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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The Dangerous Summer – “War Paint”

“‘Cause the sun I finally reached it

Give me reason to move on now

But there’s something I lost in this heart somehow”

Following the release of their first EP in 2007, The Dangerous Summer has had a drama-filled existence. If You Could Only Keep Me Alive was released by Hopeless Records on the strength of “The Permanent Rain.” The song was an ideal introduction to the band – pop-rock with a hint of ambience, unique vocal cadence and emotionally-pummeling lyrics. The rest of the EP was strong and set the pieces in motion for the band to grow. As their momentum seemed to be growing most, lead singer AJ Perdomo left the band and left their future in jeopardy. A couple of months later, Perdomo rejoined the band but there have been a couple of other members who have left and rejoined the band as well. As much as it seems there is intra-band drama, inter-band drama seems to follow as well. Stories of arguments and fights, vitriol spewing toward the craft of other bands, girl problems and basically any other minor quibble you can remember having in high school. Through it all, the band attributes it to their sense of humor. Whatever it is, it never seems to tarnish their musical output. Instead, they sound as though they get closer as a group and create more and more focused music. It was evident on their full-length debut, Reach for the Sun, and it is even more clear on the follow-up War Paint that was released on July 19th.

Reach for the Sun was one of those albums that was released at the perfect time and was a perfect storm of the band’s talent, a genre in need of a differentiator and a record of coherence and clarity. The subjects and themes were messy, but the lyrics and the musical backdrop showed every listener someone who was going through the same things and making sense of the world on a micro level rather than sticking to cliches and universal ideas. Reach for the Sun ended up being one of those records that will define a generation of listeners, making it an imposing idea to try and follow a record holding so much weight in listeners. The band played it smart by touring heavily for the next two years, writing and collaborating when they could and taking the necessary time to craft a record that could step out of the shadow of their debut.

War Paint carries darker tones than the debut. It sees a band maturing and growing into themselves and understanding what they do well and how they can expand upon those positive traits. Lead singer AJ Perdomo’s vocals are rougher, but the emotion bubbles through the strain. The rhythm section, paced by drummer Spencer Peterson (Tyler Minsberg was not a member of the band during the recording, though he has now returned to the band and his influence was clearly a part of the writing) has always stood out in the band’s music by controlling the flow of everything else that happens. The guitars are the most notable and alluring portion of the group’s sonic texture, led by Cody Payne and Bryan Czap, and they continue to provide the atmospheric tilt that separates the band from its peers. Every component contributes to create the exceptional War Paint.

The album opens with the title track and it is a mission statement for the band the battles they’ve fought to put this album together. It’s a furious open of guitars and drums that eventually give way Perdomo’s weathered vocals. “Work In Progress” follows and it is the most aggressive song the band has penned. It’s a dark, aggressive journey, but the vocal intonations allow every listener to get into the mind of Perdomo and find themselves having been on the same journey. Two of the next three songs deal with the pain of having and losing someone and needing them back as much as they need you, while “Good Things” ends up being one of the most positive songs the band has written, letting us see that there is some optimism somewhere in this group.

“Everyone Left” is the centerpiece to the album and it’s a gorgeous and telling look into the psyche of the band. The lyrics at the start of the post come from this song. It’s a reaction to the encouragement at the heart of Reach for the Sun. Though we can work our asses off to get to the point to which we aspire, we can sometimes leave the people we care about behind or leave them in the wake of all that we’re doing and working toward. We can reach maddening levels doubt being so focused, but we’ll come out better on the other side along with the people with us. The rest of the album works its way toward album-ender “Waves” in impressive fashion. It’s all about the battles that are fought and what can be taken from those experiences. It’s seeing the good part in the war where there are learning opportunities and pushing forward to get to the end.

That’s where “Waves” comes in. It’s a song that is looking back on everything that has come before, with the end of the war in sight, regardless of winning or losing it has to be taken into account what has been lost and what has been gained. There is no growth without pain. Learning from those experiences are what allow the wars to be won. Maintaining perspective is important and The Dangerous Summer have a clear grasp and perspective on where they’ve been and the fights they’ve fought. The album ends with the lyrics “This is the war to end all wars” and the band has come out at the end of the war with smeared paint, blood and dirt covering their bodies, but with stories to tell and the perspective and clear outlook to take control of where they go in their future. They’re better off for the war they’ve fought and as listeners we get to experience the war time and again and it’s series of beautiful battles.

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Fireworks / The Wonder Years

Fireworks and The Wonder Years are two bands who have seen their fan bases grow steadily over the last year. They responded by pushing their creativity and working their asses off to release two of the strongest releases to this point in 2011. In May, Fireworks released Gospel, an album swelling with memorable melodies and a group of songs that explore growth and the trials that come with being in the early years of adulthood. The Wonder Years came out with a purpose after the critical success and popularity they received following their sophomore release, The Upsides. The group created one of the most mature and seasoned records the pop punk genre has seen of late with the release of Suburbia I’ve Give You All and Now I’m Nothing.

 

Gospel

Fireworks’ debut album showed great promise, but suffered from songs bleeding together. The group’s energy overcame most of the shortcomings of the debut, though the weaker spots brought down the lasting value of the album as a whole. With Gospel, Fireworks took what was so strong and stood out in the first album (vocal melodies) and built each and every song on the foundation of tremendous melody. From the opening lines and refrains of “Arrows” the band’s confidence is on display through the guitar lines to the pace of the drumming and carries throughout the rest of the album. But, Gospel really shines in its mid-section.

Beginning with “Teeth,” Fireworks finds a groove that is unlike anything they’ve released. The song is much slower paced than typical for the band, but it gives way to the vocal growth of the band. Followed by “Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Get Younger” and it’s staccato rhythm, the group is exploring the difficulties in growing up and the trials that come with the expansion of knowledge. It’s a tremendous song that any young- to mid-20’s person can identify with and find hope within. Gospel is full of variation while remaining true to the promising parts of the debut. The album ends on a high note with “The Wild Bunch” which is a genre exercise full of bulky guitars, fast-paced drumming and lyrics that beg to be screamed in a car on a sunny day or in a small venue with a bunch of like-minded people. It’s a perfect ending to examine where the band has grown and honed what they did well on the first, while incorporating the impressive moments heard through the rest of Gospel.

 

Suburbia

The Wonder Years, on the other hand, released a critically well-received and extremely popular album with The Upsides. Their popularity surged and The Upsides turned into an album that was sensational for many people and became the soundtrack of a generation trying to see the other, better side of life. What the band did to follow the album was create a piece of work that explored the year following the release of that album. Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing wastes no time getting to the point with “Came Out Swinging.” Examining the modus operandi and what it is that motivates the band, “Came Out Swinging” is an extension of The Upsides, but with a confidence and a bravado that was previously absent from the band’s work. Things continue in impressive fashion with the next two songs, “Woke Up Older” and “Local Man Ruins Everything.” “Local Man. . .” is one of the more overt homages to The Upsides with references littered throughout, from the opening line to the chorus. Clearly, the band knows where they’ve been and what their previous album meant to people, but we also see how much that album meant to the band as well.

“Suburbia” is the first of three movements/interludes in the album that, once put together, read as the album’s title. Each of these movements have a different feel, but are clearly meant to form a whole. They also break the album into three pieces, with each considering different ideas with common themes. “My Life As a Pigeon” is the first song of the second “section.” It provides listeners with an explanation of why the pigeon is such a common part of their branding as a band and how it represents their growth up until this point in their careers. It’s an excellent song and is ideal as a jump-start to the second half. The three songs that follow are examinations of their hometown and what it means to them. No matter where you live, it is easy to find respite in knowing that everyone struggles with where they’re from while also finding things they love as well. The second movement leads into the final act of the album and takes a magnifying glass to the emotional core that comprises the band. Whether it be learning from experiences, appreciating the people held close or making it through life, the band has a knack for hitting emotionally resonant chords in listeners by leveling in a tremendous way. Album closer “And Now I’m Nothing” is nothing short of exceptional and closes the album on the highest of notes, immediately encouraging repeat listens to see if anything was missed during the previous listening.

Both of these bands fall within the same “pop-punk” categorization. Both created albums that have a distinct sound and also pushed each band to new heights creatively. It would be surprising if each band didn’t continue to grow their fan bases. The consistency of both albums is impressive and the lasting value has been evident over the last two months. Musically, they fit well as the soundtrack to summer days, but the lyrical value of both releases ensures that these albums are required listening, not just summer anthems.

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Lost – “The End”

 

In which Jack and Locke were both wrong.

 

When it comes to the final episode of Lost, there is nothing that I could write that would do the episode justice. It’s a gargantuan episode in every conceivable way: length, story, characters, emotions – it’s everything that the final episode of Lost should be. Even though there are many complaints that not enough questions were answered, I can’t imagine the final episode, especially as the culmination of this final season going any differently. Character arcs were completed in a (mostly) satisfying manner and the island ends up with a proper protector. The more I’ve watched the series, the more I find myself emotionally wrapped up in these people and their stories. There were probably 5 or 6 moments when I was in tears during the episode, whereas the first time I saw the finale there were 2 moments. The look and the atmosphere of the final episode is excellent. It is full of callbacks and resolutions to many experiences we have had over the course of the past six seasons. The episode hits the notes it needs to hit and excels at offering closure to the journey these people and the viewers have endured together. It isn’t a perfect finale, nor should it be, but that was the point of Lost – taking something that was broken, letting it grow and become something better by the time it was over. The consistency of this show and its ability to explore ideas and concepts will ensure its longevity. It has impacted the current television landscape in significant ways and we’ll likely never see another show with the scope and vision of Lost. And I’m okay with that. I would hate to see other shows get stuck in the shadow of the statue.

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Lost – “What They Died For”

 

In which Locke’s ready to get outta that chair.

 

As the penultimate episode of season 6 and the of the series, “What They Died For” answers a couple of questions while also leaving plenty to consider in the final episode. The most important thing that happens is that the remaining candidates (including Kate if she wants the job) get to talk to Jacob and Jack accepts the job as the island’s new protector, replacing Jacob. It’s a moment that this season has been hinting toward for several episodes, but by the time we get there, when Jack steps up and accepts the job, it feels organic and as if it is the logical decision. I know that going into the decision I was concerned it would be a contrived, forced thing. The redemption and the changes Jack experienced during the final season allow us to see that Jack truly believes that it is his destiny to protect the island and his ascension makes sense in that context.

 

On the island, the candidates are putting the pieces together after the submarine has blown up. Jack sews up Kate’s gunshot wound and they place the deaths squarely upon Locke and agree that they’ve got to kill him. Jack gets everyone together and tells them they’ve got to find Desmond since Locke wants him dead. On the way, young Jacob appears to Hurley, takes his ashes and runs. He leads him to a campfire where older Jacob is waiting to talk to him and the others. They join him and discuss why they’re on the island. They’re all flawed, broken people, just like Jacob. He brought them to the island because he knew he would one day have to be replaced after his creation, the smoke monster, found a way to kill him. He then explains that someone will have to step up and he wants to give them the choice to accept or turn down the job, a choice he never had. This is when Jack accepts the job and Jacob performs the ritual passing of the torch and installs Jack as the island’s protector.

 

Richard, Miles and Ben make it to the barracks to get Ben’s stashed C4 to blow the plane to hell just in time for Widmore and Zoe to arrive as well. It leads to a standoff between Ben and Widmore as he sends Zoe to get their equipment and sink the outrigger, but MIB arrives before she can. As he approaches, Richard hopes that by joining him that he’ll leave everyone else alone, Miles bolts for the jungle, Ben watches on and Widmore and Zoe hide. Instead, Richard gets pummeled by the smoke monster and it seems as though it is the end for Richard. MIB walks up to the house and Ben immediately informs him that Widmore and Zoe are hiding inside. MIB goes in to talk with them, slits Zoe’s throat immediately (!) and Widmore tells him that Desmond is his failsafe in the event that all of the candidates die. Ben then pops Widmore because he struck a deal with MIB that if he told him why Desmond was on the island that he wouldn’t kill Penny as soon as he left the island. Ben says that Widmore doesn’t get the chance to save his daughter, displaying all the torment he has felt since Alex’s death. They then leave and go to the well where Locke placed Desmond, only to find it is empty and Desmond is loose somewhere on the island.

 

In the alternate timeline, Jack and Locke talk in his office and Locke has decided that he wants to have the procedure Jack has proposed to potentially repair him. Locke is starting to wonder if it is his fate that he and Jack have ended up together and Jack makes certain to point out that he need not be confusing coincidence for fate. It’s a conversation that mirrors many of the on-island conversations they shared and is what leads directly into the bleeding between realities they experience in the finale. Other than the small amount of time we spend with Jack at the episode’s start, where his neck is bleeding again and Oceanic (Desmond, you bastard!) calls to tell him that his lost cargo has been found, the episode is pretty well Desmond-focused. Though in this first scene we see Desmond’s behind the scene workings, throughout the rest of the episode he is working to help everyone else see what he has seen. Whether it be by beating Ben by reenacting the beating at the harbor or working to put Sayid and Kate in a place where they will see what he wants them to see by turning himself in then paying off Ana Lucia to free them during the prison transport, he is making certain that these people end up together and get to where they need to be. It’s a crucial position and Desmond was a perfect choice for the role. Even more than his ability to go between realities, his ability to charm and to be wholly convicted in what he believes allows him to work with all of these people and convince them of what they need to see without immediately showing them anything. It’s a strong role for such a tremendous character.

 

*”We have to kill him Jack.” “I know.”

*”That’s before I realized it was summoning me.”

*”We insist. . . even if we have to kidnap you!” HA! Rousseau turning it around on Ben this time.

*”I wanna see this.” Locke loves it!

*”You told her not to talk to me. That made her pointless.” She was already pointless.

*”He doesn’t get to save his daughter.”

*”I think I’m ready to get outta this chair.”

*”This is what I’m supposed to do.”

*”I thought that guy had a God-complex before. . .”

*”How long am I gonna have to do this job?” “As long as you can.”

*”I’m gonna destroy the island.”

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Lost – “Across the Sea”

In which mythology is explored and there’s a golden cave at the heart.

As a singular, one-off episode “Across the Sea” is enjoyable. Were it placed at an earlier time in this season or possibly season 5, I think it could have been more effective. It’s placed so close to the end of the series that some of the weight is lost in the anticipation for the end. The episode is focused entirely on the mythology of the island and the role of Jacob and the Man in Black – where they came from, who and what they are, the role of people they bring to the island and why they hate each other so. Even though there is a considerable amount of purposefully vague dialogue that is frustrating, bordering on grating, the episode uses locations and visuals to convey a lot of the ideas set forth.

The episode opens with a shipwrecked woman named Claudia washing up onto the shore of the island, with Mother there to help her out and take her to her humble abode in the caves (where the Oceanic 815 crew stayed for awhile). Claudia gives birth to two boys, though she had only planned for one, and Mother abruptly kills her after she asks to hold them. Mother takes over caring for and raising the boys. She raises them according to their natures and seems to favor MIB (CIB? – child in black?) and relate most closely to him. She knows that Jacob is good by nature and she knows what to expect from him, seemingly taking him for granted.

So, when MIB decides to pack up and live with the other men on the island, the men from whom Mother wanted to shelter her sons, it affects Mother drastically. It leads to her getting tired and realizing she needs to move on and it leads to MIB learning a lot from the men on the island and learning how he will finally be able to leave the island using the electromagnetic inherent to the island. (I have no idea how this might work, but Mother did and she was scared to death that her son might actually be able to leave.) Mother is not happy and goes Smoke Monster on the people building the portal to the outside world with the donkey wheel. MIB, in return, is not happy and goes John Locke on mother and stabs her in the back as payback. Then Jacob, in turn, is not at all pleased with his mother’s death and whips MIB’s ass and tosses him  into the heart of the island and inadvertently creates the smoke monster. MIB’s physical body shows up on the other side and Jacob mourns what he did. He then brings it back to the caves and lies it down next to Mother’s body as a final resting place. We get a short montage of the first time we saw the skeletons in the caves, our very own Adam and Eve.

The episode largely skips divulging hard evidence for the things that are happening on the island, which is for the better. Simply giving an idea of this place and some of the backstory, as much as could be covered in 45 minutes, is sufficient for me. When Mother says she has made it so they can’t harm each other, I don’t need to know how she did it. When they fight and bicker, I don’t need to know exactly why Mother favors MIB. It is interesting to see the island and where it began, even though we might not understand the majority of the metaphysical things that take place there.

*”You’re. . . special.”

*”One day you can make your own game. Everyone will have to follow your rules.”

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Lost – “The Candidate”

 

In which some people die.

 

In an ending that I didn’t see coming at all, Sayid, Jin and Sun all die on the submarine with no sign of Lapidus. Though Chesty ends up living, I thought there was no hope for him either. It’s a tremendous amount of bloodshed in such a short amount of time even by Lost standards. Both Sayid and Jin & Sun die in honorable and beautiful ways, which says a lot about how much the writers cared about the characters and how important these people became to the viewers and the overarching story the series is telling. The way that Sayid gives himself up to save everyone else and tells them to find Desmond showed the life that we knew Sayid had inside. I want to know what it was that Desmond told him that allowed him to find the vigor to make such a drastic decision. It’s surprising and it is a tremendous ending for Sayid. Honor remained the most important trait to Jin. His word is something that could always be trusted and he showed it to Sun. Ji Yeon is taken care of and Jin understands that though he’ll never meet her. He will not give up on his wife now that he has her again after fighting to find her over the last three years. They know they’re going to die and they share a poignant last few moments together before they die hand-in-hand. The fact that they died has a cathartic effect on everyone that makes it back to the shore and allows all of us to release some bundled up emotion in preparation for the final battle that is brewing.

 

Beyond the deaths, we also get to learn more about MIB’s plan and how it does not include any of the candidates being alive and leaving together. Toward the episode’s end when Jack opens his pack with the bomb armed inside and the people on the sub realize that MIB’s plan all along was to get everyone together to have them kill each other because he can’t do it himself. After Claire sees the sub blow up and asks if everyone died and MIB ominously says that not everyone died, we realize how devious his schemes have been. He seems to be getting more and more annoyed that these people are alive rather than desiring to kill them. He wants off of the island desperately and knows that these people are basically the cork keeping him on the island. It’s fascinating to see how willing these people are to listen to MIB knowing what he is and follow him to the submarine. Also knowing that they would have been around him during the time it took to go from the plane to the sub, wouldn’t someone have seen him putting the bomb together? They’re undoubtedly happy that he freed them from the cages. They’re excited to be together. But, at some point, they have to sort of realize that there is something shady about all that he is doing. The circumstances that put them together are sometimes contrived, but it never falters on the emotional and the action front.

 

I loved the opening to this episode, where we see that Jack has saved Locke in the alternate reality after seeing Locke save Jack at the end of “The Last Recruit” on the island. Jack’s persistence in finding Locke’s story is a little creepy though it fits in with his attitude of always looking for something to fix. Finding out that Anthony Cooper is still alive and was a part of Locke’s life automatically makes us think that he was still the one who paralyzed Locke, but we find out that it was Locke who was the cause of his paralysis and his father’s now vegetative state. The way that Locke can’t let go and sees his paralysis as punishment and the moment it leads to he and Jack sharing at the end of the episode gave the alternate reality significant weight. Seeing these two people come together and seeing some inadvertent bleed between realities (Jack telling Locke he is a candidate, Locke mumbling in his sleep, and Jack telling Locke that he wished he believed him) is important for these characters because it is what leads to their eyes eventually being opened to what is going on. I’m quite glad that we got a Jack and Locke-focused episode to end the character-centric episodes, as they’re lives and what they represent shape the impression most people have of the show as a whole. They’re great together and it’s evident that they know the importance in the way they execute everything asked of them in the final season nearly flawlessly.

 

*”Because I think you’re a candidate.”

*”They’re not my people and I’m not leaving the island.”

*”And we’re dead.”

*Jack and Claire see their reflections in the box Christian leaves for her

*”Trust me. You don’t wanna be on that sub.”

*”Nothing’s gonna happen. . . Locke can’t kill us. Trust me.” “Sorry Doc. I don’t.”

*”That’s why I was hoping maybe you could go first.”

*”I wish you believed me.”

*”They’re all dead?” “Not all of them.”

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