What to Read, Watch, and Listen to This Week: Aug 26
There’s a lot going on right now. Maybe you’re protesting, maybe you’re donating, maybe you’re keeping tabs on the way your representatives are responding to the present moment. Keep doing that!
Our lives are not one thing, though, and you’re also probably looking to escape, however briefly, into a show or a book or an album that might help you shut out the world or understand it a little better. To get the wheels turning, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from Bring It On to Teenage Bounty Hunters.
Alien: Out of the Shadows
Bring It On
Released 20 years ago last week, Bring It On is an almost perfect movie. Its flaws—heteronormativity out the wazoo and racist stereotyping, for example, plus some jocular talk of unexpected fingering, a.k.a. sexual assault—are serious and should not simply be dismissed as products of their time. But there’s also the dream-sequence opener with shades of classic Hollywood, all Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams, when Kirsten Dunst’s Torrance (your captain Torrance!) preps to take the helm of the Rancho Carne High cheerleading squad, sure to claim yet another national championship. There’s the fish-out-of-water, everyman new girl who helps ease the audience into this strange subculture. And not one but two montages!
The first, spanning the auditions, culminates with hard-core gymnast Missy (Eliza Dushku) trying out for the cheerleading squad as a “last resort” to keep her skills up, and the second shows the scrappy (but very comfortable, well-heeled, well-fed, well-housed, and already multi-trophied) Rancho Carne Toros working hard and learning from unexpected sources when they have to come up with a new routine. You see, streetwise Missy from LA is familiar with the East Compton Clovers cheerleading squad, whose routines Torrance’s predecessor had secretly been stealing for years. At first Torrance thinks she can solve the problem with money and connections, hiring a flashy but abusive choreographer named Sparky Polastri, who gives the world the gift of his trademark spirit fingers. But then she learns it’s going to take sweat, elbow grease, determination, creativity, honesty, and friendship.
Yes, there are lessons. There’s also a cute boy who makes Torrance a mix tape. There’s Gabrielle Union, who spent her late 20s playing a teenager in supporting roles in some of the era’s best young romances (10 Things I Hate About You, Love & Basketball, She’s All That), as the Clovers’ captain, Isis. There’s appropriated mystical lore in the form of a “Spirit Stick.” There’s that moment people realize just because someone’s older and in college doesn’t mean they’re smarter or cooler. There are almost no parents anywhere. There’s a bikini car wash. There’s a soundtrack song recorded by three of the actors: members of the girl group Blaque are on the Clover squad (RIP, Natina Reed, who played Jenelope, and who was killed in a car crash like her mentor, Left Eye of TLC). There’s a Toni Basil tribute with the closing credits.
First-time director Peyton Reed would go on to charm us in Down with Love and strike it rich with Ant-Man, and he’s also doing a season-two episode of The Mandalorian. And Bring It On would go on to inspire quite the franchise of straight-to-video follow-ups, which in turn inspired a Broadway musical with involvement from Lin-Manuel Miranda—the Roosevelt High theater department had to cancel its final weekend of shows when gatherings and school events all shut down in March. While those sequels have their charms (a Rihanna cameo! Hayden Panettiere! Christina Milian! Solange!), they have minimal connection to the original. They do not have Missy, and Missy is bank. They do not have Sparky and his spirit fingers, and spirit fingers, Bring It On lovers know, are gold. —Margaret Seiler, managing editor
There have been a few major album birthdays in the last week: Frank Ocean's Blonde turned four and Carly Rae Jespsen's E•MO•TION turned five. I do not want to spend an entire afternoon writing this blurb, so I'm zeroing in on the latter—it also has the shinier, rounder anniversary.
E•MO•TION came out during my first college summer and wove its way through the entirety of my late adolescence. It is the platonic ideal of a pop record: widescreen, glittering, shoutable, and exaggerated, with every knob perfectly tuned to achieve a rare balance that never tips over into something saccharine or overblown. Song for song, it is a lot better than Taylor Swift's 1989, which we’ve more or less deemed "the Thriller of the 2010s," and it sews together the "sad bangers" of a pop star like Robyn with the sugar highs of Jepsen's breakout hit "Call Me Maybe" to land on an especially 2010s strain of ambivalent-but-massive dance music. The wishy washy "Boy Problems" is pure sonic serotonin, among the most puzzling non-hits of all time, and I cannot remember throwing a party where my friends and I did not spin and then lose our minds about the acid-tongued title track.
E•MO•TION has the reputation of a cult favorite, which is hilarious, because it is as crowdpleasing as any music has ever been. The songs didn’t chart, and they're definitely a pivot away from the straight-up mall pop Jepsen was dealing in in 2012, but from the record’s opening gale-force saxophone blast to the woozy, left-of-center Rostam synths that rumble underneath "Warm Blood," Jepsen’s feet are firmly planted in commercial waters. She’s exactly as blank as she needs to be to let these melodies fly, and every cut is awash in the mock-’80s neon glow she helped mainstream. Cult favorite or not, it’s exceptional, and it re-plays surprisingly well. Whatever catharsis you might be seeking, E•MO•TION has it on offer. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
Teenage Bounty Hunters
Teenage twins Blair and Sterling Wesley, who attend an elite Christian high school in Atlanta, make an unlikely pair of bounty hunters. But they’ve got a natural talent for it—at least, that’s what they tell themselves and Bowser, their bounty hunting mentor who runs his business out of the back of a frozen yogurt shop. Part high school comedy, part action-packed TV, Teenage Bounty Hunters (streaming now on Netflix) is a show that I bet most, if not all, members of your household would be down to binge watch together in a single afternoon. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor