Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Subculture and Cinephilia

I HAVE A SERIES! Look look look, my own website (sort of) and everything! I mean, besides this blog.

I actually like the logo. I didn't choose it, but I love the stereotyping. Ray bans for an article on hipster films? Appropriate.

And yes, I understand the incredible anachronism of having a Wild Things crit column ex post facto... about five months... but it's an introduction to a theme. Bear with me, people. (Or is it "bare"? Why am I dyslexic all of a sudden?)

Also: a wonderful link to the Sundance short films! Check out the animated short about a young wolf who meets his father. Gorgeous. Wonderfully made, surprisingly abstract and eerie.


Young adult crowd sees appeal in the ‘Wild’

"Where the Wild Things Are" is one cinematic example of a film that appealed to the young hipster crowd due to its indie credentials.

Not just for children, “Where the Wild Things Are” garnered unexpected hype from adults and teenage hipsters alike.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Somehow, the film industry has managed to keep itself afloat while the music and newspaper businesses crumble.

There must be something about film that strikes viewers as increasingly captivating and relevant, especially for young audiences, who have a singular interest in keeping up with the fast-paced world of cinema.

Of course, not all films are created equal. The films that urban college kids watch are not those that the average suburban housewife enjoys on her weekly trip to the local AMC—differences in marketing have made this increasingly obvious. This series of film articles will attempt to figure out why college students—in particular New Yorkers, the inheritors of beatnik fame—watch what they watch. The series will be part psychoanalysis, part cinema studies, part obnoxious stereotyping. Through analysis of films and their target audiences, it will attempt to answer one question: what do the films that students watch say about them?

College students—and New Yorkers in general—are split into numerous subcultures, all of which have tastes of their own. The general public might be currently obsessed with “Avatar,” but those donning skinny pants might prefer to spend their two-and-a-half hours watching the Palme d’Or-winning “The White Ribbon” or the latest Coen brothers’ movie. Some films’ marketing campaigns explicitly target this younger, “hipper” crowd—as an example, take last fall’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

When the trailer came out early in 2009, the buzz among young adults was immediate, and the film was instantly included in the blog “Stuff White People Like,” a sardonic list of yuppie trends. The blog states: “When the trailer was released a few months ago, you should have been inundated with e-mails, instant messages, and Facebook wall posts about how you need to see the trailer immediately.” It seemed the demographic most enthusiastic about the trailer was the high school set and older, even though the movie was intended for nine-year-olds. Or was it?

Gelseigh Karl-Cannon, CC ’11, and her friends dressed up for the film’s midnight release. She said, “I don’t recall encountering a single child at the screening. I think it was entirely teen/twenty-year-olds with maybe a few adults thrown in. And just like us, many of them were dressed up in onesies and bright yellow crowns...”

Of course, the movie’s success was boosted by its nostalgia factor. The “Noughties” were defined by a growing obsession with past decades and a refurbishing of old styles—the film was obviously mining this trend.

“Where the Wild Things Are” held further hipster appeal through a partnership between Warner Brothers and Urban Outfitters, as well as with its “indie” creative team—director Spike Jonze, writer/adapter Dave Eggers, and musician Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Jenny Lam, CC ’09, said, “Show me a kindergarten student who is familiar with Karen O, Dave Eggers, and Spike Jonze, and I’ll give her my own personal VHS recordings of 'Ducktales.' It’s clear that 'Where the Wild Things Are' was marketed towards Millennials and Gen-Xers.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Oh Vamp Week

Random quotes from the New Yorker's article on Vampire Weekend "School of Rock," published Jan 4 (because I forgot to forward my mail home over Winter Break):

The band members say they are surprised to be accused of being so calculating. Batmanglij, the band's keyboardist and producer, justified their lyrics with the write-what-you-know defense. "I remember when Ezra first played me this song he'd written with the lyrics 'Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?,'" he said. "He had just discovered this Facebook group called Society for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma.

(I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. Probably 'cause I'm in the group.)

In his sophomore year, Koenig took a class called Imperialism and the Cryptographic Imagination, taught by Gauri Viswanathan. The class read Kipling's "Kim" and, Koenig said, talked about "the ways that relationships between imperial powers and colonized peoples could involve lots of codes." He liked the cryptography class so much that he took another postcolonial literature class, Plagiarism, Parody, and Postcolonialism, which examined the works of African novelists who'd been accused of plagiarism by British and French literary critics.

This band is like a parody of a Columbia student.)

In the van, Tompson played Sudoku, and Baio read "Snow," by Orhan Pamuk. Tomson asked the driver, "Can we stop at Whole Foods?" He and Baio got out to buy pizza and almonds.

Why I think this is mind-numbingly hilarious, I don't know. Pamuk? almonds? Whole Foods?)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Top 10 Films

Per Fran's request, my top 10 films of 2009. (Fran, what are yours? I'm dying to know!) Granted, I haven't seen a few that were on other top 10 lists that I've seen (The Hangover, The Single Man, Broken Embraces, An Education) but out of those I think only the Almodovar would have any chance of beating my top 10. It took me forever to think of a #10, and then, after much hand-wringing, realized that the latest Harry Potter film (shut up, shut up) was actually very well made. I winced a bit when putting it on the list, but hey, it's a good one. Second only to Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban.

TOP 10 FILMS (with absolutely no explanation)

10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Warner Bros. Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, etc.

9. Coraline. Focus Features. Directed by Henry Selick. Animated. Starring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, etc.

8. Coco Avant Chanel. Sony Pictures Classics. Directed by Anne Fontaine. Starring Audrey Tatou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, etc.

7. Ponyo. Disney/Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Animated. English version starring Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, etc.

6. Up! Walt Disney/Pixar. Directed by Pete Docter. Animated. Starring Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, etc.

5. Thirst. Focus Features. Directed by Park Chan-wook. Starring Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun.

4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox. 20th Century Fox. Directed by Wes Anderson. Animated. Starring. George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, etc.

3. Up in the Air. Paramount. Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, etc.

2. The Hurt Locker. Summit Entertainment. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, etc.

1. A Serious Man. Focus. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamid, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolf, etc.


Other notables:

Most (Personally) Disturbing and Unethical: Inglorious Basterds (please don't fight me over the inclusion of this one)

Most Boring and Immemorable: Away We Go

Indie Kid Favorite That Should Not Have Been: 500 Days of Summer

Worst Movie of the Year: 9

Scariest Kid Movie: Where the Wild Things Are

Most Cliche Soundtrack: Watchmen


Random: a cute comic in Tablet (the Jew mag) by Vanessa Davis that instantly brightened a sour mood. Especially bright for us seniors who can't see more than two months into the future (and are often afraid to look).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thanks, NYT!

True, true. Last decade kind of sucked, no?

In other news:

1. R.I.P. Eric Rohmer. I regret not going to that one lecture of yours at Columbia. Talk about guilt. Prolific, extraordinary director of the Nouvelle Vague. I resolve to see more films. The only one I've seen so far has been "Conte d'hiver" but I quite liked it.

2. Will have film series in the Spec every other Wednesday. Awesome!

3. R.I.P. "Columbia & Its Discontents". It was getting sloppy, and I was getting nowhere with my vaguely snarky commentary. Also, two regular shindigs in the Spec is way overkill for someone resolved not to enter into that particular cult.

4. Yoga? Tried it, liked it, keeps me from committing mass homicide. Anyone want to join me at Columbia while explore this whole anti-anxiety thing, let me know.

5. Up in the Air was the best movie I've seen since... Up! No joke. And actually, those two are like apples and oranges, so not even a good comparison. It was probably one of the best comedies I've ever seen, and one of the most original. And it wasn't even that funny. In fact, it wasn't really much of a comedy at all. It was a drama with irony and self-awareness, which is really the only thing that gives something the label of "comedy" nowadays. I loved it loved it loved it. For your own sake, please see it. I cannot be more emphatic about it. I liked it so much I'm not even going to try to review it.

(P.S. George Clooney is a hunk and a half, and always will be.)

6. Newest Gadfly is out! And actually has been since early December. But the PDF is available HERE! Looks good, no? I only wrote a short debate piece arguing against the use of neurotransmitters, near the end. Could you tell I was very VERY emphatic? Could you tell I sound mildly socialist? I hope so.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Avatar, etc

Pocahontas-in-Space? Probably.

Hilarious link. In any case, I had mixed feelings about this film. Regardless of plotline, the visuals were stunning. Frankly I wouldn't mind seeing an entire 3 hour long movie of some dude running through a forest. However, it soon becomes abundantly clear that James Cameron, regardless of his long backlog of sci fi films, still cannot write successful (i.e. plausible) sci fi films. Avatar straddles the thin line between fantasy and sci fi, and oftentimes it simply seems unbelievable. As my friend Anthony commented, he taps into the beliefs of indigenous American tribes, and certain Asian and African ones in the "interconnectedness of all things," but makes it literal. In Avatar, the humanoids simply cannot live without being connected (literally) to each other. This is wonderful for environmentalist propaganda, but it really is just that... propaganda.

Also, unobtainium? Really? Unobtainium? If the director wasn't Cameron I would swear that the word was used ironically. The plot is full of holes and film cliches, for better and for worse. It certainly makes for an engaged average Joe, and plenty of good reviews. Who wouldn't like a conglomeration of Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Star Trek, Apocalypse Now, and bits and pieces of every. other. major. Hollywood. film. thrown in?

Where this film succeeds-- apart, of course, from 3D visual effect awesomeness and those killer Buddy Holly-esque glasses (to keep!)-- is in its war movie aspect. Environmentalism aside, this is a pretty incredible war film, and I'm a sucker for "noble cause" war movies (unless, of course, it's Inglourious Basterds, but I'll rant about that another time). It was a film that should have been made, considering the time, and considering the audience. Americans need a film like Avatar, which inspires environmentalism and compassion, and practically makes a mockery of capitalism (or perhaps that was my own projection...) I'm very curious to see where this film makes it in the history of World Cinema. Is this what the later generations will remember? Is this really the Apocalypse Now of our time, instead of The Hurt Locker?

Monday, January 4, 2010

TOP 10 of 2009

Disclaimer: Frankly, I don't know why I even make these lists anymore. Probably to retain some semblance of sanity. Maybe I'm egotistical and think everybody should have my personal taste in music (not true). Maybe to share the love. Regardless you'll find my tastes pretty mainstream, plus or minus a few, and I'm not sorry. I know more than a few people would scoff at my exclusion of Andrew Bird's "Noble Beast" from my list of favorite albums, but my reasons are totally personal, and generally "Noble Beast" is an incredible album. Just not one of my favorites for the year. Also St. Vincent should probably have been on there-- I unfortunately just didn't get a good enough listen of "Actor" to tell. Otherwise, enjoy.


10. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

This debut album blew me away from the moment I first heard it. I have a soft spot for twee, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound vaguely like a happier version of the Smiths. "Young Adult Friction" was my anthem for much of finals week, and was ridiculously college-appropriate (basically it's about hooking up in the Stacks). The album is consistent and flows beautifully between upbeat dance-friendly pop ("This Love is Fucking Right") and slightly slower, electric guitar-driven grittiness ("Gentle Sons").

9. Metric—Fantasies

Say what you will, but this was my favorite Metric album yet. Who doesn't love an album that begins with a song about zombies? ("Help I'm Alive," which begins: "I tremble, they're gonna eat me alive... can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?") Ok, so it's only a zombie metaphor. But this was supposed to be an album without a single song about love or relationships, and frankly it's quite refreshing. My favorite was actually "Gimme Sympathy," the pop-friendly song about getting famous while wanting to remain unknown: "After all of this is gone, who'd you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" Actually, all of the songs on this album are catchy as hell, and the melodies don't sound anything alike. Brilliant.

8. Regina Spektor—Far

Call me biased (people say I look like her, and we share an ethnicity), but I'm a fan. I have a t-shirt now, and you know it's serious when I'm willing to dish out $50 on a ticket to her Radio City concert in October. And didn't regret it, either! A brilliant composer and songstress, Regina created an album no less wonderful than "Begin to Hope" and "Soviet Kitsch". Although I'm not a big fan of her single-- "Machine"-- "Laughing With" made me cry the first few times I heard it, and I could definitely hear much of the Radio City crowd tear up at its conclusion.

7. Passion Pit—Manners

I first heard about Passion Pit not from a radio station or magazine, but by sharing an iPod bud with a suburban teenage flamer on the roof of my friend's boat on the fourth of July. Indeed most of Passion Pit's fans are on the young side, but this "indietronic" pop is catchier than any other electronic music you've ever heard... and certainly one of the most unique. Originally, Passion Pit was some dude named Michael Angelakos, who created the five songs on the EP as a present for his girlfriend at the time. The relationship might not have lasted, but Passion Pit did, and at Lollapalooza they played the most memorable (and exciting!) show I've encountered in the festival's three days. Who knew suburban teens could crowd-surf and stage-dive with such ferocity? Regardless, "Manners" is an incredible compilation in which every song is unique but incredibly upbeat and catchy. My favorites: "Sleepyhead," "Make Light," "Folds in Your Hands."

6. Blakroc—Blakroc

This has been a good year for the Black Keys. Guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded a solid solo album, played at Lollapalooza, and even when you think the Keys are more popular than ever, they record Blakroc--an album (not unlike Ratatat's remixes) that features rappers like Mos Def, Raekwon, and Ludacris, and presents them, supported by Black Keys guitar-drum stylings and electronica, in a way that appears more sincere than most remixes. It isn't a remix album, it's a collaboration, and one of the most original ones I've ever encountered. "Ain't Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)" was a hit since its YouTube leak, but all the tracks are solid... especially the concluding track, "Done Did It." Definitely has the potential to be the party record of the semester, if not the year.

5. Lady Gaga—The Fame, The Fame Monster

Don't hate on Lady Gaga; as the New Yorker said, she's smarter than you would think. And a brilliant songstress. "The Fame" was released in 2008, but it really took off in 2009, and was quickly followed by "The Fame Monster," and the incredible single "Bad Romance". Lady Gaga has the incredible ability to write brilliant pop melody after brilliant pop melody, none of which sound anything alike (compare the "Ace of Base"-esque "Alejandro" with "Poker Face"). It also seems that Lady Gaga singlehandedly brought disco back... no small feat. I'm a fan, and I'm not ashamed. I also have a currently festering theory that Lady Gaga has the ability to bring female empowerment and gender equality back to the forefront of American society... but that's an argument for another day.

4. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs—It’s Blitz

Ok, I'm definitely biased. The YYYs are by far my favorite band. Probably ever. Probably more so than the Beatles. So it's certainly surprising that I, unlike many old YYY fans, placed this album as high as I did on the list. Many have criticized them for changing their sound, turning from guitar-based punk rock to electronic indie rock. But I'd argue that this new tendency of the YYYs towards a slightly calmer vibe is no less interesting than "Fever to Tell," their incredible art-punk debut. It also makes their shows more musically diverse. Karen O is as intense as ever, and songs like "Runaway" and "Heads Will Roll" make it a bit of a surprise that the mediocre "Zero" became as popular as it had. My favorite, however, is "Dull Life," a remnant of their older, punker stage-- proving that regardless of their new love of electronica, the YYYs are as hardcore as ever.

3. The Dirty Projectors—Bitte Orca

This album has been surrounded by so much indie rock buzz that I'm loath to discuss about it. It is, however, undoubtedly brilliant, and a smooth compilation. More than anything, it's psychedelic, and experimental to the core. Critics have said that it's impossible to describe, and they would be right. Just give it a listen and you'll see. Listen to "Remade Horizon" on repeat while indulging in that favorite vice (we all have one... or two), and you'll see. Dance awkwardly to the complex catchy-ness of "Stillness is the Move". It's indie at its best, which is to say, really freaking weird.

2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion

It's been said that this album was meant for two things: live performances, and the outdoors. I can't vouch for the live performance (Animal Collective aren't known for their riveting shows, and they were disappointing when I caught them at Lollapalooza this summer), but this was definitely an album for warmth, balmy nights. It was my summer album for a reason. Each song blends perfectly with the next, in animalistic, feverishly danceable glory. The magnetic pull of this psychedelic, trip-hippie album is irresistible. "Summertime Clothes" is a catchy favorite, about dancing around in piles of trash at night. This band genuinely enjoys the things they sing about: splashing your face with cold water during the heat of a summer day, walking around without shirts and socks. Simple pleasures. Beautiful.

1. The Decemberists—The Hazards of Love

Two words: ROCK OPERA. Or more like, folk rock opera, with costumes, and an elaborate plot. When I saw the entire thing performed beginning to end in Milwaukee I was dumbfounded. My hair stood on end. I had one of those rare Stendhal moments in which art affects you like an arrow, or a first love, and you feel genuinely transformed. I'll save you a prolix description of the plot... just know it involves a changeling boy, the queen of the forest, a sweet girl named Margaret who falls in love with the boy, a rake set on destroying all in his path, and even a few ghost children. An epic romance of the 18th century, all in less than eighty minutes. Dangerously ambitions, and the Decemberists pulled it off beautifully, the way no artist of their caliber could. Other Decemberists albums entailed a few select gorgeous melodies; each song was a story in and of itself. The Hazards of Love is something completely different. It has, with time, become my favorite album of the year, even if not a single song stood out as one of my top ten favorites. I loved it all: every folksy, woodsy, cutesy element, and even the gritty guitar in the background. My favorite was the sound of the Queen's voice, and the screeching, ominous rock in the background, veering somewhere between chamber pop and metal. Wow.


10. Airstream Driver—Gomez

9. I Want Some More—Dan Auerbach

8. People Got a Lotta Nerve—Neko Case (+ music video)

7. Sleepyhead—Passion Pit (+ music video)

6. Dull Life—the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (+ awesome fan-made video)

5. Ghosts ‘n Stuff (feat. Rob Swire)—Deadmau5 (+ music video)

4. Bad Romance—Lady Gaga (+ music video)

3. Summertime Clothes—Animal Collective (+ music video)

2. Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo) (feat. Jim Jones and Mos Def)—Blakroc (+ music video)

1. The Stillness is the Move—Dirty Projectors (+ music video)

(Runners up: Stadium Love—Metric, Marrow—St. Vincent, Tenuousness—Andrew Bird)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome, 2010

Not much to report. Last movie I saw in theatres was The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was one of my favorite films of the year, definitely. I'm an off-and-on Wes Anderson fan (ok, ok, I'm a fan), and definitely a George Clooney/Meryl Streep/Bill Murray/Jason Schwartzman fan, so I expected to like it. Surprisingly, it exceeded even my own high expectations. Incredible film, and very adult. My favorite scene occurs in the last ten minutes or so, but I won't give away the ending. Just know that it features my favorite animal and a symbolic fist pump. Power to the animals!

Another excellent thing about this movie is the stilted stop-motion animation. The characters' limbs move like spaghetti. I love love love choppy animation, and in this film it's not distracting in the slightest. I hate nothing more than the smooth perfection of something like Shrek, and the golden days of Disney animating styles are over (yawn, the Princess and the Frog...). Animating is such a wonderous, fascinating thing. No reason to waste good creative talent on run-of-the-mill cartoons. (Exception: Japanese animation, in the sense of Miyazaki. Long live Studio Ghibli).

It's been an excellent year for animation, hasn't it? It's definitely taken over. There was Up! and Ponyo and then The Fantastic Mr. Fox, all garnering over 95% popularity at some point in Rottentomatoes. Feature films, on the other hand... yikes. I'm afraid to see Avatar. Maybe I'll get the courage up one of these days.

Also, rang in the New Year (or rather, the day after the New Year) with a Black Keys concert at the Riviera in Chicago, conveniently located three blocks from my house. However, due to single-digit temps, had to drive (not kidding, and I've walked five miles in the snow. It's freaking cold out). However awesome the Black Keys are (and I've never known or heard of them to give a less than excellent show), the Riviera is my least favorite venue IN THE WORLD and I am not kidding (well, except maybe for United Center...) Awful acoustics, too much distortion, strange setup and it takes a good 45 minutes to get your coat. Awesome. Thanks Chicago.

Otherwise, of course, great set. Heavier on the new album but played a bit of their old favorites in the beginning (some of which I didn't know). The great thing about the Black Keys is how integrated all of the songs seemed with each other, and how differently they sounded from the CD (a good thing, usually), unlike a Vampire Weekend concert, which tends to sound exactly like putting the CD on shuffle, adding 5 seconds of awkward stage banter, and inserting a crowd full of teen proto-hipsters. Delightful. Rather, the Black Keys had probably my favorite crowd that I've ever encountered at a show. I've been to punk, prog-rock, ska, pop rock, metal, electronic, chamber pop, hip hop, reggae, folk, and classical shows, and so far this kind of funky, bluesy, garage rock-seeing crowd became my favorite (the reggae crowd was a close second). I kind of had that unmistakeable feeling, upon entering the Riv, that these were my kind of people! Not clothing-wise, really, or ethnicity-wise, but attitude-wise, and socio-economic wise. It was a diverse group: sparsely bearded, beanied, overwhelmingly male, plaid flannel-full but of the it's-legit-cold-i'm-wearing-flannel-fuck-you variety. I've missed boys who don't (and wouldn't, in their lifetimes) wear skinny pants.

Soon to come, list of favorite songs/albums of 2009. You'll notice my love of indie rock has decreased significantly. On to bigger and better things? (but I'll keep the plaid shirts, thanks)