No Sleep ‘Til Ireland


Homesickness is a phenomena that I feel like hasn’t justly been portrayed onscreen a ton.  Which seems a bit strange considering it’s a dilemma that a lot of young people have to deal with at some point in early adulthood, whether they’ve moved to a different place for college, work, or just getting away from your parents and whatever bullshit infested your teenage life.  I know it’s something I certainly dealt with when I started college in the middle of a sprawling metropolitan city that was far removed from my hometown, and I can still remember that first week in San Francisco before classes where I felt so shaken by this cosmic shift in geography and my psychology that I felt too sick to my stomach to eat for about a week before I eventually adapted to these new surroundings.  Brooklyn concerns an even more seismic shift in one Irish girl’s life, as she makes a journey to America that seems so indicative of the mass emigration of Europeans towards America during the first half of the 20th century.

This Irish girl is named Eilis, and she’s played by Siorse Ronan, so you know she has a kind of confidence hidden beneath a seemingly shy demeanor that’s irresistible without ever trying to be.  Eilis immediately has a bit of a rough time adjusting to the realities of living in a place that seems so foreign, but not entirely foreign considering New York was swimming with Irish immigrants by the time of the film’s 1952 setting.  These difficulties of making sense of living so far away from home become a little less difficult when Eilis meets a nice young Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen), and the two become adorably in love each other.  However, their blossoming relationship is threatened when family troubles force Eilis to move back to Ireland for a time, and she finds herself falling back in love with her hometown as well as a nice Irish boy played by who else but Domhnall Gleeson.

If homesickness is a concept that we haven’t seen explored that much on screen, young love is.  Like overwhelmingly so.  And yet, there’s something very sweet and pure about seeing this polite romance between two characters that are just figuring out what love is, while also figuring out what that means in a place like Brooklyn in the mid-20th century.  And I think much of the film’s charm lies in the fact that it does take such a simple approach to such a classically American story — that of a young immigrant finding their way in America — and while also not being half as depressing as last year’s The Immigrant.  Also, I just think this is a role that’s tailor-made for a performer like Saoirse Ronan, who not only spent time living in New York and Ireland in her own youth, but has an equal amount of vulnerability and confidence that few actors her age have.

Now as great of a job as Brooklyn does of making us feel that homesickness that Eilies feels for her native Ireland, I wish the movie didn’t do such a great job of making the audience feel homesick towards the movie’s first two acts.  Because once the movie (and Eilis) return to Ireland late in the movie, I feel like this story loses a lot of its steam.  There’s supposed to be a kind of love-triangle between her and Dohmnhall Gleason, but at that point I just felt like Eilis and that Italian kid felt like such a good fit that this part of the movie came off like a bit of an afterthought.  And Eilis being torn between the bright lights of NYC and the green pastures of her native Ireland seems like something that would have totally worked in Colm Tóibín’s novel that the movie is based on, but doesn’t quite here.  So for that, I’ll just say that this is a nice little movie.  Not quite nice enough for me to fall in love with, but nice nonetheless.

2015 Music Roundup: I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Is Father John Misty hipster Jesus? Check out these lyrics, “Emma eats bread and butter/Like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine/We’ll have satanic Christmas Eve/And play piano in the chateau lobby.” Can’t you imagine some shoeless Lit major sitting in a coffee shop and banging out those same words on a vintage typewriter? If pretentious lyrics weren’t enough, don’t forget this guy calls himself “Father.” As if rock is a religion and he is an interpreter. As Gerald Johanssen might say, “You’re a bold kid (insert name), a bold kid.” It’s not hard to poke fun at the whole Father John Misty persona. The music on the other hand? The music is no joke… well, except when it’s intended to be.

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2015 Music Roundup: Wilder Mind

Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

Mumford & Sons rise to prominence has never ceased to amaze me. It stems from when I first saw the group perform live at the 2010 Sasquatch Music Festival. Few people knew them and they played on one of the smaller bullsh*t stages. They had 66th billing on the concert poster, which means they were even lower than The Lonely Forest. For some perspective, in 2006 my former band The Defenestrators played with The Lonely Forest. By 2013, not only were Mumford & Sons headlining Sasquatch, their second album had won a Grammy for Album of the Year. All of this through the power of folk. A power so strong it even spawned folk knock offs like the Lumineers and Phillip Phillips, but there was only one Mumford.

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The Search for More Money

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

That seems fast, doesn’t it? It’s already been two months since Star Wars tickets went on sale, a year since the first trailer debuted, and over three years since George Lucas “divorced” himself from his legacy. Star Wars has become a massive institution again, with a new show on the Disney Channel, plans to get a movie out every year for the rest of time, and enough marketing agreements that pretty much anything you buy right now could be Star Wars branded, if you want it. Which I do. We all knew this would happen someday, but I can’t believe that day is already here, that I’ve already seen The Force Awakens, that the events following the destruction of the second Death Star are officially written. Funny how that always seems to happen, like how it felt the first Avengers movie took forever to come out and then the second one was out pretty much a week later.

But I’ll skip my further ruminations on the franchise, fandom, and the temporal nature of life, and instead focus on answering the single question at the heart of every review: Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a good movie? I believe the answer is an unequivocal yes, though the degree of that goodness depends on your expectations. Personally, I took director JJ Abrams’ previous work on the 2009 Star Trek as my measure for success; a movie that pours excitement and adventure into a series that needed a kick, while still showing respect and fondness for everything that came before it. And also it would be nice if he didn’t do anything dumb like make the female lead strip down to her underwear for no reason, which is something he did in both Star Treks, JJ, that ol’ perv.

Absolutely, 100%, yes, Star Wars is back and fun like it hasn’t been in ages. As weird as it might sound, I think The Force Awakens is at its best right at the start as it introduces us to new characters who undoubtedly hundreds of morbidly obese men will dress up as for decades to come. There’s Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a X-wing pilot whose skills are as great as his snarky comebacks. He’s looking after a little droid called BB-8, that ball thing you’ve seen in the ads who’s more akin to WALL-E than R2-D2. They meet up with ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), a delightfully desperate young man with a strong sense of what’s right. Soon enough his path will cross with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger with the skills to pay the bills. All the while the evil First Order is up to some bad stuff, as led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a big Darth Vader fan.

I think that’s about all I’m legally allowed to write about the plot at this point without covering the site in spoiler alerts, but trust me, the new characters are great. And frankly the whole spoiler concern thing is a bit ridiculous, as every major twist and turn this story took is one I think anyone will see coming from a mile away – to the point where at our sold out Cinerama show, during the biggest scene in the movie, I don’t think I heard a single person gasp or laugh or anything. You could feel that moment’s inevitability. That’s fine, the function of The Force Awakens is twofold: establish the current state of the galaxy far, far away and set things up for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII in 2017. That’s a big enough challenge for one movie, isn’t it?

There are people who are saying no. They mostly point at The Force Awakens‘ structure, which they complain is too similar to the original Star Wars. To those people, I say this: I agree a little bit. A tiny, little bit, in that the big thing at the end of the movie felt kind of unnecessary. You know another movie that had this problem? Return of the Jedi. Just like that movie, The Force Awakens doesn’t focus too much on blowing that thing up again, mainly making it a task for its most marginalized main character, Poe (who hopefully unlike Lando will actually grow in importance over the sequels). The real focus is on the interpersonal conflicts between the heroes and villains, and that, again, still not revealing anything, is quite good.

Which is amazing, after having lived through the prequel trilogy. The most substantial joy for me, a lifelong Star Wars fan, is that for the first time ever, I didn’t know at all where these characters were going to end up. Despite the aforementioned potential structural familiarity problem, it is exciting that I didn’t actually know who would live or die, who would wield the force, who would save the day, or even if the day was indeed going to be saved. I always had the entirety of the original trilogy available to me, and with the prequels we always knew what would happen, it was just a question of how. But this is the beginning of a new frontier, a great unknown, one of my life’s largest blindspots, and that is overwhelmingly exciting.

It’s also very much a return to original trilogy values. The force is back to being a mystical power rather than something babies go to abstinence school to learn about because they have a chemical imbalance. Lightsabers are extremely dangerous and fights with them are all about character and context rather than carefully choreographed technique. Spaceships get in dogfights, good guys shoot stormtroopers, the Millennium Falcon doesn’t work that well, there’s an alien cantina instead of a shitty fifties diner. This is my Star Wars.

Those values extend to the production design and special effects as well. The prequel trilogy is criticized for an over-reliance on computer-generated imagery, and when you hear things like not a single clone trooper physically existed, surely you can see where those critics are coming from (although I also kind of think that’s amazing). Abrams has always been a champion of doing as much in-camera as possible, and good golly Miss Molly, this is a pretty picture. The practical effects are so good and prevalent that the few motion captured characters actually sort of seem out of place, kind of like an inverse of the puppet Yoda in Phantom Menace. But even they don’t look bad, and the movie includes several amazing spaceship tracking shots too, so maybe the best thing is to use every technology and technique you can to make a movie good?

It’s hard to say where The Force Awakens will end up in the grand scheme of Star Wars, but it seems like a harbinger of good things to come. Despite the detractors, I’ve heard more than a few people say that this has become the new third best movie in the franchise, which would sound like a backhanded compliment in any other series, but feels like a big deal here, after what we’ve been through. Then again, I’m pretty sure I walked out of every prequel movie loving it, and then slowly realized their problems as I had more time to think about it. I’ve had a weekend to think about The Force Awakens, plus I’m an alleged adult know with better sensibilities, and really my primary insight so far has simply been that I desperately need to see this movie again. I want to believe it’s as good as I feel it is. Because this is the most important series in my life, and I’m going to care no matter what. The force will be with us, always.

2015 Music Roundup: Currents

Tame Impala – Currents

Remember that song and/or artist that you just couldn’t escape in 2015?  I have to assume that the fracturing state of music nowadays made it unique to whatever your personal tastes happens to be (though the reemergence of Adele was one that most people could share).  But for me this artist was Tame Impala, and the song could have been a lot of cuts off of Currents, but the one I feel like I ended up hearing the most was “Let It Happen”.  And at first my reaction to this song was a little like “Ok, a little synthy for my tastes.  But it’s got a nice groove and it’s catchy,” which eventually turned to “I guess I like this?” which turned to “I don’t know if I like this anymore,” and at this point is more like “I could probably do without this song and this band, but whatever”.

It’s the kind of full-circle reaction that could also be applied to Tame Impala as a band, as I liked their first album (though not overwhelmingly), then eventually succumbed to their spacey psyched-out sound with 2012’s Lonerism (which made my top ten that year).  But I don’t know if it’s due to Tame Impala’s status as one of the more universally liked indie rock bands right now, or more to the album’s slicked up sound, but I just couldn’t help but feel kind of indifferent over Currents.  Though I want to say it’s the latter reason, since I’d like to think that I’m beyond getting bored with a band just because their popularity transcends whatever bullshit indie rock snobbery my tastes seem to inhabit.  After all, I had a really good time with that Alabama Shakes album that came out this year.

So I’ll just blame it on the docile nature of a lot of these songs.  Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker has one of those pleasant voices that has the capability to carry a tune that gets irreversibly stuck in your god damn head for days.  But at the same time, it can sometimes be a little too soothing to hold your attention for terribly long if the song isn’t as great as his pleasant voice seems to be convincing you that it is.  And because a lot of the songs here had that effect on me, more than any other album from 2015, this was the one I’d end up listening to the first half of before getting bored and listening to something else.  Which is totally fine for Tame Impala.  They don’t need my fandom.  They’ve got a large chunk of the indie and mainstream rock music audience by the ears, while their critical standing is about as bulletproof as any band out there.  And I say more power to ’em.  It’s just that I probably won’t be listening to whatever beloved album they got coming up next.

Favorite Tracks: “Eventually”, “The Less I Know The Better”, “Disciples”

2015 Music Roundup: Gliss Riffer

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer

Who wants to rock the party? Dan Deacon wants to rock the party. The one thing I can tell you about ol’ double D is that he demands people listening to his music to have fun. His sound, nay his M.O. is to be fun and goofy and absolutely something you can dance to until you’re a sweaty mess. That’s about all I can tell you about his music though, because looking up live performances reveals that he plays a microphone and an endless, indecipherable sea of wires, buttons, knobs, and switches.

Maybe this is just what music is like today, in it’s purest form? Nothing is natural on Gliss Riffer, especially Deacon’s voice, which takes on many personas, some masculine, some feminine, some decidedly non-human. Perhaps in spite of that, lyrically Deacon is focused on spiritual and existential quandaries; such as the idea of existence in the pre-life, as opposed to the afterlife, which he delves into on the relentless “When I Was Done Dying.”

This depth was the pleasant surprise on the album for me, as this was my first exposure to Dan Deacon. A friend of mine showed my his NPR Tiny Desk performance, but honestly at the time is crowdwork antics were off-putting to me. What really opened me up to him was his appearance on Improv for Humans, which usually only brings on musicians who tell great stories through song. That turned out to be one of my favorite episodes this year.

Anyway, Gliss Riffer is about as energetic an album as I can take these days, unless I’m looking to get pumped up. It’s been a great commute companion this last month and a half and one I would recommend to anyone who’s looking to get a little off the beaten path. Or fuck it, maybe this is exactly the shit kids are listening to these days. Who knows?

Favorite Tracks: “Feel the Lightning,” “When I Was Done Dying,” “Mind on Fire”

The Son Also Boxes


One of the recurring concepts I’ve seen in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens reviews is that two 2015 movies have become shorthand for long-awaited sequels, Jurassic World and Creed. Like Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Rocky both had their last sequel come out about a decade ago. Also, they return to the formula of the first movie in the franchise while focusing on new characters, with returning favorites added in to pass the torch. The difference being Creed had the smarts to build on and redeem the Rocky franchise, while Jurassic World merely expressed an affection for Jurassic Park and not even necessarily its sequels.

We all know that Apollo Creed died heroically fighting for freedom and James Brown against the Soviet parody of humanity, Ivan Drago, shortly before the Italian Stallion saved the western world. What we didn’t know was that Apollo had an affair that resulted in a pregnancy before his big comeback. It’s perhaps an unfair way to diminish that character, especially since Carl Weathers wasn’t in the film, but given Apollo’s discontent at the start of Rocky IV, it’s not entirely far-fetched. Anyway, that child, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is born after his father’s death, especially unfortunate because Adonis is a natural fighter.

The younger Creed ends up being adopted and raised by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad), but a comfortable life isn’t for him. Adonis quits he sweet office job and moves to a tiny Philadelphia apartment in search of the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, perhaps the least necessary parenthetical I’ve ever written) to train him. Rocky’s still running his restaurant and visiting Adrian’s grave every day, but he takes a liking to the kid and feels something of a debt to Apollo. Also, Adonis meets a beautiful neighbor (Tessa Thompson) in a cute little subplot that probably isn’t necessary but is important to maintaining The Formula and setting things up for Creed Part II: Rocky VIII.

Creed was directed by Ryan Coogler (who previously collaborated with Jordan on his directorial debut, Fruitvale Station), based on a script by him and Aaron Covington. That’s a big change of pace for the series, which had thus far mostly been written and directed by Stallone himself. For that reason, I went in expecting a modern boxing movie with some Rocky flavor thrown in. That is not the case, as once Rocky gets into the movie, he becomes a de facto co-lead. And while a contemporary and more down-to-earth film than you might expect from this franchise, tonally I don’t think it was that far from where Stallone left it in Rocky Balboa.

Ultimately, I found Creed a very pleasing film – one I think would be satisfying for newcomers but remaining quite rewarding for long-time fans. My biggest gripe was a little one: Where were Apollo’s other kids? I’m pretty sure we saw Apollo and his wife had a daughter and a son in the other movies. This is the kind of thing that could have been easily addressed in a throw away line, but it wasn’t, so now I’m worried. Come on guys, what’s the canon here?