter Braun were planning a live action movie the 80’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms. But I can say I was pretty excited about it.

https://i1.wp.com/www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/thumbnail_570x321/2014/03/jem_and_the_holograms.jpg

Jem ran from 1985-1988, so I while I wasn’t alive during its run, I inherited the dolls, the tapes, and the fanaticism from my older sister.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/7/6040/6370293259_87e96ffa1d_z.jpg

The dolls were made by Hasbro, not Mattel, and were thus larger than regular Barbies. Jem’s clothes fit on Ken dolls, which I appreciated.

Jem follows the story of Jerrica Benton, whose father passes away at the beginning of the series and who leaves his record label, Starlight Records, to her. She and her sister, Kimber, form Jem & the Holograms along with guitarist Aja and drummer Shana when Jem discovers a supercomputer called Synergy able to create holograms in an instant.

https://i1.wp.com/37.media.tumblr.com/46ac746e3b888f704da494e64c532edc/tumblr_mgrrdeOujL1s03nczo1_500.png

“It’s showtime, Synergy!” Synergy is controlled by Jem’s fabulous earrings.

Jerrica also inherited a home for orphans, Starlight Manor, from her father, and all of the Holograms efforts to become successful are ultimately to benefit the orphan home.

https://i0.wp.com/userserve-ak.last.fm/serve/500/40319859/Jem+and+the+Holograms+PDVD5001652.png

Selfless humanitarians, like cartoon Angelina Jolies.

Of course, no one realizes that Jerrica is Jem and Jem is Jerrica, she keeps her identity secret with the help of Synergy (who changes her hair and costume only, but I guess the eye makeup fools everyone?). Even Jerrica boyfriend, Rio, doesn’t realize they are the same person, and is forever conflicted by his feelings for both women.

Oh, Rio, your purple hair makes up for your cluelessness.

Of course, no show is complete without a villain. Rival group the Misfits (Pizzazz, Stormer, and Roxy) spend their days constantly trying to sabotage the Holograms.

The show features music and music videos from both groups, and like the theme song says, the Misfits have better songs.

There’s not a ton of information about the remake set to release in 2016. Director Jon Chu directed some Justin Bieber documentaries, and Scooter Braun is his manager, but I’m going to try to look past that. So far the cast is Aubrey Peeples (Nashville) as Jem, Aurora Perrineau  as Shana, Stephanie Scott as Kimber, Hayley Kiyoko (The Fosters) as Aja, and Ryan Guzman (Pretty Little Liars) as Rio. IMDB also lists Molly Ringwald and Juliette Lewis in the cast, but without characters attached to them, and some very uninformative promotional shots have been released:

https://www.nerdist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/jem-and-the-holograms.jpg

Jon Chu has said that the film will be a modern-day, live action re-make of the classic show. With the amount of ABC Family regulars in the cast, there’s a good chance the target audience will be the tweens of today instead of the kids of the 80’s, but the fan support behind the project is strong. As is always the case with new interpretations of beloved works, this could go one way or the other, but one thing is for sure: the original show will forever remain truly outrageous.

You can follow the progress of the film at jemthemovie.com. The original Jem & the Holograms streams on Netflix, and is available on DVD.

Advertisements

Nickel Creek

When I think of music that makes me feel nostalgic, two bands rise to the top. DC Talk and Relient K. My exposure to music growing up was limited almost exclusively to Christian Rock so my tastes for many years reflected that. But since this blog is intended to be about things that we can talk about without our tongues in our cheeks, I can’t discuss either of those bands fairly anymore. Which left me thinking, when was the last time I really felt nostalgic while listening to something? I mostly listen to new music as it is coming out. What makes me feel that warmth of nostalgia? Thankfully, I didn’t have to think long before I realized the band that activates the wistful, memory-infused portion of my brain the most: Nickel Creek.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 9.44.13 PM

 

Nickel Creek was (and, as of early 2014 is again) a bluegrass three-piece band consisting of Chris Thile and the Watkins siblings, Sean & Sara. Since the formation and eventual rise to popularity of this group, each of these three have become recognized as accomplished musicians in their own rights. The band rose to prominence in the early 2000’s (you can tell what fashions were popular at the time by looking at their self-titled album’s cover. Just look at those frosted tips!) but it wasn’t until after their third major-label album was released in 2005 that I ever actually heard their music. It was with the incredibly tragic song “The Lighthouse’s Tale” that I latched onto first. One of the things that my closest friend and I would do was find songs that we both loved and he, with the musical talent, would play them on his guitar, and I’d sing along. The Lighthouse’s Tale was a song that was in our rotation regularly.

 

 

I loved much of Nickel Creek’s work, but their album Why Should The Fire Die? became one of my most heavily listened to albums in high school. In 2006, I was lucky enough to see the band perform in Gainesville, having only learned that they were playing in town the day of the show. I see bands perform regularly now, but at that time, it was a rare occurrence, and I’ll never forget their harmonies or the Bach sonata that Thile performed perfectly on his mandolin from memory. I was moved by their virtuosity.

 

 

While you grow through high school and beyond, your tastes change as you learn what all is out there in the world, so I listened to Nickel Creek less as time went on. While I was in college, however, I had a very close group of friends in a street percussion group that I was a part of. I can’t remember the reason why at this point, but Nickel Creek’s song “When You Come Back Down” became a theme that we would play when were driving or just wanted to sing to each other (we were a musical performance group, after all). The song’s longing lyrical representation of friendship and love over a distance meant a lot to me because I moved after one year with this group, so it became a manifestation of my feelings for these people after I wasn’t able to see them anymore. That being said, after this little blip in college, my listening to Nickel Creek mostly ended. The music itself was still great and I enjoyed it when I did hear it, but I had so much else to listen to. It wasn’t them, it was me.

 


Then a couple of weeks ago, I found a killer deal for Nickel Creek’s album This Side on vinyl. $10 for the LP. Seemed like a good deal for an album from a band that had such an impact on my younger self. The thing about This Side is that it is definitely my least favorite Nickel Creek album. It has some fantastic songs, but the majority of it is rather forgettable. Still, while I listened to this album in its entirety for the first time in probably 7 years, I was overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia. I remembered seeing Nickel Creek in 2006. I remembered listening to and playing these songs in high school. I immediately listened to “When You Come Back Down” and memories of my college friends overwhelmed me. It has been quite some time since music has activated that sort of visceral trigger in my mind, but it did. I experienced nostalgia’s other power: I immediately wanted to buy the new Nickel Creek LP. Yes, I experienced the Transformers effect.
Ultimately, in listening to Nickel Creek’s albums again, I want to truly recommend that you listen to their album Why Should The Fire Die? It is beautiful and their most cohesive and timeless album. Their other two albums are wonderful as well, but are starting to feel a tad dated. Nostalgia, for me, covers over that, but I want to be honest here. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and when attached to music, can imbue new powers into works that only show themselves over time. What music makes you feel nostalgic and why?

Nostalgia

76800305

This week’s theme is nostalgia!

We’re digging into our pasts for cultural recommendations that hit that warm fuzzy feeling for us. A fitting pendulum swing since over the last week we’ve been exclusively discussing brand new culture!

The Double

Amid the macho-heavy superhero love fest that is 2014, it is refreshing to see some introversion hanging out in the shadows. Just as summer careened around the corner, I had the chance to see Richard Ayaode’s new film, The Double.  I already had high expectations after viewing his 2010 debut, Submarine, but The Double solidified my fascination with Ayoade’s style.

                Submarine sets the bar high with kinetic editing, starkly poetic visuals and likeable-but-kind-of-annoying characters. Oliver Tate’s struggle to divide idealism from the reality of adolescence avoids falling into the worn-out mold of mindless sex-driven coming-of-age films by actually being clever and self-aware.

That said, Ayoade swerves in the opposite direction with The Double, structuring much of his dystopian nightmare around caricatures – cogs in a machine meant to drive  Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) further into madness. Ayoade abandons Oliver Tate’s family drama and teenagers for suffocating interiors, deep shadows and a muted color palette. And then punctuates it all with Andrew Hewitt’s strung out soundtrack. Yeah, Ayoade abandons character depth, but he makes up for it with tonality.

Ayoade retains his highly stylized visuals, plucking visual cues from Lynch and Gilliam. Jesse Eisenberg’s face is constantly buried in the shadows of its own bony features and the world is set in perpetual darkness. Not one scene takes place during the day. The technology is blippy and archaic by 2014 standards, somewhat resembling the bulky computers of the 80s or classic telephones. There are scenes that take place in a train, but Ayoade shoots so tightly that it feels as if they’re riding to nowhere – just getting on and off at the same building.

It is rare to see dark, inward-facing science fiction in today’s bombardment of explosions, destruction porn and comic books. That is not to say the movie is a complete downer. Ayoade plays the humor with a straight face.  It’s dry but it is there. (Particularly in the form of absurd VHS-tinged television shows. EVEN MORE absurd than what’s happening in the movie.)  And it does fall into some complex thematic territory, especially as the film closes, but if you need a breather after blockbuster fever I recommend Richard Ayoade’s The Double.

Works by Tessa Hadley

This will be a bit more brief and . . . disorganized, than usual since I realized very belatedly that the book I had checked out from the new releases section of the library for our 2014 theme week, was actually published in 2013. Quite frustrating. But at least it did introduce me to a fantastic author I hadn’t heard of previously, Tessa Hadley. I was drawn to her 2013 novel, Clever Girl, both by the title and the first three words on the book jacket’s description, “Like Alice Munro . . . .” Munro, an author I discovered about two years ago, shines in shaping the inner lives of characters who could be any one of us. In both Clever Girl and her short story published in The New Yorker in March of 2014, “Under the Sign of the Moon,” Hadley doesn’t disappoint in this either, though she writes with a style all her own.

“Under the Sign of the Moon” is a peek into the mind of a 60 year old woman, Greta, who has recently been diagnosed with an unnamed, potentially terminal disease. She is taking the train to visit her daughter, Kate, when she has an encounter with a somewhat odd younger man who seems to awaken something in Greta, perhaps just through his unexpected behavior. Initially, Greta ignores the man, Mitchell, for the most part on the train, however chance has it that they meet again, shortly after leaving the train in a coffee shop. Greta is disappointed that Kate is behind schedule and, perhaps due to this moment of vulnerability, Greta makes a sudden and seemingly uncharacteristic decision to strike up a conversation. Greta nearly forgets about Mitchell upon seeing Kate, but just as she is about to leave he quite suddenly asks her to meet him later that week.

This encounter seems to stir something in Greta, whom it seems is resigned to a tranquil, somewhat boring life. She reminisces about wilder times, including an unofficial pagan-inspired “marriage” ceremony with Kate’s father in the 70s. Though she mentions her current and long-time husband several times, there is no lasting impression of him. It is interesting that the characters who mean most to Greta during the current time in her life are the least fleshed out. We learn little about Kate aside from a habit of tardiness and an inability to compassionately handle her mother’s illness. Greta’s husband, Graham, is described as a good father, and it is stated that they have been together for thirty years, but there is a vague understanding of him as a person at best, and no insight into how he is effected by or responds to Greta’s struggle with her illness.

Several of the strong themes in this short story were also central to Clever Girl, and I wonder how many of those thread through the rest of Hadley’s works. In both pieces, the main characters seem very much shaped by their intellect, and their reading choices or lack thereof, seem to reflect the struggles they are dealing with in their day to day lives. Both Greta and Clever Girl‘s Stella, have dabbled in mysticism, and are are, to some extent free spirits, as Greta puts it, “they’d liked to feel that they were living on the edge of something ‘real,’ not retreating too far inside the safety of privilege.”

Both of these pieces are beautiful insights into characters who seem incredibly real. There were times when reading Clever Girl I felt the need to double check that I hadn’t picked up a memoir by mistake. Hadley uses eloquent language and conveys meaning through minute details in the description of a scene, and yet all of this seems organic. Nothing comes across as an author’s construction of symbolism and meaning, her writing is, as mentioned on the book jacket and several reviews, quite subtle.

Clever Girl is a beautiful and complex character piece, there may be something lacking in “Under the Sign of the Moon.” Perhaps the author could have dedicated a few more pages to fully realize Kate and Graham, or to add some perspective to the story’s jarring, abrupt ending, though you can read some of the authors motivations behind these decisions here.

In any case, I will certainly be reading more of Tessa Hadley, who I am delighted to see has written four other novels and two short story collections. I am particularly interested to discover whether or not “Under the Sign of the Moon” is characteristic of her short story writing style.

Look out for a more detailed post on Clever Girl in the future, as I actually have a lot more to say about that novel, happy reading!

Halt and Catch Fire

by Kate:

When we decided we were going to recommend new releases, I set about looking for something I’d been watching that was new. Sadly, I’ve been binge watching all of Big Love and was out of luck. Summer is kind of a weird time to find new TV shows, but I decided to go for the newest thing I could find, that I would conceivably want to write a post about. That thing was AMC’s Halt & Catch Fire.

The show follows mysterious and plotting Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) as he heads a crew of underdog coders and engineers in a quest to build a faster, cheaper, and lighter PC. While AMC has certainly trotted Pace out as the star of the show, I find both his performance and his character a little off-putting. MacMillan’s engineer sidekick, Gordon Clark (played by Scoot McNairy), is about a thousand times more interesting and relatable. We meet Gordon as he’s falling deeper into a slump brought on by the failed attempt at creating an new PC with his wife, Donna (Kerry Bishe), who is also a computer engineer (!!!). They also have two young children. The Clarks are my favorite part.

Another fun, if a tad overstated, addition to the team is the young coder MacMillan brings on to write the BIOS code for the new PC (thanks to this show, I kind of know what that means). Cameron Howe, played by Mackenzie Davis, is a scruffy young (female) punk, and a genius at writing code that, according to Donna, “is a piece of music.” Cameron is the female version of the young, unstable, and irresponsible genius trope. She’s a neat character, and she and Donna have more than one conversation about coding, so this show officially passes the Bechdel test!

Upon telling my friend that I was going to write my post about this show, her reaction was “Yeah, I’ve heard of it, but it seemed too testosterone-y for me.” A valid point, my friend. This show can be a lot of dudes yelling at each other, there’s a certain “always be closing” vibe to it that’s tiresome to me. But I’m only four episodes in and I see a lot of potential in the characters. I’m already interested in how they will change throughout the series, and that’s what’s gotten me hooked.

So check out Halt & Catch Fire on AMC, Sundays at 10pm.

Sisyphus // Sisyphus

Sisyphus is a collaboration between the orchestral and highly literate indie-folk songwriter Sufjan Stevens, the up-and-coming electronic and beats artist/producer Son Lux, and the rapper Serengeti. Their 2014, self-titled album is my favorite new album of the year so far.

Full Disclosure: This was written by a huge fan of Sufjan’s work. I’m moderately aware of Son Lux’s output (I loved his 2013 record Lanterns), and I know almost nothing about Serengeti’s work outside of his collaborations with this group. So keep in mind, my frame of reference going into this is “how is Sisyphus going to fit into the Sufjan canon?”

Sisyphus

In 2012, these three artists released an EP under the moniker S/S/S called “Beak & Claw.” It came and went without much fuss, barely making a splash outside of the world of the hardcore fans of each of the individual artists involved. Overall, the EP is a mixed bag that relies heavily on the odd lyrical prowess of Serengeti. His rap style took me a long time to get used to. On the EP, he maintains a flat, inflectionless tone while dropping strange character studies and I, for one, had never heard anything like it. Admittedly, I was in it for Sufjan, and tracks like Museum Day gave me my “fix” because he was featured prominently on the choruses. And then there’s the weird, but ultimately charming, song about going to prom with the Octomom, a reference that already dates the song.

Overall the EP didn’t do it for me. I liked it, but something about the effort always left me unsatisfied. So when a collaborative album was announced under the name Sisyphus, I was unsure what to think. However, the first single Calm It Down assured me that, while this would be unlike anything I’ve heard from Sufjan or Son Lux, it would be an incredibly interesting and, likely, moving experience. Calm It Down is the sort of song that takes the listener on a journey. It starts as a thumping list of reasons to chill your actions out, but shifts about halfway into a semi-ethereal back-and-forth that typifies the sort of conversation that you have with yourself in your most vulnerable moments. There’s that voice that says, “I cause all of my problems” (“Mine is the pressure, mine is the pain”) versus the voice of reason (“you need to calm it down”).

There’s plenty of truly beautiful moments on this album. Take Me, I Won’t Be Afraid and Hardly Hanging On are fairly straightforward electronic ballads. If you like Sufjan Steven’s music, you owe it to yourself to listen to these three songs at the very least. They are highlights that could have been dropped right into the middle of Age of Adz.

Sisyphus “Take Me” (NSFW) from Ryan Dickie on Vimeo.

Something about the delivery that Serengeti employs on the Sisyphus record works much better than it did on S/S/S. There’s an intensity that he brings that lends the album an urgency that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. When he’s not rapping about the typical things rappers go on about on tracks like Booty Call, he shares personal and intimate slices of life like the dysfunctional family narrative described in Dishes In The Sink.

And then there are the weirder cuts like Alcohol and the aforementioned Booty Call. (When the tracklist dropped, I was stunned that there would be a Sufjan album with a track called Booty Call on it.) Almost 100% at odds with the more vulnerable, personal moments sprinkled through the record are these beats and lines that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kanye West track (“Let me get a condom, put it on my Mazda”), but that’s part of the appeal of this record. The collaboration between the three of these artists covers so much conceptual and musical territory that you literally cannot tell what you’re going to hear next.

For the most part, the record sounds like the halfway point between Son Lux’s most recent album Lanterns and Sufjan’s album Age of Adz. The production on the record is insanely well done. There’s this cavalcade of ideas, but every beat, every electronic flourish, feels like it’s where it needs to be at any given moment. Ultimately, this album represents the work of three artists who do not have much in common throwing idea after idea against a wall and seeing what sticks. It occasionally feels like a tug-of-war, but the three artists’ styles meld together incredibly well on this record. It is almost impossible to say where one member’s influence ends and another’s begins. And even though it isn’t a perfect record, I consider this album to be an overall success because of how solid the collaboration is.

The thing about Sisyphus is that, even if it doesn’t sound like your “cup of tea,” I implore you to give it one listen-through. I guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it. There is no doubt in my mind that you’ll be truly engaged by something that this mixed bag has to offer.

Highlights: Calm It Down, Rhythm Of Devotion, Take Me, I Won’t Be Afraid

-Brandon Telg-