Monday, January 19, 2015

Inherent Vice

Let me tell you what the weirdest thing about Inherent Vice is.  Because, no, it's not the relative plotlessness, the character names, the bizarre situations, the hapless protagonist, the neo-noir dialogue, or the wealth of hazy non-sequitors. Those may count as idiosyncrasies, but they're not oddities. At least, not if you put the whole thing in context.  That's because the weirdest damn thing about Inherent Vice is that everyone seems to want to discuss it as a Paul Thomas Anderson movie and next to no one is consciously appraising it in its most dominant context: it's a goddamn Thomas Pynchon adaptation. Through and through, head to toe, moment to moment: Pynchon. All the time.  There's an argument to be made that figures the adapted script as Inherent Vice's true triumph, as Anderson has made quick work of the near-impossible. He has diluted the famously convoluted slipstream of Pynchon down to his clearest scenes without losing the off-kilter humor, the sharp (odd) dialogue, and postmodern genre-fuckery that makes his novels tick.

Big Eyes

Tim Burton has needed to break away from himself for some time now - or so many a think piece or whining fan would have you believe.  The director has long been an easy example of a certain type of auteurism:  his films are recognizably his even when they're adapted from someone else's work.  Burton has a trademark look, a trademark sound, a recycling troupe of actors, and repeatedly embraced themes.  Though his work has long inspired a type of cult fandom, it seems that lately we may have become exhausted by the kooky mayhem he brings to the screen.  The last decade or so has found Burton suffering from a type of Hot Topic overexposure; his films have become, too-often, studio projects with over-inflated budgets and automatic t-shirt tie-ins.  Along with that, many would tell you, they seem to have become even more about artifice, and you shouldn't have to look very far to find a one-time Burton fan quietly complaining about the director's descent into self-parody.

After this super-saturation, then, we've been in need of a palate cleanser  - and Burton has been too.  Big Eyes feels like the director slamming down hard on the reset button, if nothing else.  It's his attempt at a relatively straightforward biopic.  All the makeup, expressionist mise en scene, and surrealism has been scrubbed away in favor of period costuming, straightforward lighting, and sincere performances.  The Burtonesque can be found in only two places in Big Eyes: its loving approach to kitsch and Christoph Waltz's over-the-top mugging as the dumbly villainous Walter Keane.  Maybe this is the way things need to be.  Maybe this is the break that proves he can do something else.  Maybe whatever comes next will allow us to appreciate the Burtonesque again.  We can hope for all of these things, because at the end of the day there's one only one major complaint to be made against Big Eyes: it's flat. It's too typical. It plays out like every other biopic you've ever seen.  And as such?  It just doesn't feel like a product of its director.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PCA Playlist: POPcapsule 2014

Those familiar with my year-end music listing process know that alongside the big list of goodies I typically throw down a list of pure pop.  Typically, I do this in the spirit of confessing and excising what many might refer to as "guilty pleasures."  To be fair, though, I don't really believe in guilty pleasures and there are far too many songs I couldn't quite justify upvoting to the main list, but which certainly have their poppy, earwormy merits.  So, consider this the brightly colored bonus content.  This is the dance party annex.

For your judgmental, head-shaking, eye-rolling listening pleasure, I present you with these oh-too-sweet tracks (collected in one easily consumable YouTube playlist).  I don't care you think I shouldn't like them, part of me definitely does...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2014, 76-100

Here we are.  The end. At long last. The final set of 2014 songs, with more than a few noteworthy exclusions, I'm sure.  There are some songs I like but just can't throw down on a best list, there are others I understand the importance of but just can't upvote onto my personal list.  And, of course, in the process of making this list there are the things I put on, took off, put on, took off, and finally threw one way or the other.  The long list had been just that, and the final 100 seem like an accurate representation of the year in sounds.  From the weird over-processed internet pop slowly seeping into our atmosphere to idiosyncratic one-offs, recycled throwbacks, and glitchy R&B; I have tried to collect them all.  There will likely be a short pure pop recap to come, but for now, hope you enjoyed looking over the list (or listening to it, or rolling your eyes, or finding something you didn't know about before).  Happy 2015, folks.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2014, 51-75

Now we're really hitting our stride.  A knife-wielding Taylor Swift - who this year scored three places on this list - welcomes you to part three of my obsessive four part series.  This portion of the list includes some of the biggest, brightest pop tracks alongside some serious business.  Get ready, and hit play on the 8Tracks mix as you read on.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Imitation Game

Without fail, there's always one biopic a year that manages to ascend in my esteem beyond a cheap "Oscar bait" write-off.  Usually, these are films that surprise me not merely because of the quality of their performances, but because real thought has been put into the crafting of the narrative. If there's one thing year after year of "Oscar movies" can teach us, it's that there's a real difference between great raw material and a great movie.  The best "based on true events" films manage to arrange the contents for maximum impact, and whether or not they take liberties, they become ironclad narratives that reveal something about their subject without forgetting to engross and entertain their audience.  When films like this really work, they manage to feel somehow light even when their subjects carry significant historical weight, and The Imitation Game does precisely that.  Though the film deals with heavy subjects like social injustice, questions of identity, and Nazis, it puts its characters first and lets us engage with the issues through them.  While there's a clear reverence for Alan Turing (here played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and a definite interest in drawing attention to his contributions, The Imitation Game concentrates on making him human instead of preaching.  What it offers is a real, compassionate portrait of a man who accomplished so much and yet suffered so greatly.    
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