Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best in 2011

So I already posted my favorite music of 2011 here: http://aftertheradio.wordpress.com... but I wanted to comment a little on my favorite movies of the year:

The Descendants - Clooney is stinking amazing in this. But everyone is amazing in this. This film does such an amazing job of dealing with real grief without falling over into ridiculous cliches or redemption that seems unearned or unreasonable. Walks that tightrope between humor and pain really effectively and any movie that manages to get a good performance out of Matthew Lillard deserves mad props.

Warrior - Geez this movie is a suckerpunch. You think it's an action movie, and it sort of is, but it's not. You think it's MMA Rocky, and it sort of is, but it's not. You think it's a redemptive family story, and it sort of is, but it's not. A friend of mine put it best when he said he's never seen a movie manage to hit every cliche in the book while still missing them and I think that's bizarrely accurate. Definitely worth your time.

Tree of Life - No narrative, barely any dialogue, almost incoherent at times, but it's easily one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen. It's a meditation on the "Where were you when I..." speech in Job. Was mulling over this one for weeks after and that's always appreciated.

Drive - So violent, so very, very violent. But some of the best images/music combinations in a movie I've ever seen. Turns the whole noir/superhero genre on it's head. Doesn't go at all where you expect it to. Such a good movie.

The Ides of March - A really nuanced portrayal of one mans turn from idealist to cold pragmatist. The dialogue is insanely good and really draws you into the seedier side of politics. Probably the best closing shot of the year.

50/50 - I really enjoyed this one. Felt like a lot of people forgot about it at the end of the year, but it's a refreshingly genuine look at illness, grief, despair, etc. One of the only times I've been ok with Seth Rogen in a movie.

Beats, Rhymes, and Life - I love Tribe Called Quest, so this is a biased pick. But I thought this was a really well made, very insightful look into one of the best rap groups ever. Had a blast seeing this one.

Attack the Block - A kid's adventure movie that's not for kids. A genre bending sci-fi action flick, that's also a little bit of a thriller, that's also a social commentary, that's also freaking hilarious. Maybe my favorite movie this year.

Midnight in Paris - Holy crap this movie is amazing. Great acting, great references to historical figures, funny and it pulls all these things off without ever hitting you over the head with them. What sounds like oscar bait on paper never seems desperate and that's incredibly impressive. Really enjoyed this one.

Best Popcorn Flicks:

MI-4 - Really, really solid action flick. Great set pieces, and more solid actors means less Tom Cruise time... always a good thing.

Crazy, Stupid, Love - I'm really impressed with how good of a movie this was. I'd be tempted to put this on my best of the year if it wasn't so clearly fluff. I won't say much cause it's worth going into untainted but it's well worth your time.

Super 8 - Just watched this one a second time and it was way better on the second viewing when separated from all the hype. Like a love letter to my childhood. Nothin' wrong with that.

X-Men First Class - Easily one of the best superhero movies made. Probably surpasses Singer's versions. Really impressed by how character driven this was.

Movies I haven't seen yet, but I'm pretty sure will make my best of:

The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Biggest Disappointments:

War Horse- Really?! Seriously?! People thought this was Oscar worthy? Cheesy, plodding, an unnecessarily long opening two hours. Folks, just because the last 45 minutes effectively tugs at your heartstrings doesn't mean you should excuse a movie that is easily 2/3 lazy filmmaking. Dang it Spielberg, I was hoping for more from this.

Young Adult - The ending of this one really pissed me off. I'd totally agree with a friend's analysis who said the ending speaks more about the writer than anything else. Almost (well maybe not even almost) a truly redemptive film that approaches incremental change and then has the movie laugh at you and say super sarcastically "let's be honest no one ever changes." Super frustrating.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Simplify Simplify

I've been overwhelmed by music this year. It's been insane. The music industry has been an institution in flux for some time now but I've felt that shift more than ever before this year. I've always loved music. Always felt challenged by it, inspired by it, wanted to hear as much of it as possible. But that desire has been tempered, in large part, by the fact that money was always an issue. Without going to far into the argument, I've never been a huge fan of illegally downloading music. Having had friends try to make it in the industry I know how much of a difference buying a record can make for a small band. So, for the most part, I've tried to stick to music I could afford. That, though, is becoming less and less of a buffer. Bands are increasingly making music on their own and releasing it for free. Music blogs are presenting more and more legally downloadable music. Suddenly, the restraining influence of a budget is gone. Bring on the tunes. Looking through my music I've added around 900 songs in the last 4 months. That's about 15% of the music I've ever owned. I know that's nothing for some people, but the trend is crazy to me.

All that to say, I'm realizing that the destruction of the barriers to information that has happened over the last 15 years has made me a man of very diverse influences. Music, movies, books, data are all at my fingerprints and I've become something of an information hound (that's a very polite way of putting it). I'm realizing lately that it's not necessarily a good thing. I rarely process information anymore. I rarely digest media. I rarely consider the impact of anything in my life. It's really no wonder that my generation is so freaking nomadic, so incredibly unsettled. We're never forced to sit and savor anything.

This thought process has been an ongoing one, but it really hit me again watching an interview with Donald Glover. He was talking about his new Childish Gambino project and was asked what albums really impacted him. He was able to instantly rattle off a few choices. THat's becoming harder and harder for me to do. I rarely give anything time to take hold. I'm really trying to get back some of that. I want to read a few select books this year. Really read. Not the speed reading I'm used to. I want to sit, savor, marinate. I'm trying to let a couple albums really sink their teeth into my brain. I want to watch a couple of movies over and over and get back some of that love for dissecting a shot or a line or an edit. I miss those days.

Maybe this is nostalgia rearing it's ugly head. Maybe it's a healthy response to a crapload of information. I'm not exactly sure. I don't hate the fact that I have a world of information at my fingertips but I'm not going to ignore the fact that it could mess me up either.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ambition isn't cheap

Ambition is a funny thing because so many of us have it but so few of us are actually willing to do anything about it. I'm six years into this teaching thing and I'm realizing that it would be so ridiculously easy to quietly sink into resignation, to succumb to the urge to just be what I am now and nothing more. I used to talk to friends in college about adults I lost respect for because it seemed like they settled, like they just gave up on life. That doesn't seem so far off now. I was an arrogant little prick. What makes it so hard is that ambition is usually in direct opposition to comfort. In my teens comfort was friends and acceptance, in my 20s comfort was having a job, friends, and acceptance. In my 30s it looks like you just throw family in there, shake, and serve. I don't want that.

I was talking to a friend of mine about what life in the Spirit actually was and wasn't. He was saying that life in the Spirit, real life in the Spirit is something that very few people want because it's extremely unpredictable, it's often hard, it's never comfortable. It tells one person to sell all his/her possessions and tells another that it's ok to have them if used them a certain way, it leads one person to leave everything to live in Africa and another to live on the beach in California. It's chaotic and it often seems unfair.

These two things have been coming to a head lately because I'm realizing that I A) don't want to live without ambition and B) my principle ambition is to live life fully in the Spirit. That seems terrifying. I've known very few people who actually do this and those I have known have lived insanely tumultuous lives and not often in the fun way. That being said it's the only thing that seems worth chasing that really means anything at the end of the day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kiwis make great music

I went to see the Naked and Famous at the belly up on Sunday. They're quickly becoming one of my favorite bands and if you haven't heard of them I highly recommend you check them out. One of the things that really impresses me about seeing them live again is how much they really dedicate themselves to wringing every last drop of energy out of their songs. This isn't mindlessly throwing yourself around the stage kind of music. This is recognizing the potential for expansive sound in your songs and really bringing that out to the biggest possible point. It was incredible. In doing so, they made their less known tracks more memorable, the gave new life to the overplayed ones. It's the kind of show that reignites your love for a band and that's the second time one of their shows has done that for me.

It made me realize though, there's something so infectious about being genuinely committed to what you're doing. There's something genuine about it that really brings out a similar freedom to commit in your audience. We're so quick to lock up and check our surroundings to see if it's ok to let loose. When the band feels free to do that, it changes the whole paradigm. People start dancing who wouldn't normally. Fans are made. Hipsters start to loose their "I'm too cool for this" edge. It's a good time all around.

By extension we rarely do this in life. More often we let the pressures of our obligations, the influence of friends and community, the dynamic of a place determine our commitment. We are responsive over transformative. The shame in that is the way that it subtley kills the unique transformative qualities that each of us has. We become Eliot's desperate men, quietly allowing ourselves to slip away. I've been trying this week to shake that, to carry a certain boldness into interactions into what i'm trying to do. That probably means I'm going to fall flat on my face and seem ridiculous more often than I'd like but it's probably worth it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Taking your own medicine tastes like Robitussin

So I was speaking in chapel this week on identity... the identity we've been given, the identity we're told we should have, the identity we chase. This seems a bigger issue in light of the whole facebook/tumblr/twitter thing. Identity is ours for the making and remaking. This seems a problem but maybe that's just me.

The talk was on Zacchaeus and the was in which he pursued power/influence/respect and how quickly that dissolves in one interaction with Jesus. For whatever reason, one interaction and he's generous, compassionate, justice focused. It's incredible especially when you realize there's no miraculous healing, no deep interaction like the woman at the well. There's only acknowledgement.

We had the students complete an exercise where they were given sheets of dyed paper and told they could trade or keep them. After discussing the exercise I spoke on not letting others force you to accept an identity that's not you, on not being apathetic about your identity, on not trying to get rid of the parts of yourself that are uniquely you just because they're not approved of by your culture. It was one of those talks that starts out like "Oh yeah this is good stuff for them" and ends with "man I'm so bad at this" I hate it when that happens. It's super annoying. It feels like I'm just avoiding truth that I clearly should be aware of but have, for whatever reason, completely avoided doing anything about. Leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Whenever I walk into a new setting I'm almost immediately evaluating the room to figure out the best me for that situation. I know this is an old thing with me. It's not like I haven't been grappling with it for years or anything, but it's been more focused lately. I'm really crappy at being anyone but myself. I'm horrible at adapting to people's expectations of relevant or cool or interesting or enlightened. I'm not sure I care to try anymore. I told a friend of mine my theme for the year (yes I know I've been big on theme lately) is "say something" I'm at a point where I'm going to do what I think is right and if people have a problem with it they can either say something and I'll totally discuss it with you or keep quiet and I'm not going to waste time wondering if you actually have a problem and aren't saying anything. It just feels more sane that way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

80s movie spirituality

It's a classic 80s formula. Teen/kid decides his or her life is unsatisfactory, figures out that changing their personality would fix everything, makes the change, realizes that who they were was what's important. Everyone ends up happy. See Can't Buy Me Love, Lucas (to a certain extent), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (if you believe the theory that the whole thing happens in Cameron's head... look it up, it's trippy). It's a fairly well accepted and overused film convention. What's interesting, though, is that for as much as we understand that basic premise so many of us completely ignore it. In the desperate, scrambling search for value and acceptance that we're all on we constantly adapt who we are to gain approval.

I was thinking about this in church last week. The pastor, in perhaps the strongest moment of his sermon, said that the ways in which you pursue friends and community will define the ways that you pursue God. That floored me. I've been aware for a long time that I have a tendency to modify my personality to fit whatever group I'm around (to the thinkers i'm a thinker, to the cynics I'm a cynic, to the hipsters I'm a hipster) but I've never thought about the fact that I have done the same thing with God for the better part of my life. In my pursuit of the Almighty I have consistently been who I thought he wanted me to be when I interacted and not who I actually was. This seems ridiculous when considering that he made me and knows me better than anyone else no matter how I'm acting. But still... that's pretty much what I do.

Instead of just being the real, flawed, broken, messed up person I am I try to approach God wearing a lot of different hats. To varying degrees I try to act like a monk, saint, pastor, worship leader. It's exhausting, it's frustrating, and it essentially means that my relationship with God is based on a sham... a sham that I'm continually constructing and deconstructing. What's the point of that? What's the point in acting somber, penitent, etc. if I'm not really feeling that way at the time. I want to pursue God with integrity and a lot of times that means being honest about the fact that sometimes I don't feel like pursuing him at all because I'm human and, well, sinful. I knew a pastor once who used to say something along the lines of "Every other Monday I don't believe in God" That's alarming to hear a pastor say. But it's so honest. It so completely reveals the complexity of where he's at and where he's at with God. That's what I'm searching for. I'm trying to get to a place where, more than with anyone else, when I approach God I approach him as myself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Patriotism and Church, Church and Patriotism

So I went to a new church on Sunday, which for the purposes of this post will remain nameless and I really liked it. Overall I thought that it was really good. The community was diverse on pretty much every level and the sermon was solid, if a little fluff-ish. But there was something that kind of put me off in the service that I've been mulling over for the past couple of days. In the middle of the worship set, the worship team broke into "America the Beautiful" and asked the congregation to "sing it to Jesus." Now, granted, it was the ten year anniversary of 9/11 and the song does pointedly reference God's grace, but the whole thing kind of came across as just, well, wrong. While I'm hugely thankful for the unique freedoms and opportunities that are afforded me spiritually just by living in this country, singing a song that espouses how awesome the country is in the middle of a worship set just seems messed up to me. We already struggle enough with a misplaced sense that being an American makes you inherently more Christian, why push that further by trying to turn a song about America's worth into a worship moment. It just seems like an easy way to reinforce that mindset.

We are blessed it is true. We are fortunate. We are provided with liberty and freedom and tolerance that we have done little to deserve. Those things are certainly worth being thankful for. But at the end of the day the institution that is America is not what we should be pointing our eyes towards but instead the One who placed us there without us deserving it. I get concerned when honoring our home country reaches worshipful levels because what does that say to Christians who are in Uganda, Rwanda, Thailand, etc. Should they be less thankful for where God has placed them? I just feel like the whole thing puts a misplaced importance on our nation when in reality that spotlight should be focused on God and listening to see where he's leading us out.