Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Questions (Demo)

New demo for a song of mine. Apologies for audio quality can be found in the description. Enjoy, or don't, whatever floats yer boat.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Top 20 Favorite Movies

     A list I've been compiling recently. Bear in mind, this list could change by next week, so it's not set in stone. But all of these films are certainly very dear to my heart, and I will be very glad to share them with anyone who doesn't know them. And for anyone who does know them, then I'm sharing a little piece of myself, aren't I? That was a rhetorical question. The answer is yes. Read the thing now.
20. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
I've always held children's entertainment to a high standard. I don't really know why; perhaps it's because there seems to be this attitude in the industry of "Oh, just shove any old drivel out there, the kids don't know any better!" But I think that when human beings are at their youngest and most impressionable age, surely we should give them the best we've got! And one of the crowning achievements of children's films is, in my opinion, The Secret of NIMH. 
 Directed by Don Bluth, who led a kind of revolution among former Disney animators in the 1980s, TSON is certainly darker than your average kid's movie, but not so much as to be unwatchable, at least for the over-seven crowd. It tells the story of a field mouse named Mrs. Brisby (voice of Elizabeth Hartman), who has to move her family each year to avoid the farmer's plow. But this year, one of her sons is horribly ill, and can't leave his bed. So Mrs. Brisby must go to a secret organization of rats that her husband belonged to, before he died, and, in doing so, is caught up in something bigger than she could have imagined. 
The thematic complexity in this movie makes it just as enjoyable for older audiences, dealing with difficult moral quandaries, and creating a fascinating mythology to supplicate the story at hand. It can also get very intense at times, killing off main characters, and providing genuinely creepy places for the heroine to find herself in.
On the subject of the main character, she is awesome. While not overtly confident, and often very frightened of the circumstances surrounding her, Mrs. Brisby is in fact very brave, and takes full responsibility for her children. The fact that she has no romantic interest makes her much more interesting, and the fact that she has little means of physically protecting herself makes you care about her even more when she's in danger. An original character, and great one, too.
The animation is beautiful, the voice acting is great, and the story doesn't talk down to kids, unlike so many others. A grossly underrated classic, that deserves all the attention it can get.

19. Seven Psychopaths (2012)
 This one is not so innocent. The most recent movie on this list, Seven Psychopaths is probably a similar experience for me to watching those big-budget, big-name action movies, full of explosions and car chases. There's nothing deep or profound going on,  it's just really, really fun to watch.
And the whole movie is really a bizarre twist on the action movie, with the plot revolving around two dog nappers named Billy and Hans (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell), who accidentally steal a dog that belongs to a mafia boss (Woody Harrelson), and proceed to drag their friend Marty (Colin Ferrel), an Irish, alcoholic screenwriter, into the chaos that ensues.
This is one of those movies that seems destined to be a cult classic. The hilarious, surreal dialogue, the memorable characters,  the bizarre story--these are things that give an indie comedy classic status. This is a movie that won't be going away any time soon, at least I hope not. 
While there is a lot of violence in this movie, none of it feels real, in the same way that cartoons don't: we're meant to laugh, not revel in it. In fact, the whole movie is rather cartoonist, with a plot that seems to operate on dream logic, and the characters constantly commenting on the irony of their situation. With a dream cast, and a script too clever and witty to mention, Seven Psychopaths is a welcome newcomer to the list.

18. The Incredibles (2004)
Okay, last kids movie, I promise. But these days, everyone has at least one Pixar movie on their list. And with good reason: with their lovable characters, engaging stories, and impeccable casting, who could resist? I was torn about whether to include this or Ratatouille, but in the end, I decided to go with The Incredibles. One reason being that it's probably more aimed at older audiences than any other Pixar movie, containing a complex plot, tense action sequences, and heavy themes such as midlife crises, marital problems, and the destructive power nostalgia can have. 
The story, if you don't know, is about a former superhero named Mr. Incredible, who is lured out of retirement by a mysterious organization, while trying to keep it hidden from his family. The thing I love about this movie the most is the love it was clearly made with, the love of the superhero tradition infused with every frame. It's Pixar at the top of their game, and that is a dizzying height indeed.

17. The Truman Show (1998)

At first glance, The Truman Show seems to be about the increasing amount of media coverage in the world, the invasion of privacy that comes with it, and the disregard for the people being viewed. However, looking deeper, this story about a man whose life is a TV show, only he doesn't know it, is a story about man's quest for the truth, the desire to have meaning in life, and the freedom we would all choose over comfortable, forced monotony. 
This is a beautifully executed thought experiment, using a giant television studio to create an artificial world for the everyman-turned-hero, Truman, to fight his way out of once he reaches middle age and realizes his situation. Jim Carrey, in his first dramatic role, proves that despite the fact that, in my opinion, he is not very funny at all, he is in fact a very gifted dramatic actor (more on that later). 
The other highlight acting-wise is Ed Harris, who gives a remarkable performance as Christoph, the creator of the show. Also, the brilliant script comes from Andrew Niccol, who will show up on this list again.
A truly uplifting movie, and very funny at times, The Truman Show displays the lengths a human being will go to in order live their own life After fifteen years it is still relevant, and probably always will be.

16. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Psych! It wasn't the last kids movie! I apologize, but The Nightmare Before Christmas means a lot to me. I first saw it when I was very young, well before I saw any other movie on this list, and it has been one of my favorites ever since. 
I've been of two minds about Tim Burton for a long time: on the one hand, I think he's a very talented director, with a great eye for visuals; on the other, I don't like a lot of his movies, mostly because he just seems to be weird for the sake of weird, without trying to do anything new each time. I think his problem is that he mostly makes adaptions of other material, and almost none of them have been any good, so it makes sense that the only movie of his that I've seen and really loved, is the one that is the most original. 
A whole world is dreamed up in this film, full of light and shadow, and has almost no ties to reality. Here is where Burton really shines, making up characters to populate this world, who are so unhuman and yet so human.  I can't really describe the plot here, because while it isn't hard to follow, it requires you to be drawn into the movie's dreamland, so you can accept it on it's own terms. And I don't have enough space for that, considering it takes a whole movie.

15. Unbreakable (2000)
M. Night Shyamalan. A name that is now a punchline, universally laughed at by sensible movie-goers. And who could blame them? With a long string of horrendous movies, starting with The Village (or Signs, according to some, but I really like that movie), and continuing up to the recent After Earth, Michael Bay seems to have been usurped as the king of crap. Every movie is terrible, every movie has the same problems as the last, and Shyamalan never learns his lesson. What a joke.
But people forget that this wasn't always true. Mr. Shyamalan used to be the most promising director in Hollywood, breaking on to the scene with his masterful ghost story The Sixth Sense. And while that movie is usually named as his masterpiece, I personally think it's overshadowed by its follow-up, Unbreakable. Like The Incredibles, it's a comment on the super-hero genre, with Bruce Willis (actually a great actor, when he has something to do) playing a man who slowly discovers that he has superpowers, despite the fact that supposedly they don't exist. I love the tone of this film, it's very understated, but it feels like something epic is going on, though we can't see it. And Samuel L. Jackson is great as Elijah, a man with incredibly fragile bones who helps the protagonist discover his potential. It's the complete opposite of the tough, totally in charge figure he usually portrays. 
Unbreakable is a brilliant twist on the idea of a superhero, and the twist ending actually makes sense, and improves the movie, as opposed to ruining it. M Night. Shyamalan may be a lost cause these days, but he made one of my favorite movies, so I have to forgive him a little bit.
But seriously, The Last Airbender sucked.
14. Dead Man (1995)
 Jim Jarmusch is a giant in the indie-film community, a director who first surfaced in the 1980s, and has ruled the landscape ever since. With his dry, minimalist slices of Americana, Jarmusch creates compelling character studies, portraits of people who are sad, happy, flawed, funny, tragic, or lost, all against the backdrop of an America that can be cruel, but also provides endless possibilities for where to go next. And Dead Man is my favorite of his films. 
Often described as a "Psychedelic Western", Dead Man concerns a man named William Blake (Johnny Depp), an accountant from Cleveland who travels west for a job he does not get, meets a woman, is shot in the stomach by her lover, kills him, flees into the wilderness, and is saved by a native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer), who mistakes him for the famous poet who shares his name. The rest of the movie is mostly the two of them being pursued by several bounty hunters, hired by the father of the man who was killed by Blake.
Filmed in Jarmusch's signature black and white (although his two other best films, Mystery Train and Broken Flowers, are both in color.), and with music mostly consisting of improvisations on electric guitar by Neil Young, Dead Man is a sad, yet darkly comical portrayal of a man slowly dying, dreamily drifting through the west, and all the bizarre people he meets along the way. My favorite movie by one of my favorite directors.

13. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
When I first saw this movie a year ago, I didn't really know what to make of it, but I knew I loved it. With its ultra-stylized look and unconventional characters, which is apparently the norm for director Wes Anderson (I haven't yet seen any of his other movies), Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps best termed a romantic comedy, though romantic comedies don't usually have children playing both romantic leads. In fact, if it weren't for a few scenes featuring more mature subject matter, this could almost be a children's movie. 
Set in the 1950s, this is a tale of two twelve-year-olds named Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), falling in love and running away. The two child actors are perfect, but the show is often stolen by the stellar supporting cast, which includes Bill Murray as Suzy's dad, Bruce Willis as the island police captain, and Edward Norton as a long-suffering scout leader.
The distinct control of color almost makes this seem like an animated picture, with each frame carefully composed of greens, reds, and browns. While it is certainly lovable, this movie is anything but "cutesy", instead giving us a strange, decidedly offbeat look at the time in a child's life when they begin to realize they're becoming an adult. While it's not for everyone, I knew Moonrise Kingdom would end up being one of my favorites the moment I finished it, and now it is. 

12. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Fans of Monty Python will know the name Terry Gilliam. After the British comedy group parted ways, Gilliam went on to a long, storied career as one of the most creative directors of the latter half of the 20th century. Bizarre visuals, nonsensical storylines, and dark comedy are the hallmarks of a Gilliam movie, and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is no exception. 
While not yet considered a "classic" like some of Gilliam's other films (Brazil, Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), I think I prefer it because more emphasis is placed on the characters, who feel more three-dimensional than in some of his other movies. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a carnival performer who made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) centuries ago: he could live forever, but he had to give up his firstborn child once they reached the age of 16. Now his daughter is 16, and the devil or "Mr Nick" as he's called, has come to collect is half of the deal, and Parnassus seeks the help of a mysterious man named Tony (Heath Ledger, in his final role), who is found hanging from a bridge. 
True story: When Heath Ledger died before they finished filming, Gilliam, instead of quitting, got Three Other Great Actors to replace him: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrel. 
TIODP is a mythology all to itself. Looking back, it was probably the movie that first gave me my taste for the weirder side of cinema, which , as you can see, has now permeated this entire list. It's a dark fable, with wonderfully strange visuals throughout, and is, in my opinion, Terry Gilliam's finest work.

11. High Fidelity (2000)
I'm a music geek. And right around the time when I became a music geek, I saw High Fidelity for the first time. I immediately saw myself in the main characters, who all work in a record store, and know everything there is to know about every record. The movie isn't exactly about music, it's really about the record store's owner, Rob Gordon (John Cusack), trying to figure out why he's never been able to maintain a relationship with a woman, talking to the camera as he vents his frustrations, and searches himself. Also working in the store are blowhard Barry (Jack Black), and shy Dick (Todd Louiso). But the greatest thing about this movie is how it captures why music is important to people like me: it provides the soundtrack for our lives.
Based on the book by Nick Hornby, the movie itself is fairly light-hearted, and is very funny, but has an emotionally solid core. The characters, for all their faults, are very likeable, and you root for Rob all the way.
This is really a simple movie, so there's not much more I can say about it, especially to explain why I love it so much. It's one of those movies you need to see to understand why it works, and also why it's different. And of course, there is the fact that there are elements of me in all three men who work in that record store. There's every chance I could end up living this movie one day, and that's probably why it means so much to me.
10. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Probably the darkest movie on this list, No Country For Old Men is a period crime drama set in the 1980s, dealing with the fact that a new generation of criminals were rising up at that point, and the older generation of police had trouble even understanding them, much less fighting them. The story begins with a drug-deal gone wrong, and the lost money ending up in the hands of an uninvolved passerby named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin), who is then pursued by the hit-man hired to clean up the mess: the terrifying Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Most of the action is focused on Llewelyn, but the real hero is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is working on the case, and coming to terms with the fact that this might be more than he can handle at this point.
Brilliantly made by the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, Fargo), and based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, this is a scary, yet always engaging thriller that deals with the idea of a criminal so evil, so devoid of empathy, that literally nothing is able to stop him.
So, what could follow a cerebral, chilling, neo-western masterpiece like this? Well...

9. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Yeah, I know it's weird, putting a horror-comedy over a masterpiece like NCFOM, but I can't help it: I love Shaun of the Dead. First of all, it's probably the funniest movie I've ever seen. There's not much I can say about the humor, since "It made me laugh" is about as much as you can analyze comedy, but that's not the only reason I put this on the list. After all, lots of movies are funny, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good movie. But what really does it for me with this movie is the characters
The main characters, Shaun and Ed (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), two British slackers who wake up one morning to the Zombie apocalypse, are so likeable, so real, that it doesn't feel like you've only known them for an hour and a half. It feels like you've known them for ten seasons of television, something I call "The Pixar Effect". And the extraordinary circumstances are really just a backdrop to Shaun working out his issues with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and Ed as well. This is a running theme throughout the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy, of which Shaun of the Dead is the first installment.
Yes, sometimes the humor is crude, and there's a lot of blood, but again, you're not meant to take it seriously. But aside from that, I guess the big surprise about this movie is how much you can take seriously. This is a movie I can watch over and over again, and never get tired of. And that's what gets it on this list.

8. The Illusionist (2010)
I've always loved magic. Watching it, performing it; as far as I can remember, it's always been something I loved and treasured. Which is probably why The Illusionist hits me the way it does, considering that it's the story of an aging magician in the 1950s, who is slowly realizing that his art isn't relevant any more, what with the rise of new entertainment like rock and roll.
Based a script written by Jacques Tati (a celebrated french filmmaker and actor), over fifty years before the movie was made, this story was intended to be a love letter to Tati's daughter, from whom he was estranged. This can be seen in the character of a young woman, who the unnamed Illusionist takes under his wing, and who believes that he can really do magic. It all builds to a heartbreaking ending which I won't give away, but suffice it to say this: I don't cry at movies. I never cry at movies. But I cried a little at the end of The Illusionist.
Originally intended to be a live action film, The Illusionist is brought to gorgeous, animated life by Sylvian Chomet, a contemporary french director I know almost nothing about. The animation is stunning, and complements the story well: there is almost no dialogue, so the film must be carried by the events themselves, the movements of the characters in their bittersweet world.
It's the saddest movie I've ever seen. But I can't let that get in the way of how much I love it.

7. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
The question this movie asks is simple: what if you woke up one morning and discovered you were a character in a book? That's what happens to Harold Crick (Will Ferrel), a repressed auditor who suddenly begins to hear a woman's voice in his head, narrating everything he does. But he starts to worry when the voice mentions that he's going to die soon.
This is just the setup for this wonderful movie, which also stars Dustin Hoffman as the literature professor Harold turns to, Maggie Gyllenhaal as the baker he falls in love with, and Emma Thompson as the depressed author writing the book he's in. Just about everything in this movie is perfect: the casting, the acting, the script, the soundtrack, and the thorough exploration of the fascinating premise. I love books, maybe even more than music, magic, or movies, and this movie treats books with such reverence as to suggest that maybe it would be worth dying for the sake of completing a great one.
And it's just so darn fun to watch. It's accessible without being brain-dead, funny without being annoying, sad without being overly melodramatic, and it also has possibly my favorite kiss scene in the history of cinema. Think about that: even the romantic subplot is enjoyable! Romantic subplots are never enjoyable! I've saved this particular bit of praise for a while, but what more could you ask for?

6. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
There's a scene this movie where two of the main characters are driving in a car, and the one in the passenger seat drops something, and it goes under the seat. He starts to look for it, but the one driving, who owns the car, says, "Anything that goes under that seat, forget about it." He explains that there is some kind of portal underneath the passenger seat of his car, and anything that goes through it can never be recovered. This is never explained, and is not even questioned by the other characters. And perhaps that makes sense, considering that by that point, both characters are dead.
This scene is not the main focus of the movie, or even my favorite thing in the movie, but it sums up a huge part of why I like it. Something about it, something about the idea that there's this crazy, extraordinary thing in this car with them, and they just accept it like it's no big deal, is just instantly appealing to me. And the movie is full of things like that, little miracles that nobody thinks twice about.
Of course, this would be meaningless window-dressing if there wasn't more meat to the movie, which there is. The premise is that there is an afterlife where people who commit suicide go, which seems exactly like the real world, but slightly worse in every aspect. And Zia (Patrick Fugit) goes there after his girlfriend breaks up with him, but then later hears that she did the same. So he, a Russian musician named Eugene (Shea Whigham), and a girl named Mika (Shannyn Sossamon) who claims that she was sent here by mistake, pile into Eugene's car and set off to look for her.
Wristcutters is really a road movie, so there's all the appeal of an adventure shared with friends that comes with that. It's also an indie movie, which means it's free of all the standard Hollywood tropes, giving way to glorious creativity. And, as its title suggests, it's a love story, and a surprisingly real one at that. There's just so much I love about this movie, I could write a whole article about it. It's the kind of movie that, when I first saw it, I wondered if it had been made specifically for me to enjoy it, it felt so tailor-made for me. And I enjoy it more every time I see it.

5. Apocalypse Now (1979)
There's literally nothing I can say about this movie that hasn't already been said. Seriously. Go read some other article, you won't have trouble finding one. Apocalypse Now is one of the most celebrated, talked about, and analyzed films of all time. There are probably books about it, go read one of those. What do you want from me?
Well, alright, I'll say this: a few months ago, I decided to dedicate the coming weekend to an epic project: The Greatest Possible Movie Marathon. Before Monday morning, I would watch every movie that has ever been called "The Greatest Movie Ever", that I hadn't seen yet. At least, the ones I could get my hands on. So, over the next forty-eight or so hours, I saw Citizen Kane, Casablanca, 8 1/2, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now. While every one of those films is amazing, and they would all make it to my top thirty, Apocalypse Now was the one that blew me away the most most. Powerful? Powerful doesn't even begin to describe this movie. It's an otherworldly experience.
Based on the novella Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the action is moved from the colonization of the Congo to the Vietnam War, and follows Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), who is sent on a mission to terminate American Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has apparently gone insane. From there the movie becomes a surreal, quixotic journey through the jungle, passing other American leaders who seem crazy as well, past moral dilemmas here, past USO shows there, until Willard gets all the way upriver and meets Kurtz.
If people ever criticize anything about this movie, it's the third act, in which the pace slows down considerably. However, I think having read the novella recently when I saw it,  it makes a little (very little) more sense to me. The rest of the movie is mostly just Kurtz talking about stuff, and it seems almost like the movie has forgotten there's a war on. But in my opinion, that's not the case. I think ultimately this is both the greatest war movie ever made, and not a war movie at all: it's a movie about the extremes humanity can go to, and war is the best way to highlight those extremes, because everything is live-or-die.
Well, that's several paragraphs more than I have any right to say about Apocalypse Now. Shall we move on? Yes? Good. I was way over my head with this one. 

4. The Prestige (2006)
The Illusionist was about a magician, and demonstrated a real fear that all magicians have. But that film is really more about the relationship between the two main characters, and the decline of old-fashioned show-business is in the background. But The Prestige is about magic. It's about other things, too. It's about revenge, it's about how an obsession can destroy your life, and it's about how friendships can be turned into bitter rivalries. But The Prestige wouldn't be the same movie if the two main characters weren't magicians. Alfred Borden and Robert Angier (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) are two former friends who are turned against each other after Angier's wife dies while assisting with an illusion, and he blames Borden. This leads them to constantly sabotage each other's shows, and continually one-up each other with better and better illusions. But eventually Borden begins performing something different, something that Angier won't be able to top so easily.
This is just an endlessly fascinating movie. Like all films with a twist ending, watching it the second time is a totally different experience, and I've gotten something new out of it every time I return to it. It's not a particularly pleasant movie, which is fairly typical for director Christopher Nolan(The Dark Knight, Memento). But it's one heck of a ride, and it really understands, maybe even better than The Illusionist, why people choose to become magicians. As Angier puts it in the final scene "It was the look on their faces..."
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Sometimes the "Message" of a story is so simple, you can't believe that it has never been pinned down so well before. Sometimes the premise of a story is so ingenious, you can't believe that it has never been done before. And here at the corner of originality and morality, lies a movie called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The premise is this: there's an organization called Lacuna, that allows you to have part of your memory erased; for the most part, their customers are people who have just ended relationships. The moral is this: it is necessary to experience pain in life, because without pain we cannot grow as human beings; we can never  overcome the pain, and move on. Simple, right?
Remember how I said that Jim Carrey was a better dramatic actor than comedian? Well, this is the performance of his career. He plays Joel, a shy, introverted man, who turns to Lacuna after finding out that his former girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) did the same. Going through just about every emotion on the spectrum, Carrey spends most of the procedure wandering around his own mind, trying to save the memories he signed away, having changed his mind when it was too late.
There are several subplots, which I won't go into. But the movie has nothing extraneous, coming from a compact script by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), the man who Roger Ebert declared was the greatest screenwriter of the 21st century. The movie is also brilliantly shot, employing several "unspecial effects" such as forced perception, and also managing to cut from one memory to the next without being too hard to follow.
Unlike the grandiose, sprawling Apocalypse Now, ESOTSM is a different kind of masterpiece, one that is relatively subdued, but still strikingly confident in itself. And unlike the cold, merciless Prestige, it is warm, caring movie, caught up in its own tragedy. I imagine everyone who has seen this movie watches it every year, as it is something you can cling to, no matter what you are feeling, and something you can always find solace in. A truly remarkable film, and one to be treasured.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little extravagance... 

2. Magnolia (1999)
Three hours. This movie is three hours long. But boy, oh boy, is it anything but boring. 

Magnolia is story of one day in the lives of Earl (Jason Robards), Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Jim (John C. Reilly), Frank (Tom Cruise), Linda (Julianne Moore), Claudia (Melora Walters), Jimmy (Phillip Baker Hall), Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), Donnie (William H. Macy), and Rose (Melina Dillon). To give you some idea of how engaging this movie is, I typed all of those from memory. This huge cast consists of people of all different ages, ranging from Stanley, who is about ten, to Earl, who is on his death bed. They all live in the San Fernando valley, and they are all--except Phil and Jim, who seem to only take care of everyone else--at the end of their rope. Some are consumed by guilt, some are dying from illnesses, some have crippling drug problems, and some simply have more love to give than anyone will give back.
The reasoning behind the title of this movie seems to be that as it progresses, it blooms outward, like a Magnolia flower. That's certainly an accurate description. The sad stories of these men and women slowly interweave over the course of an afternoon and a night, showcasing truly extraordinary acting: the way the characters break down in front of the camera is eerily realistic, making it so easy to forget that these are actors being filmed. And sometimes, things happen that can't really be explained, but you accept them immediately, because of how completley the film envelops you in itself, forcing you to take it on its own terms.
This all builds, and builds, and builds yet more, up to perhaps the most spectacular, unbelievable climax in any movie, ever. I won't give it away, and if you haven't seen it, don't you dare look it up. It's too great to spoil.
Magnolia is long. It's melodramatic. It's operatic. It's over the top. Some might even say it's pretentious (although the definition of that word is something that makes claims to be high art which it then can't back up, and this movie can certainly back up its own claims of greatness). But it is executed so perfectly, so flawlessly that it forces you not only to accept it, but to embrace it. Almost the opposite of Apocalypse Now, whose vision of humanity is dark and hopeless, Magnolia is uplifting, joyous, bright, and hopeful. It's one of the most ambitious films ever made. But sometimes it's good to reach for the stars, if only to touch them, for a moment.

1. Gattaca (1997)
Well, here we are at number one. And it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy deciding, and it wasn't easy giving so many great movies the backseat. But, after much deliberation, my favorite movie, of all time, is Gattaca.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote the screenplay for The Truman Show, Gattaca is another journey to freedom, wrapped inside a thoughtful science-fiction premise. In the near future, everyone is identified by their genetic code, and the information that can be extrapolated from this, such as present or future health problems, and a projected life expectancy, is used to determine social class, dividing to society into "Valids", who are genetically engineered from their parent's DNA, and "In-Valids", who are conceived naturally, and are more prone to genetic disorders. This means that the working class are mostly "In-Valids", because of their shorter life expectancy, and the higher positions are filled by "Valids".
This all sounds very complicated, but one of the many, many great things about this movie is how easily it lets you know what's going on, without just dumping all of it on you. And anyway, all you need to know is that our hero, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), is an "In-Valid": he was conceived naturally, and after he was born, it was instantly predicted that he would be myopic, have a heart defect, and be dead by the time he was thirty. His parents are saddened, and their next child is the engineered, "Valid", Anton (Loren Dean).
 As Vincent grows up, he begins to dream of becoming an astronaut, which of course can never happen, because only "Valids" can be astronauts. So once he becomes an adult, he makes a deal with Jerome (Jude Law), a former "Valid" swimming star who crushed his legs in a car accident: Vincent will pay Jerome to give him genetic material (hair, skin, etc.), and will pretend to be Jerome, so that he can join the space program.
If I try to summarize the plot any more I'll end up writing a novelization, but you see the point: Vincent's struggle to achieve his dream, in world that wants to push him down. It's a simple idea, and one that's been done many times before, but I think never better than here.
Every scene in this movie is flawless, and it would be tedious for me to go through every moment I love. This movie is very streamlined, moving at a steady pace towards its finale. I've mentioned its similarity to The Truman Show, but while that that movie is also about self realization, its plot is concerned with choosing a real, difficult life over an easy, artificial one. At the outset of Gattaca, Vincent's life is both real and difficult, and the movie is about him breaking free of that, breaking out of a world that is unjustly cruel instead of unjustly nice. This is an imprtant difference, and might be why TTS, while a great, great movie, isn't quite as good as Gattaca.
And the movie just feels perfect. The way it's shot, scored, written, directed, acted, all combine to form a very consistent tone, which drives home the fact that this movie is saying something. Not asking something, but saying something--stating that there is no power, no evil system, no prejudiced society, that no human spirit can triumph over.
 This is what science fiction is all about: using the possibility of the future or technology as a means to demonstrate a simple truth. And I have never rooted for any character more than Vincent, who could be any of us, fighting for any dream, on this harsh and cruel earth. Gattaca is a truly beautiful movie, and, for now, it's my favorite movie ever made.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Me at an Open Mic

I played a few songs at an Open Mic this past Monday. I played a "That's Entertainment" by The Jam, and a song called "The Story," which is the first in a long series of songs I wrote that tell a story.
I forgot the lyrics in the middle of "That's Entertainment," but I guess that'll happen, right? Right?