Wednesday, December 26, 2012

movie review: 'les miserables'

No, I haven't seen The Hobbit yet. Or Skyfall. Or Argo. Or Lincoln. Or Django Unchained. Yeah, I went to see the big 'epic' movie on the big epic musical instead, and you can all shut up about it, okay? Good.

Now, it's something of a routine when discussing film adaptations of books, tv, video games, stage musicals - hell, anything - to first clarify what one thinks of the source material. And considering Les Miserables is adapted from a stage musical based upon a good albeit ponderously long and at points excruciating novel written by Victor Hugo, I think I need to clarify at least my stance when it comes to the Broadway show, which was one of the most iconic of the 1980s and emblematic of the 'epic musical'. Les Miserables is a gargantuan Broadway show spanning several hours, multiple decades of history, a cast of dozens of characters, and took place on a gigantic spinning stage several meters in diameter. And while I've never seen the show live, I have heard multiple renditions of the entire score and soundtrack that have been produced over the years. And my opinion out of that?

The stage musical Les Miserables is good. But it is not great.

Part of the problem is the source material - Victor Hugo's mammoth tome could probably only be properly adapted in a full-length TV miniseries, and even I would argue the musical does it best to capture the varied personalities and tones and themes for which Hugo was going. But in terms of narrative pacing, Les Miserables the stage musical is a mess, culminating in an ending that is stodgy, arduous, and goes on way too long. And while I will say there are elements of the musical that are impressive and epic, technically there are elements of the songs in Les Miserables that have always irked me, where there are points the lyrical meter isn't as smooth or flowing or organic as it could be. Yes, there are points where you can overlook the lyrical clumsiness because goddamn it, Les Miserables is going for broad and epic and sweeping and you get sucked along with the tide and it's glorious... but at other points, it feels clumsy and jerky and not particularly elegant. Musically, it's most apparent in the use of the shitty grating synth keyboard most of the stage adaptations used, but thankfully later stage adaptations and the movie excised this element.

So, enough yammering around the issue: what do I think of Les Miserables, the movie?

Well, I'll be blunt: the movie Les Miserables is good. But it is not great.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

the top ten best hit songs of 2012

I've got to be honest here - when I wrote about the worst songs of 2012, I couldn't write about them all in one sitting. And it wasn't just because it was long and I needed a break - it was more because I got some damn depressed trying to parse my way through the worst of 2012's pop music that I needed some kind of break - any kind of break - just to reinvigorate my spirits.

Fortunately for me, I don't think I'll have that much of a problem here, because today we're going to look at the best of 2012 - which, if I'm being completely honest, was a really great year for the pop charts. It's not hard to see why, particularly if you look at the year in context with 2011. I've written before on the twin axes of pop music (here, if you're curious), which are maturity and intelligence. And while material tends to travel up and down these 'axes' in parallel, the collapse of club music in 2011 showed the first sign of a divergence in the pop music scene: music that was mature and intelligent, and music that was immature and stupid. 

Now, let me make this absolutely clear: you can have great pop music that is both immature and stupid, but in general, you tend to see greater quality, innovation, and interesting breakthroughs with music that's smarter and more mature because the subject area is broader and the people crafting the music tend to be more insightful. And I'm not confining this to genre either: just because an act is country or crunk doesn't mean they don't have some wry intelligence, and just because an act is indie rock doesn't mean they're all that deep or insightful or mature.

And since I'm a fan of great pop music, I was thrilled to see this axis divergence, and even more thrilled to see a ton of great pop music spring up from the doldrums of the club music scene. And as much as I'd like to shout praise to the heavens for the indie rock explosion that saw plenty of extremely solid acts rocket to the top, I can't help but acknowledge that there were great country, hip-hop, rap, and even mainstream pop acts that surprised me with their quality.

But before I get in all that deep into the material from this year, let's quickly revisit my list of best hit songs from 2011:

10. 'Jar Of Hearts' by Christina Perri
9. 'Fucking Perfect' by Pink
8. 'Coming Home' by Diddy - Dirty Money ft. Skylar Grey
7. 'All Of The Lights' by Kanye West
6. 'The Show Goes On' by Lupe Fiasco
5. 'You And I' by Lady Gaga
4. 'Fuck You' by Cee Lo Green
3. 'Rolling In The Deep' by Adele
2. 'Someone Like You' by Adele
1. 'Colder Weather' by The Zac Brown Band

And, as usual, upon reflection, I'd probably make a few changes to this list:

10. 'Jar Of Hearts' by Christina Perri 'Stereo Hearts' by The Gym Class Heroes ft. Adam Levine
9. 'Fucking Perfect' by Pink 'Back To December' by Taylor Swift 
8. 'Coming Home' by Diddy - Dirty Money ft. Skylar Grey 'Blow' by Ke$ha
7. 'All Of The Lights' by Kanye West
6. 'The Show Goes On' by Lupe Fiasco
5. 'You And I' by Lady Gaga
4. 'Fuck You' by Cee Lo Green
3. 'Rolling In The Deep' by Adele
2. 'Someone Like You' by Adele
1. 'Colder Weather' by The Zac Brown Band

Huh, not that many changes, really. Part of that is an indictment on how great all of these songs are, but part of it is also the fact that all of these songs represented the best of their genres and the best of growing trends on the charts. 

And if I'm being completely blunt, I don't know what part of my mind thought it was a good idea to put both 'Jar Of Hearts' (a song I've really soured on in recent months) and 'Fucking Perfect' (which has worn out a fair bit of its welcome) on the list, and it wasn't hard to swap them out for 'Stereo Hearts' (a song that grew on me due to some clever metaphors and an incredibly catchy chorus courtesy of Adam Levine at his best) and 'Blow' (a song that has problems, to be sure, but builds surprisingly well and is punchy enough to be a damn great dance/work-out track). And really, 'Coming Home' isn't a bad track in the slightest, but 'Back To December' is really so much better, and probably Taylor Swift's best song by far.

And with that, let's proceed to 2012, and some Honourable Mentions:

Monday, December 17, 2012

the top ten worst hit songs of 2012

About a year ago, I wrote my list of the Top 10 Worst Singles of 2011. My criteria was simple: the songs had to debut on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 list that year. Now, I easily could have gone digging for far worse songs, but I wanted to make the point that these songs weren't just bad, but they were also disgustingly popular, far more popular that all of those independent smaller acts that you might like.

And to be honest, while I can never understand why these awful songs get popular (well, I can, and that gives me plenty of ammunition to keep doing this for years to come), the more I think about it, the more I think the big problem with the pop charts isn't that they tend to be bad, but that they tend to be bland. Now granted, there are some years that are far better than others (2011 was a lot better than 2010, and 2012 was better than both of them), but there's a whole load of mediocre music that isn't good enough to like, but isn't bad enough to be worth hating. There isn't a lot of excellence or awfulness, just a lot of 'meh', at least in the majority of years.

But yeah, there was a significant amount of awful, and just for perspective, here's my original list of the Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2011:

10. 'What The Hell' by Avril Lavigne
9. 'Dirt Road Anthem' by Jason Aldean ft. Ludacris
8. 'Backseat' by New Boyz ft. The Cataracs & Dev
7. 'The Time (Dirty Bit)' by The Black Eyed Peas
6. 'She Ain't You' by Chris Brown
5. 'Lighters' by Bad Meets Evil ft. Bruno Mars
4. 'The Lazy Song' by Bruno Mars
3. 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster The People
2. 'Sexy And I Know It' by LMFAO
1. 'Don't Wanna Go Home' by Jason Derulo

Now upon reflection today and after relistening to all of these songs, I'd make a few minor changes to this list, make it look like this:

10. 'What The Hell' by Avril Lavigne 'Tonight, Tonight' by Hot Chelle Rae
9. 'Dirt Road Anthem' by Jason Aldean ft. Ludacris
8. 'Backseat' by New Boyz ft. The Cataracs & Dev 'Country Girl (Shake It For Me)' by Luke Bryan
7. 'The Time (Dirty Bit)' by The Black Eyed Peas 'She Ain't You' by Chris Brown
6. 'She Ain't You' by Chris Brown 'Lighters' by Bad Meets Evil ft. Bruno Mars
5. 'Lighters' by Bad Meets Evil ft. Bruno Mars 'Backseat' by New Boyz ft. The Cataracs & Dev
4. 'The Lazy Song' by Bruno Mars
3. 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster The People 'The Time (Dirty Bit)' by The Black Eyed Peas
2. 'Sexy And I Know It' by LMFAO
1. 'Don't Wanna Go Home' by Jason Derulo

Yeah, there's a bit of reshuffling of things around here, and a few swaps. The big surprise for me was taking 'Pumped Up Kicks' off the list, considering how much I hated Foster The People's début album and all of its pretensions to indie rock that it didn't earn or have in the slightest. And that's to say nothing of the issues I still have today with the rancid lyrical content of the song and the atrocious tonal choices. However, a year later, after observing the explosion of indie rock across the modern pop charts, I can't help but admit that Foster The People's success might have been the cue required to get other, better indie acts the air time they needed for groundswell. And with that in mind, I really can't hate 'Pumped Up Kicks' the same way.

Oh, make no mistake, it still is a bad song, but it's by no means the worst thing I've ever heard, and while the subject matter still gets under my skin, the song is so weightless and ephemeral (like the majority of faux-hipster trash pretending to have depth) that it really leaves no impression a year later. And while I was angered at the corporatization of indie rock, after a year of seeing great indie acts succeed with a vestige of artistic integrity intact, I realized that sometimes the machine can work (and besides, there are far more insulting corporate sell-outs this year).

In fact, when perusing the Year-End Top 100 list Billboard stamps out every year, I was surprised how many previously established 'good' acts delivered career worst performances this year. 2011 was a bit of a weird transitional year for the pop charts (coming out of the club explosion of 2009-2010), and 2012 was even stranger, with the eruption of indie rock, the return of lightweight immature pop music, and whatever the fuck hip-hop/R&B mutated into this year. I mean, this was the year 'Gangnam Style', a k-pop parody track satirizing the Gangnam lifestyle in South Korea, a track entirely in Korean, became one of the biggest tracks of the year (for the record, I actually think 'Gangnam Style' is pretty good, but not great, as PSY has a lot of energy and personality, which elevates the song above LMFAO's 'Party Rock Anthem').

But that said, there was still plenty of garbage that charted this year, and a whole lot of material I'd only describe as mediocre. Before I get to my actual list, let me run down a few Dishonourable Mentions that need to be brought up here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

album review: 'tre!' by green day

I almost didn’t even have the heart to start the album.

Those of you who have read my previous reviews (here and here) can understand why. Green Day’s phenomenally misguided attempt to construct an epic three album trilogy was disheartening to hear about and even worse to actually listen through, and after the general heap of mediocre shit that was Dos!, I honestly didn’t want to give Green Day a third chance at success here. And while I still can say I like Green Day’s older work, the more I listened to Uno! and Dos!, the more I felt the charm and shine rub off of those old albums I loved as I knew that Green Day wouldn’t produce anything close to being that good again.

But then I paused and reconsidered that opinion, because according to initial press junkets, Green Day’s Tre! was going to be an exploration of the arena rock styling they had adapted for American Idiot and with greater success in 21st Century Breakdown. Now, a lot of Green Day fans really dislike 21st Century Breakdown, and I understand why. It’s haphazard, it’s unfocused, it’s broadly political, and it doesn’t really have much of a definite target – in other words, it’s the only possible political album anyone could have expected from the perpetually adolescent Billie Joe Armstrong, but I digress.

Of course, the critics also disliked 21st Century Breakdown because it took a great deal of influence from The Beatles and The Who and The Ramones and other classic rock/punk rock acts, almost to the point where certain songs sound suspiciously like covers (‘Last Night On Earth’ being particularly egregious). But if I’m being honest, it’s never bothered me all that much because Green Day had enough signature style and flair to make the songs uniquely theirs while still paying homage to the greats.

So while I had absolutely no faith that Tre! would actually work, I did have the slightest hope that Green Day might be able to pull out of their downward spiral and produce something. I mean, you hope for the best, expect the worst, right? Maybe Green Day had remembered something they learned from 21st Century Breakdown, right?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

album review: 'unapologetic' by rihanna

Let me take you back to 1999.

Man, the pop landscape was different then! Bubblegum pop and boy bands ruled. The first sparks of the post-grunge wastelands were forming from the abrupt collapse of ska and the second resurgence of pop-punk. And hip-hop was, to be blunt, light and airy and generally stupid as hell.

Enter Marshall Mathers III, otherwise known as Slim Shady, otherwise known as Eminem. After his smash major debut with the demented Slim Shady LP, he was looking to strike a darker tone with his next release, one that both confronted his critics and haters head-on but one that also dove into darker, bleaker, more terrifying neuroses he had kept bottled up for some time. And one of the darkest of those neuroses was his critically damaged relationship with his girlfriend/wife/ex-wife Kim. To say the relationship was ruined completely beyond repair is probably understating it, but Eminem drove the final nails in the coffin with a track that scandalized and shocked a nation of listeners: 'Kim'.

'Kim' is the sixteenth track on The Marshall Mathers LP, and by then you've seen Eminem confront plenty of his personal demons, but when it comes to 'Kim', there's a whole other level of hatred and rage drenching this track. Eminem's voice cracks and breaks as he screams epithets and venom through tears, and at that point you can't help but feel a sick sort of dread as you know that there isn't just hatred here. No, if there's a song that ever encapsulated the concept of the blinding blend of hatred and obsessive love, it's 'Kim'. It's clear in this song that there's absolutely no one in the right, not Kim and certainly not Eminem. It's the domestic dispute from hell, and the most shocking thing about it is the niggling chill that races down your spine as you realize that somewhere, at some point, fragments of that screaming argument and domestic violence may have actually happened

'Kim' is a really hard listen, but I recommend all music critics looking to test their mettle and stomachs listen to it at least once. It sure as hell was polarizing, raising even more protests as people saw 'Kim' as all the more evidence of Eminem's dangerous misogyny. Things degenerated even further when Eminem performed the song at a concert and then brutally stabbed a blow-up doll likeness of 'Kim' in the song, an act that I've considered one of the worst possible things Eminem ever could have done. While he had threatened violence towards plenty of people on other tracks, 'Kim' was different. That song was personal, and while Eminem has made his career off of airing his dirty laundry in public, 'Kim' was a different extreme. And I'm not the only one who thought so - Kim herself attempted suicide by slitting her wrists at the end of that show.

The point is that, as one of the most terrifying and gut-churning songs that I've ever listened to in my life (and I've listened to a fair amount of horrorcore rap and death metal, just to qualify this), 'Kim' somehow still succeeds as a performance art piece. It's a vile, horrifying piece, let me make that explicitly clear, but it works because there are layers and complexity and Eminem does not hold back, making one of the most open and revealing songs of his career. Do I enjoy it? Fuck no. But I can't hate it because for all of its grotesque, sickening reality, it works.

So when I listen to the two songs on Rihanna's Unapologetic, 'Nobody's Business' and 'Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary', two songs that directly explore her relationship with Chris Brown, why don't I feel that it works nearly as well, and is thus far easier to despise? Why would some people think I'm giving Eminem a free pass (which I'm not, by the way) while dropping the hammer down on both Rihanna and Brown?

Monday, November 26, 2012

album review: 'warrior' by ke$ha

I remember hearing 'Tik Tok' in late 2009 and hating it.

I'm not joking here. Throughout 2010, I distinctly remember despising Miss Kesha Rose Sebert, known only by her stage name Ke$ha. I thought the autotune was gratuitous, I thought her lyrics were beyond asinine, I thought her beats were processed, obnoxious sludge, I thought her vocal style was designed to piss off everyone who heard it. In short, I thought she was the worst possible product of the pop machine, the talentless pop starlet that is made by producers. And considering she was one of the potent forces of the club music boom, particularly on the charts, I was horrified by the fact that not only was Ke$ha not going away, but there was going to be a legion of imitators. 

But perhaps the thing that infuriated me the most was the theme behind her music, the one promoting the debauched lifestyle of drunk obnoxious sorority girls, devoid of class and responsibility. And considering how much I went to clubs in 2010 and how much I was exposed to this sort of music, it was an opinion that became pretty solidly ingrained in my consciousness.

But in mid-2011, I started reading reviews of Ke$ha's albums - and much to my appalled horror, they were positive reviews. I didn't get it - I mean, how could anyone like this or tolerate it beyond the shallow standards of party music? So, convinced of my own rightness, I downloaded both of Ke$ha's albums (Animal and the EP Cannibal), and I started to do my research on the girl.

I learned that she has a major hand in writing her own songs - which surprised me, but wasn't exactly evidence for her redemption either. I learned that her mother also helped her write songs - and that her mother had been a songwriter for Johnny fucking Cash. I learned that Ke$ha primarily drew her inspiration from bands like Iggy Pop & the Stooges and the Beastie Boys and Beck - and I thought well of course she says that, why wouldn't she?

But then I found out some other interesting things. I found out that she actually shows much better in pictures and in video than in real life, and that she grew up very poor, with no idea who her real father was. I learned she was an outcast throughout school, basically due to her general weirdness and unconventionality. I learned that she had aced her SATs, that she was actually intelligent, far smarter than what her music indicated. And then I learned that in order to do her legendarily terrible live performances, she had to either be drunk off her ass or coked out of her mind. That, in some way, she was dumbing herself down for her material.

And then I took a closer look at Animal and Cannibal, and listened through them a few more times... and about in May 2011, I finally got it - and very quickly, Ke$ha became one of the few pop stars I actually liked.

transgression, sensitivity, and art: a discussion

So the Grey Cup, the final game of the Canadian Football League, is wrapping up as I write this. I honestly don't give a damn about who won either way, but watching the Twitter feed, I did notice a few things that struck my interest regarding the half-time show. First was antipathy, given as Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen were cited as performers. Now, promoters, I get that these two are some of the biggest names in Canadian pop radio right now, but you have to realize that they aren't exactly the kind of acts you want for a championship football game. Personally, I think a rock act would be a lot better. Hell, Gordon Lightfoot, who also performed, would be a better choice, if only because he'd have more name recognition amongst an older Canadian crowd. 

And incidentally, I saw all the tweets ripping on Lightfoot and asking for Bieber to come back on stage - on the one hand, they don't know any better, but on the other hand, it's still fucking infuriating. Diversify your tastes in music, youth of Canada, and stop proving all of my suspicions about your generation correct!

But besides that point, the final act was a small step in the right direction with Marianas Trench. Now, granted, Marianas Trench are a pop rock act that probably has a fair amount of overlap with Bieber's audience, but they put on a good show and they are a pretty solid act. So when I checked out Twitter, I was expecting to see the typical fangirl squeeing.

Instead I saw a number of tweets accusing Marianas Trench of making fun of people with speech impediment by performing their song 'Stutter', a song from their 2011 album Ever After

Sunday, November 18, 2012

album review: 'dos!' by green day

You know, sometimes it really sucks to know a lot of music.

I understand that's probably one of the whitest, most hipster-esque things I could possibly say here, a statement that practically epitomizes 'first-world problems'. I mean, look at how that statement looks: 'Aww, look at Silens, he's bitching because he just knows about too much music because he has the free time and energy to listen to album after album. Yeah, I know I had a tiny violin stashed somewhere...'

I get how it looks - but I also can't deny that there is some rationale behind my feeling here. It's the feeling you get when you have submerged yourself in an interest so completely that nothing - nothing - surprises you anymore. It's the movie critic who can call every plot twist in the conventional family movie he's obliged to see, the TV critic who knows every beat of the filler episode, the video game critic playing a rehash or a remake without the slightest vestige of innovation. It's a really depressing feeling, because  the surprise has leaked from the experience. That thrill of discovering something new, that heady rush of excitement... it just fades away when you realize everything is going to be rote and by the numbers. 

It gets even worse when you know that you can squint slightly and directly trace the lineage of the art you're looking at to its ancestor, that you know exactly what they're building off of or ripping off. It's why so many professional critics get so damn excited when they see original IPs with interesting, fresh ideas, even if those IPs might not objectively be all that well-executed. They can overlook the slipshod nature or the shoestring budget or the clumsy story or the lousy production - it's something new!

Green Day isn't something new. And when I picked up their newest album Dos! in their trilogy of albums they are releasing in the last months of 2012, I had the sinking feeling that I could predict pretty much exactly what was coming. Considering that the first of the trilogy, Uno!, had basically been a recycling of their previous, better material - and not a good recycling, at that - I had low expectations going into this. Particularly when I heard that the album was basing itself on garage rock, and it's not easy to make material from that genre sound unique or interesting, or at least not completely done to death (punk/garage rock fans, settle the fuck down, I'll come back to this). And considering Green Day's penchant for recycling, I didn't have anything close to high hopes.

But then that irritatingly optimistic voice, the one that justifies my liking for S Club 7 and Aqua and Toby Keith and the Backstreet Boys and Panic! At The Disco, popped up and said, 'Silens, you loved 21st Century Breakdown even despite the fact the majority of the tracks were direct riffs from The Who and The Beatles and The Ramones! You defended that album because Green Day was at least attempting to build off of the material of the past in new ways with new themes and styles. And sure, while the thematic elements on 21st Century Breakdown didn't entirely work - at all - the album was still solid enough to appreciate the disparate elements as much as the whole!'

And that was true, I mused, as I started listening to Dos!. Indeed, you could never accuse Green Day of too much original thought. They aren't like Muse, who throw every good and terrible idea they've ever had onto their albums to see what sticks (basically my opinion of The 2nd Law in a nutshell, by the way). No, Green Day has always built their genre-exploratory material off of the punk and protopunk and arena rock of the past, which is at least a solid foundation. But what has always distinguished them from being deliberate ripoffs is that they actually do take a different reinterpretation of the basic structures from whence they build. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn't.

And here...

I honestly thought Uno! was as bad as it could get for Green Day. I was wrong.

Friday, November 16, 2012

movie review: 'breaking dawn, part ii'

You know, I've talked before about art that one could call 'So Bad It's Good'. You know, when something is so appalling awful and unbelievably terrible that it curves back around and somehow becomes enjoyable. You're not laughing with the performers, you're laughing at them. For music, this category includes stuff like 'Ice Ice Baby' and 'Afternoon Delight' and pretty much the entire discography of acts like New Kids On The block. For television, certain episodes of The Newsroom and Glee leap to mind. 

And for movies, the pinnacle of this genre is the Twilight Saga.

Full confession: at this point I have seen every single Twilight film, and I've read all the books. I don't think any of you will be surprised when I say that they're all fucking atrocious. The plot is a stack of dull cliche and bullshit, the characters are either paper dolls or gut-churningly wretched, the writing is universally shit, and the overall themes and messages are appalling offensive on every level. The Twilight Saga, as a book series, is a misogynist, racist, abusive, wasteful, utterly dull heap of badly written Mormon dogshit that I wouldn't wish upon even the stupidest of the audience it panders to. And there are countless blogs, articles, essays, and even a shitty movie (Vampires Suck) lambasting this awful fucking series for the asinine crap that it is. I have read Karen Traviss, Kevin J. Anderson, Jean Rabe, late-period Terry Goodkind, and even fucking E.L. James (who, if I might remind you, turned her Twilight fanfiction into Fifty Shades of Grey), and I still think Stephanie Meyer is a worse fucking hack then all of them put together. I don't think I will ever hate a series more in my lifetime.

And for the most part, the Twilight Saga movies fall much in the same boat. Taken effectively word-for-word from Stephanie Meyer's insulting fangirl-esque word vomit, the movies are some of the most wretched, horrendous data ever committed to digital film stock. The acting across the board is universally awful, the leads have no chemistry, the special effects wouldn't pass muster in a mid-90s music video, the pacing and script are atrocious, the orchestral score is either underwhelming or completely crap, and the original songs crowbarred into these fucking movies are a perfect example of talented people completely wasting their time. In fact, that's a good way of describing these films: people who I actually know are talented (Kristen Stewart was in Panic Room and Adventureland, and Robert Pattinson was actually good in David Cronenburg's Cosmopolis) either collecting a paycheque or completely wasting their time and embarrassing themselves. And everybody - absolutely everybody - is playing this as straight as they possibly can, because SERIOUS BUSINESS and all that.

And if anything, that's what makes the Twilight movies some of the best works of comedy you'll ever see in your life. I'm not even kidding about this - while all the fangirls are sucked in by how 'romantic' they find Bella and Edward's relationship, I can't stop laughing at how terrible the entire thing is. And while I will admit part of the fun is laughing at the idiots who enjoy this shit without irony (people who I tend to regard with caution and keep at arm's length), part of it is just watching what a colossal disaster the entire thing is, marvelling at how much money they blew to create something that which Uwe Boll would be embarrassed. 

And from what I can glean from the press interviews, the two actors who seem to 'get' how impossibly bad this shit is are Michael Sheen and Robert Pattinson, the former who looks to be having the time of his life camping it up for all its worth (I'm reminded of some Tim Curry and Wallace Shawn performances), and the latter who described his horror at playing Stephanie Meyer's masturbation fantasy and described the throngs of Twilight fangirls as 'the sound you hear at the gates of hell.' Now, I'm not sympathizing with them - after all, they're getting paid disgusting amounts of money to star in this tripe - but they know that the people at this point who still take it seriously are beyond deluded, and they've figured, 'Well, might as well deliver exactly what Stephanie Meyer and her fans dreamed about!' They know how rancidly unwatchable the Twilight movies are, and the fact they aren't winking at the camera shows a certain commitment that's admirable in a bizarre way.

So, taken from that perspective, knowing that there's no fucking way that anyone could take this bullshit seriously if they possess more brain cells than the average termite, you have to wonder if the movies are worth seeing because of ironic hilarity. And make no mistake, even without RiffTracks, the first two Twilight films, Twilight and New Moon, are comedy gold mines. If you're taking them remotely seriously, it's like having your eye sockets raped with a garden hoe, but if you're laughing at just how much of a colossal failure they are, you can laugh all the way to the damn bank.

But here's where a problem popped up with Eclipse, arguably the most 'well-made' of the Twilight movies (it's from the guy who made Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night), because as the movie got better constructed, they got a lot less funny and a lot more hateable, half because it becomes so fucking dull and half because you're forced to realize just how contemptible all of the characters really are. Breaking Dawn Part I was much of the same in that regard, but added the further problems of shit-tons of padding and turning the most fucked-up elements of the series into utterly pathetic yet still incredibly insulting drivel. I mean, can you all imagine what Breaking Dawn Part 1 would have looked like with David Cronenburg directing, with the C-Section scene and the explicit violent sex and the goddamn imprinting? It could have been the most balls-out exploitation film released that year, with a chance of at least having one great gore effect to be remembered besides all the rest of the boring awfulness.

And really, I didn't expect much going into Breaking Dawn Part 2. I expected it to be reasonably well shot, full of characters I either don't care about or hate, the special effects to be a beer bong full of animal feces, and the soundtrack to be full of overwrought wailing from artists who should really know better.

And while all of that is there, I am telling you all that you need to go see 'Breaking Dawn Part II'. Because something of a miracle happened here, and to explain why, I'm going to have to spoil pretty much the whole damn movie, so after the jump, I'm going to spoil the fuck out of this. But I'll leave those who don't want to be spoiled with this: this movie isn't 'So Bad It's Good'.

It's 'So Bad It's Amazing.'

Thursday, November 15, 2012

album review: 'red' by taylor swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

You know, I thought about writing this review in other ways, but I quickly realized that I’d lose some of the essence of what I’m trying to say if I don’t make this as approachable as possible. Plus, I want to prevent this from devolving into a rant, so a letter is probably the only way this sort of thing can work.

So let’s deal with introductions. I’m Silens Cursor, a semi-professional music critic and – pay attention, this is important – a former fan of yours. Yes, I liked your music. Your first two albums are pretty damn good pop-country, and you earned a lot of kudos from me by actually having a significant hand in writing your own material. It lent a certain ‘realness’ to your lyrics and simple style that was surprisingly appealing. Granted, I’m fairly certain lurking inside me is the spirit of a teenage girl who listens to Avril Lavigne and Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy and the Backstreet Boys and, well, you and who appreciates all these acts completely without irony. I get that some of your appeal was the ‘cuteness’ of it all, for lack of a better term (I’ll come back to this), but I genuinely think you have some well-written material that has some widespread appeal outside of the target demographic.

And then something happened. I’m not sure where, but I’m fairly certain it started with Speak Now, the first album of yours of which I wasn’t really much of a fan. Don’t get me wrong, I liked ‘Back To December’ a lot, but it was here I was beginning to observe a dichotomy I think it’s important to discuss, because it’s an interesting phenomenon I saw both in your music and that of Avril Lavigne, an artist you really have a lot in common with. I guess that also makes this letter something of a warning, because I don’t want to see you go the way she did, and a lot of the major symptoms are starting to crop up.

You see, Avril Lavigne came from the world of pop-punk with Let Go and Under My Skin, two albums I still hold are pretty damn excellent for an early 2000s female act. She had a certain bratty authenticity in her delivery that didn’t drain her of the very real fragility she could display on her ballads. There’s a reason why ‘I’m With You’ is the best song Avril Lavigne ever wrote – it played to all of her strengths, and really turned her into a captivating performer. You know, sort of like with you and ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ (for the record, ‘I’m With You’ is better – sorry).

But here’s the dichotomy – you both were treading a very fine line between mainstream pop success and artistic authenticity. I’ll grant that Avril had it easier – she was working with a pop climate that was marginally more mature and ‘real’ in 2002 than yours was in 2008. But make no mistake, your careers have charted similar paths, and it’s an unnerving thing to know that it’s only a matter of time before you hit the tipping point.

You see, it’s a terrible thing, but there tends to be a shelf life for artists who work to preserve ‘authenticity’. That’s why you hear about acts ‘selling out’ – the point where artistic integrity is cast aside in order to produce trend-riding material that might sell well, but lacks a certain individual flavor. And given the alarming trend of acts selling out in the past few years – Maroon 5, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, I could go on – I knew it was just a matter of time before everyone’s favourite country princess might be coerced over to that dynamic. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, it was ‘when’. Sorry about the cynicism, but in this day and age, particularly when it comes to pop music, it only makes sense.

Now, I’ll admit that branding an act a ‘sell-out’ is a very serious charge, and not one I would level without very good reason. And it’s also particularly hard with acts that rely on certain definitive qualities that are central to their artistic integrity. You know, how with Pink it was her vindictive, painfully raw feminism, and with Avril Lavigne it was her bratty, shockingly sincere adolescence, and with Maroon 5… well, they always wrote the soundtracks of douchebags, but there was a distinctive loss of personality in their material.

But outside of isolated incidents (the autotune and Wiz Khalifa’s presence on ‘Payphone’), it can be a bit tricky to find the precise elements to truthfully brand an act a sell-out. To me, there are two main elements I can pinpoint: a shift in instrumentation, or a shift in subject matter. And while some elements remain consistent between Red and Speak Now, there are a few things that I can spot that make this album much less tolerable.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

album review: 'the truth about love' by pink

You know, as angry as I got at Chris Brown - and believe me, after listening to every single fucking song on Fortune, I was plenty pissed off - I don't think there was a true 'edge' to that anger.

I won't deny that it's genuine - I loathe the misogynistic spurt of discharge, and every single one of his fans enabling his idiocy ought to be ashamed of themselves - but frankly, I was going into that album prepared for the worst. I expected Fortune to be garbage, and I wasn't disappointed. Now, some people - you know who you are - might say that my opinion was 'biased' going into that review, and that somehow partially invalidates that review because I wasn't being 'fair'. But this argument doesn't stand up based upon some very basic facts - namely because I was willing to give the goddamn album a chance and review it with some degree of intellectual perspective. I didn't just come here and rage incoherently - I actually took the time to try and find any possible shred of goodness in that album. The problem was, well, there wasn't any

But really, that sort of anger isn't really potent. As much as I hate Chris Brown and his music, I can't get truly enraged about it on an artistic level. Sure, Fortune is a massive turd, but it's not like I expected anything better from him. I wasn't expecting him to come forward and deliver some grand magnum opus on the scale of Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE (which I did not review, but I still highly recommend you check out - it's one of the best goddamn albums of the year). And I think I have the capacity to be fair to acts that I'm predisposed not to like - hell, I'm willing to acknowledge that the bonus track from Justin Bieber's Believe, 'Maria', is one of the best pop songs of the year. No, I'm not kidding - it may be working from Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' formula, but it nails it.

No, when I really get angry about music, it's about artists or acts that disappoint me. Acts that I know are so much better and yet produce shit that I can't, in good conscience, excuse. Take Eminem, for instance - he's one of my favourite rappers of all time, and I will still place 'Lose It' as the worst song from Billboard's year end charts in 2004 - because it's a skin-crawlingly awful song from a man capable of so much better. In a similar way, I'll rank 'Crack A Bottle', a mind-numblingly disappointing mess of a track from 2009 as the worst song from the year end charts of 2009 - yes, even worse than Beyonce's 'Diva' - because it's coming from three artists (well, two really, I have no love for 50 Cent) who are capable of so much more.

And on the topic of Eminem and disappointments, let's talk about Pink.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

album review: 'uno!' by green day

I was afraid of this happening.

I mean, when I heard that Green Day was planning on putting out a trilogy of albums - and planning on doing so all within about six months of each other, my immediate reaction was disbelief. They would have that much material that was ready for prime-time? They would be able to construct three whole albums based upon material recorded over about five months? They would have enough things to say to last three entire albums?

And then I realized, with a feeling of crushing dread filling up my stomach, that they wouldn't - they couldn't. As much as I like Green Day - and I do, let's make no mistake about that (favourite album is Kerplunk, followed by 21st Century Breakdown and Dookie) - I knew instinctively that unless they were trying to write to a specific concept, they weren't going to be able to keep everything good. They couldn't stretch it out that far. Even though they divided each of the trilogy into musical themes (the first being power pop/punk, the second being garage rock, the third being stadium rock), I knew that they couldn't have enough great, unique material to span three albums. 

And I'm disappointed to say that my original suspicions were correct. Even worse, I don't think I went far enough - as of right now, Uno! is Green Day's worst album. 

Yeah, worse than Warning. I went there.

Monday, September 24, 2012

album review: 'the brilliancy (two song demo)' by the brilliancy AND live set

In my review of the new album by The Killers (Battle Born), I was asked whether or not I could provide a break-down of the trends in indie rock over the past eight years, perhaps providing some insight into why the genre never really took off outside of its niche until fairly recently (this does link to the review, I promise). And while I'm sure it would be of great interest for everyone for me to dissect the evolution of indie rock over the past eight years outside of the mainstream, it's also the sort of project that would prove rather difficult.

The first major problem you run into is that you immediately don't have a defined metric to measure the influence/popularity of the music. The Billboard Charts, flawed as they are, do a fairly decent job of charting what's popular in the US, even if they don't always provide good reasons why said songs are popular. But given that the indie scene has never really had coherent, organized charts, determining the trends and ideas that indie rock adopts over time is significantly more difficult to track. It also doesn't help matters that indie rock as a genre is so varied and eclectic (particularly with some of the weirder, underground bands) and (generally) more intelligent that the sphere of influences and trends aren't as defined and static as those in the mainstream. There isn't the same 'producer-driven' archetypes (like the prevalence of the Neptunes in the early-to-mid 2000s) in indie rock, simply because those widespread 'indie producers' weren't nearly as prominent and powerful as those in the pop or hip-hop scenes.

In fact, if we're going to be completely blunt, the lack of success of indie rock seemed to cause the scene to mutate even further, some segments becoming more and more inaccessible. Outside of isolated points, it's taken indie rock eight years to be relevant on the charts again, and in that time, some acts completely gave up on mainstream airplay and became so inaccessible that even Pitchfork had a difficult time puzzling out what the fuck the act was doing.

And even taking all of that in mind, it would be inaccurate to say the indie bands failed, per se. The majority of them kept on making music, mostly within their own purview. If anything, the indie acts didn't disappear, they just dropped out of sight of the pop charts. Now, there are all sorts of theories why this happened, and I have three that I'll share before I begin the review (trust me, these are both relevant).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

album review: 'battle born' by the killers

Do any of you remember the music scene in 2004?

If you don't, you should. 2004 was a year where pop music delivered songs that were both critically acclaimed and amazingly popular. The trademark song of that year, 'Yeah' by Usher and featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris, came off of Usher's hit album Confessions and managed to catapult him straight into the A-List. This was also the year that Kanye West exploded into the mainstream, the year 'Hey Ya!' by OutKast charted, the year where gangster rap hit the critical junction of mainstream success and high quality. 

And it wasn't just in hip-hop either. On the metal front, rap metal had finally imploded (with the exception of Linkin Park, who released the relatively solid Meteora that year), and nu metal was on its last legs, with Evanescence experiencing their final puff of popularity before returning to irrelevancy (and the world rejoiced). This was also the year Within Temptation released The Silent Force and Nightwish released Once, the latter Nightwish's biggest hit album driven on the strength of its great singles. This was also the year Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project released The Human Equation, one of my favourite metal albums of all time. I mean, holy shit, that's a whole lot of awesome, even it isn't tied directly to the mainstream.

But if we are talking about the mainstream, we have to talk about rock music. Post-grunge was thankfully dying off, and people were searching for what would be the next advancement in the genre. Some thought it'd be pop rock or punk rock, driven on the helm of Jimmy Eat World and Green Day. Hell, Green Day released American Idiot in 2004, which was both a critical success and a huge hit, driving Green Day into a resurgence of popularity, and propelling bands embracing the emo aesthetic to the forefront. If I'm being  embarrassingly honest, I don't think this is a bad thing - I like pop-rock, and both Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco made great albums in the following years.

But even that's not the most interesting thing that happened in the 2004 rock scene - because that was the year indie rock exploded into the mainstream. This was the year where Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Arcade Fire, the Garden State soundtrack, where all of these acts somehow managed to gain mainstream attention and acclaim, and for a few brief seconds, there was a hope that indie rock might actually take hold in the modern consciousness and become the 'new grunge'.

That didn't happen. And for the reason why, I blame The Killers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

album review: 'tempest' by bob dylan

It's really hard to review Bob Dylan.

I mean, where do you start? What frame of reference should you use? Bob Dylan isn't just one of the best artists of all time, he's also one of the most prolific, with a huge share of great music and a fair share of the awful as well. He's one of the best, most impacting songwriters of the past generation, and any bearded indie rocker owes at least something to the man, now fully in the autumn of his life.

And speaking as someone who isn't completely familiar with every album and every live cut and every one of the hundreds of bootlegs that Dylan produced, I feel more than a little overwhelmed by the sheer weight of history behind the man, even more so because he's a fantastic writer and poet and musician one that I admire tremendously. For god's sake, I can look ninety degrees to my right from my kitchen table and see a framed poster of the man!

So I guess it can't hurt to provide a little context to where I'm coming from when I write this review, at least when it comes to my 'Dylan' experience. Well, here it is: it's painfully limited. I'm familiar with his hits - everyone should be - and I can thank my uncle for getting me to listen to Infidels, which Dylan's first legitimately great album of the 80s. From there, it's Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited, and really not much else. To say I feel out of my depth stepping into a review of his most recent album, particularly when I'm not even all that familiar with his material this decade, isn't hard to believe.

But then again, Bob Dylan, of all the albums and artists I've ever reviewed, has always been a poet first (musician second, singer third). And I have a literary background, which does provide some applicable skills to assess and analyse the man's work. And of all of the artists I've examined so far, I feel the least compunctions in branding this man's work 'art'. And art earns some of its worth and meaning due to the experience and interpretation of the viewer - and since we're all different, no one person's view (with the exception of the artist, because the whole 'death of the artist' theory is a load of horseshit) is sacrosanct.

So yes, while I will admit that not being familiar with Dylan's entire discography or indeed the majority of it adds something of an asterisk to my review and criticism, I do know good music. I know good poetry. And I can recognize good art when I see it. 

And without further ado, let's examine Bob Dylan's newest album, Tempest.

Monday, August 27, 2012

tv review: 'the newsroom' - season one commentary

So yeah, I haven't posted much here. Mostly this is because I've been working on other projects, and that'll mean updates here will be somewhat sporadic. That being said, I am going to write posts here when there are things that I want to talk about.

And today, I want to talk about The Newsroom, a show that should be so much better than it is, one that I will watch next summer in the hopes of improvement, but one I don't expect to get any better.

Monday, July 23, 2012

tv review: 'the newsroom' S01:E05

Is it just me, or is The Newsroom getting a little better?

Okay, I admit, there were a number of elements in this episode that flat-out did not work.  The romantic subplots are a tangled stupid mess that would embarrass most reality television (which I find a little ironic), but at this point, I think the show seems to be aware about how much the previous episodes' romantic elements didn't work. It's what they do with it that I find significantly more interesting.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

movie review: 'the dark knight rises'

It's hard to name a trilogy where the last entry is the best. 

The original Star Wars movies, The Godfather trilogy, the original X-Men trilogy, the Spider-Man trilogy, even the Lord of the Rings movies often suffer from the last movie just not being able to close the loop (I understand that my issues with Return of the King are primarily structural, but I'm sorry, The Two Towers is, in my opinion, a better film. And to some degree, I understand the problem. In the first movie, you establish everything. In the second movie, you ramp it up. In the third movie, you draw things to a close the best you can - and most filmmakers just can't. The expectations are the highest, you expect the best, the most epic things on screen - and often times, it just doesn't deliver.

So maybe, just maybe, it would have been better had The Dark Knight Rises never been made. That's a harsh indictment, but you couldn't realistically hope to top The Dark Knight. That's an implicit condemnation of The Dark Knight Rises, I know that, but considering how great, how much The Dark Knight crystallized the modern superhero blockbuster, it would be impossible to top it. With Heath Ledger giving the most powerful performance of his career, with that film ending the way it did, how can you follow that?

At some point, this had to have occurred to director Christopher Nolan, and you can tell that he tried - oh, did he try - to make this movie the biggest and most impactful of all three films. The conflict was bigger, the stakes were higher, the danger was greater... and I'm sorry, but it doesn't work.

Make no mistake, The Dark Knight Rises isn't terrible. It isn't the worst ending to a trilogy I've seen - the comparisons to Spider-Man 3 and The Godfather Part III are unfair - but the film just doesn't work, despite all of the efforts involved. I can't say that this movie is uniformly unworkable - there are shining moments of brilliance, I can't deny that - but ultimately The Dark Knight Rises, regardless of comparisons to its predecessors, is the worst of the trilogy and arguably a failure. I'm going to try to explain why without spoiling anything - and at some point, I'm going to drop all pretence, because I have to discuss the ending and the thematic payoffs, but you'll be warned when that happens.

Let me make this clear - The Dark Knight Rises has all of the pieces of that epic finale that it wants to be. The acting is universally solid across the board, and damn near amazing when it comes to some characters. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman all reprise their roles and deliver excellently (although I'm not entirely pleased that Alfred's character seems to vanish for over half of the movie), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers the best performance of his career thus far as a beat cop named Blake. Hell, I'll even stick up for Tom Hardy doing the best he can with Bane, and Anne Hathaway trying to make Selina Kyle work. This is really an ensemble piece, and if they had just titled this film Gotham, I think it would have sounded a lot better than The Dark Knight Rises. It certainly fits the tone of the film a lot more (I'll come back to this).

In terms of directing and cinematography, this is a great looking film. The shot composition is excellent, the action is framed beautifully (although not quite as nicely as The Avengers, in my opinion), and the scenes that could look silly with a bad director look awesome as all hell here. And I'll be the first to say that the fight choreography here is the best of all three movies, and the special effects have never looked better. And Hans Zimmer's score is epic, sweeping, and does a lot of work to make this movie feel big and ponderous and meaningful.

The sad thing is that it had to do that work, because the script and plot of this film is an absolute disaster.

At this point, being familiar with Batman continuity outside of these movies allowed me to pinpoint the exact comics Christopher Nolan was drawing inspiration from - and this isn't exactly a bad thing, because one of those comics is one of the most well-written and crafted pieces of all time. That comic is The Dark Knight Returns, written by future nutcase Frank Miller, and along with Watchmen, was one of two comics released in the mid-80s that would be responsible for redefining the medium. And you know what? If Christopher Nolan had chosen just to use The Dark Knight Returns as his primary influence, it could have worked, and would have made for a very interesting political commentary (oh, the political elements are here, but I'll get into that after the spoiler point). But unfortunately, there are two other comics that Nolan draw influence from. The first is Knightfall, where Bane does the one thing that made his character famous in comic-book history rather than a footnote. The second was No-Man's Land, a rather bleak comic that did a lot to explore Gotham as a whole, and probably would have fit the tone Nolan was looking to examine.

If I'm being completely honest, all three of these comic lines could have been workable for The Dark Knight Rises - but Nolan chose to mash all three of them together and then fuse in a fresh plotline of his own, which renders the plot a twisted, tangled mess that has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. And here's where Nolan's focus on realism proves to be his undoing, because if he wants the plot to be relatable and cerebral and 'above' the comic books he's drawing from, accessible to the mainstream, I'm not going to be as forgiving when it comes to the plot holes. I'm not going to spoil anything at this point, but let me say that Bruce Wayne could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he got in contact with the corporate lawyer for Wayne Enterprises - and for a man who is supposed to be a smart and well-connected as him, the fact that he doesn't is a real problem.

I'm getting close to discussing themes and elements of this movie that will require spoilers, so let me talk about a few other problems I can talk about without spoiling, the first being Selina Kyle. I will give Nolan some minor applause for finally passing the Bechdel test, but even despite Anne Hathaway trying to make her character work, Nolan's script doesn't have any idea what she's supposed to be. A third of the time she's out for herself, a third of the time she's speaking for the poor of Gotham, and the last third of the time she's an incredibly awkward insert-love-interest-here stand-in that even the movie seems to mock. 

At this point I have to talk about Nolan's 'hyper-masculine' philosophy with regards to film-making, and the portrayal of Selina Kyle is a great place to do it. Thanks to their convoluted plots, the generally bleak settings, and the stoic, heavy style of directing, many have commented that Nolan's cinematography and directing style could be considered emotionally cold or distant. This is namely because Nolan places human reason far above emotion - his Ideal Man is a titan of reason and logic, not swayed by his passions or his feelings. And while I can't deny I find this appealing, it also leads to a sexless portrayal of women in his films - or worse. The crowning moment for this was Inception, where Cobb's wife and her emotional breakdown dragged her into limbo, and Cobb's connections to her nearly result in his destruction as well, in a job that demands reason and logic within the human mind. It's a window of insight into Nolan that very soon explains a great deal of his portrayal of female characters in movies. Compared to a Tarantino or a Rodriquez or even a Zack Snyder, Nolan seems unconcerned with female sexuality in films, and actively works to de-emphasize it through cold, austere film-making. Let me make this clear: you will never see a sex scene in a Christopher Nolan film.

So it was baffling to me that he chose to include Selina Kyle - Catwoman, one of the most sexualized characters in comic book history - in The Dark Knight Rises. That is, until you realize that not only is Anne Hathaway never called Catwoman in the film, but her character is hardly a sexual being at all - at least until she's called upon to drop into the insert-love-interest-here spot. In fact, I'd have a hard time saying she's got a character at all - she's less of a person and more of a plot device, used to push Bruce and Batman towards the inevitable. She does a pretty decent job with what she has, but she's probably the most sexless Catwoman character I've seen on screen, and frankly, while it was expected from Nolan, I was hoping he's step out of his box. 

And speaking of the inevitable, I now have to talk about Bane - and unlike some, I think Bane actually works as an effective villain in this film. He's imposing as all hell, he's a potent physical presence, and it's probably the only way Bane's character could have been realistically done well in a Batman movie. But there are two problems with his character, and the first problem is the line delivery. Unlike some, I can overlook the strange voice - I've heard the comment that he sounds like Darth Vader crossed with Sean Connery, but it didn't both me. My problem was with the obvious dubbing - and dear God, it was obvious.  The overdubbing was too loud and it didn't flow well with the rest of the film - sure, it sounded ominous, but it really broke my suspension of disbelief when his voice was so much louder in the sound mix. The second problem is a little tougher to define - basically, the ending twist (that anybody who's read enough Batman comics will see coming, by the way) leaves Bane something of a shell of a character, ultimately lacking importance in the long run. He executes an incredibly complex scheme (which is full of holes, but it was still impressive) - but the twist strips any true payoff to the ending, and I was left with a real sense of disappointment. 

And now, to talk about themes and other plot problems, I have to spoil pretty much the whole movie. For those who are stopping here, I still think, despite the many, many flaws of this film, it's worth seeing. It's the weakest of the trilogy, though, and it's sure as hell not as good as The Avengers (albeit better than The Amazing Spider-Man). Spoilers after the jump.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

movie review: 'the dark knight' (RETRO REVIEW)

I remember the first time I saw The Dark Knight.

I remember the hours of waiting in line with my friends, where we talked, argued, played cards, and tried to coordinate with our friends who were arriving later. I remember getting some of the best seats in the theatre for the movie, and I remember the audience bursting into shocked applause at the end of the film, still working to take in what they had seen. 

Yes, The Dark Knight was that good. For me, it was something of a formative experience - I know for a fact that scenes in a few of my stories were shaped by those in that film. It was also the first film that appealed to my thinking on political issues - as I suspect it was intended. It also did wonders in defining the superhero blockbuster and was part of the sequence of fantastic films that came out in 2008, which was one of the best years for movie geeks since 1982. Both critics and audiences hailed it, and the choice by the Academy to extend the Best Picture category was driven primarily by the refusal to nominate this film. It wasn't just a formative film for me - it was a film that reshaped elements of the cinematic landscape. It catapulted Christopher Nolan to stardom, provided additional fuel for the revitalization of comics along with Iron Man (which would lead into The Avengers), and gave Heath Ledger the Academy's first posthumous Oscar-winning actor since 1976.

And to be completely honest, while I have seen The Dark Knight dozens of times since it was released in 2008, it's a little hard to talk about - mostly because for a contemporary superhero blockbuster, it has been one of the most intensely analyzed and discussed film in recent years. And it wasn't just film critics this time - Nolan's clear emphasis of themes and symbols have made the film accessible, so everyone could talk about it. My issue will be having anything new to say on the subject.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

movie review: 'batman begins' (RETRO REVIEW)

In two days, like a majority of comic book fans, movie buffs, and semi-professional movie critics, I'm going to go see The Dark Knight Rises. I've been working my ass off to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, so I'll be fully surprised when I go to see the movie, but I also know that's going to be mostly impossible in this day and age. I know the movie has received some amount of critical acclaim (although most critics have commented it isn't quite as good as The Dark Knight), I know Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy are playing villains, and I have a sneaking suspicion regarding the return of Ra's al-Ghul and the League of Shadows in some way, shape, or form (fingers crossed for Liam Neeson to show up).

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be productive (since there really aren't many albums that I can review at this point) for me to do a retroactive examination of the three Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films. Part of this is for me to catch up on canonical elements that I might have missed, but another part of this is to re-examine Nolan's filmmaking and thematic elements he's looking to consider in this series, and ultimately bring to a close in his film set to be released this Friday. 

So, without further ado, let's talk about Batman Begins.

album review: 'swing lo magellan' by the dirty projectors

Short version: yeah, these guys are seriously talented instrumentalists, but outside of that, there's nothing of substance good or interesting enough to justify the artifice. In other words, it's insubstantial, and outside of the great leading single, not really worth your time.

Today, we're going to talk about hipster music, and the culture that supports it.

Considering my fondness for weirdness and off-beat stuff nobody has ever heard of, one initially might make the reasonable assumption that I hold some fondness for the hipster lifestyle, that I might be one of the exotic coffee-drinking, art film-viewing, glasses-wearing, generally snobbish fellows that peruses Pitchfork and has general disdain for everything popular. Now, anybody who has read any of my reviews would know by now that's not the case, and while I can appreciate some of the art and music and films that come out of the hipster culture, I know myself well enough not to consider myself a hipster. In fact, if I'm going to be completely honest, I don't really have the highest opinion of 'hipsters' in general.

Part of it comes down to attitude, I think. There's a certain element of condescension inherent in hipster culture that comes with seemingly knowing and 'understanding' things other people don't, but here's the contradiction: for something to remain hipster-friendly, it needs to remain somewhat underground. If it becomes popular, suddenly it's not cool in the same way, unless said hipsters appreciate it 'ironically'. It comes down to not appreciating the art because it's good or profound or interesting or groundbreaking, but because the 'mainstream' hasn't discovered yet. It's the thrill of being in a secret society and the assumption that just because someone is privileged enough to have the time to go hunting for this sort of material, it makes that person better. Now granted, I get the appeal, but I've got to be honest, I'd prefer that the wider culture would embrace the art in question because it's good, and might provide a message that benefits society on a greater level. While hipster culture promotes exclusivity, I'd prefer something more inclusive, with the only barrier to entry coming in the interpretation or reflection of the artwork. 

And here's where we come to the part of things where hipsters cringe, because it's something they really don't want to admit, and that's the deeper message of most of the 'hipster culture' they admire just isn't nearly as deep as they want it to be. I think, on some level, hipsters recognize that, and thus they seek out music that's more esoteric and bizarre in aesthetic, but not really all that deep or interesting upon a closer examination. It's one of my bigger problems with Pitchfork - not that they don't do a decent job analyzing the external aesthetic and mechanics of a song (albeit all of them need to put away the damn thesaurus), but that they rarely go deeper into the message and deeper meaning of the work. 

Now, it doesn't help matters that being a hipster is becoming a 'thing', so to speak. The mainstream market was starting to realize the appeal of the hipster 'brand' as early as 1995 with the opening of RENT (likely earlier in some places), and it has reached the point that there is indeed a hipster 'brand'. For as anti-corporate as some hipsters like to think they are, they feel to realize that their lifestyles and cultural appreciation are dependent upon the corporate brands that feed them. And as ironic as that is, I can't help but feel a twinge of unease when I see the mainstream adopting some of the aesthetic of hipsters and indie rock while completely missing any substance that might be hiding inside. I've ranted about Foster The People before, how they were a band that was co-opting the hipster look and feel for their music and the attitude for the message, but the message was so insidious and phony that it felt like a self-absorbed parody in the vein of 3OH!3, but they aren't the only band that fits into the corporate co-opting of the hipster brand.

And here's the worst part - instead of fighting this by writing interesting, deeper songs, hipster music has hidden behind greater and greater artifice, perhaps to disguise the fact that they've never had anything that interesting to say in the first place. As an act, Metric's Synthetica was at least trying to make a statement, but most hipster indie rock won't even bother.

And with that, we have to talk about The Dirty Projectors, an indie rock band that's hipster through and through.