Best Films of 2014

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

A little late on this, but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to see as many films that came out in 2014 as I possibly could. Looking forward to comments.

  1. Whiplash – A movie that just hit me in so many ways. It’s raw, it’s significant, and it feels about as real as it could. Sure, I’ll bet there are some issues with the film’s content in terms of accuracy, but the script and the acting is so well executed, those little discrepancies don’t matter much. J.K. Simmons is insane in this movie and well worthy of the praise heaped upon him, and Miles Teller is under-appreciated in his role (although it is a stacked year in the male acting categories) that really makes the film work. Still the most incredible thing about the film is that the director wasn’t even 30 when he made this, a film that is so confident in its existence, it’s difficult to overlook.
  2. Gone Girl – David Fincher, to his credit, never makes the same movie twice. That’s why we’ll never get him to make the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s just not in his nature (well, maybe not: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1703246/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1). In any respect, the director’s latest might be his most bombastic and insane film yet, which, considering his filmography is saying a great deal. This is a film driven by mood and actors, especially Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike as the titular lost wife Amy Dunne, who is absolutely terrifying in a role that no person who’s ever seen her on film could have seen coming (she was a Bond girl, for goodness sake). Fincher has never been one to stray from difficult topics, and this film is not different, and for possibly the first time he hits his viewers in places that they can connect with (just look at how successful this film was and that should tell you what you need to know). If the Academy didn’t have some sort of issue with Fincher, this should certainly have made its way into the Best Picture conversation. Either way, this is certainly one of the best films I saw in 2014.
  3. Boyhood – The scope of this film is really what makes this film as fantastic as it is. On the surface, it’s a simple story about a boy who grows up and the life he experiences along the way. Richard Linklater has done a wonderful thing in that he manages to always find those moments that feel of great importance, even if they feel insignificant as the film progresses. Yet the whole is greater than the some of its parts, and you cannot take away from the hugeness of the project that Linklater takes on. For that reason alone, Boyhood should go down as one of the most important films in recent memory, regardless of what happens in a Los Angeles theater in late February.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I love Wes Anderson, and honestly can’t say that he’s really made a bad film as of yet. He’s made lesser films, for sure (probably The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited would fall into that category), but of late it really feels like Anderson has hit his stride. After The Fantastic Mr. FoxMoonrise Kingdom and now this, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we might be at the height of Anderson’s powers. This is the first time I’ve started to get the feeling that Anderson might have something to say in the midst of his quirky sentimentality. His normal sensibility is still here, but there’s an importance here, a greater reason for existence, and while it doesn’t always work (the slight comeuppance at the Nazi regime doesn’t really work, for example), I give Anderson credit for pushing himself. This might be his best film yet.
  5. Edge of Tomorrow – What a sad thing it is that hardly anybody went to see this movie, but it really is one of the best films that Tom Cruise has ever been a part of, and certainly one of the most overlooked films of the year. It is a thought-provoking, action-packed romp, filled with great performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, who really carries the film in many ways. It says a lot about the failure of this film that Cruise’s response is to go back to his fall back franchises: his next three films listed on IMDb are Mission: Impossible 5, Top Gun 2 and Jack Reacher 2. Sad but true.
  6. The Lego Movie – I just don’t get how one of the most successful and most original animated films of 2014 is not considered to be one of the best 5 animated films of the year. The movie made a quarter of a billion dollars stateside, and has launched a sequel to this film, as well as various other LEGO based films over the next 4-5 years (including a Batman film staring this film’s Will Arnett-voiced Batman). All that said, this is definitely one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie all year (even if I did go at 10PM on a weekday all by myself), and it just doesn’t make any sense to disregard it as anything but a well-exectued, smart film, regardless of how it was made.
  7. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – This is one of the most odd films I’ve seen in a while, and it really is remarkable that it is as well received as it has been. I’m not convinced it’s the best film of the year, nor that it has as much importance as Boyhood does, but I can see why it is so respected by varied groups of film critics. Equal parts uncomfortable comedy and satire, it is very much a departure for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who generally focuses on more sombre topics, yet this works really well, mostly because of the career-defining performances from the likes of Michael Keaton and Emma Stone (who probably as the biggest, most expressive eyes in Hollywood right now), as well as Edward Norton, who is basically doing a quirky riff on himself. I won’t be upset if this wins Best Picture, as I do think it has interesting things to say and takes on experiments in terms of its cinematography and style.
  8. Fury – This one is one I did not see coming. I still have yet to see David Ayer’s End of Watch or Training Day, so I cannot comment on whether this film is better than those two, but I can say that this film did effect me, mostly because of how well shot and acted it is. The claustrophobic cinematography featured throughout allows the actors to go to work, and they are all in top form, especially Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, as the latter gets to handle the emotional progression of the film. Well worth checking out if you are a fan of war films or just films that are really excellent.
  9. Interstellar – Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a Christopher Nolan fanboy, so you may take this with a grain of salt. I’m not willing to say that this is his greatest work, mostly because the scope of it and the master class of technical work being put on here sometimes overwhelm the story that Nolan and his brother Jonathan are trying to tell. I saw it three times in theaters, and each time I was able to appreciate different things about it. One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is Nolan’s commitment to making greatness with whatever he does. He didn’t hit a perfect shot here, but it is yet another fantastic entry into a nearly flawless filmography in terms of making films that have interesting and important things to say and help to progress the field of filmmaking overall.
  10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The final entry in the top 10 is yet another science-fiction film. The second entry in the sequel series of Apes films, this one leaves off where 2011’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left off, with apes and humans cut off from one another in what is essentially a barren wasteland that used to be San Francisco. Once again, this film hinges on the breathtaking motion capture performance of Andy Serkis, who gives life to Caesar, the ape who has taken up a leadership role amongst his species, and wants to, fueled by memories of his past, create a place where humans and apes can live symbiotically. Without Serkis’ fantastic work, the entire movie would fall apart, and it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they understand this and allow him to do great work. Throw in some excellent set pieces and wonderful supporting turns from the human actors (especially a sombre Jason Clarke, who will spend 2015 in both the newest Terrance Malick film and as the new John Connor), and you’ve got one of the better and easier to respect blockbusters in recent memory.
  11. The One I Love
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy
  13. Inherent Vice
  14. The Fault in Our Stars
  15. The Imitation Game
  16. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  17. Big Hero 6
  18. Chef
  19. Foxcatcher
  20. The Theory of Everything
  21. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1
  22. Captain American: The Winter Soldier
  23. Godzilla
  24. The Maze Runner
  25. Wish I Was Here
  26. Big Eyes
  27. Obvious Child
  28. Selma
  29. The Monuments Men
  30. Into the Woods

Movies that were…fine

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Muppets Most Wanted

Divergent

Draft Day

Movies that were anywhere from terrible to disappointing…

Noah

Transcendence

The Giver

American Sniper

Still to see:

Unbroken

The Gambler

A Most Violent Year

St. Vincent

The Book of Life

The Equalizer

Nightcrawler

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Laggies

Dear White People

Frank

Best Albums for 2014

Posted: January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

For those of you who’ve been around me, you’ll know this to be an annual tradition. This year, I upped the ante a little bit by keeping track of every album I listened to at least once this year on my handy Evernote app on my phone. This allowed me to remember a little better what I listened to throughout the year, making this list a little easier to swallow. That in mind, the list itself is a little longer, with a few more categories than in years past. I’m also only including commentary on the top ten, mostly because the list is so long, I don’t really have any desire to muse about each of these records. So without further ado, here is my list of the best albums of 2014.

  1. Colony House – When I Was Younger: This one was inevitable the moment I tattooed some of its lyrics on my left arm. I first caught wind of these guys a few years ago when they were known as Caleb, and was very excited to hear that this record was coming out this year when I saw them back in 2013. The vocalist and drummer are Caleb and Will Chapman, sons of famed CCM artist Steven Curtis Chapman, and the talent apple doesn’t fall far from that particular tree. These songs are different, though, than anything their dad ever put out; and while they are not shy about the faith element of their lives, this isn’t a preachy record, just an honest one. This brand of indie rock manages moments of wild introspection about a particularly difficult time in the boys’ life, but while it is honest, it isn’t shy. The music is well crafted and thoughtful, and, possibly most importantly, this is an album in the truest sense, as the track order feels deliberate, a lost art in this day and age. No matter what else came out this year, there came a point where I just knew this was the record I was going to remember most from this year.
  2. Copeland – Ixora: This one moved up the list rather quickly. A reunion record of sorts, coming 6 years after the Lakeland, FL foursome said their final goodbyes on the road. This album certainly feels like the album they weren’t able to make years ago because they weren’t ready to. Equal parts kin to its predecessor (2008’s You Are My Sunshine) and steps in new directions for the band, it also feels like an album that wants, at least in small doses, to recognize where they’ve come after all these years. Yes, it’s sort of a moody album, but there’s also a wonder in the melancholy, as Aaron Marsh’s lyrics and vocals don’t seem to be crushed by the mood, but alive because of it. This is an album that seems to get better as it ages, so I’m very much looking forward to spinning the vinyl when it finally comes in the mail.
  3. Needtobreathe – Rivers in the Wasteland: I’ll say I’ve always been more of a fringe appreciator of NtB in the past. I’ve listened to earlier records by the South Carolina natives, but, save for 2011’s The Reckoning, never really found much I was interested in. This album really changed my views, so much so that I think I’ll need to go back and give the rest of their discography more time. The latest record feels like better versions of everything I’ve heard from them so far: the folk is folkier, the Southern rock has an edge, as if all the powers have finally combined to create greatness. I think the truthfulness of the lyrics, though, is what sets this apart. These are songs of longing, made clear not only by what is sung about but how, and vocalist Bear Rinehart delivers one of the best performances from top to bottom, showing versatility unseen in most bands.
  4. Manchester Orchestra – Cope: Like with NtB, MO and I were only fringe friends before now. But I knew as soon as I heard the first few chords (and my goodness the drum sounds) of “Top Notch,” the first track off of what I now consider to be the best MO album yet, that this was going to be an album I was going to keep coming back to. This is an aggressive record from start to finish, and Andy Hull’s signature snarl is on full display (this is actually a pretty well-mixed record for all the noise it makes) through all the guitars and drums (speaking of top notch, did I mention how good the drums sound?). To make this album all the more incredible, however, was the late year release of Hope, a companion record to this effort, featuring all of the songs from Cope in more stripped-down, quieter versions. That the songs hold up to the scrutiny of that type of rethinking makes Cope all the more impressive. Either way, these are spectacular songs that should be heard.
  5. Anberlin –  lowborn: What a bittersweet album this is. On the one hand, it’s likely the least accomplished record that Anberlin has put out since New Surrender came out in 2008, as the one-two punch of Dark Is the Way, Light is a Place and Vital (probably my favorite overall Anberlin record) really hit home. It’s unfair to compare what they’ve done with this, their final record, and what came before it, only because this album was recorded in pieces by a band that already knew they were on their way out. Which isn’t to say they phoned it in, just that as an album it isn’t nearly as cohesive a work as maybe any of the rest of their records before this, but is still chock full of good songs, including “Hearing Voices,” which might be one of my favorite Anberlin songs ever. I’m terribly sad to see them go, but I’m fortunate to have been along for the ride all these years.
  6. Crowder – Neon Steeple: David Crowder is nothing if not eclectic. All these years he’s been creeping closer and closer to an album like this, and finally, in the wake of the dissolution of the David Crowder*Band, we can finally see what he was after for the last few years. On one hand, Neon Steeple makes it abundantly clear who was driving the folky, bluegrass side of DC*B all these years (especially in light of listening to The Digital Age, the band that most of the rest of Crowder’s former band created), but it also sheds light on the quirky, experimental nature of Crowder himself. Of all the so-called worship artists, he’s always been the one I’ve admired most for his attempts at creating interesting, artistic music, and in that regard, this album falls right in line. While the record is definitely, as Crowder himself put it, “folktronica,” I think he did a fantastic job of not making it too much like Christian dance music. And while these aren’t necessarily Sunday morning singable songs, they are, more than anything else, Crowder’s attempts to continue to write great songs that the church can meditate on and enjoy.
  7. Mike Mains & The Branches – Calm Down, Everything is Fine: This is one of the earliest albums I listened to this year, and I didn’t even own the record until much later into 2014. I listened to it several times online, and just always came amazed by the pure passion of this album. Having seen these guys live, I can tell you that the emotion and excitement for the songs carries over into that arena, and they’ve done an excellent job of channeling that into the record. It’s hardly groundbreaking musically, but Mains is a talented songwriter who is interested in making his music as interesting as he can. He’s succeeded.
  8. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You: I’d only just heard of this band before this year, having seen them mentioned around different online message boards and the like. And I recalled listening to a few snippets of songs before, and not really being all that interested. It felt like they were trying to bring back some edgier elements of the screamo movement, and I just wasn’t really buying in. Then I heard the first song off this record prior to its release, and I realized this was a totally different band. It turns out the vocalist, Kyle Durfey, can really sing, in a style that just bleeds emotion and grit, and, more importantly for this record, utter sadness. Keep You is a really bleak record, and Durfey’s vocal style fits that perfectly, often distant and pushed a little back into the mix, he’s expressing residual agony over the loss of his father, and the pain is still real, and it seeps through every pore of this record. It’s not for the faint of heart, but this album deserves to be heard by as many people who can survive it.
  9. Yellowcard – Lift A Sail: Another record focused on tragedy, this time the sad tale of singer Ryan Key’s wife and the loss of her ability to continue to ski professionally after a terrible accident. While not nearly as bleak as Keep You, it’s no less honest about the struggle Key and his wife have gone through. Musically, this album is miles apart (see what I did there?) from any other YC album before it. Gone are the steady beats of their original drummer, the man who clearly drove the pop-punk side of the band’s sound. Instead, Key has said this record finds more of its roots in the late 90’s rock scene, and while I’m not entirely sure he and the band hit that goal, this is definitely more of a straight alternative rock album than the pop-punk YC is famous for. In many ways, that changed has been a breath of fresh air for the band, as the sound that was starting to become a little stale has progressed in very interesting, sometimes challenging ways. It doesn’t sound at all like the YC that came before it–even Key’s vocals sound thicker and more mature–and I, for one, am not at all upset about that.  
  10. Tigers Jaw – Charmer: I listened to this record initially because the band did a split with Balance & Composure, a band that put out one of my surprise favorite records from 2013. So I decided to give this album a try, and I’m very glad I did. This is an album that harkens back to the lo-fi days of home recorded emo, as the tandem songwriting/vocals of Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh create a soothing trip from start to finish. This is an album that has a mood to it, one that recalls the mundane elements of small town life (the band hails from Scranton, PA), while still wanting to reflect honestly on the world as it is. That being said, this isn’t a very technically complicated record, with Collins and Walsh handling most of the instrumentation, and the vocal delivery suggests an almost lack of caring, except they’re also dripping with a cool sadness. And really that’s it. This is just a cool record.
  11. Matrimony – Montibello Memories
  12. King’s Kaleidoscope – Becoming Who We Are
  13. Braid – No Coast 
  14. You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You’re Doing
  15. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield 
  16. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Andrew McMahon in The Wilderness 
  17. The Black Keys – Turn Blue 
  18. Spoon – They Want My Soul 
  19. Temples – Sun Structures
  20. Citizens & Saints – Join the Triumph 
  21. From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
  22. Number One Gun – This Is Who We Are 
  23. Clay Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run 
  24. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream 
  25. John Mark McMillan – Borderland 
  26. Coldplay – Ghost Stories
  27. Prawn – Kingfisher
  28. U2 – Songs of Innocence
  29. Circa Survive – Descensus
  30. Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter 
  31. Conditions – Missing Hours 
  32. Switchfoot – Fading West/The Edge of the Earth EP
  33. Jack White – Lazaretto
  34. Artifex Pereo – Time in Place 
  35. Emarosa – Versus 
  36. I Can Make A Mess – Growing In
  37. Young Statues – The Flatlands Are Your Friend
  38. Jukebox the Ghost – Jukebox the Ghost 
  39. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams 
  40. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Unraveling

EP’s:

Moments Like Movie Scenes – Honesty (EP)

Sam Means – Blue Jeans (EP)

House of Heroes – Smoke (EP)

Young Rising Suns – Young Rising Suns (EP)

Park – Jacob the Rabbit (EP)

The World is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Between Bodies (EP)

Best of the rest:

Foster the People – Supermodel

Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes – Kid Tiger

Fairweather – Fairweather 

Animals As Leaders – The Joy of a Motion

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Slingshot to Heaven

Bear Hands – Distraction 

My Epic – Beholden

Bleachers – Strange Desire

Blondfire – Young Heart

J Mascis – Tied to a Star

Interpol – El Pintor

Sir Sly – You Haunt Me

Stars – No One Is Lost

Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

Sovereign Grace Music – Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

Chris Tomlin – Love Ran Red

Special Category (for special projects, revisited albums, etc):

The Classic Crime – What Was Done, Volume 1

David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet – Volume 1

Manchester Orchestra – Hope

Disappointments:

The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Taking Back Sunday – Happiness Is…

Tenth Avenue North – Cathedrals

Not enough time (either came out too late or I didn’t listen to the record enough):

TV on the Radio – Seeds

Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Sullivan – Heavy is the Head

Damien Rice –  My Favourite Faded Fantasy

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruises

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

Lecrae – Anomoly

Real Estate – Atlas

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

The Case for Interstellar

Posted: November 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

The following contains spoilers for the film Interstellar, so if you haven’t seen it and want to avoid those, continue on with caution and having been warned.

* * *

I’ll begin by stating something that should be obvious to people who know me well, but maybe not to those who don’t: I am of the opinion that Christopher Nolan can do no wrong, cinematically speaking. And yes, this includes his debut, Following, a film that is essentially a film school thesis project, but manages to convey a creepy, voyeuristic quality that has, in many ways, become the hallmark for much of what Nolan has done since then. This also includes the much maligned ending to his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, and its semi-controversial and—I believe—elegantly telegraphed ending sequence. This includes all things that he’s personally directed, and so does not include the producing credits he received for McG’s bore of a Superman film with Man of Steel or the maddeningly poor directorial debut from Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wall Pfister with this year’s Transcendence nor his “acting” debuts in both Kurt Norton and Paul Mariano’s documentary These Amazing Shadows or Keanu Reeve’s documentary about the merits of the continued use of actual film in films called Side by Side.

So to be clear, when I say that I love Nolan’s work, I mean it. I have a full-sized Inception poster on a wall in my apartment and I own each of his films—save for Following—in my rather sizable collection. When Inception was released, I saw it five times in theaters, mostly because whenever someone told me that they hadn’t seen it yet, I would offer to go to with them as soon as humanly possible. I went to midnight (or as close to it) of all the Batman films, paying extra money for the IMAX versions of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. I did the same for Interstellar.

I say all this to make it known that I did not go into Interstellar without expectations, giving you as my reader the opportunity to realize that I might just be a Nolan fanboy who won’t even admit when the writer/director has gone too far, when he’s actually done wrong. I won’t say that Nolan is a flawless director or that he’s ever made a truly flawless film (although I’d argue that the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Inception are pretty darn close to it), I will argue that I believe you cannot walk away from a Christopher Nolan film unmoved or without at least reflecting on the awe-inspiring nature of what he is able to do with his camera. In terms of combining huge, IMAX-scale visuals and concepts with intimate, often moving stories, I don’t think anyone does it better.

A few days ago, a friend shared an article with me that was recently posted on Cinema Blend. The title of the article is “4 Big Reasons Why Interstellar is A Huge Disaster,” and the writer—one Sean O’Connell, who’s official title is Movie Content Director and who’s profile picture on the site is him yielding Thor’s hammer—then goes on to list those four reasons and why he believes they hold merit in terms of blasting the film. I, for one, read the article after seeing the movie, and immediately was confused as why what he was doing was considered journalism in this day and age. I’ll take his points one at a time.

But first, I should note that the opening sentence of his article is fundamentally incorrect. For one, the only “data” he uses are the ratings of readers of his own site’s review of the film, never once acknowledging the fact that while Interstellar is hardly the leader of the pack in terms of critical favor for Nolan (Rotten Tomatoes certified it fresh at 73%, Nolan’s lowest rating as a director while Metacritic gave it a 73 score as well, although it should be noted that RT’s Audience Score is a more Nolan-like 88%, and this doesn’t even include the 130,000+ members of IMDB who have, at the time of this writing given the film a consensus 9/10 rating), the film is certainly well above the vast majority of Hollywood releases.  So I seems unfair for O’Connell to begin his piece with what is basically a false relationship. It’s a slightly larger scale equivalent of me asking a bunch of my friends what they think of the film and then basing the critical consensus on that polling effort (for the record, according to my Facebook friends, Interstellar is a marvelous work of art and even, according to one friend, “Nolan’s best work”). It’s also a bit telling that Cinema Blend doesn’t allow the polls that O’Connell references to be seen on the open forum. I want numbers, people!

In any respect, having done that little bit of digging, I feel confident in bounding into O’Connell’s four supposed major mistakes. In general I’d say that his rationale are all matters of opinion and/or situations that might have been isolated to his particular screening of the film. Let’s start at the beginning.

Reason 1: “Cooper’s relationship with his kids is an emotional flatline.”

He begins with what be the most subjective of all his arguments. A friend of mine came out of the movie crying because of the weight of the emotion in the film.I myself felt that the relationship was the very thread that held the otherwise lofty affair together. It’s why we care about the movie and its characters at all, why we allow our brains to be overwhelmed by all of the film’s science and sit down and realize just how powerful the story really is. And it’s not like there is anything wrong with the acting in the film. Matthew McConaughey, fresh off his delightfully bizarre and Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club, is more in control here, as his Cooper is a man driven, at least externally, by science and reason; but it is never a question of whether or not he loves his children or wanted to be with them. In fact, that is the basis for his choice to leave in the first place—he believes he is saving them by leaving them. I’ll admit I was a little thrown by the speed with which he made the decision to be a part of the mission—and the speed with which he was offered the job—but I feel like that was a part of his characterization: he makes that decision because the world is dying around him and the only way he knows to save his children is to save the entire world. It’s actually a logical choice, even if it seems cruel from the outside. Him staying does nothing for his children other than offer them peace of mind for a few more years. This is the realization Murph (Jessica Chastain) comes to later in life, and it is the emotional force behind the film. To call it an “emotional flatline” says more about the viewer of the film than it does the characters in the film itself.

Reason 2: “The IMAX presentation is creating massive problems.”

By this logic, we can assume that Mr. Sean O’Connell has been to every IMAX screen in the country and even the world to come to this conclusion. Yes, I know, that’s a false relationship I’ve created, but the way he presents this reason can certainly be read that way. I, for one, thought the IMAX presentation was stunning, both visually (seriously, say goodbye to all the technical Oscar races every other film from 2014) and in the aural realm. Was it loud? Definitely, but I was expecting that. I felt the shake of the rocket taking off. It wasn’t just a visual experience or even an aural one—my seat was literally shaking. To his credit, O’Connell does mention that the visuals live up to the IMAX hype (which, ironically, makes his argument at least half wrong, since the visual elements are a significant part of the IMAX theater experience), but for my screening, I didn’t really have any major issues with the sound. It was loud, sure, but I caught all of the dialogue without an issue, the only exception being the first time that Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand was quoting Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” but I assumed that was on purpose, giving the viewer the experience of what being in that moment might have felt. On top of all this, O’Connell makes his anti-Interstellar vendetta quite clear when he ends this section by calling the dialogue “so inane, you really aren’t missing much,” an argument that is, frankly, unfocused and sounds more like a kid in fight than an adult attempting to make a sound argument.

Reason 3: “It’s silly. So very, very silly.”

I’m not kidding. This is an adult, so-called professional journalist writing this. Silly? Really, Sean? (This becomes even funnier in light of his fourth and final reason, by the way).

So the reason is funny sounding, but does his argument make sense? He begins by noting that he has no desire to tackle the science (although he does then attempt to do just that by passive-aggressively mentioning that NASA wasn’t involved in the making of the film, even though to my knowledge Nolan never said they were, only using theoretical physicist Kip Thorne as his science consultant), before launching into a diatribe about the way Nolan and his brother Jonathan insert the exposition of the film in “clumsy ways,” by having the physicist in the film, played by Caine, talk about the science to be used in the mission. I mean, that’s as unlikely as a dentist telling you about the benefits of brushing and flossing or going to a football coach to ask about the basics of the 3-4 defense! Why would a scientist, a man trained in the complex math and other such things that you are about to encounter while trillions of miles away from home, talk to a pilot about what he is about to encounter? Sure, Coop is clearly a smart guy, but he’s no theoretical physicist, so it stands to reason that Dr. Brand the Elder would need to tell him what he’s up against. Is it a little clunky? A little bit, but it’s also incredibly complicated material that needs to be brought down to the level that anyone in the theater can understand on a very basic level so they can comprehend the basis of the movie’s sci-fi plot.

And yes, O’Connell does acknowledge that this is science-fiction, but then dives deep into the waters of hyperbole by declaring that “Jason X had fewer sci-fi inconsistencies than Interstellar,” a notion I find difficult to believe. Why are the waves three stories tall when the water is only ankle-deep (although—and I’m not scientist—I think that the 130% of Earth’s gravity might solve this problem)? That would be the fiction part of science-fiction. At least this science part is actually based on real scientific research.

Reason 4: “It’s deathly serious, and the sporadic attempts at humor completely bomb.”

See what I was saying earlier? Is it silly or deathly serious? By definition, it literally cannot be both. This, even more so than the IMAX argument, is a case-by-case basis type of thing that O’Connell simply cannot present as a rationale argument because he absolutely cannot know this to be true in all cases. In my screening—8PM on Thursday November 6 at the Regal Cinemas Stonecrest—people laughed quite a bit. From what I recall, all of those moments of laughter were in places where it appeared that the filmmakers wanted the audience to breathe for a second and laugh. O’Connell again references some of the “self-serving,” as he calls it, dialogue here, as if those conversations are not all included in the film so that the audience can be clued in to what is going on, and as if these are not topics that astronauts under the circumstances would have. It seems reasonable enough that if the world were ending that we’d hear a great deal more talk about life and death and the importance of the decisions that need to be made in order to salvage as many people as possible.

On top of everything else, it seems like O’Connell wasn’t even paying attention to the details. There was never discussion of saving the Earth, in fact its demise is a foregone conclusion pretty much from the opening moment of the film. The movie is about the preservation of human life, and it uses the human relationships at its center to amplify the reasons why taking action to that end is so important. It isn’t for those who are living then, and especially not for the adults living then, at least not completely, but for those who are young, those who still have so much life to live; those whose children need a place to go once the Earth is no longer useful. So of course the fact that an hour on the first planet equals 7 years on Earth matters. That’s time wasted that could be used to help save the human race back on our home planet. To overlook that concept reeks of someone who wasn’t even ready to give the film a chance in the first place; of someone who wanted so badly to talk about how awful this film is that he was going to invent reasons based on his own bias.

And yes, I acknowledge my own bias in this area. That’s how I started this post, so I think it’s fair that I can call O’Connell out for his, especially since he tries to treat this perspective as if he’s coming in from a neutral perspective. As I said, this isn’t a perfect film. Some of the dialogue is clunky from time to time (that’s always been a bit of an issue for Nolan, though, to be fair), but in all honesty, isn’t that how people talk? Nobody talks like a character in a Quentin Tarantino film, where all the dialogue often feels like that’s exactly what it is: characters reciting a script. But to dismiss the entire film based on these four reasons—at least two of which might be based on the location and one of which, as I mentioned, says a lot more about the writer of this piece than the filmmakers—just seems like an oversimplification to me.

Interstellar is a film that needs to be processed over time. Like the rest of Nolan’s filmography, it is a difficult film to digest in one sitting, which is exactly why I intend to see it again, especially now that a few days have passed and I’ve had a chance to think it over. I fully believe that this is the vision Nolan had from the beginning, and to trash it over things so petty—and contradictory—as the reasons that O’Connell discusses here just feels like the argument of a man who had no intention of even beginning to give this film the credit it might deserve.

So in response to O’Connell’s final thought (“If I remember Interstellar a year from now, it will be for all of the poor decisions it made, cutting the legs out from underneath the few interesting ideas it had in its oversized head”), I offer this: I fully plan on remembering this film long past a year from now. I think by that time more people will have been able to see it for what it is: a fine work of cinema by one of our finest working directors.

* * *
All quotations are taken from this article from Cinema Blend:

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/4-Big-Reasons-Why-Interstellar-Huge-Disaster-68087-p4.html

Photo from: 

http://www.wired.com/2014/09/interstellar-app/

Follow the Father

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Jerry Rice and Joe Montana are two of the greatest football players of all time. Each is arguably one of the greatest–if not the greatest–as his position. Rice is in the conversation for the best player ever. Period.

Both Jerry Rice and Joe Montana have sons. Rice’s son is Jerry Rice, Jr. Montana’s sons are Nick and Nate. Rice, Jr decided to play wide receiver like his dad, went to school at UNLV and then bounced around the league–including a sort stint with his father’s former team, the San Francisco 49ers–before signing with the Washington Redskins and tearing his labrum. As of this writing, Rice is on the Redskin’s IR. Nate and Nick Montana decided to play quarterback like their dad. Nate walked on at his father’s alma mater of Notre Dame, before playing college ball at Pasadena City College, Montana and West Virginia Wesleyan, the latter being the only place he ever played a full season. He never made it to the NFL. Younger brother Nick is currently sitting at third on the depth chart at Tulane University behind a sophomore and a freshman.

All this to say: it is not often that sons of great athletes become great athletes themselves. This is also true of others who are great in other areas, be it music, art or really anywhere. The pressure is often too much for these kids, and the Rice and Montana situations are not exactly stand-outs, but the greatness of the fathers makes the not-so-greatness of the sons stand out even more.

But there is a further point. A few years back I discovered that Steven Curtis Chapman, one of the greats in the Christian music scene when I was growing up, had two sons who were in a band together, at the time called Caleb. The band released two solid EP’s–2005’s Caleb EP and 2011’s To The Ends of the World along with the 2010 single Trouble–before changing their name to Colony House in the time between 2011 and the release of their 2014 debut When I Was Younger.

The album came out a few weeks ago and it is safe to say, at least for me, When I Was Younger surpasses anything that SCC ever did. The album is nuanced, thoughtful and honest. Lead vocalist/guitarist Caleb Chapman manages to weave lyrics that are true to his Christian upbringing (and apparent continued faith) without being technically “Christian” in their content–although he does make a few nods to his faith throughout the record. The drummer is Will Franklin, Caleb’s younger brother, who holds down ever-changing rhythm section, driven further by a strong sense of bass line and Scott Mill’s meandering lead guitar riffs. The album feels intentional, which is rare these days, especially in the way that it moves from its sparklingly poppy opener–and lead single–“Silhouettes” to slightly darker, more vulnerable territory. The music has a jangly, British feel to it, but is wide open enough to give each member a chance to shine. Caleb’s vocals are closer to a baritone than his father’s, but if you listen carefully and are familiar with SCC’s music, you can hear small hints of the older Chapman’s signature tone.

Colony House are a different kind of band than SCC ever tried to be, however, so I suppose it isn’t fully fair to compare the two. The younger Chapmans and Mills are working towards a different audience and, to their credit, haven’t taken the easy route of going down the same road their father did. They’ve trekked out on their own, which is to their credit as musicians. For my money, they’ve created an album that is contention for my favorite of 2014, all the while not succumbing to the same fate that Jerry Rice, Jr and Nate and Nick Montana have. The trick, I think, is the willingness to do something different and allowing themselves to be great in their own right because of it.

 

First single!

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, I give you the first single off the new album Never Cease to Praise. The song is called “Sustain” and it is one of the many songs on the album that was co-written with Mr. Aaron Bucy, currently of Liverpool, England. I hope you enjoy the tune. Look forward to more to come with this song in the coming weeks. And be sure to check out the link to the album release party on June 29. Thanks for listening!

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/237518713115545/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

Symbolic Gestures

Posted: May 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

With school coming to an end, there is a lot of “wrapping up” going on around my school building. It’s kind of tough for me to get into all it, what with my knowing that I’m not coming back and that not being common knowledge beyond a few of my co-workers, so I am sort of sitting back and trying to partake while not overdoing it.

Today we had a pep rally to wrap up the week and celebrate all the accomplishments of the sports teams from the last few months. It was fun seeing all the kids cheer and be recognized for their efforts. There was also a crab-walk relay, so there was lots of fun to be had. But then at the end, our principal asked all the teachers to come to the center of the gym. I was confused. I had no idea what this was about since we hadn’t been told, or at least I hadn’t. Then one of the other teachers looked at me and said, “You’re probably not going to like this part very much.” Now I was really confused.

As it turned out, our principal then invited all the 8th graders to come down and say thank you to their teachers as they were getting ready to leave middle school and head off to the high school in just a few weeks. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I was soon engulfed by a bunch of students I didn’t know, so I started to back away, allowing them to slip in and slap fives, give hugs and say their thank yous, trying not to look as awkward and unsure as I felt. It wasn’t too long before the crowd dissipated and all the students began to move toward the exits to head home for the weekend. Then I had a thought, which isn’t always the best thing, but there it went.

I started to wonder if I was ever going to get to see this. To watch a class actually complete a series of grades, watch them come in and then go off into their next foray. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I got into education: I want to see the students grow up and change. But I keep finding myself ousted from schools before I get the chance to do that. I get that these places aren’t where I’m supposed to be in the long term, and that’s why I keep getting moved on, why I keep finding myself in new schools, but it does get a little tiring. I think it is doubled because I honestly haven’t felt like I’ve been in the right place for me yet, so I keep moving onto somewhere else that once again isn’t the right place. The cycle feels endless.

Now I know what you might be thinking: I’ve been teaching for 3 1/2 years, how can the cycle already feel “endless” after such a short time? There’s something to that. But I fully believe that work can be endlessly exhausting if it’s not the right fit, and try as I might I don’t think I’ve found the fit yet. It is frustrating, especially as I see other people getting where they want to be, not just professionally but in all areas of their lives. I know they don’t have it altogether, even if it seems like it sometimes.

I suppose the lesson is here that my time will come. I’m impatient, I know this. I’ve never been good at waiting. But at this point in my life, I’m starting to learn that if I have to wait, I might as well make the best of it. And trust. That’s key, too. Trusting that God has my life in His hands, and if I’m trying too hard I’m only going to make it harder on myself.

 

God bless,

Robert

I survived. I woke up like I normally do. I showered, got dressed, etc, and went to work. My students, having no idea it was my birthday, were their normal selves. It was, for all intents and purposes, a normal day in Robert Land.

And honestly, that was okay.

I’m not sad about 30. In fact, I’m rather glad that I didn’t overreact or go crazy about it. I think the fact that I’m so okay means that somewhere in the last few years or months or weeks, I came to grips with the inevitability of aging and getting older. I’m good with it. Actually, I think I might be looking forward to seeing what being 30 is like. I still don’t feel like I’ve been alive that long. It still feels like it’s so far away, even though it’s here and nearly a day into itself. Everyone kept telling me that it would be okay. I think maybe they were right.

Many thanks to all the people who wished me a happy birthday today. Thanks for being there for me all year round. It’s good to know that I have such a solid support base around me. You keep me sane in those times where I feel like I’m going to get worked up. And even if I don’t, you’re still there. I love you all.

 

God bless,

Robert