Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unbroken is Powerfully Motivational and Inspiring

        “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand was one of those books that EVERYONE read.  People couldn’t speak highly enough about this story of perseverance, determination, and heart.  Many hailed it as one of the best WWII stories ever told.  Thus, when the movie was announced people were anxious for a film which lived up to the emotional weight of the book.  I myself never read the novel, so I went in with fresh eyes.                
        Directed by Angelina Jolie, the film tells the story of Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini who spends 47 days adrift in the pacific aboard a small life raft after his bomber breaks down midflight and the crew is forced to ditch the plane.  Louie is eventually picked up by the Japanese and spends the remainder of the war in various POW camps.  Many critics felt the film didn’t live up to its full potential.  Most believed Jolie bit off more than she could chew and the opportunity for one of the greatest war films of a generation was lost.  Now again, I can’t speak to how accurately the movie represented the book but
I can say that I thought it was a stunning war film.  Starting off with Zamperini in the midst of a dangerous bombing mission, flashbacks show us a troubled boy who rose from a seemingly meaningless life to one of glory and greatness eventually running in the 1936 Olympics in Germany.  The film does a terrific job of showing how far someone can push themselves if they are determined to survive and succeed.  The hardship suffered by Louie over the course of his time at sea and eventual internment is beyond motivational.  The pain, hopelessness, and degradation he faces at the hands of his Japanese captors is unbearable to even conceive of.  And yet throughout it all he remains positive and committed to making it home one day.  His staunch determination is matched only by his love of others and his willingness to take the pain if it means keeping his co captives out of harm’s way.  A rivalry develops between Louie and a young Japanese officer in charge of the camp nicknamed “The Bird” who reminds him of the Japanese Olympians he encountered years before.  Now under very different circumstances, The Bird does everything in his power to break Zamperini’s spirit.  Despite coming so close to death on multiple occasions Louie is able to persevere.
        Near the start of the film, just after Louie gets on the train bound for the Olympics his older brother reminds him that a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of greatness.  This ends up being central to the film, always popping back up in your mind as you witness the horrors encountered by both Louie and the other prisoners.  In this way Louie’s running ends up being analogous to his experiences in that if you push yourself beyond what you thought capable, you can make it through anything.  Overall, I found the film to be not only uplifting but inspirational in a way I haven’t encountered in some time.  The critics can say what they will, but I think Unbroken will be considered one of the better war dramas of the 2010’s, no question.

New Podcast is Up!

Our 6th podcast is up on the Soundcloud!  For this episode we discuss musical genres and how they affect what we listen to.  We discuss whether or not you can take generic genre's like "Indie" at face value and if artists should reserve the right to call themselves what they feel best represents their art.  We dip briefly into the movie realm with a minor bit on actors getting typecast but stick to the tunes for this one primarily.  Check it out and let us know your opinion in the comments!!

What genre is that artist??

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Another Playlist!!

1. Life - Modern Hut
2. Black Books - Salem Wolves
3. Circle One - The Germs
4. Giant Steps - John Coltrane
5. Green Eyes - Coldplay
6. Tiny Dancer - Elton John
7. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1 - The Flaming Lips
8. Waiting for a Girl Like You - Foreigner
9. Region of Fire - JEFF the Brotherhood
10. Carnival - Bikini Kill

Whiplash Was a Violently Emotional Film

        Everyone I spoke to about the musical drama Whiplash had nothing but good things to say about the film.  That is was brilliantly acted, deeply emotional, and all around captivating in its intensity were just a few of the glowing remarks I’d heard about this seemingly random film which gained momentum after its premier at Sundance and eventually won several academy awards including a nom for Best Picture.           
       Based on the high school experiences of director Damien Chazelle, the films protagonist Andrew Neiman played by Miles Teller aspires to be one of the best jazz drummers of all time.  Idolizing the greats like Buddy Rich, Miles’ entire life revolves around his drum kit.  After Terrence Fletcher, an infamous teacher and conductor overhears Andrew practicing, he invites him to join his prestigious jazz band made up of the best musicians at the school.  Starting as alternate drummer, Andrew moves up and down the proverbial ladder jumping from core to alternate several times as he struggles to live up to the ridiculously high expectations of Fletcher who is constantly verbally and physically abusive.  J.K. Simmons deserved the Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor without a doubt.  His anger and rage is palpable and the response it evokes in the viewer is at times unsettling.  The way he treats his students is unacceptable, but it’s done in the interest of pushing the few who have the potential to become legends to the limits.  While you sympathize with Andrew has he struggles to be the best and to impress Fletcher, you can’t help but feel that the two were meant to work with each other.  Andrew wants history to remember him alongside his idols like Rich, and Fletcher is the kind of person who will help him achieve that.  After they have a falling out, Fletcher and Andrew meet at a jazz club where Fletcher explains his methodology by stating that the worst thing anyone can ever say to someone is “good job” implying that it only convinces the person to not push themselves further and the only way to become great is to never stop pushing yourself to be better. 
      While I agree the acting was top of the line and the drumming is other worldly, I wanted a little more from the film.  Andrew’s love interest is barely even relevant and felt like a wasted storyline.  The same goes for his father.  We find out almost nothing about Andrew’s past and his absent mother and while his father fills the roll of emotional support system, their relationship with each other is barely touched on leaving you feeling like the possibility for added emotional weight was missed.  The film clearly intended to focus solely on the relationship between Andrew and his teacher so the other “half storylines” feel unnecessary.  In the end if you like jazz music, Whiplash was a good movie.  If you like drumming, it was a superb movie.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Montage of Heck Lives Up to the Hype

                The day finally arrived.  Monday May 4th, the much anticipated and widely acclaimed Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck premiered on HBO.  Named for a violently sporadic and twisted mixtape recorded by Cobain in 1988, the film garnered intensely positive reviews and as such, I was looking for a game changer.  A documentary which not only captured the man’s genius but also depicted the human element so often left out of Cobain and Nirvana documentaries in the past.  The film did not disappoint. 
               Consisting of hidden archival materials brought to the table for the first time by Cobain’s wife Courtney Love and daughter Francis Bean who was an executive producer, the film showed a side of Kurt which is often forgotten.  One that the history books gloss over with demented tales of drug abuse and emotional instability.  Segments of Cobain’s diaries juxtaposed over early demos of songs and haunting audio recorded by Cobain himself piece together a collage which showcases a man determined to be taken seriously, committed to feeling accepted, and above all else resolute in his need avoid humiliation. 
                Starting with home movies of the Cobain family in the early years, we see Kurt as a young and happy child sharing Christmas with family and always smiling.  Interviews with Cobain’s mother and father indicate a loving household, albeit one with a darker underside.  Kurt’s father Don wasn’t supportive of Kurt’s creativity and the verbal abuse he received from the man was something that stayed with him throughout his formative years.  After his parents’ divorce, Cobain spent much of his early adolescence moving around between homes of relatives and friends.  It wasn’t until Kurt found the Underground that he felt truly accepted and from there on out, he was in the fast lane. 
                The early Nirvana footage is top notch and high quality showcasing favorites like “Dive”, “School”, and “Floyd the Barber” performed in houses or small basement venues to crowds of people varying in size from two middle aged workers from down the street to 15 disillusioned punks.  The footage when interspersed with portions of Cobain’s notes and journals help provide detailed background into the enigmatic front man’s thought process and offer unique insight into the development of Nirvana.  From a montage of handwritten band names to scribbled lyrics, the viewer see’s the other side of the famed rock band.  It was something that grew organically over time, not a sudden outburst.  Kurt didn’t have a grand idea beyond playing music he found to be meaningful and trying to get famous.  Although as the world now knows, fame had a much darker side which only made itself clear to Kurt once it was too late, fueling his drug abuse and emotional insecurity. 
                The latter half of the film, besides dealing with the obvious fame of Nirvana through interview snippets and stadium concert footage shows Cobain in the privacy of his home.  Between arguments with Courtney half naked in the bathroom, discussions in bed, and playing with young Francis; each show a man who cared deeply for his family.  A man that was proud of his accomplishments and guilt stricken over his failures. 
                In the end, Cobain was exactly what he claimed to be, a loving father and husband who despite his vices wanted nothing more than to sacrifice his own happiness for theirs.  This is a film that any Cobain, Nirvana, or music enthusiast MUST see.  It toppled all that came before it and all that will come after through its genuine honesty and forthrightness.  It doesn’t attempt to gloss over the dark spots.  Rather, it highlights them in a way that depicts Cobain as a product of his environment, family, politics, sexuality, and mental state which when combined birthed the kind of authentic creativity that comes along only once in a generation.