"Giri/Haji" and "Everybody Wants Some!!" are this week's selections.
It's 2020, and nothing matters, plus there's nothing happening in Hollywood right now, so I'm going to pull rank and use this intro to talk about some of my favorite albums of the moment. (You can binge those, too, after all.) There's no order to these, by the way. Just three albums I've enjoyed over the last few weeks/months. If you don't care about music, feel free to skip down to the usual agenda items.
The Beths, "Jump Rope Gazers"
This indie band from New Zealand makes me happy even when lead vocalist Elizabeth Stokes is singing about feeling blue. The Beths specialized in hyper-caffeinated guitar licks and roller coaster melodies on their 2018 debut, "Future Me Hates Me." On "Jump Rope Gazers," the band is not afraid to slow things down a bit, like on the title track, a superb slice of dream pop that lets the band's instrumentals breathe while Stokes remembers how she and her lover went from friends to something more.
The band still pulls out the fast-paced bangers, too. "Dying to Believe" has one of the catchiest choruses of the year, by anyone, and "Mars, the God of War" sees Stokes pondering the sending of a message we all wished we could send at one point or another — "Why can't you just go to hell?" — over blistering guitars. It's her voice, along with delightful backing harmonies from the rest of the band, that glues the record together. It's an album that is impossible to listen to without grinning ear to ear.
Phoebe Bridgers, "Punisher"
The Sadness Queen has done it again. Whether Phoebe's singing about never getting to meet her idol, Elliot Smith, on the album's title track, ponders her muddled religious beliefs on "Chinese Satellite" or welcoming the apocalypse (over a full horn section) on "I Know the End," she nails it.
"Punisher" isn't an album I can listen to all the time. It "hits different" late at night, as the kids say. But it's astounding all the same. Bridgers is going to be remembered as one of the best songwriters and lyricists of her generation, so you might as well get on board now if you want to be cool.
100 Gecs, "1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues"
No, that's not a typo. 100 Gecs, the most "internet band" out there, decided to add an extra zero to their 2019 debut album, "1000 Gecs." The remix followup mentioned above was released earlier this month. The remix album features some names people will recognize — Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX — and a whole bunch of names I can almost guarantee no one reading this will recognize. (Any umru fans out there? No? Weird.)
The Gecs are certainly … not for everyone. Their music moves past abrasiveness into a sound I can only describe as an AI robot attacking your eardrums, and the remix album doubles down on that. It's a mix of modern pop and early '00s emo-pop with some screams in there for good measure. But I'm a masochist sometimes, so their music sounds good to me and, apparently, a lot of Zoomers as well. They're the future of underground pop. Listen to the "Ringtone" remix for the most easy-going their sound gets. If you want to try the opposite end of the spectrum, well, throw on this "Hand Crushed by a Mallet" remix. Use headphones for the most, uh, immersive experience.
You can either thank me or curse me to hell later.
Other individual songs I'm digging right now, with links, because I love you
My brain is telling me to wrap this up and get to the main event, so let's do that.
Netflix, rated TV-MA, eight episodes (eight hours of content)
I've spent a lot of time the past few days trying to think of what pitch Joe Barton, the writer of "Giri/Haji" — which translates to "Duty/Shame" in English — could have possibly given to the BBC, where it originally aired, to get them to greenlight it. It's my newest obsession, and it's wild. It is so many things at once I can't imagine how it got approved.
Actually, I can. I think the meeting might have gone something like this:
Barton: "OK, it's about a Japanese cop who has to travel from Tokyo to London to find his brother, who is on the run, and bring him to justice."
BBC: "All right, so far, so good. Continue."
Barton: "His brother is on the run because he murdered a Yakuza boss's cousin and tried to frame a different Yaukza boss in the process. It's a gangster drama."
BBC: "That sounds sick."
Barton: "Yeah, it is. And when the cop, who is married with a daughter, gets to London, he befriends a gay, coke-addicted prostitute and a middle-aged constable whom nobody at her police station likes (for reasons that are at first unclear), and the three of them have some adventures together."
BBC: "Adventures involving the brother?"
Barton: "Eventually, but not for a while. They just go to clubs and drink tea and talk to each other and stuff. Sometimes they cry and talk about their fears and regrets. And eventually, the cop's teenage daughter joins them, and they become a foursome. It's sweet."
BBC: "OK … I thought you said this was a gangster show?"
Barton: "It is, but it's also a drama about friends and family and how our actions affect other people. Did I mention that the cop's daughter stabbed someone?"
BBC: "Excuse me?"
Barton: "Yeah, before she goes to London, she stabs a kid with a pair of scissors. She's having a tough time of it. At home, she feels misunderstood by pretty much everyone except her dad."
BBC: "That sounds interesting, but can we get back to the cop/brother thing? How did the brother get into this mess?"
Barton: "Oh, right. That. He was a mailman who accidentally killed someone in a robbery gone wrong. Well, he didn't actually kill him — he just wounded him. The cop finished him off, in an effort to clear his brother's name. But the cop let his brother think he killed the guy, so his brother still had to carry the guilt of what he had done."
BBC: "Whoa. That's heavy."
Barton: "Yeah. Yeah, it is. That part of their story is presented through flashbacks, all pretty much in episode one. And check this out: After that incident, the brother gets dragged into a Yakuza war, and he fakes his death because [REDACTED BECAUSE OF SPOILERS]. That's why he turns up in London."
BBC: "… Holy shit."
Barton: "I know. So now the cop and his brother are in London, and long story short, they get into a run-in with some British gangsters, one of whom is played by Justin Long. And these guys—"
BBC: "JUSTIN LONG?"
Barton: "Yeah, from 'Accepted' and 'Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.' That guy. He's a gangster with horrible facial hair now. Anyway, he and his British boss get into it with the cop and his brother and their friends, and soon everything goes to hell. It's a story of selecting which side you choose when you have loyalty to birth of them. It's a story of the ripples from one decision spreading farther than anyone could imagine. It's a story about challenging the idea of what a family is. Oh, and it's also a touching love story."
BBC: *Sighs* "Sure, of course it is."
Barton: "I promise it will all come together in the end, but yes, there's a lot about love here, in terms of both falling into it and falling out of it, and what love means in the grander scheme of things. And it's funny, too. Darkly funny, with some bite. "
BBC: "That sounds … awesome. And within a story about gangsters. I like it."
Barton: "Thanks! It's going to be half in English and half in Japanese. And the camerawork will be experimental. Some flashbacks will be done in hand-drawn animations. Other times, we'll use innovative split-screens to juxtapose certain characters and emotions, or we'll change the aspect ratio to let the viewer know we're now in a different time period.*
"Let's do it."
Barton: "Great news! Wonderful news. I'll be in touch."
Barton gets up to leave, stops before stepping out the door.
Barton: "Did I tell you about the baby heist?"
It was probably a pretty great meeting.
*Barton likely was not the one making these camera-centric decisions, but for the purposes of the bit I'm assigning them to him. "Giri/Haji" was directed by Julian Farino (five episodes) and Ben Chessell (four episodes), and they did a great job.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" (2016)
Prime Video, rated R, 116 minutes
What's better than this, guys bein' dudes?
I could leave this recommendation at that, but I won't. This film deserves more.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" came out four years ago, the year I graduated from the University of Missouri. I saw it then and liked it, but on a recent rewatch, it hit me harder than any hangout movie about an '80s college baseball team partying for a weekend has any right to hit. I think that's because I've had more time away from college now, and look back on it fondly, but also because I missed the subtle life lessons Richard Linklater sprinkles on his spiritual sequel to "Dazed and Confused."
Our main character here, as much as there is one, is Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher. This is something that gets Jake a lot of shit from his teammates and is such a specific baseball truism — pitchers, like goaltenders in hockey, are notoriously among the quirkier players on the team — that I wonder if non-baseball fans realize it is a real-life belief and not just something this particular team thinks is funny.
Jake's journey is about learning to embrace his inner weirdness. At one point, after attending a party with a different musical theme for the third night in a row, Jake asks senior teammate Finnegan (Glen Powell) if he feels inauthentic, literally putting on different hats every night in the pursuit of female attention. Finn says no. Jake doesn't respond in the moment, but his actions the rest of the film answer with a resounding yes. He decides to do whatever he wants to do, no matter how much teasing it gets from his teammates. So he asks Beverly (Zoe Deutch), the feminist dance major, out on a real date. He goes with her to a theater party and even participates in a few sketches. Then they go floating down a river, where Jake shares with Beverly an essay he wrote in high school comparing baseball to the myth of Sisyphus.
Baseball is Jake's life, like it's all ball players' life. But the outcome of a baseball game has no bearing on the world at-large. Striking out 17 batters in a game won't prevent an asteroid from hitting Earth tomorrow if that's what is going to happen. One day, eventually, humans will be gone, and no accomplishments will matter then, even ones that seem "important" now. To that end, baseball — or any of the things we consider our "life" — is just as meaningless as pushing a boulder up and over a hill for the rest of eternity. It's a grind. Life is a grind. It's how you feel while doing the things you do that matters. You have to make your own meaning within the meaninglessness.
For Jake, that means doing what makes him happy, no matter what anyone else thinks. So he kisses the girl and takes her home, and the next morning he watches and waves as she walks away, and he embraces the teasing that follows. He's found his place. He's found his meaning.
If Jake's journey doesn't appeal to you, don't worry! I'm analyzing this like the film nerd I am, but there's plenty of surface-level fun to be had and plenty of characters to get it from. Again, this is just a movie about a bunch of college guys with different interests learning to live together. "Everybody Wants Some!!" sums up "frat life" better than any movie actually about fraternities. The boys rap along to the Sugar Hill Gang in their car. They play ping-pong and get mad when they lose. They smoke weed and talk about Pink Floyd. They almost flood the house trying to fill up a water bed. They tease one another about flirting techniques. They go to clubs and dance their hearts out. They get into fistfights at said clubs. And yes, eventually, they do play some baseball. There are nice guys, there are asshole guys, and there are guys with such a mix of charm and rudeness that you can't help but love them.
Going to a college (and a state) where I knew exactly two people, and not very well, forced me to make new groups of friends. It took a while, but I found a niche. My group text with my college buddies is still going strong, even though I haven't seen most of them in years. Watching this movie now brought me back and made me feel connected to them in a way I hadn't in a while.
Yes, it's guy-centric — there's no way this thing passes the Bechdel test — but I think it's relatable for anyone whose college journeys ended with them having a better understanding of themselves.
Or anyone who wants to laugh at a dumb freshman dousing his junk in cologne. I mean, come on. That's hilarious.