Category Archives: Movies

“In Time” Reaction

In Time, the Justin Timberlake-starring sci-fi/action thriller is a movie with an interesting skeleton and several parts that are interesting on their own, though the movie as a whole never adds up to its parts. It is still a movie worth seeing if for no other reason than to finally see the character Timberlake plays and not think of him as being Justin Timberlake – something he hasn’t been able to do in any of his larger roles in the last two years. I’m not sure I buy him as an action star at this point, but he isn’t unconvincing either.

Here are the things I enjoyed about the movie:

  • Cillian Murphy is awesome in the movie. If there were one thing I wished there had been more background about, it was the history of or deeper detail about the role of the Timekeepers. Much like the fedora-bearing adjusters in The Adjustment Bureau, detail wouldn’t have ruined the mystery here. At any rate, Murphy is a badass and is perfectly cast here.
  • The key to casting Justin Timberlake from this movie forward should be to find a charismatic female sidekick/cohort to work alongside him. Timberlake is interesting enough on his own, but given the chance to work with Mila Kunis and Amanda Seyfried have served him well. A movie mainly comprised of Seyfried and Timberlake pulling bank heists and running around together would have been excellent. Timberlake has found great chemistry with women in strong roles and it creates an enjoyable atmosphere for the audience to be a part of.
  • The idea of the movie is interesting but too often got bogged down in trying to make certain the audience understood that there was no “money” in this world. As an example of the current disparity between the 1% and the 99%, the movie is excellently timed but does not trust the audience at all to put the pieces together. Had there been more pure action in place of exposition, the film could have had a shorter running time and been a tighter overall narrative. I’m certain there is a solid B+ movie in what was filmed, it just got watered down.
The film and the atmosphere it creates is excellent and more than worthy of seeing. The science fiction is fairly light and the action well-dispersed through its running time. There are rarely any stupid, bombastic CGI scenes and it allows the actors to be the ones to bear the weight of the film, which works in its favor, especially with a cast as strong as the one on display here. In the end, a shortened running time would have helped the movie, but there is enough that works, and works well, to keep the film afloat.
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Crazy, Stupid, Love

 

First thing’s first – I think you should see Crazy, Stupid, Love. The movie is not a unique experience and there is one thing about the movie that I really hated, but the movie overcomes both of these things by being full of real emotion, quality performances, atmosphere and subversion. The film does an exceptional job balancing cliche sequences with unexpected moments of poignancy. The characters are relatable and they act in such a way that they resemble actual humans rather than dramatized versions of humans. Crazy, Stupid, Love allows the people and the story to breathe and it ends up being a wholly enjoyable way to spend two hours.

 

The movie explores a common theme of love being lost by one person and found by another. Steve Carell’s Cal is the one losing love in this case. His marriage has fallen apart because over time he became “boring” and his wife (Julianne Moore) slept with another man (Kevin Bacon). The love being found is by Jacob, played by Ryan Gosling, who falls for Hannah (Emma Stone) like no woman he has met before. In between, Cal does not lose touch with his entire being and Jacob never succumbs to a level of loathing that we typically expect from his character-type. What the movie does so well is encourage us to pull for every character in the movie. We understand why Cal’s wife would do what she did, just as Cal understands. We understand why Jacob does the things he does and we understand why Hannah would dump her stooge of a boyfriend (wonderfully played by Josh Groban) and fall for Jacob in the end, just as he does. Carell and Gosling are an exceptional team and the way they grow as friends makes real life sense. That’s what separates this movie from others in the genre.

 

There comes a point late in the movie where Cal is alone at the bar where he first met Jacob. Jacob is seeing his relationship with Hannah grow at the expense of his friendship with Cal. The scene mirrors their first encounter, but this time Cal is the Jacob and there is another schlub at the bar. Early in the movie Jacob tells Cal that he wants to help him because he reminds him of someone. This scene would traditionally go the route of a montage of the growth in Cal and Jacob’s relationship or show Cal taking the schlub under his wing, but it does not do that. Instead, Cal realizes how far he has fallen and begins the process of moving on. It was a moment that had me grinning, knowing that the movie would not play out in a generic way.

 

The subversion is also prevalent in the way that the movie approaches the crush that Cal’s babysitter has on him. Rather than having her make increasingly awkward plays for his affections, her crush plays in the background, bubbling under the surface of her interactions as she tries to make sense of the looming divorce. Though this might be her opportunity to make a play for Cal (and though she does take some inappropriate pictures for Cal that she stashes in her dresser), instead she thinks about the repercussions and goes about her normal day. It’s an arc that is executed superbly and the resolution resonates beautifully. Much like the rest of the movie, there is a momentum that builds without getting out of control, reaches the eventual climax and closes in a way that gives weight to emotion instead of neatly closing storylines.

 

The atmosphere and the color palette of the film stay away from the blown-out, brightly lit schemes of most romantic comedies in favor of a darker, more realistic look. It suits the movie well and kept me involved because of how well the color worked and the framing was exactly what the movie needed. The only glaring fault in the movie is the overuse of music, whether it be soundtrack, score or diegetic. The music seemed to be used to pull heartstrings or set a mood when the film itself did these things well on its own.

 

In the end, the movie plays like a well-paced, light drama more than a romantic comedy. It stays away from the look and feel of the typical romantic comedy and goes unexpected places emotionally and with the story. Ryan Gosling gives a virtuoso performance that will do nothing but see his star continue to rise. Steve Carell and Julianne Moore both do excellent work with everything they’re given and Emma Stone is charming in the limited time she is on screen. It is a film that clearly knew what it wanted to be and how it wanted to differentiate itself from its genre-brethren and it does so in spades. It’s a tremendous two hours of spending time in the lives of these people and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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More Specific Thoughts on Sucker Punch

 

After my post last night, I had a friend respond on Twitter. As I considered responding, I realized my response would entail several tweets and decided to expand upon my reaction and response here.

 

I felt that of the characters in the movie, I found, in order, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung and Emily Browning to be the most well-developed/well-acted of the bunch. The other two girls were Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens. My initial reaction to Jena Malone was, “oh, it’s that girl I’ve seen before with a really scary mouth and teeth.” Her mouth, when she talks, always distracts me much more than it should and I kind of feel bad about feeling this way, but is just one of those things. Throughout her time in the movie, she was used as solely a person who was there to whine or disagree with her big sister. Her big moment of (SPOILER ALERT) giving her life so her sister could continue on their mission rang hollow for me and was simply a plot device. Also, her dying line of “Tell Mom I love her” was a perfect example of the dialog built upon cliche (see also, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” and the cringe-worthy “Don’t write checks with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass”) because of a lack of character development.

 

Vanessa Hudgens, on the other hand, was held as the melodramatic character who only had a place in the movie because we needed someone who couldn’t carry the weight of what was happening and would need to snitch. Whenever a character says anything involving the phrase, “You have to promise not to tell anyone,” it is certain that someone will overhear or walk in as it is happening. Way to go Vanessa Hudgens, you got yourself and Jamie Chung killed. But, as far as Jamie Chung goes, she fit, for me, in the scheme of things much the way Joseph Gordon-Levitt fit in Inception. We need a character who is always in control and will be the anchor to keep everyone in line and Chung did that superbly. She didn’t have to do a lot and wasn’t an expositional voice as much as Gordon-Levitt had to be, but she anchored everyone and worked to make sure the plans were executed properly. She is probably the most undeniably attractive girl, but I don’t know that she fit as fluidly in the movie as Cornish and Browning. Those two carried themselves with the most confidence, which is what I found most important.

 

 

That three-part idea, that the movie had to be cut and watered down speak to the heart (or lack thereof) of what was wrong with Sucker Punch. The movie clearly had it’s dialogue cut from more profane and explicit – for example, Vanessa Hudgens is shooting a .50 cal machine gun at a dragon and yells something along the lines of “TAKE THAT MOTHER ______!” and it is obvious that the audio was dropped rather than her only saying “mother” with an inferred “fucker”) – and the way that these people spoke and interacted had an undercurrent of more gritty dialogue that saying “bullshit” a couple of times. The strict guidelines utilized for language in movie ratings is insane, in my opinion, while the content question continues to grow softer over time. But, that’s America for you.

 

I feel that the movie was watered-down to grow its audience of females much more than appealing to a wider overall audience, which might backfire because of the critical backlash to its “sexploitation.” Instead of encouraging young women to get out and see the movie, it is going to open the doors for young, teenage boys to come in and explore what they think happens in the minds of women, when it is actually a more direct description of what happens in the mind of a visionary director with women substituted in his place. The watering-down and cutting of the movie leaves a lot of development, character and story growth on the cutting room floor, leaving us with a dumbed-down, visually spectacular action movie. I honestly loved the fact that the movie is led by these 5 women instead of being an all out action fiasco with Sylvester Stallone and his buddies deciding who has the biggest dick of the bunch. The Expendables was an atrocious movie, in my opinion, and I think that Sucker Punch can save itself from becoming a female version of that movie by giving us a more comprehensive director’s release when it reaches the DVD/blu-ray home market.

 

That director’s release will need to be a more comprehensive look at the themes only hinted at in the movie (feminism, female sexuality, reality v. fiction, all of which Madison noted) and give us a character-driven story instead of a plot-driven story. Abbie Cornish and Emily Browning did an interview with HitFix.com that I didn’t see until late last night but found telling of what is going on with the movie. When the interviewer asks them what they thought of the final cut of the movie and mentions all of the footage that didn’t make it, that assures me that there is a better version of the movie out there, if only in Zack Snyder’s mind. These two feel like they were in a different movie than the final product we received. The movie they acted in was one that turns a lot of the ideas explored in the theatrical release on their head, because we care about those characters, whereas in the movie we care only about what these characters are doing. It’s a difficult dichotomy, but it is an important differentiation to make. I would love to see what is actually happening in the second level of this dream as the girls are executing their plot to find the items, while also get a glimpse of what it is that Emily Browning’s character is really doing (is it a striptease? is it an entrancing belly dance? is it a beautiful integration of movement and sound? let me know something!), rather than only seeing the result.

 

There is a lot of good in Sucker Punch but it gets muddled and lost in, as I said last night, a plot that wants to move forward as quickly as possible. The first 30 minutes of the movie are all we receive as far as character development goes, and those first 30 minutes are gorgeous on the surface, but lacking beyond that. The differentiation in realities is well-done and I honestly enjoyed a lot of what was happening there (not as detailed as Inception, but I didn’t need it to be), even if I didn’t totally understand why she went to these places. In the trailer I posted at the start, one of the phrases is “Reality is a Prison” and that is something both overt (Browning’s character is in an actual version of a prison in reality) and conceptualized by where these girls go with their imaginations, when they marry their talent and their mind. Further evolving that thought and how it plays out makes this a much more substantial film.

 

Finally, there is a lot to be said for Snyder’s execution of this world and his vision. The movie never fails to be a visually delighting film. I can’t argue about anything that is in the movie, all I can do is argue for there to be more in the movie. Of course, how many men are you going to get to head out to a  2 1/2 – 3 hour movie empowering women and showing the struggles they have with their feminism and the fetishism that is rampant in every area of their life? Not a lot and that’s important because these men are the ones who will flock to a movie with beautiful women and light plot and tell their friends to do the same but would not if they were challenged by what it is that motivates these women and gives them strength. Coping with struggles isn’t a bad thing and I had hoped Sucker Punch would let me into the psyche of these girls. But, in the end, all I felt that I got was a raw preview of an impressive film that left me wanting more, much like the preview Baby Doll gave the Mayor.

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Reaction to Limitless and Sucker Punch

On Monday afternoon, I saw Limitless in a theater of about 10 audience members of mostly older people and today, Friday, I saw Sucker Punch with an audience of around 50 consisting of mostly males (I think I saw, at most, 4 women) between the ages of 15 and 50. I think that both movies were marketed toward the same age group with similar ideas of drama/action combinations with rooted in a removal from reality. Oh, and they both feature Abbie Cornish doing mostly different things, but some similar things that I will comment on momentarily.

Limitless was a movie where the marketing effectively swayed me into seeing this movie in theaters. I like Bradley Cooper as an actor and think that he is an engaging guy from interviews I have seen. He also seems to be someone who is actually quite different than the on-screen persona he typically employs. He is a good-looking man but rarely comes off as a smug, prickish type dude from anything I’ve seen or read involving him, though that is the role he is usually cast to fulfill. Limitless isn’t as squarely within that type as you find yourself rooting for Cooper for the majority of the movie and he is a compelling lead character. Robert De Niro’s involvement also piqued my interest, though his role is built up in the promos to be something much more than it is in the movie. On the whole, I enjoyed the movie. The way the movie is shot and the oversaturation of colors when Cooper is taking his designer drug that heightens his senses and invokes all the synapses of the brain are exquisitely done and play to the movie’s favor.

Early on, Cooper is describing how he feels on the drug and accurately describes the pacing of Limitless at the same time. He basically says that when he is on the drug, he has to always be moving forward and attempting something more than what he is doing – he can never be still. The movie is constantly moving forward, whether lurching early or falling into a consistent rhythm at the end, there is no real time for character development for anyone other than Cooper, which is fine because he receives an overwhelming majority of the screen time. It is also a very wordy, dialogue-driven movie. Not in the same sense as The Social Network, but in the sense that Cooper sometimes seems like he has a mouthful of words that he has to say as quickly as possible, lest they cause him to choke. It isn’t bad, but it is a little much at times. The main arc of the movie is resolved in a pretty generic action/gangster movie, over-the-top fiasco, but finds one moment of disgusting humanity and shows the depths of addiction that added value to the scene and saved it, slightly, for me. The actual ending was surprisingly vague and caused me to wonder if I had overlooked something in the course of all of the forward motion or if there was some nuance I was missing in the final interaction between De Niro and Cooper. In the end, I’m glad I saw the movie and enjoyed it more than I anticipated, as it was more than a typical drugs are bad for you type of movie I expected.

 

Sucker Punch, on the other hand, was a movie that didn’t really have to do anything to get me into the theater, as I was pretty excited from the first promo I saw in the fall. I like Zack Snyder as a director, though I may not love his films themselves as much. 300 was a solid movie with excellent set pieces and action and Watchmen was a beautifully shot movie with some strong moments and some dragging moments as well. Sucker Punch immediately looked to be a full-on assault of the senses and encapsulate a lot of sci-fi fantasy elements in a strange concoction that wasn’t really explained prior to the movie’s release. The most surprising aspect of going to the movie today was that it was an almost entirely male audience. As I have read some reviews of the movie, apparently this was a big aspect of people’s disdain, in that they saw this as an exploitation piece/soft porn type of movie where it was a bunch of attractive (mostly) girls running around doing badass shit in skimpy clothing. The reasons I just mentioned were not the appeal for me, as I don’t typically go to the theater solely for the purpose of looking at attractive women/girls, so it was entirely interesting to see the audience in the theater today. It also makes me interested to see the female reaction to the movie, because I think it intends to be a bit of female empowerment. Really intriguing, for me.

 

The movie itself was an enjoyable experience, as I expected, but it was largely devoid of feeling. There were a lot of girls running around doing badass shit and the layers of reality(ies) in place to tell the story were really interesting with excellent CGI work, but it was, like Limitless, a movie that was always moving forward and progressing at the fastest possible pace. The amount of time covered only makes sense because it is mentioned by the characters, but since we never see anything that happens at the asylum/brothel that doesn’t apply to a dance that is about to take place, it is impossible to keep track of how much time has elapsed. Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish are the most integral characters to the movie and they both do a pretty fantastic job, especially Cornish. Browning looked a little out of place when she had to do any type of running or throwing (actual athletic movement), but in fight sequences she was quite convincing as an action hero. I think Sucker Punch had a lot to say, but spent too much time on exposition and terrible dialog instead of letting us see how things played out. The human spirit is able to do a lot of things and the exploration of this idea is interestingly examined here, but the execution falters in the actual motion of the plot. There was essentially too much going on in the running time of the film. I have no doubt that there will be a director’s cut blu-ray when the time comes and I’d be interested to see how it differs and whether we develop an investment in any of these characters.

 

As far as Abbie Cornish is concerned, she has the build and demeanor to successfully carry an action movie. She looked very much at home as she was moving with her guns and her movement was very fluid. Her build isn’t such that she is “butch,” but she is imposing and considerably taller than most of the other girls in the movie. She was in Limitless as well, as Bradley Cooper’s girlfriend, and can move easily into the look of a professional business woman. In that movie, she also had a scene that could have easily come from an action movie or a thriller and she was convincing there as well. I don’t know if she has anything in the pipeline that will fit this type or if she even desires to go that route, but should I see her as the leading lady in an action movie (not as the love interest, but as the ass-kicking girl), I will happily promote the hell out of that movie.

 

In the end, Limitless was a much more fun moviegoing experience and did a lot of things well, while also not going beyond its reach and keeping viewers involved, without trying to be too smart. It is simply a well-executed drama/thriller. With Sucker Punch, Snyder overstuffed the movie with ideas and forgot to tell a story about these characters. The characters and the story are vague and generic, but it is a gorgeously shot and directed movie. They’re both worth a watch, but I’d recommend Limitless if I had to choose between the two.

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New Releases 2/1/2011

New releases of note tomorrow, February 1, 2011:

Music

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

The Civil Wars are a male-female duo crafting lovely indie rock. They have a free download of a live album recorded at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA available at their MySpace. Check it out and keep an ear out for their new album.

 

There is not a whole lot happening on the music side of things. There is a Bob Marley live album from The Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA in 1982 as well as a new album from Christian heavy rockers Red entitled Until We Have Faces.

Movies

Let Me In

The writer-director of Cloverfield helmed this American remake of the swedish novel and eventual movie Let the Right One In.

Never Let Me Go

Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield star in the movie adaptation of the novel The Remains of Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Conviction

This courtroom and family drama stars Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.

I have not heard or seen any of the releases for this week, though I do intend to see Never Let Me Go and potentially Let Me In.

Anything I missed?

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New Releases 1/25/2011

New releases of note tomorrow, January 25th, 2011:

Music

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Sam Beam releases his first full-length record of new material since 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog. Kiss Each Other Clean finds beam moving further from the man (with an immaculate beard) and his guitar simplicity of his early music and more into making use of a full band and some studio effects from time-to-time, most notably autotune and distortion pedals (!!!). Beam’s knack for melody is still intact, now with a more colorful pallet to dance upon. Standout tracks include “Me and Lazarus,” “Big Burned Hand” and “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough.”

 

Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours

Cold War Kids make good upon the promise of their debut with Mine Is Yours, their third full-length LP. Shifting from recording their record live as a full band, as they did with their first two albums, to recording piece by piece with many takes allows the Cold War Kids to take chances they missed on sophomore slump Loyalty To Loyalty. Though the album lakes the ever-shifting dynamics that peppered their first two releases, the foundation the band builds allows each member to find their pocket in each song and groove in a way that was absent early in their careers. If you found yourself let down with the Kings of Leon’s Come Around Sundown, you’ll find the record they hoped to make with Mine Is Yours. Standout tracks include “Royal Blue,” “Finally Begin” and “Cold Toes On the Cold Floor.”

 

Movies

Red

Though I haven’t yet seen Red, I find myself quite interested to see how the movie is executed. I am most intrigued to see if each of the main castmembers are anything other than the characters they’ve played in every movie ever – Bruce Willis as Mr. Get-Shit-Done, Morgan Freeman as the all-knowing mastermind who has many instances of extended dialogue just to make sure he uses his voice as much as possible, John Malkovich as the wild card who might be a little off his rocker and Helen Mirren as the matriarch and emotional backbone.

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Anberlin, Circa Survive & Foxy Shazam – Asheville, NC 16/1/2011

During their short run in early 2011, Anberlin, Circa Survive and Foxy Shazam performed at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina on January 16th, 2011. Anberlin and Circa Survive were billed as co-headliners, but Anberlin had the longer set and closed the night at this stop before a packed house of nearly 1,000.

Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam hails from Cincinnati, Ohio and have been a band for a little over half a decade. I was not familiar with them heading into the night, having only listened to a couple of songs that were streaming on their MySpace (somehow still a website) page. I did not find myself particularly impressed by their brand of alternative rock, but they seemed like they would be interesting to hear in-person. They entered with an incredible amount of energy and a lot of gimmicky theatrics. Lead singer Eric Sean Nally performed an array of kicks, jumps, flips, displays of climbing ability and microphone stand tosses and kicks (and, at one point, sang while performing a headstand), which would be impressive at a talent show, but detracted from the bands ability to perform. Nally is more than capable as a lead singer, with a strong voice and the ability to command an audience, but lacks precision. The rest of the band looked like they had been taken from various cliques at a high school and placed in a group together, with the keyboardist putting out an entirely creepy vibe with his performance, consisting of placing one foot on his keyboard, leaning as far forward as he could, with his mouth agape peering at the audience members directly below him. Not the place I would want to be for their set. The most interesting moment of the night came toward the end of the set when Nally asked the audience for a cigarette and someone threw an entire pack to him on stage. He removed four cigarettes, lit them and began smoking on stage. After a couple of puffs, he then ate the four cigarettes, topping every moment that had taken place before. Overall, the band is intriguing to watch, but their songs never compelled me to listen to the music more than wonder what would happen next on the stage, much like a circus performer.

Circa Survive

Circa Survive is easily one of my favorite bands in music today. This was my second time seeing Circa Survive perform and I was not disappointed in their live set. The band took the stage in a no-nonsense manner, introduced themselves and began with Blue Sky Noise opener “Strange Terrain.” For a band with an atmospheric, non-standard sound, they approach their live shows in an almost workmanlike fashion. Each member has a role that they fulfill nearly flawlessly, going about their business and not drawing attention to themselves or away from their music. Lead singer Anthony Green has, as I have said many, many times before, a hate-it or love-it voice but is one of the most exciting frontmen in music today. He loses himself in the music and the lyrics he sings every single night and lets himself loose on the stage every night, dancing with all of his emotions coursing through his body. He is inspirational in his approach to his job and his life because it is evident that his life is directly in line with where it should be. Green was slightly more subdued than the first time I had seen them in the spring of 2008, but still full of energy. The band’s set consisted mainly of songs from their most recent release, Blue Sky Noise, with a few songs from their debut Juturna, one song from their Appendage EP and, sadly, only one song from their outstanding sophomore album On Letting Go. Blue Sky Noise translated exceedingly-well live and fit in with the rest of their catalog. They closed their set with “Get Out” from Blue Sky Noise and had every member of the audience bouncing and moving along with the frenetic pace of the tune, setting up the closing set for the night perfectly.

Anberlin

Anberlin has been one of my favorite bands over the last several years, but began to lose some momentum on a personal level with the release of their most recent album, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place (DITWLIAP). I had great expectations heading into the release and found myself not particularly impressed. I thought the subject matter of the album was too overtly relationship-tinged, whereas in the past the band tended to cover more universal themes. Nonetheless, their back catalog is tremendous and I couldn’t pass up on this tour. As with Circa Survive, this was my second time seeing Anberlin and I was looking forward to the experience of seeing them live again. Anberlin took the stage shrouded in darkness and began playing one of their trademark guitar riffs, which led to an eruption from the audience that only got louder once vocalist Stephen Christian took the stage and tore into “We Owe This to Ourselves,” which had added weight the night before the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The song was one of my favorites from DITWLIAP because it is a lyrically challenging song with Anberlin’s trademark song structure. Through the rest of the set, Stephen Christian kept a smile on his face and constantly expressed his gratitude for his job, his tourmates and for us showing up to the concert. The band played a mix of songs from each of their albums, with about 3/5 of the set being dedicated to songs from Dark Is the Way… Similar to my response to Circa Survive, the songs translated superbly to a live setting and fit in with the rest of their songs much better than I had anticipated.

 

To see a band like Anberlin still around and surviving without rehashing the same formula for an album year-in, year-out is promising as a music fan. There is still support for live music and for bands who are passionate about what they are doing. This tour stop in Asheville, NC was something for me to be excited about as a music fan. Each band differentiated themselves, with Circa Survive and Anberlin adeptly displaying why they have signed to major labels after working their asses off on indie labels for years. I would recommend catching any of these bands live, should they have a stop at a venue in your area.

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