Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reflecting on The Suburbs by The Arcade Fire

The Arcade Fire has been my favorite band since I first listened to them. They have that power over me where when I hear their sound I simply say "yes, that is music". Their debut album Funeral is, and will always be, my favorite album of all time. I bought it at a used record store in Raleigh, North Carolina, not having any idea the impact my purchase would have on me. They were epic, yet personal. Majestic, yet refined. Then in 2007 they released Neon Bible, and showed the world that Funeral was no fluke and that the Arcade Fire was a band that was not only here to stay, but that they were an important force in our muscial landscape. Now in 2010, they bring us The Suburbs, a sprawling double LP of epic proportions. And yes, they knocked it out of the park for the third time in a row.

This is a long Arcade Fire album. With 16 tracks (not one being filler), the album clocks in at just over an hour. It is classic Arcade Fire, with epic choruses, pulsing melodys, and existential lyrics. Yet, The Suburubs is Arcade Fire's most ambitious album yet, including influences from Springsteen ("Modern Man") to even Depeche Mode or New Order ("Half Light II"). Influences aside, this is still, without a doubt, an Arcade Fire album.

The Suburubs is about just what it's title entails. Life growing up in cookie cutter houses, and the hopelessness of living the way you are "supposed to." It maps all of the hopes and dreams that can deteriorate as life in the suburbs of America locks you in. The lyrics are the Arcade Fire's most personal yet, as Win sings on the title track "I want a daughter while I'm still young, want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before the damage is done." It's as if he knows that with age he will become jaded and tired. He wants to be able to pass on his views while he still has them. While they are still hopeful.

One of the best parts of The Suburbs is the fact that it really highlights Win Butler's songwriting. "Suburban War" may be one of the strongest songs they have ever written. It's a love song, detailing a relationship that exists as the world around them changes. They realize, as life takes them seperate ways, that the place they grew up in has morphed into something unrecognizable. But towards the end, the realization hits that perhaps it wasnt the town that changed, but themselves. "All my old friends, they don't know me now," Win chants at the end. It's aching, bittersweet, yet somehow still hopeful. As the girl in the beginning tells Win "the past won't rest until we jump the fence and leave it all behind." She could be talking about eachother, about the town, or just the fact that the only way to grow is to do so facing forward.

It may sound bleak, just as the idea for Arcade Fire's debut Funeral did. But what has always been prevelant in Arcade Fire's songs is that the ablilty to resist is within ourselves. We all have the ability to make up our own minds about how we view things and how we handle them. We can see the death of family member as a terrible thing, which it is, but we can also choose to celebrate their life. We can let the suburbs of America turn us into zombies, or we can fight it. We can think for ourselves and maintain ourselves. Though things may seem hopeless, they only seem that way. We cant control how things shape us, but we don't have to lose who we are to the world around us.

This album is a classic, just as Funeral and Neon Bible are. In a world where most people have forgotten what it means to sit and listen to an album, where singles sell on iTunes at a more exponential rate than albums do, the Arcade Fire grabs us by the shoulders, sits us down, and makes us listen. They make us realize that craft, emotion, and honesty are the only key ingredients in making music.

The Suburbs is music in it's rawest, most beautiful form. It is absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Film Review: Inception

Spoiler Warning: If you have not seen the film do not read what I'm about to write unless you dont care about having the ending spoiled. And trust me, you do care.

Inception is Christopher Nolan's masterpiece. What exactly does that mean? People have been saying it, and I certainly agree, but what does it mean? First off, the film has to fire on all levels, score, acting, directing, writing, originality. Inception gets a check in every box. For a film to be considered an artist's masterpiece though, it must basically be the director's brain on a platter. It has to be personal without alienating the audience. It must have themes that transcend time. It must age well. While we won't know whether Inception will age well for a few years, my bet is on yes.

I think the brilliance of what Nolan has done, and the reason the film will stand the test of time, is that he has made a truly subjective film. Theories have been flooding the internet about whether or not Cobb's spinner fell at the end. People have said that the whole thing was a dream, that half of it was a dream, that Cobb was actually having a Mr. Charlie pulled on him by Saito. They have been all over the place. And they have all, in one way or another been correct. But how can that be? How can all theories be correct? Well because no definitive answer is given, so any guess, as long as it makes sense, could be true.

But here is the thing. Cobb himself didn't turn around to see if his spinner fell. It didn't matter to him. He got to see his kids and be with his kids again. To him his mission was accomplished, his wish fulfilled, whether it was a dream or in real life. Does happiness, or contentment, only exist if other people can see it or experience it? I dont think so. It's all a state of mind. So if he saw his kids in a dream (especially a lucid dream), to him that's just as good as seeing them in real life.

Inception is a film that you have to see to believe. I've never seen anything like it before, and I can't wait to revisit the film. Nolan uses special effects, rather than having the special effects use him. He never let's his visuals overtake the story (which believe me, with these visuals is a feat in it's self). Hans Zimmer creates his best score to date, taking nods from everything from The Dark Knight to Blade Runner. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as usual. It's amazing to me the empathy he can draw from his audience. The supporting cast gets just enough character development to move the story forward (which is enough because it's not their story anyways it's Leo's). The structure of the film seems confusing at first, but when you see the characters act out what they were talking about it all makes sense.

I can't say enough about Inception. It's a blast. To me, Inception is perfect. It has everything I look for in a movie.

Also, for all of you who are wondering: I think Cobb was with his kids in real life at the end, I dont think it's a dream. Why? Because it's what I want for his character.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

List of the Week: Favorite Head-Scratcher Movies

Word on the street is that Inception is complex as hell. Word also is that it's a masterpiece. I love a meticulously plotted film. One that will engage me and keep me glued to the screen. If it's made well enough, it will warrant a "I'm gonna have to see that again." Sometimes films can be too complicated, during which they become a bit of a mess...but when a well-told complex story comes along, they can be great fun. Here are a few of my favorite movies that get better (or at least more understood) after seeing it more than once. These movies are either complicated in structure or meaning. Either/or they are much fun to pontificate over.

In no order...

1. Memento
2. The Matrix
3. 21 Grams
4. Solaris (1972)
5. Eternal Sunshine fo the Spotless Mind
6. La Jetee
7. Adaptation
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Barton Fink (Some may disagree but I had to watch it twice before I got it.)
10. Primer

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bummer Summer for Movies

Ok so what have we seen this summer that blew us away? Toy Story 3, definitely. Iron Man 2, umm it was great, not as good as the first though. What else? Knight and Day, hell no. The Last Airbender, HEEEELLL no. Sex and the City 2, someone shoot me. But what else has there been? Really nothing.

Yes we have Predators which looks like fun, and we also have Inception, which may save our Summer (early reviews say it is a masterpiece and possible Best Picture front-runner). Scott Pilgrim vs. The World looks hilarious and fun. Dispicable Me looks pretty funny too. But if you think about it this Summer has really sucked for movies.

I will say though, last Summer may have spoiled us. I mean we had Star Trek, District 9, Up, (500) Days of Summer, Julie & Julia, Inglourious Basterds, and The Hurt Locker. All fantastic films in their own right, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Maybe studios are just prepping themselves for next summer's onslaught of Superhero films (both Captain America and Thor are coming out), but who knows.

Oh well, you can't win em all, Cinema. Don't worry, I still love you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Existentialism, Age 10

The radio broke in my car. This wouldnt be that big of a deal considering it was just a blown fuse, but considering all the autoshops were closed due to the holiday I was going to have to wait until Lia and I got back from our vacation in Wilmington to get it fixed. Basically it meant 9+ hours on the road with nothing to zone out to.

In order to pass the time, Lia pulled out one of my books of short stories and decided to read some of them aloud. She began to read a story that was written by a professor who taught at our school, David Gessner. It detailed an existential crisis he had when he was around 10, during which the thought of "nothingness" terrified him so much that he suffered from anxiety.

The story really spoke to me in more ways than one. While I didn't share some of the same views as the author, I too had an existential crisis at around the same age. I never spoke of it, I never had any extreme anxiety over it, but it certainly caused me to stay awake at night. I would lay in bed thinking about why there is so much detail in the world, why was it created as such. What was the point in making the colors a certain way, and does it even really matter. What was the point in creating air, if the absence of it only leads to death? These questions racked my brain as I laid in my Jurassic Park themed bed, staring at my ceiling.

To an adult, thoughts such as these may seem trivial, but to a child they can keep you up at night. Not being able to understand things, knowing that you don't understand them can be maddening, especially to a child with an imagination as vivid as mine was.

The story made me wonder how many other kids went through these sorts of thoughts. Pondering the universe. I wondered why when adults think these things are they deemed strange or even crazy. Such thoughts seem to me to only be human. Questioning the purpose of things has always been an important, if terrifying/controversial activity. However scary it may be to have these thoughts or questions, I always find it to be enlightening. It's through asking these questions that we begin to discover what we believe in. It certainly led me to my own personal faith.

I think that when you are a child your mind functions at its most freeing. You are not strapped down by the conventions of the world and other people. You are able to think and process things without the filter of a 24 hour news cycle, reality tv, and billboard advertisements.

Things just are, when you're a kid.