Mom and Dad

The Earth will reach its max­i­mum occu­pan­cy load (12 bil­lion) when I am in my mid-fifi­ties, mean­ing there’ll be more than twice as many gorg­ing, shit­ting, shoot­ing, com­plain­ing, and lying human beings than there were when I start­ed, and per­haps Bri­an Taylor’s Mom and Dad is in fact a rea­soned argu­ment for a par­tic­u­lar solu­tion to our inevitable plight. I’m still not sure what a “cult” movie is, pre­cise­ly, but I can’t imag­ine what sort of cult could pos­si­bly sus­tain itself around the ethos of this film alone, despite its con­cise, agi­tat­ing, at once light­heart­ed, yet gen­uine­ly-dis­turb­ing trip. No, it is prob­a­bly not pro­pa­gan­da. From the experts, you’ll get pre­cise­ly the same review, vary­ing only in length. The New York Times’ Glenn Ken­ny couldn’t be both­ered with more than 250 words, but RogerE­bert dot com’s Simon Abrams shelled out a whole 1000. They are sus­pi­cious­ly close to these big round num­bers — per­haps each was writ­ten to respec­tive quo­tas, and per­haps you could say all that could rea­son­ably be said in 10, but I don’t care.

The tropes here are pol­ished to a mirac­u­lous sheen — two emo­tion­al­ly-stunt­ed, mid­dleaged, over­ly pre­oc­cu­pied-with-their-lost-youth sub­ur­ban par­ents (Nico­las Cage and Sel­ma Blair) who’s exist­ing envies & irri­ta­tions regard­ing their own clas­si­cal­ly brat­ty teenage girl (Anne Win­ters) and her mis­chie­vous lit­tle broth­er (Zackary Arthur) is mere­ly agi­tat­ed by a sud­den TV sta­t­ic-bound killer instinct into blood­lust, not orig­i­nat­ed. I’m not sure any pill deal­er would actu­al­ly flip off their cus­tomers after a fair buy — even in high school, but drugs, a black boyfriend, and a stinkbomb? in the old Trans Am!? I’m going to kill you!

Some­body, some­where knew all the best sources on sub­ur­bia and how to put them to good use. The Cam­ry, the golf bag, ping pong smash­ing, sweat-stained Big Sur tee, and Dr. Oz, for Christ’s sake! Grant­ed, talk­ing to your girlfriend/boyfriend on the phone at all is a bit dat­ed — espe­cial­ly while rid­ing a BMX — and I don’t think Froot Loops are gen­er­al­ly accept­ed mid­dle-class chow any­more. These are sta­ples from my youth, and I am very old. Tech­ni­cal­ly, the iMes­sage bub­ble graph­ics are more chrono­graph­i­cal­ly appro­pri­ate, but with great con­se­quence, I fear — if we’re going to accept them once and for all as authen­tic mech­a­nisms for telling sto­ries set in the present, they are going to age faster than Nick’s new jowls (unless we’re all soon killed by our par­ents.) It’s been two years since I knew any­thing about music, but I seri­ous­ly doubt even the gothest fifteen?-year-old girls are lis­ten­ing to Father-esque post-Mem­phis hor­ror­core in class — there’s some­thing about Sound­Cloud that real­ly clash­es with chok­ers.

If there was ever a film in which to use grimy dub­step-influ­enced elec­tron­ic slaps, buzzes, chirps, and great grat­ing clank­ing, it’s this one. It’s a ter­rif­ic dis­ap­point­ment that Hol­ly­wood feels so timid­ly about their use of the most inti­mate medi­um. One for­gets its poten­tial to con­trol the nuances of an audience’s fear, anger, dis­com­fort, and pan­ic beyond cheap jump scares until they expe­ri­ence an irri­tat­ing, dis­tress­ing, ghast­ly gross, all-pos­sess­ing feat of accen­tu­at­ing audio pro­duc­tion such as that of Mom and Dad. If you want to judge Aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly the effec­tive­ness of a nominee’s work for an award with a title like Best Sound Edit­ing (as opposed to what­ev­er the hell cri­te­ria was met most ful­ly by Sky­fall,) you must give the lit­tle gold­en man to these folks, who­ev­er they are.

When’s the last time you saw a tru­ly, believ­ably shit­ty mod­ern parental pair on a big screen? I real­ly can’t remem­ber, myself. Brent and Kendall Ryan are mas­ter­pieces of char­ac­ter craft — both a per­fect pré­cis and thor­ough­ly-defined explo­ration of mis­er­able white sub­ur­ban­ites. They’re even namedunim­prov­ably, which reflects a qual­i­ty in care and atten­tion to detail that I very much appre­ci­ate. They are vain, vul­gar, impa­tient, self­ish­ly afraid, and care­less, freely feel­ing and say­ing it all direct­ly in front of their chil­dren. I love being told explic­it­ly which char­ac­ters to hate (no joke,) and in this case it’s the whole damned lot. Bri­an Tay­lor and Nico­las Cage scream it over and over (as I’d like to imag­ine) a sin­gle after­noon of one-take film­ing, con­sid­er­ing that the lat­ter took it upon him­self to first mem­o­rize the entire screen­play and its prose, vanil­la to per­fec­tion, before pho­tog­ra­phy began, and I hope it all stays with him for­ev­er, espe­cial­ly “my mom is such a penis.”

Mom and Dad could con­ceiv­ably be Nico­las Cage’s I Am Leg­end if for no oth­er rea­son than the total lack of pos­si­ble stand-ins for Brent Ryan — even the stan­dard by which all white sub­ur­ban Dad per­for­mances have been mea­sured in the 21st cen­tu­ry, Jason Bate­man. Nick him­self described it as “punk rock, rebel­lious, irrev­er­ent, orig­i­nal, badass,” and the “num­ber one” movie he’s made in the past ten years (dis­qual­i­fy­ing Nation­al Trea­sure, in case you were wor­ried.) No sur­prise, I must agree — this one is a won­der­ful­ly rau­cous and fer­al thing, but the scene involv­ing the attempt­ed mur­der of a new­born by her moth­er (Kendall’s sis­ter) came very close to cross­ing the line. How­ev­er, I am old and the inten­si­ty of my pater­nal instincts has prob­a­bly out­paced my under­stand­ing of them. You could also argue, of course, that push­ing such bound­aries is a core func­tion of a film like Mom and Dad. Nobody end­ed up vom­it­ing or any­thing.

This fun thing shouldn’t feel as for­eign as it does in cin­e­ma, but you already knew that. With all its implic­it grap­ples with over­pop­u­la­tion, kids and gun vio­lence, class, and racism — tru­ly, this is a film charged elec­tri­cal­ly with cur­rent issues. Or maybe not. Ulti­mate­ly, I can at least tell you for cer­tain that Bri­an Tay­lor made expo­nen­tial­ly bet­ter use of his resources (I couldn’t find a sol­id num­ber for its pro­duc­tion bud­get) than the Fuck­ing Spierig Broth­ers did with Win­ches­ter (just so you know what a dis­as­ter looks like,) and man­aged to be refresh­ing­ly orig­i­nal (aston­ish­ing that nobody’s had this spe­cif­ic idea before.) A spec­tac­u­lar riot, Mom and Dad does all you could pos­si­bly want it to do. With just eighty-three min­utes to lose, it’s worth the com­mit­ment just to hear Nico­las Cage whim­per and say “anal beads.”

Stop Settling for Mono Playback

Though I have many audio­phili­cal sen­ti­ments and pref­er­ences, I can­not — by con­science — ful­ly claim the title because I’ve nev­er been able to jus­ti­fy the allot­ment of funds nec­es­sary for the oblig­a­tory equip­ment. (And my dig­i­tal com­pres­sor usage in the pro­duc­tion of Drycast and Future­land has been man­i­fest­ly vul­gar.) That said, audio engi­neer­ing is one of the few top­ics which I can actu­al­ly speak on with almost-aca­d­e­m­ic author­i­ty, and my pre­ten­tious­ness-capac­i­tat­ed pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with qual­i­ty-of-life com­pels me to bring up a ludi­crous­ly-ratio­nal stan­dard that most of us have con­tin­ued to under­shoot for far too long.

Two weeks ago, the abun­dant­ly-rumored omis­sion of the 3.5mm audio port in the iPhone 7 was final­ly set­tled. We played our own part in feed­ing the “con­tro­ver­sy,” yeah, but I believe Apple was actu­al­ly quite tardy in label­ing smart­phone-bound ana­log audio as archa­ic, though I’m not going to waste words in that dis­cus­sion — it is def­i­nite­ly over­sat­u­rat­ed, at this point — because I think mono audio is an even more preva­lent top­ic.

Hon­est­ly, out of all the miss­ing fea­tures we’ve lament­ed over in the past decade, stereo speak­ers should’ve been the most aggra­vat­ing. The gigan­tic dif­fer­ence, of course, is that the indus­try (and — by mud­dled exten­sion — the con­sumers) has been all but silent in that regard. I write you, now, because we should all be colos­sal­ly dis­ap­point­ed with our­selves.

Two chan­nels. Left and right. Read: Mono vs. Stereo But why should you care? What if Google — some­how — failed to pro­vide you with a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence?

One chan­nel of sound is — in terms of locale — rigid­ly sta­t­ic in your per­cep­tion. Dou­bling the data cre­ates a spec­trum, adding dimen­sion­al­i­ty, which is infi­nite, ya know. Play­ing back audio in stereo, through two or more diaphragms (the fun­da­men­tal hard­ware unit of sound repro­duc­tion,) now enables the exhi­bi­tion of audio pic­tures.

If this is entire­ly new to you, I want you to do some­thing. Find your­self a pair of head­phones or a set of two or more com­put­er speak­ers. (If these aren’t avail­able, con­sid­er your car’s sound sys­tem. If it’s at all cur­rent and healthy, it’s gonna do the trick.) Both­er to dis­cov­er “L” and “R.” That is, left and right. Ori­ent accord­ing­ly. Down­load this 37-sec­ond clip I record­ed at Bike­Fest with my Zoom H2n. (Be advised: the pre­view is for­mat­ted in 5.1 sur­round, so it’s a very large file for its play­back length.) Lis­ten, obvi­ous­ly, and then lis­ten again on your sin­gu­lar smart­phone “loud­speak­er.”

That’s what I’m talk­ing about.

Why am I being so abashed­ly patron­iz­ing? Why am I trans­gress­ing against our par­tic­u­lar assump­tions about you — the informed, savvy mil­len­ni­al audi­ence? Because the vast major­i­ty of play­back I hear in day-to-day life is still from a sin­gu­lar diaphragm; a sin­gu­lar source.

A top­i­cal exam­ple: I am shown a YouTube video on an iPhone. (A pre-iPhone 7 device, that is.)

Walk­ing down­town, I pass a small band of ado­les­cent skate­board­ers lis­ten­ing to Can­ni­bal Ox on a Sam­sung Galaxy Note.

Worst of all: I find myself watch­ing a Net­flix film on my iPhone, in bed, not hav­ing both­ered to wear the $200 pair of QC15s sit­ting with­in arm’s length.Worst of all: I find myself watch­ing a Net­flix film on my iPhone, in bed, not hav­ing both­ered to wear the $200 pair of QC15s sit­ting with­in arm’s length.

Informed or not, con­sumers are neglect­ing audio, and dimen­sion­al­i­ty, alone is worth a change. Recent years have allowed the unlim­it­ed band­width assump­tion to become habit, so even the vast major­i­ty of today’s spo­ken word pro­grams (like pod­casts) — which, in gen­er­al, stay in the “cen­ter” of their mix, mak­ing lit­tle to no use of the left-right spec­trum — are pro­duced in stereo, now. In many cas­es (includ­ing a few of ours,) this dou­ble­siz­ing is often for the sake of intro­duc­to­ry themes, alone. If you care to imag­ine a more data-fru­gal soci­ety, the “waste” is ridicu­lous. It is not unre­al­is­tic to expect such a real­i­ty in the near future, but the same holds true for the reverse.

In the present’s abun­dance, though, the result is sim­ply a decrease — as a whole — in playback’s “full expe­ri­ence,” if the hard­ware is not changed. Imag­ine how great it’d be if a dig­i­tal audio for­mat­ting stan­dard could be devel­oped that’d enable a sin­gu­lar file to be mono or stereo, if needed/utilized, to trim off redun­dan­cy, sor­ta like vari­able bit rate. Get on that, would ya?

So, why haven’t we become more dili­gent about our sound expe­ri­ences? 1 bil­lion iPhones in cir­cu­la­tion, all with mono play­back by default, are sus­pect cul­prits, I think. Of course, there are oth­er devices, but none as influ­en­tial — even the iPod, fun­ny enough — on fun­da­men­tal dig­i­tal func­tions like music play­back. And hon­est­ly, when is it appro­pri­ate or suave to take the extra steps?

I want to show you this song. Let me untan­gle my head­phones… Yes, okay. Put them in. I’m going to sit here in silence for four min­utes, look­ing into your eyes as you lis­ten to the entire­ty of this track.

It’s nev­er going to be social­ly accept­able. But what about wire­less alter­na­tives? Apple’s new Air Pods look absurd, but their by-com­put­ing opti­miza­tion of the Blue­tooth audio stan­dard is rev­o­lu­tion­ary, in a small way, in pro­pelling the “hear­ables” par­a­digm into the main­stream, if only for a moment. If — in a strange­ly-audio­cen­tric future — we are always wear­ing mul­ti­pur­pose sound repro­duc­tion devices in our ears, per­haps the waste of the Mono Mon­stros­i­ty will be final­ly resolved. Until then, I sup­pose all we can do is give it an extra thought, for our own quality-of-life’s sake.