Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2014, 26-50

The journey continues. On this New Year's Eve, I present for your consideration part two of my 2014 song list.  It would have been nice to have this wrapped up before the calendar turns over, but let's be real: there's no way that's going to happen.  This is slow going, decisions are still being made, and so it is. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I've been a defender of The Hobbit films to this point. While I was never on board with the decision to break down such a slight text into three endless films, I could get behind the storybook lightness of the first couple entries in the series. There were dwarf songs and overeating to buffer some of the questing action, and the characters felt like they were being developed here and there over the course of the bloated run time.  They weren't great films, but they were entertaining to watch and quite lovely in their way.  Which is why all I really need to say about The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies can be summed up with a throwing up of hands and a resounding 'WTF'.  My time as a Hobbit apologist ended somewhere in the midst of the battle sequence that makes up most of this film's two-and-a-half hour run time, and the things that frustrates me the most is the way this lazy piece of storytelling casts a pall over the entire franchise.  Much like George Lucas before him, Peter Jackson has taken too many liberties with the world he manages.  Unlike Lucas, Jackson's alterations are a betrayal not only to his own work, but to J.R.R. Tolkien's.  He's transformed a slight volume into a war-heavy act of political tedium so pointedly directed at tying the mythology into The Lord of the Rings that it nearly forgets to include the title character for impossibly long stretches of time.

Into the Woods

After seeing Into the Woods, two status updates passed through my Facebook feed that gave me unusual - albeit temporary- pause.  The first was a distant acquaintance who basically suggested watching the film was a type of musical waterboarding, the second was someone asking whether people thought it would be ok to take their young kids to.  In response to the former, I figure if you're not much for musicals there's very little chance of Sondheim's unceasing lyrical structure winning you over.  The latter, though, I was oddly baffled by.  The thing is, it was only in that moment that I actually stopped and thought about the film for what it technically is: a PG-rated Disney vehicle built around a musical most frequently put on by middle school theater kids.  Into the Woods is a mash-up of fairy tales with a bevy of young characters, and though I knew this going in, I have to admit that while I was watching Into the Woods it never really occurred to me that it could be mistaken for a children's story. Odd, since it is that over all else.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Theory of Everything

What is The Theory of Everything? At a surface level, the answer appears rather obvious: this is the story of a marriage. It is also, though, a capsule recap of Stephen Hawking's life in moments. Throughout the film there's a sense of what it should or could be versus what it is.  It provides us with glimmers of an impressionistic type of cinema, but then back peddles into a very English, staid period piece.  It turns our love story expectations inside out to show us the ugly side of their relationship, but then shies away from any sense of fallout.  The film's first half is a very pretty, effectively devastating depiction of a love story against all odds, and in those scenes it makes sense that we're presented with the unfolding events as a flipbook of important moments. We see life as it was in Hawking's graduate student days at Cambridge, we're shown life as it could have been in Stephen and Jane's blissful, bantering courtship, and finally we're shown their shared commitment in the face of Stephen's battle with motor neuron disease.  He's breaking down, both are struggling to keep things together.  And then?  The film sticks to the same formula.  It never plateaus. It never seems to have a sense of what it wants to accomplish in its run time. Theory of Everything grows into a rhizomatic structure that tries to do so much that it begins to fall emotionally flat.  The further we get into the lives of the Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), the more the film keeps us at a distance.

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2014, 1-25

We find ourselves at the end of yet another year.  With each closure comes the obsessive and oppressive need to chronicle and lock a bit of pop culture away in a time capsule.  So, we build lists. Or, at least, that's how things work for me.  2014's song list marks the sixth time I've gone through the process of publicly documenting my taste and daring to call things "best," and though from time to time I've later discovered tracks that could have easily been at the top had I known about them, the most rewarding thing about the act of listing is that each of these really does serve to make some part of my memory all the more concrete.

As per usual, the caveat: this is not a music site. This is a film site, primarily, and a one-person operation.  I like making playlists, I like sharing sounds I've enjoyed, and I'm definitely into collecting my own thoughts.  This list is far more about compiling a very subjectively chosen set of worthwhile artifacts and far less about placing labels on the "best" possible songs of the year. They're the best to me, certainly, even if they're not always the most musically ambitious.

That said, let us begin.  Presented with minimal commentary and in no real order, the 100 best tracks of 2014...

Read on.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


As time passes, my memory of certain films begins to cloud.  There are the impressions left by the work's visual qualities , that is, the mood a given film seems to want to evoke  -- and then there's this kinda separate thing: what it actually succeeds in doing.  Sometimes, with enough distance and repeat exposure to the right snippets or images, I start to wonder if my initial reaction was justified.  Foxcatcher is one such film: a beautiful work in some ways, a dreadfully dull thing in others.  Since watching it, I haven't been able to quite suss out whether my sense of it is one on the brink of change or if my opinion has simply been dulled from exposure to repeat praise.  To be up front, I'll tell you that my initial reaction was one of near total frustration. This was what I'd waited so long for? What I'd heard so much about?  I'd left the theater exhausted and so thoroughly bored that I'd immediately texted a handful of friends who might give a shit and told them I'd found the film to be among the biggest disappointments in recent memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


When we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the opening scene of Nightcrawler, we come face to face with something less man than creature.  His eyes are wide, unblinking; the type of distinctive feature you'd expect to find in a nocturnal animal, and Louis is just that.  The first scene presents him as a scavenger in the process of stealing from a construction site in the dead of night so that he can resell the goods. He takes everything, we learn.  Fencing, manhole covers, scraps of this and that.  It's the type of crime that reads as perhaps petty, but which could also be defensibly seen as an act of desperation.  This is what Louis specializes in, it turns out.  Not the theft so much as working the system from its slimy underbelly.  He thrives in the darkness, looks for loopholes that allow him to avoid real human contact, and turns them to his advantage.  That same evening he stumbles upon a car crash and watches as a freelance camera crew pushes their way through the emergency vehicles to get footage of the suffering victim.  He asks them questions. Not many, but just enough to understand that there's money to be made from this type of savagery.  If it bleeds, it leads, he's told, and we need only look at Louis' eyes to understand that this is the work he was meant for.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

This semester, I found myself partially engaged in questions of what makes a film subversive.  There
are moments in time where something may be described as such because of the rules it breaks in terms of form or acceptable content, others where the politics of a movie seem to move in opposition to popular opinion. In discussing the conditions that could make for subversive, or, at the least, rebellious cinema within the American studio system, the conclusions seemed to fall into a few camps.  All felt that the most subversive acts had to have some kind of financial backing that would push them in front of the largest audience, though many were wary of essays and claims that The Lego Movie or Transformers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier successfully managed the transgressive acts ascribed to them. My class seemed more compelled by the notion that two current films had that possibility, the first was The Interview - picked largely because of the seemingly very real political response it has been met with - and Mockingjay Part 1.  They chose Mockingjay with the understanding that the second half of the film will likely (ok, undoubtedly) reverse the logic by which they felt this first half manages a type of subversion.  I've been weighing this since. The longer I've held off writing about the film, the more I'm inclined to agree with them: this is a blockbuster that manages something most cannot, and the varied responses to those impulses are the best indicators of its trespasses.

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