[REVIEW] 2015 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films

OSCARS03This year’s Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short films are a solid bunch. The group of them ranks second among the three short film categories for me this year. Number three are the animated group and a clear number one is the documentary shorts. All of these categories find brilliant filmmaking – especially because telling a robust story in such a compact time is no simple task. Here’s how the live action short films made me feel. I’ll write about each of the films I saw in the order in which I saw them and then give my selection at the end.

1. Parvaneh by Talkhon Hamzafi and Stefan Eichenberger (A-)

A young Afghan girl living in the Swiss Alps is working so she can send money home to her family who are still living in Afghanistan. The emotion our title character is palpably on display after asking, “How much?” and then saying, “OK, I’ll send the money.” It’s brilliantly wonderful acting. I felt her persistence and was immediately on board with her. That idea right there sets a solid foundation for the story. Of course there are bumps along the road. She’s rejected from being able to send money because of identification issues. She seeks the help of strangers in her broken German and finally finds an unlikely assistant in a rebelliously dressed punk girl. Parvaneh takes some serious risks to do good for her family. She shows that stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be uncomfortable, but taking the risk can sometime be fruitful.

2. The Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak) by Hu Wei and Julien Ferét (D)

The whole movie is from a single vantage point. What’s in front of the camera changes however. The vantage point is that of a family portrait photographer. Each family who is shepherded into frame has a different background selected – which is lowered into place by one of the photographer’s assistants. There is small interaction between the photographer and subjects until the photo is snapped and then a new family is on screen and a new background is lowered into place. If there is any sort of social commentary here, it’s lost on me. I think smart films that have subtle commentary are fun to watch. But if the commentary is too subtle? Well then I feel nothing and don’t enjoy it. It’s an interesting gimmick and pretty well shot which saves it from failing.

3. The Phone Call by Mat Kirkby and James Lucas (A)

A help-line call center worker named Heather (Sally Hawkins) makes her way into work one day to receive a phone call from a distressed man named Stan (Jim Broadbent). Her trip into work is boring and cold. A long panning tilt finds Heather sitting and waiting for a bus reading a book. When she arrives to work, the call center looks like a re-purposed elementary school classroom. Her desk is wooden and spartan. Atop the desk is only a phone, notebook and bottle of water. One other person is working this day, but he’s busy on a call. Heather’s phone quickly begins ringing and she sets to work. This phone call will occupy Heather, and the viewer’s heart and mind, for the rest of the film. It’s pitch perfect and the acting is superb. After the sadness clears the film’s purpose becomes clear. It’s about the small moments we overlook as humans. The Phone Call is a simple title and a simple movie. But the depths of the story are an abyss of profundity that play your heartstrings like Jimi Hendrix plays the guitar. There’s lots of distortion and feedback, but melody and beauty remain supreme.

4. Aya by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis (A)

Of the two live action short films I gave A-rating to, this one is my favorite. It’s complex and is a film I just didn’t want to end. I’m glad this film was made because the subject is so smart and engaging. Here’s the story: A young woman is waiting for someone at an airport. She standing among other private car drivers who are waiting for their passengers to arrive. They’re all holding signs with the name of the person for whom they’re waiting. One of the drivers needs to leave so he asks Aya if she’ll hold his sign just until he returns. She reluctantly agrees. In the next few moments the man whose name is on the sign appears. The story unfolds beautifully from there. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I think the idea of fear of strangers has been perpetuated into our souls too much. Don’t let that get to you. Happenstance meetings can be a beautifully positive thing too.

5. Boogaloo and Graham by Michael Lennox and Ronan Bailey (B)

Without a doubt the funniest of the nominees happens to bring the audience to one of the least funny places in the world: Belfast, Ireland. A soft-hearted father brings home two young chickens for his two sons to raise. Drama ensues when the mother demands changes be made to the household. This is a really cute story that is heartfelt and upbeat despite its location.

Here’s my ranking.

1. Aya

2. The Phone Call

3. Parvenah

4. Boogaloo and Graham

5. Butter Lamp

[REVIEW] 2015 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films

As I continue to provide insight into how films make me feel, I offer another word symphony – or cacophony to some – that ebbs and flows with my lyrical opinions about this year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films in the Animation category. I’d like to first declare something about how my opinion of animated films has shifted recently. I’ve met someone who has suggested many animated feature films – some good, some not so good – for me to watch. But what viewing them has shown me is that there is an obvious formulaic approach to constructing plots in animated film.

Her position — and I think it’s a valid one — is that Disney has monopolized animated films, and thus their plot formula is mimicked by other studios hoping to gain a toehold in the marketshare battle that Disney clearly has the upper hand in. I recently read an article that says animation deserves more cynicism to help bring the art form into the forefront again. I think this is true. I thought she was being far to cynical about the animated film industry. A lot of the Disney films I’ve seen really move me! But they rely on a story trope that doesn’t help animation as a whole make progress. This is unfortunate. I don’t claim to have any ideas for them. I think making animated films more diverse is a good first step though. My friend is currently helping with a project called “Book of Mojo” that is doing just that. The artist has released a spot-on video teaser as well. It’s a smart story and one that I’d love to see brought to life in a web series before eventually jumping to the big screen.

Okay, okay, enough preaching. Onto my opinion of this year’s Oscar-nominated animated short films. As I did with my post about the Oscar-nominated documentary short films, I’ll provide analysis of the films in the order in which I saw them and then provide my selection for the winner at the end.

1. Me and My Moulton by Torrill Kove A-

This is a delightful short film that is narrated by the main character, a young girl who, along with her two sisters, wants a bike. She is the middle child and her story is told eloquently using bouncy, vibrant colors which give the entire piece a genuinely sweet quality. Her parents want to satisfy their children’s every wish of course, but they’re not the most typical of parents. Of all the men who live in town, the father is the only one with a mustache. The protagonist is too young and innocent to understand that her parent’s differences are precisely what has given her the upbringing and nurturing that will certainly form her into a capable, intelligent woman. She rues the fact that her parents modern architect profession gives her a living situation that is far more design over function. The 3-legged chairs she and her siblings must sit in is a perfect illustration of this. Her parents can sit with ease in the chairs. It is this ease that sit in strange chairs that they also love their children. The ending is exceptional.

2. Feast by Patrick by Osborne & Kristina Reed C+

This is a lovely little film with a story that is certain to pull at your heartstrings. But it is precisely the standard sort of story trope that I’m becoming bored with. I first saw this film when I saw Big Hero 6 (which is also a standard trope film) and was delighted by it. It’s easy to infer what the story is about: a cute puppy and his master bond quickly over food; conflict occurs; our cute puppy fellow overcomes; all is well with the world. I hate feeling like I’m knocking this idea! The core of the story is about overcoming odds and being a loving companion.That’s a timeless story that absolutely deserves to be drilled into children’s brain grapes. But the media theory lover in me is instantly struck by Claude Shannon’s words, “The more redundant the message, the less information it carries.”

3. The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs & Christopher Fees B+

This is the most artistic of the nominated films by a massive margin. It’s a style of animation I’ve never seen and incorporates all kinds of stunning visuals. How do you animate water? How do you animate malaise? How do you animate the topic of elder care? This film does it all and it articulates a subconscious feeling that we all will certainly encounter in the future. The idea is stellar, but the execution of telling the story is boring.

4. A Single of Life by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen A

This is the best of the bunch. Each film is introduced with the title, directors and running time. When this one was introduced, I was shocked to see it only has a running time of 2 minutes. Whhhaaaaa? This film turns the idea that a long film of great quality feels shorter than it is on it’s head. This is an exceptional film that felt longer than it is. That’s a good thing, too, because the idea is so eloquent that I know I’ll never get tired of watching it. The animation style left me wanting, but only slightly.

5. The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi (A-)

Another delightful story —this time told in three acts rather one like Feast. That contributes to the meatiness of the plot, but the plot is still very much a standard plot trope created by Disney. Like Feast the idea is a good one and one that I feel strongly about using to educate children on how to behave, both ecologically and socially. The root of the story is simply to be nice to people and not make fun of other’s differences, while concurrently being a good steward of planet Earth. The golden rule is on full display in this film, and that coupled with an animation style that offers a significant amount o texture, take this into the A-rating category. The trope is ever-so-obvious to me though. I think those not having as much contextual knowledge of what animated films are doing now will really enjoy this piece. Ignorance is indeed bliss friends!

Here’s how I rank them.

1. A Single Life

2. Me and My Moulton

3. The Bigger Picture

4. The Dam Keeper

5. Feast

I think The Dam Keeper will win though. Often times, it’s the film that is seen most — especially in the shorts category — is the one that wins. Feast was attached to Big Hero 6 helps it out a great deal, but like I explained above The Dam Keeper has been to many festivals and done quite well. It’s a deeper dive into character development and I think the environmental stewardship piece puts above the others. If these films are available in your area, make a beeline to see them because they are excellent.

Finally, I’d just like to say that my opinion on animated film is evolving. It’s tough for a film genre to be saddled with the responsibility of appealing to a younger, more innocent demographic. Many of these films insert jokes that children won’t even register, but their parents will. It’s important that children have films to look forward to and a reason to explore their world through cinema that uniquely resonates with them. Why do I want animated short films to move in the same way documentary short films do? That’s a pretty difficult, if not impossible, demand. Watching these films touches me in very different ways and I’m okay with that. I think it’s smart for us to all understand this when we pay to see movies. The bottom line is that we expose ourselves to as much cinema as possible. Enjoy the movies, folks!

[REVIEW]: 2015 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

2015 Oscars
The short documentary films that have been selected for the 2015 Academy Awards pack an enormous emotional wallop. Two of the five nominees stand apart and frankly make the remaining three films feel shallow and weak. Let me be clear. I mean no ill will to the subjects or filmmakers of these films. When there is a group of five films it’s an unfortunate reality for the folks nominated that sometimes there is one — or in this case two — films that shine above the others. Below I offer a brief review of each of the five films in the order I saw them.

1. “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” by Ellen Goosenberg Kent (A)

This film details the harrowing work of working in the only crisis hotline for suicidal American war veterans. It’s no surprise that this place exists. It is surprising that there is only one crisis hotline. The film is so good that it shouldn’t matter what your political stance is. I have heaps of respect for the young men and women who find it in within themselves to go to war. They deserve every American’s unflinching respect and they deserve to be treated with decency when they return from their assigned theater of war. The problem is that the infrastructure to get the relief they need is lacking. To truly care for these individuals when they are so shell-shocked from the atrocities they witness and commit is a task very few people are prepared for. The few people who are prepared are featured in this film. This film turns the camera’s unflinching eye on these brave individual men and women who are committed to talking to vets who are considering ending their own lives due to myriad psychological issues that are a direct result of having been at war. Their demeanor is unflinching and calm. Not cold, not warm, but just right. I have no problem admitting that there is absolutely no way I am capable of talking to someone who is experiencing an intense bout w/ PTSD. Hearing these soldiers call in and seek help makes me crumble. But the folks in the crisis hotline offer level-headed responses and explain things objectively. This skill is essential, and I believe is the most powerful tool these hotline people are equipped with. I was choked up for nearly the entire duration of this 40-minute film. It’s gripping. It does not let go of you. This is a documentary. These are real people dealing first hand with a problem that is not going away any time soon.

2. “Joanna” by Aneta Kopacz (A+)

Wow. This film! Such a profound look at life’s story told through the eyes of woman dying of cancer. She’s not just telling the story to the world though. Oh no, she’s not. She’s using this film to reach beyond her own lifetime and speak to her young son, who is also featured in the film. This film is a perfect use of cinema. It’s exquisitely photographed and one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told. When the mother must cut her hair due to chemotherapy, her son cuts his too. They plant plants and take in some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve seen on film. The mother is weak so her husband carries her to and from specific spots. Bring heaps of tissues because the ending of this film will absolutely wreck you.

3. “White Earth” by J. Christian Jensen (A)

Ever wondered what goes on in a tar field in North Dakota? Then this is the film for you. The film features stories about families who have moved to a town called White Earth to better themselves financially. The only problem is that the men and women who move there to relieve financial burdens on their families only end up further burdening their loved ones spiritually. Work begins well before sunrise and often requires parents to be away from their children for significant periods of time. As with all parents, these parents simply want to create an environment for their children that is better than the one they grew up in. This film should cause one to begin to understand the familial impact this type of work has on the people in this film. This use to be a small town, but is now burgeoning and ill-equipped to house so many people. There’s nary an activity for people to do to escape their intense work days. Children complain of a stench and oily residue present in the home when their fathers return from their jobs. It paints a pretty clear picture that the negligible energy gains the US makes from this kind of oil extraction come nowhere near balancing the damage that is effected on families.

4. La Parka (The Reaper) (B+)

This is by far the most artistically abstract of the films in the bunch. It serves it’s purpose of informing the viewer very well. I speculate that it symbolizes what the main character sees after having slaughtered such a preposterously high number of cattle. For him, he’s so accustomed to his job that he doesn’t even see the cattle as life forms anymore. They’re just flesh, bones and muscle that he’s responsible for culling and preparing for market. It’s a chilling visual language to employ. As an audience member who has never been employed to put cattle down I’m constantly looking for a sign of sentience from these animals. But I was never allowed to see it. The cattle are herded into a slippery shoot where they try earnestly to gain footing. They’re simple creatures and they have no clue of their imminent demise. The visual language is punctuated by following La Parka back home where he has a meal and some downtime with his family. Here the camera focuses it’s symbolic vision on flowers, color, and light. It’s brevity is powerful for we follow our lead character right back to the gritty, grimy killing fields after a brief respite of warmth. It’s a simple story that could have used a little bit more context, but will definitely give one pause the next time a meal of meat is served.

5. “Our Curse” (Tomasz Sliwinski & Marciej Slesicki) (A+)

The yin to Joanna’s yang, this film also focuses on two parent’s unceasing love for their child. However in this case it is the child who is at risk of death. The parents learn very early on that their son has been born with an extremely rare defect that makes every night a battle of life and death. If ever there were a film that proved the value of being in the present moment and taking life one day at a time, this is it. It’s also proof positive that human beings can live – and thrive — with the most extreme of circumstances. This film is so perfectly executed that you begin to feel a tiny bit of the parent’s joy of the precious moments they have with their little boy. I did wonder how this disease that I didn’t even know existed actually exists and you will too. But that thought will be fleeting as you witness the tenderness and bold-faced resolve of this couple to raise their son and create a normal happy life for him.

So now you’re wondering which one I’m picking for the winner right? Brandon, how do you pick a winner from such a stellar group of films? It honestly wasn’t that hard. The two Polish films are my favorites of the bunch, and honestly are two of my favorite films of all time. It’s amazing to me how a story can be told in only forty minutes and leave an indelible image in my mind. My hat’s off to Poland this year. Looks like they’re really giving the documentary film producing Danes a run for their money! Of the two, I prefer Joanna. Both Our Curse and Joanna are about life and death, but the timeless video postcard that is created in Joanna makes it stand out for me. This is a film that can always be used to reflect back on how this woman was and how much she cared for her loved ones. For me that idea just barely edges out Our Curse. I have to pick a winner right?! Finally, I’m fearful of recommending these films to anyone. The two Polish films are beyond sad. It’s like they put your soul and heart in a blender with some sand, whip it up and then shove it down your throat with a tube. They’re spectacular films though. If you do choose to go see them, you’ve been warned.

Climate March 2014

On Sunday, September 21st, 2014 I marched through the streets of Manhattan with hundreds of thousands of people. It was a thrilling event and I’m proud to say I was a part of it. To get a sense of the march, you should watch the video I created above. A friend who marched with me is responsible for capturing the audio. Below, you’ll read my opinion on what will hopefully be a march that will affect change.

327A1224Frankly, I’m disappointed by the lack of media attention this march has received. I’m also bummed by an article entitled, “The People’s Climate March May Have Been Huge, But It Wasn’t Historic” written by a woman whom I respect, Natasha Lennard. In the article she notes that she did not attend because she prefers “protests to parades” and “scowled at adverts aimed at drawing numbers to march” while riding the subway. I see her point. I suppose I’m still just a bit naive to think these adverts are incredibly cool. When I first saw them, I didn’t think about the vast amount of money it must have cost to plaster trains in New York City with ads.

I’m consoled by the thought that this is natural for movements of any kind. Civil rights still haven’t taken a firm grasp on people’s hearts and minds despite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts of decades past. Sure our nation has made some progress, but as evidenced by the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO we still have a ways to go. Gay rights are making progress too. Many states are now recognizing same sex marriage and all of the corresponding benefits thereof are beginning to be endowed to couples who have been together for many years. My point here is that these fights – civil and sexual orientation rights – have been a long time in the making, but the people behind these movements have no choice but to fight. I agree with them. Were I to be in their situation I would do all I could to make sure my country and my government respected me and those of like orientation. I think these people are on the right side of history. I believe in my heart that they are doing the right thing.

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Without binding legislation from the United States, and the world for that matter, humans won’t be around long enough to make sure the other social issues are resolved for our descendants to witness. It will all be for naught. I don’t like that this is even a possibility. Because I want to see the human race begin to at least understand this is a defining issue for all, I am committed to learning how I can become a squeaky wheel. The first step for me was to march and interact with people of like mind. I became inspired. Watching the video above helps me relive the moment and remember why this is important.

Lennard closes her article by saying, “[W]e should not foreclose the possibility of an exciting political moment emerging, rooted to climate activism and undergirded by anti-capitalism.” She finishes by admitting she is hopeful that this is not the last event to protest the current handling of climate change policy. It seems to me Lennard is asking for more less-organized, police-friendly protests. I agree with her. While it is a shame that marches of this magnitude are less historic than just a few thousand people dressed in blue causing havoc on Wall Street, it’s true and protestors need to understand that.  I refuse to become jaded by the fact that this issue isn’t currently capturing by the media. That shouldn’t be a reason to give up.

A very powerful line was at the beginning of a documentary film about Climate Change I saw called Disruption.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

Frederick Douglas said that during a speech he gave in 1857. The title, ever-so prescient is, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress.” Then here’s to the struggle friends! Please join me in raising your voice to make sure we let our elected leaders know precisely where we stand on this issue. We may not have the kind of cash that moves the needle of influence, but together we have votes, and when mobilized, that will always be more powerful.

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CONCERT REVIEW: St. Vincent live in Brooklyn

I fully recommend reading the Village Voice’s review of the St. Vincent show. If it’s possible to recommend something more than fully, that’s what I’m doing when I say you should make a beeline to see this incredible artist the next time she gracious your city with her presence. It’s more than “fully recommend,” but less than “implore.” It’s clunky to say I only slightly less than implore you to go see St. Vincent. Hopefully you understand my sentiment.  I’m a firm believer in showing something being a better way of explaining than simply writing, but without you going to see her play, you’ll just have to read my glow words. Here’s how I would describe the show.

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Thirteen minutes into the set, after only 3 songs, she addressed the crowd for what would be the only time for the whole night. She said some really cool things. It seemed slightly rehearsed, but I’m okay with that. I don’t know why that’s true. I think there is real beauty in the improvisation that comes with seeing an artist live. But it’s totally acceptable with her. She explained why she’s so precise.

“People have spent money on a ticket, and maybe that money is the equivalent of them spending a day of their life at their job, or half a day. Money is absolutely time.”

I totally agree. This show was free though, so the whole pay thing doesn’t hold true, but I think her thought is respectable whether one is paying for a ticket or not. Reading this only helped confirm my fascination and respect for her. Sorry, you’re wanting my description of the show. Here goes.

Seeing St. Vincent live at the Prospect Park bandshell was a profound experience for me. I won’t use words like “epic,” “literally,” “actually,” “mind-blowing” or “awesome.” I think I can do better than that, and I think she deserves to be described in a unique way because her stage presence is like nothing I’ve ever seen. She completely encompasses the entire spectrum of human stage personality. She’s at one point aloof while shooting lasers from her guitar like Jack White and Tom Morello’s younger sister, and then she’s strumming softly and singing lullabies like Nina Simone and Neko Case’s cousin. I don’t know why she’s a cousin to two other women and a sister to two men. I didn’t want to be repetitive, simply put. Please don’t think me sexist.

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Back to the description. The closest physical experience I can compare her too is if you’ve had the opportunity to slide into a pool from a hot tub. I did this myself once while vacationing in Maui. Often times, the two are separated by a few feet of concrete pool deck. Not at the place I was staying. The hot tub had a circular wall that on one side was hot water and the other cool water. There’s a real thrill in jumping from hot to cool water, but it’s a different brand of thrill when you just slip easily from one temperature extreme to the other. That, to me, is how St. Vincent’s performance felt. She is jamming with some serious throbbing base lines and percussion while her guitar is screaming shards of glass, and then she’s not. She’s perched atop a three-tiered supra stage upon the main stage finger picking her guitar, singing a lovely ballad whilst five white spot lights illuminate her lithe figure. She’s wearing black leggings and a short black skirt, standing feet wider than shoulder length apart and wearing a milky white blouse. Her hair, of course, is a white and light-grey, lavender combination of straightened joy.


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The following is a YouTube video containing only the audio of the show in its entirety. I suggest listening to the first three songs. The first song has an extended intro. It’s the first song on her new album so it was nice to see her get off to a nice start and jam out a bit to get herself, and all of those watching, loose and ready to tap our toes. It worked. Then she went right into “Digital Witness.” If you must, you can skip ahead to her one and only address to the crowd at approximately 13:05. She had such interesting things to say. So matter of fact and basic. If you continue to listen you’ll see what I’m talking about with her guitar playing skills. Keep in mind that she’s singing in an effortless way while playing guitar. Start listening at 50:30 to hear her doing something really cool with a rest. On the album, this kill lasts for a beat and a half. Here she makes it last for far too long causing the crowd to understand what she’s doing and cheer her on. This was one of my favorite moments. Beauty in the silence. She triggers the rest of the band that she’s going back into the song by audibly inhaling. She plays oh-so-delicately for her first encore song at 1:06:23. The actual shredding really gets during her song, “Red Lips” which starts at 1:14:10. This song goes from all to nothing to all to not much to a small lullaby to unbelievably intricate guitar wails to a wall of delightful sound. Kudos to the drummer for keeping the vibe going. She jumped into the crowd for the solo and played while folks in the audience held her while she played.This is quite a way to end a show. She’s not quite done though, friends. Once she gets back on stage, she finishes the song.

St. Vincent gets a resounding A+ from me. I was laughing with joy and smiling for the entire show. I was amazed by her artistry and skill. Again, if she comes to your city, go see her.

 

Just Poetry and Prose, I Suppose

Poetry from Bolivia

I found another delightful bit of writing last night. This is a poem I wrote in 2007. I remember writing it and reading it to friends late one night in Oruro. It was cold that night. I must have used a flashlight to be able to see the page. It’s also possible the moon was so bright, I could use it for light. 

My hair fros out when the snare goes out
and the kick drum kicks like a flare shot out
Sandals flipping’ and floppin’, bodies always droppin’
A veces me pareces in my movies at night just might help the bodies be
re-animated. 
Come back to life and chase me someday I’ll be painted
while I sit or while I sat. Displayed in
a gallery for Mallory for only twice than less than half of her salary
plus one calorie
burned from her hypodermic intake
insulin pancake.

Mix that shit up put it in a cup then throw in a one-way sender
all into the blender. 
Lose the love of your life thrice, think twice and go on a bender.
Mind closed off, men working here.
Peers peer well into the well and smell
shiny, twinkly, sparkly, glistening darts of refracted light during lite diets
and flying sideways.
Get a grip.
Not manual – E – Manuel from the Bible.
A grip of friends?
It all depends
if those feet can dig deep when they’re bare
and your ribs rise and fall without a care.
Swell.

I want to die running away from someone, anyone, preferable a law-
enforcement agent of some brand. I’ll be running slow motion-like
when their pistols open fire and catch me mid-stride.
My path to glory and supposed destiny will only be a few visible feet in
front of my divide.
I’ll reach out for it with my dying breath,
but will be unable to grasp what is left,
what I wanted to achieve for no more than a few escaping minutes. The love of life will of course
bear witness to this entire tragic affair. Tears will be streaming
down her cheeks – her ragged cheeks that are simply exhausted
from loving a man that loves her only second to the worthy cause
for which he has been fighting for decades. She’s been there since
the beginning though
and she knows
she is integral
to the fight that he selflessly continues despite his small family’s best
interest. The tears flow while she tries wholeheartedly, yet
it is indescribably futile and she knows mere moments remain
before everything,
everything they’ve both dedicated their lives to ends in a cacophony of gunshots
and a symphony of deep-seated tragedy and what nots.
She’ll press her hand to the gaping, spurting wound. 
Her face to his to hear his final struggled breaths. She’ll swoon. Her hand 
finds his and interlocks with ease. He is strong, but not as strong 
as once before.

Once before
on a bright, sun drenched day he won her back on a 
stroll around an algae-encrusted pond in an obscure park tucked away 
in a functional – at least it seemed to them at the time – suburban 
neighborhood. They’d been through the wash and had each taken a 
turn in the dryer – mangling and testing each other’s feelings.
Sending one another reeling
through space and rhymes
for various expanses of time.
But they always came back. Sitting together on cylindrical pylons 
of cement watching parents watching their kids play they would feel deep within that that would be them on some distant day.

So they fought each other tooth and nail. Resorted to tactics un-
becoming of one another until one day in 2015 everything 
settled into place. It seemed that the race was finally over.
The crowd that for so long had played a part in off-track betting 
and wagering and proselytizing and hedging and interfering had up and left.
They were each deaf
from the silence that surrounded them without a sound.
Finally they were alone.
Just one not-so-bright light shone
down illuminating their faces that were already known 
and written – more likely grooved into their bones
and DNA strands. The scents and smells or the other was like a sixth sense –
their very own clone.

Tragically they would not and could not touch.
They tried at first thinking it a cruel joke to be so close.
Finally physically, visibly within reach
with no contracts to breach.
All the saints dead and alive tried through prayer
to clear the air
that stood defiantly by and between
unseen.

Let them know peace a voice said.
And it was mine.
I narrowed my eyes
and focused my concentration.
I beamed thought rays from my forehead to hers.
I lost every single one of my nerves.
I blathered and sputtered.
I couldn’t accept the end lying there in the unconscious 
eyes, ears, and arms of my long lost best friend.

But just then
I heard the sound of a cricket chirp
which assured me that the Earth
was still passing by while the universe 
expanded. I’m nothing I thought and exhaled seeing my love above 
me smile back and recede into sounds of rustling branches and shaking leaves.

Since then
I’ve just been
leaving the sink on to let the water run. 
Brush my teeth and get ready for bed.
Try to silence the thought marathon currently running through my head.
Other people fuck and make love sounds in the rooms down the way.
Can’t stop ‘em though.
Feelings on the sidelines are never allowed to play.

Walking a line
drying clothes all at the same time.
Wandering outside, taking it in.
Mars has tracks on it from landing craft,
but I can’t keep track of expanding paths
and synapse math.
There’s something surrounded by bone up there
that wants to go home down there, 
but where?
I can’t stay here anymore?
I can’t stay here anymore.
Can’t you just stop?
But where does it end?
I have to keep going.
My homing signal has been assumed missing
and while you keep guessing
I’m out here in the clear totally tamped down and flattened.
Sometimes I’m re-animated you see by free wit, will and stimulation.
But it doesn’t come without proper accreditation.
Change the laws please and just.
Let.
Me.
Be.
B.
Brandon.
I’ve written my name a lot.
So.
Have.
You.

Music That Makes Me Say “Yep!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I started writing this blog on 7/25/14. Believe it or not some of my favorites have changed between then and now (8/9/14). I’m going to leave the two songs I’ve written about already (Pantera and Jamiroquai) because I did a lot of research to fully articulate my opinion with images and video. A couple of songs have since been swapped though. System of a Down’s song “Sugar” has been swapped with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.”  311’s song “Hive” has been replaced with Neko Case’s “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” On to the critiques!

I think these songs and musicians are incredible. They move me in a way that I can’t quite describe – but I will do my best. Everyone has a band or a song that makes them uncontrollably tap their toe. Entire playlists have been made dedicated to this very phenomenon. I write this in case there is ever a point in my life where my friends choose to make a podcast containing songs they know I love. That’s already happened once and it was a tribute executed to perfection. Without further ado, here are the songs that make me say, “Yep!”

1. Pantera “This Love”

I include this version for two reasons. 1. It has lyrics, and 2. It’s the full song. I guess making the video for the six and a half minute version from the album was unacceptable. Ok, whatever. Cutting out the two minutes to shorten the length is a foolish decision in my opinion. It cuts out the best part of the song! At 3:01 when Phil screams, “No more head trips!” I fully enjoy what comes next. The guitar solo is incredible and the drums! Man, I love how they fill the rests with ultra-snappy snare hits. Throughout this song the guitar has a beautiful tone. I like how it goes from clean and dark to ultra-distorted and manic. I remember playing this song on a cruise I went on. I was a teenager at the time and we were allowed to play songs from CDs (those were the days!) we brought with us. No one dug this song, but me. It was so cool to hear it thumping through the fully legit dance floor speakers. Can you guess who was the only one on the dance floor flinging themselves about for the entire length of the song? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count. My one criticism of this song is the way it ends. It’s nice if you listen to it only once or as part of the album, but if you want to listen to it a lot and put it on a playlist, the slow fade out at the end gets boring.

2. Jack White “Black Bat Licorice”

Believe it or not, I used to not like Jack White or his band, The White Stripes. But, boy oh boy did I change my tune when I heard Ball and a Biscuit. I didn’t like The White Stripes because they didn’t have a bass player. Meg’s drumming isn’t the best, but I’ve come to accept that she is uniquely qualified to play with such a disarmingly talented man as Jack. The song above – from his new solo album, Lazaretto – stands out to me. It has a really good beat, and as usual, Jack’s lyrics are incredible.

I like lyrics that help me learn something. This song is full of that. Here are a couple of examples.

1. “…she’s built for speed like a black castrum doloris”

Do you know what a black castrum doloris is? I didn’t until I looked it up. Apparently it’s latin for “castle of grief.” Wikipedia says, “These are structures and decorations sheltering or accompanying the catafalque or bier that signify the prestige or high estate of the deceased.” Below is a picture of an example.

castrum doloris

2. “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust”

Roman hypocaust? What the heck is that? A hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air.

3. “She writes letters like a Jack Chick comic”

I know my comics pretty well, but I’ve never heard of Jack Chick. Wikipedia says:

“Jack Thomas Chick (born April 13, 1924) is an American publisher, writer, and comic book artist of evangelical fundamentalist Christian tracts and comic books.[2] His comics have been described by Los Angeles magazine as “equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.”

4. “I mean, she’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

  • of or relating to an uncle
  • suggestive of an uncle especially in kindness or geniality

5. Finally, what the heck is Black Bat Licorice? I could only find this image.

Black Bat Licorice

I guess it’s some kind of candy? I don’t know. The Google search is dominated by the song at this point. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

3. Jamiroquai “Cosmic Girl”

This song is just downright funky! If you’re not tapping your toe or feeling a small groove in your tummy, then I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong. This video is a little cheesy. I would have liked to see some dancing of a metaphorical “cosmic girl.” Why are there no girls in the video? I don’t get it. The cars are ok. I will forgive the lack of creativity in the video because the song is so cool. I hope you will understand.

4. Neko Case “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”

Neko has a truly beautiful voice. When I listen to this song in headphones, it sounds like she has a digital echo/delay on some of her vocals. She does not. That is an actual person accompanying her who has the perfect pitch ability to harmonize with her. I’ve seen her perform live and was blown away by how much their voices harmonize. They harmonize even when they talk! It’s like their voices are a glove and a hand and they fit each other perfectly.

Neko explains the story behind the song on NPR. It’s a haunting story. But it’s real. And it’s poignant. And I love her for that. She explains, “I wrote the song, I sang it into my phone recorder. I tried it with music, but it just felt better a capella.” I agree, Neko Case. That’s why you’re on my list.

5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

This video is really cool. It’s very minimalist and artistic. I love the colors. They’re muted and bold at the same time. It was her performance on SNL that really made her stick out in my mind though. Her choreography (if it can be called that) is super minimalist too. When she and her female Moog player both glance to the left in unison between “People turn the TV on / it looks just like a window…” and “…Yeah!” I’m completely moved. So moved in fact that I can’t help but do the same thing when I’m listening to this song in my head phones. I’m going to see her play a free concert at Prospect Park. I’m really looking forward to it.

6. Madonna – Hung Up

Say what you want about Madonna. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like her. I don’t understand why. I’ve never asked them why, but I get the sense that because of her omni-presence, people just want her to go away. Or because she’s old. Really? Are you going to be as fit as she is when you’re 50? Please don’t diss her for being a star. Sure she’s been out of the spotlight recently (she did release an album in 2012, but I think it fell flat). For the last 30 years she’s given the world a piece of herself. Oh and she’s also given us all a reason to let loose and dance. The opening rooftop shot in this video looks like an homage to the photo shoot she did with Richard Corman in 1983 before she became the person we know today. I had the privilege of making a video about Richard’s encounter with Madonna last year. Richard is a very humble man and is incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph a woman before she became an icon.

This song has some particular memories attached to it for me. This song is on her album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, which came out in 2005. I was living in Delaware at the time. I took an adventure up to New York City with a friend. Her picture was everywhere! I remember going to Times Square and seeing the image below.

Confessions_On_A_Dancefloor

 

My time in New York City was spent weaving in out of trains, hotels and people. It culminated in a party that was behind a door that did not bespeak what I was to behold behind it. Oh the fantastical things I saw! A burlesque dancing duo on a small stage no bigger than a box, a bathroom with urinals plastered to the wall in funny positions, and young people of all backgrounds. While outside on the roof I saw a man scale a building and draw graffiti art on a neighboring building. I danced the night away to some very interesting tunes. I lost track of time. Suddenly, the curtains were drawn and there was light pouring in! I checked my watch. 6:30am. Whoa! I made my way down to the street and hopped in a cab with some fellow party goers. When we got to my stop, I tried to pay, but realized I didn’t have cash. All that was in my pocket were a couple of broken cigarettes (not being a smoker, I have no clue as to how those got in there) which I offered in earnest to my compatriots. They said, “don’t worry about it man. Just get in there and get some water and sleep.” I’m thankful for their generosity and for taking it easy on my small Midwestern lamb of a self. To summarize, this song encapsulates that weekend.

7. Skrillex – Stranger

This video features some really talented dancers interpreting the beats in a very unique way. Skrillex’s first full-length album, “Recess,” is a solid musical work. Rolling Stone magazine says he’s finally worth paying attention to. I couldn’t agree more. His sound is truly unique. I used to believe that true musicians are defined by being able to play an instrument, not being able to twist knobs and press buttons. My opinion has changed. Skrillex composes beautiful songs – often on piano – before layering all kinds of bass and other sounds into the arrangement. Below is an example of a woman covering one of his most famous songs.

If he doesn’t compose his songs this way, they certainly are worth seeing covered by a pianist. Wow! Just think of this the next time you here the actual song. The big change here is the massive bass drop. I think it sounds like, “Lance OH MY GOD!” I told my friend Lance about this. He agrees, but still doesn’t care for the song.

 8. Lily Allen – Fuck You

I recently put a few more songs on my phone and Miss Lily Allen was one of the artists who made the cut. I’m a big fan of her first album so I was delighted to hear her second album too. This song really resonates with me. It’s clever and there’s no way it will be played on the radio. The fact that an artist made a song knowing that indicates to me that she made the song for herself and her live audiences, not for radio play. That’s a special move these days and one that deserves recognition. It has a great message about people who are stuck on the wrong side of history. This video is very clever too. I was laughing for a lot of it.

9. Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats

I love this song. I bought this album when it first came out in 1997. I remember rocking out to it in my ’91 Camaro. I was into Prodigy as well. I think being into this type of electronic music prepped for my interest in Skrillex. This song is perfect for being on the playlist that I listen to when I run or work out at the gym.

10. Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo

I’ll end on a light note. I’ve been listening to lots of music like this lately. It’s peaceful and easy on the ears.

Thanks for reading!