Rain At 2:30

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On a superficial level, Django is a continuation of the revisionist revenge fantasy told in Basterds, and in many regards, it does follow the same mold as its predecessor, but if it’s restrained by the same moldings, Django is a curiously molded endeavor, where, evidently, under the dripping stylization, we’re introduced to a different Tarantino, one who’s uncharacteristically substantial, and notably, one who’s surprisingly eager to present a moral force into the story.

Inglorious Basterds was an affair that depended wholly on aesthetics, and as a result, the film wasn’t really about anything. The violence was very dazzling, even clean; it was a stylized and comfortable film because we were never given the perspective and context of WWII, and the ugliness of the Nazi’s and the Holocaust. Django, on the other hand, sacrifices sleek style for historical context. In this film, we’re shown brutal whippings, sun boxes, mandingo fighting, and a slave being torn apart by dogs. The violence is raw, brutal, and uncharacteristically from a director that’s best known for his aestheticization of bloodshed, the violence is very repelling. Tarantino’s always had a habit of shielding us from the darker side of the subjects he depicts, whether it be the mafia, or WWII soldiers, but here, he’s unequivocal in his subject matter. Though the outlandish violence is dominant, these snippets of repelling violence create an uncomfortable juxtaposition that does take the viewer back a step into realizing who the bad guys are here. Something a lot of viewers didn’t really care about in Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or even Kill Bill.

This apparent moral force isn’t just explored through a realistic depiction of slavery, it’s also explored in the characters. Tarantino kills off his most suave, likable character in an unprecedented manner not stemming from apathy, retribution, or personal redemption, but out of horror and guilt. Dr. Schultz ultimately dies because at that last moment, he’s finally consumed by the horrors of institutionalized slavery, until he can bare it no more, and breaking character, with no regard for consequences, or rather disregarding the consequences (much like Eli Roth’s character in Basterds), he does what he believes is morally justifiable.

This moral force is once again ever-present on the opposing side, where Calvin Candie is the frivolous plantation owner, fluctuating in temperament that’s at times weirdly child-like, and other times explosive. Yet in the general framework of the film, we’re given very little evidence to believe he is of the same monstrosity that was someone like Colonel Hans Landa in Basterds, which prompts the question: is he evil or just institutionalized? To answer that question, a simple observation of Candie’s lines will do. In the film, there is never a point in which he speaks on a personally evil level. He’s angry at the mandingo fighter because he paid a lot of money for him and it’s consensus that he can get five fights out of him, he humorously mentions genes as the reason for why he’s superior, and he tauntingly mentions that southern deals must end in a handshake. The pattern here is that Candie is acting the role that he was trained to fit in, he doesn’t think about these things on a personal level, he simply does what he’s taught and as a result, he’s evil only by proxy. By introducing such a villain, the film’s strong moral force once again shows the viewer that the evil present isn’t one person, but slavery as an institution.

The demise of Candie segues into the real antagonist of this film, Stephen. The head negro is mentioned as the worst slave there is. The film implies that Stephen was a slave who chose to abandon his people in order to ensure he lived in prosperity. And thus, as a concept, Stephen is the ultimate evil, because he’s not blind like Candie, he has the perspective and sees the evil dwelling in the institution, and rather than fight it, he chooses to indulge and accept it. By doing so, he abandons empathy for his own people, and transforms from the oppressed into the oppressor. The film serves unsettlingly commentary by saying that the institution of slavery is evil to the point where it can even transform the victim into accepting and turning into the victimizer.

Django himself is the most plain part of the film, and the most Tarantino-like. He’s flamboyant, theatrical, and a superhuman. He’s not fleshed out and it’s his action scenes that are characteristically dazzling in its gore. He’s simultaneously a pretty empty character but also the glue that holds the film together, differentiating Django as an auteur film, rather than just a good film. But both Django and Broomhilda are stock characters and homages to the lore of Spaghetti Westerns, and as a result, they do little in providing any substantial moral meaning to the film.

Despite all its moral guidance, substance, and concern for topical matter (something Tarantino has never really cared about in the past), Django is a significantly less fun film to watch. There’s not any instant-classic scenes like the bar scene in Basterds, or The Bride’s showdown with O-Ren. This might not be the best Tarantino film, it might not even crack his top three, but it is a film that will get better with age and retrospection. Through its significantly stronger moral message and more substantial core, Django shows a director that is growing, willing to try new things, and aging very gracefully.

 

Jan 17
Django Unchained: Thoughts (Spoiler Extravaganza)


Childhood: Rubber Soul

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The music of the Beatles were never something fantastical to me, even today, the thing that really makes me appreciate the Beatles isn’t their music, but the now fabled footage of a wildly bearded Paul McCartney performing “Get Back” on a rooftop in London with John by his side unconcerned, and George in the back idly shredding on his guitar.The romantic image of down-to-earth singer-songwriters performing their music to the people of London on a rooftop was what resonated with me, and it was this image of careless freedom that made the US edition of Rubber Soul the choice Beatles record to play.

Rubber Soul was the Beatles’ Bob Dylan record, and it’s no coincidence that’s why I adored it so. Listening to “Norwegian Wood” now, it has a hazy, ethereal quality to it that flowed; it’s a lonely song, but at the same time, the narrator doesn’t sound lonely, he sounds satisfied, like something Bob would’ve played by the fireside after a hearty meal. “Michelle” was mystical and alluring, sounding like a song Paul meticulously practiced just to make sure he would sing the French words flawlessly when he went to woo the titular girl. While “In My Life” was my most replayed song, not because it had any significant  emotional meaning to me, but because the delivery, and the melody simply connected with some part of my inner self. Looking back on the song now, it’s amazing how anyone under 30 could have written “In My Life”.

What makes Rubber Soul an infinitely superior record compared to Let It Be, which tried to emulate the down-to-earth guitar-songwriter aesthetic is that while Let It Be had the right idea, it was overproduced and grandiose, something Rubber Soul wasn’t. And paradoxically, Let It Be was an album of imposed freedom, and as such, it’s a record with negative energy that’s always the first to come to mind when the break-up of the Beatles is brought up. Retrospectively, it’s easy to see why Rubber Soul is the clear favorite in the Beatles catalogue. Unlike the records that preceded it, they weren’t slaves to commercial appeal for the first time, and the records that followed either got bored with such a simplistic notion of a guitar-songwriter (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s) or were marked with tension and turmoil (White Album, Let It Be). Even looking at the chronology of the Beatles releases, Rubber Soul sits in the middle, the center of the discography.

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High School: If You’re Feeling Sinister
 

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My introduction to Belle and Sebastian was actually through (500) Days of Summer. The band had no song on the soundtrack to the film, and nowhere in the film did any of their music ever play. The only minor blip pertaining to the band was a music-less reference, it was a lyric from the titular song stemming from their 1998 effort, The Boy with the Arab Strap, and the quote that popped up word by word on a blank white screen was, “color my life with the chaos of trouble.” It was a somewhat revelatory quote, it was a lyric that reeked an excess of privileged angst, but it was so sensible in delivery, and it appealed to every fiber and tendency of my melodramatic, insecure self. From that moment, I knew I had to know the band behind the lyric.

Interestingly enough, I chose to dive into If You’re Feeling Sinister rather than the album to which the referenced lyric stemmed from. Perhaps it was due to critical consensus, or maybe red was my favorite color, but what was important was once I listened to If You’re Feeling Sinister, a whimsical, picturesque world opened up, filled with detailed lives of weirdly artful, insecure kids who hated gym class. And this aesthetic was relatable to me, because at the end of the day, isn’t that what music was about? Stuart Murdoch’s voyeuristically descriptive chronicling of alienated and depressed lives was just the kind of music that self-labeled angst-ridden indie kids fed on, I, on the other hand, gorged on it. And despite the clever lyricism on If You’re Feeling Sinister that’s often satirical, dryly humorous, existential, and always whimsical, you could never figure out what a lot of the songs are actually about. Alienation and yearning sure, there was always a sad contemplativeness to their songs, but if that’s the case, why did, and does, the music make me so happy?

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Present: Funeral
 

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Perhaps this record is every bit as teenage as Belle and Sebastian. But if there’s any record that encapsulates all the toiling emotions of a young adult, Arcade Fire’s Funeral would be that record. Upon contemplation, it’s only right that Funeral is not mature, adult music, because rarely, almost never, are we adults when society labels us so. In fact, becoming a young adult and feeling free for the first time is more reminiscent of childhood than a true continuation of teenage-hood. You become enamored with all the possibilities and freedom of personal choices that can shape your individuality, and from that stems a kind of unique, hopelessly optimistic innocence. But in our world, that kind of unguarded optimism and innocence is rarely maintained and almost always disapproved. And really how can we keep holding on to that kind of innocence and optimism when the job market is bleak, hard-working people are going unrewarded, and we see a government that’s slowly wasting away in inefficiency? This dynamic, this conflict, is what characterizes Funeral. Given the age of a lot of indie rock fans, this record itself embodies younger, less cynical days. It’s symbolically the last great indie record that told tastemakers that it was great, not the other way around, and it’s the record that was released just before the word “indie” got torn into pieces by the mainstream conscious. 


Funeral is a record of nostalgia, the characters in the songs yearn for childhood, simpler days when they could dream of becoming explorers of the world, or a band of beatniks in the countryside, but being world-weary and sad at the same time that those dreams aren’t fitted for the assembly line to society. Underneath the world-weariness of it all, you can hear in Win Butler’s voice a young man that’s cautiously optimistic, yearning in nostalgia but uncertain, yet excited by what the future holds. How else can you sum up the romanticism of being uncertain and in your 20’s? For even as we fall into the squall of ambition and hope in going forward, we know that turning left or right will only reveal the harsh responsibilities of being an adult, something we acknowledge and know is inevitable, but for just this frozen second of time, and only this brief second, the moment is ours to live in.

 

Jan 9
Three Albums: Summarizing the Life of One Music Fan

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Following the tweet by Epic Records welcoming Fiona back this year, what followed was a frenzy of anticipation that was uncharacteristically vocal for an artist that’s become less and less commercially appealing. This wasn’t Tidal-era Fiona anymore, and people knew that. Yet compared to her peer Cat Power, who emerged from a similar chrysalis in triumph this year, why was Fiona’s reception so much more excitable?


Most would attribute her popularity to her emotional rawness and sincerity so earnest, it would make Christopher Owens look disingenuous. The level of adoration with Fiona is to the point where, when the release of her album Extraordinary Machine turned into a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-like label struggle, Fiona fans from across the world initiated a campaign to mail in apple-related things to the CEO of Epic Records until the album would get released.


But what truly makes her the subject of adoration is that in many ways, Fiona is a reflection of our innate desires. Fiona’s mannerism and music show a reflection of our own inner longing for that childlike innocence and unrestrained emotion displayed in her music and persona that our society is intolerable of. To her fans, she’s an heroine unrestrained by the facades of our culture, embracing the world and its people without any sardonic misgivings. In a derisive, cynics’ world, Fiona is a wondrous child, and it shows in her music. On the “Every Single Night” music video, Fiona wanders in her own world of octopi headgear, giant snails, and horse-headed lovers, and as she innocently sings, ‘I just wanna feel everything' with no acknowledgement of the scope and voracity of such a statement, it's clear that she doesn't care to adapt the face of cynicism that an adult such as her is supposed to put on, because in her world, we're all entitled to feel everything and being wondrously innocent and playful isn't foolish, but real.


This year, Fiona once again took to one of her now famous handwritten letters to convey her feelings, and this time, it was in regards to her dying dog. In a series of heartbreaking letters , Fiona writes of her dog, ‘I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. that’s why they are so much more present than people.’ Perhaps more than anything else, this quote encapsulates what Fiona is about, and why she reflects our intrinsic need for real emotion and innocence. For Fiona, to truly be present in life, one must discard a premonition for reckoning and embrace what life is without trying to atone for past, and vanity must be discarded for it acts as nothing but a hindrance to the innocence we all possess. And this philosophy is reflected in her choice to cancel her tour to accompany her dog into her last days. To Fiona, disregarding a life as pure and innocent would go against every fiber of her being.


Contemplate on that, and ask yourself, would you do that? When there are jobs to attend to, affairs to sort out, and obligations to meet, how could one possibly say yes? Fiona’s letter is so sad and uncomfortable because as much as it’s an outlet for Fiona’s emotion, it’s importance is that it reflects upon us the sad notion that we don’t possess such an innocence anymore; we could never put our life on hold and live through the last of our animal companion’s days because society has no use for such childlike emotions, and we feel guilty and sad about it. Thus, to see a figure such as Fiona stand up and hold on to such an innocence while putting everything on-hold affects us in ways that most musicians can’t, or rather, are unwilling to do. These handwritten letters aren’t an aesthetic, this is the way Fiona communicates. It’s pre-internet, and it’s old-fashioned, but at the same time, unlike her ironically archaic colleagues in indie rock, it’s pure integrity.


Fiona openly contrasts with the indie scene where it’s cool to disregard emotion, but once again reflecting us, she reveals the fundamental aspect of indie music that many fail to realize: it pretends to be apathetic but it’s just about the most emotional music you can possibly hear. Indie music relates to fans because it drives home what we relate to most, the insecurities, the self-doubt in the pursuit of fulfillment and the grasp for individuality. In other words, indie music is meant to act as a reflection of who we are; it understands us and for that we find solace in indie music, and for that we find solace in Fiona Apple.


 

Dec 30
What’s the Appeal Behind Fiona Apple?
Eighty years ago today, Radio City Music Hall opened to the public.
Dec 27

Eighty years ago today, Radio City Music Hall opened to the public.

You can read the article here.

Some thoughts:

What separates pop and indie IS blurring with the advent of artists such as Purity Ring and Grimes and even some of the Chillwave stuff. But whereas pop music isn’t as superficial and insubstantial as rockists might mistakenly argue it as, what the article doesn’t highlight in the whole pop vs. indie culture dynamic is the fact that the entire process of listening to indie music is ritualistic, it’s an aesthetic that binds the musicians and the music into one whirlpool of adoration. Even the writer recalls ironing a Smashing Pumpkins patch onto her backpack. Think about that, can you imagine someone ironing a Bruno Mars patch onto their backpack? Indie rock fans, almost by definition, do things like buy buttons, spray paint handmade shirts, etc. By that line of thought, have pop music fans ever done so much? No, they never needed to. To many, this gap in level of involvement in exploring one’s love for their music can create a sense of authenticity and thus, condescension, and so forth.

That’s why, though misguided as the article mentions, liking pop music as a secret is understandable, maybe even tolerable because indie has an aesthetic, and to like pop music compromises said aesthetic. It’s a silly line of thought to hold on to, but being an indie rock fan and listening to pop does carry the message that you’re submitting to the same commercial excess as the vapid popular girl who loves to gossip or in a more grown-up context,  listening to indie rock and invalidating pop says, "hey I might not be 20 anymore but i’m still creative and independent, and I won’t submit to easy-listening pop music like my boring coworkers."

Furthermore, indie rock will always have a separate following that’s antagonistic to pop music for the simple fact that pop music is unrealistic. Much like how modern readers can no longer discern and separate Hemingway the writer and Hemingway the myth in his literary accomplishments, indie rock fans can’t separate the figure behind the music and the songs themselves. They enjoy Beat Happening because Calvin Johnson made fun of Henry Rollins for being so serious and “hating candy”, the thought of a young Stuart Murdoch passing along copies of Tigermilk fills indie fans with glee and the tragedy of Ian Curtis permeates their minds while they listen to Joy Division. To “brooding high schoolers”, these were normal people you could understand and believe in. You could find solace in what they sang because they were people you could find down the street. And that’s the fundamental factor that pop music doesn’t possess, and it’s this missing factor of believability that makes indie fans so antagonistic of pop. Because for all the pains and heartbreak that Taylor Swift sings about, at the end of the day, she still won’t have to cook for herself or drive her own car to the gas station. To indie rock fans, that just doesn’t make sense, as in, ”how could you sing about something so sad and then go to a movie premiere with your celebrity friends?”. Indie rock fans will never believe Bruno Mars or Christina Aguilera songs about how difficult life is because they could stop working right this second, and still not be able to spend all their money. In contrast, indie rock fans will listen to someone like Christopher Owens and believe him, because he’s a believable figure to sing those songs. It’s not to say Bruno Mars and Christina Aguilera are infallible, it’s just to say that they appear to be infallible, and as a result, pop music creates a sense of antagonism to the rockists who see it as overproduced, glossy facades. The sounds of indie and pop may be blurring, but the aesthetics and connotations attached to both are still clearly separable and thus the indie and pop music cultures will be at odds with each other, and it’s perfectly understandable, if not justified.

 

Dec 27
Pitchfork’s Lindsay Zoladz - “This Must Be Pop”

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Sputnik Sweetheart
has always been one of Murakami’s less discussed novels. Perhaps the reason for this is because it’s sandwiched in between two longer, more acclaimed releases, and as a result, casual readers never get to this short novel, or perhaps… the Japanese literary icon was simply too much of an auteur in this novel for people to feel shocked anymore. It sounds ludicrous to ever suggest an author be too much like himself, but in the case of Sputnik Sweetheart, that just might be the reason. Alienation, loneliness, sexuality, and his trademark magical realism and frustratingly ambiguous endings are all here, and that makes for a somewhat predictable affair, but then again, most of us aren’t exactly reading Murakami for the sheer thrill of it. For Murakami isn’t so much an unpredictable crafter of tales as he is a lonely man brewing a mead of reflective bleakness.


This is a lonely story with only three characters in a love triangle that’s as empty as the characters themselves. If I truly wanted to be reductive, I could argue that there are only two characters and an ever-looming presence. In a story where the context is unimportant, the characters are all that’s left to support the writing, and here through Murakami’s terse yet flowing style, we’re thrown into the mind of an emotionally numb, selfish, and passive protagonist as he interacts with a writer he’s in love with and her object of affections, an enigmatic older woman with a traumatic past. Murakami’s prose is loose, and flowing, sometimes even aimless, but one has to wonder how much of that is truly style and how much of it is intentional in marking the aimlessness of the story and characters.


Though the plot is about emotional detachment, magical realism is glaringly present in this novel as characters ponder on the concepts of duality, and alternate worlds that may hold true promises and emotional fulfillment that this cold, silent reality does not. There are maybe 3 or 4 layers of meanings to this novel’s title, but one of them is what you’d expect from the acclaimed Japanese author; satellites revolving in the coldness of space, dead and without word, passing by each other in an endless cycle around gravity. This metaphor works both as commentary on the isolation we suffer in our society, and symbolic of the novel’s theme of other worlds.


Some say trying to decipher Murakami’s surrealist writing is a fool’s game, and for the most part, they’re right. There’s no objectivity to anything that happens, you can find just as many reasons to support the novel as a dream as you can to support that they’re under some kind of new age lab experiment. And if trying to find concrete grounding is a fool’s game, then trying to analyze the ending will drive you close to despair. 


But one thing everyone can agree on is that however you interpret this novel, be clear that this is a Murakami novel, and by that line, this novel is contemplatively bleak, sad, and occasionally dark. If you’re looking for a Christmas novel, then this might not be the best read, however, if you’re looking for something to not help, but accommodate you through the winter blues, then you just found the perfect read.

 

Dec 25
Sputnik Sweetheart (1999) - Haruki Murakami 
I recently found out that Murakami abandons first-person narration altogether in his new novel 1Q84. As if I wasn’t hesitant enough about diving into a 900+ page novel. 
Dec 24

Sputnik Sweetheart (1999) - Haruki Murakami
 

I recently found out that Murakami abandons first-person narration altogether in his new novel 1Q84. As if I wasn’t hesitant enough about diving into a 900+ page novel.

 

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Silver Linings Playbook

Director: David O. Russell

Release: Limited release, Nov. 16, but expanding by 700 theaters on Dec. 25th

This film was originally made with Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel in mind. I don’t think I need to launch into particularly descriptive prose detailing the mass murder and onslaught that follow for you to know that this film was one step away from the crater of indie mediocrity, a crater carved out by the meteor we now all retrospectively know as ‘fucking Garden State’.
 

With that out of the way, this was a very funny, dare I say, original romantic dramedy. It still follows the three-act romantic comedy formula, but by the end, it almost transforms into a feel-good family film. Which is to say this film’s topical matter isn’t so much romance as it’s a film about rediscovering and healing yourself in the face of overwhelming adversary, romance just happens to be a vehicle. And a lot of it has to be attributed to the actors. Under the hands of Deschanel and the equally bland Vaughn, this most likely would have ended up as a boring quirky indie comedy affair, something that I don’t believe even Russell could have prevented. However, with the dynamics of Jennifer Lawrence and, surprisingly, Bradley Cooper, and a strong supporting cast, what we got was something much more special. Something so special that not even Robert De Niro’s recent track record could take down this film. Christmas miracle indeed.

Jennifer Lawrence is dedicated, and she makes that very clear in this film. If there was ever an actress who could have a meteoric rise to stardom while also encapsulating talent and no desire for self-preservation, Lawrence would be that actress. And she proves that in this film. As I was watching Silver Linings, I couldn’t help but be reminded of mega-franchise peer Emma Watson, who also embarked on a similar endeavor this year with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but whereas her performance was unmemorable and ultimately dispassionate, Lawrence’s performance here as Tiffany makes her endearing, spontaneous, and even tragic; Tiffany is a human being in real life, whereas Emma Watson grated through a mundane performance.

With a slew of mediocre films and performances, Cooper seems to have finally found his first Oscar-worthy role in Pat Solitano, a scarred, dysfunctional man recovering from infidelity and going through bipolar disorder. Definitely not the role most would latch Bradley Cooper onto. From The Hangover to Limitless to The A-Team, Cooper has rapidly reached the thruways onto becoming a typecast. But with Silver Linings, Cooper proves, if not hints, that he has a wider range as an actor than what he’s displayed so far and he’s capable of something beyond suave.

Silver Linings is also David O. Russell’s first stint at a comedy since 2004’s I Heart Huckabees, since then, he’s helmed a documentary, an unfinished 2008 venture, and a biographical film. In comparison to Huckabees, this film is more organized, cohesive, and most of all, it feels focused. Silver Linings shows a director on the top of his game, and I hope Russell plays his hand more into dramatic comedies. Whereas I Heart Huckabees felt like a film riding off the waves of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings is Russell’s own film.

 

Dec 24
"It can still be a date even if you order Raisin Bran."
TWILIGHT OF THE IDOL: RARE PHOTOS OF HEMINGWAY IN CUBA
Dec 23

TWILIGHT OF THE IDOL: RARE PHOTOS OF HEMINGWAY IN CUBA