Power Rangers, 2017 – ★★★★

Having not grown up watching Power Rangers as a kid, I have to believe this was everything you could have ever wanted from a Power Rangers movie. It doesn’t seem lazy or safe, like other, somehow-acclaimed superhero films of its type.

It ticks all the boxes for me-Diversity, Real Teen Issues, Edginess, Humor that works, Camp, and Giant Robots in a way that feels fresh. It’s not a perfect film, but really, really fun. More should be made like it.

Vía Letterboxd – Garrett Sisson

How I feel about Lorde’s “Green Light”

(Note: This post falls into the “Late to the Party” category, since I formed my opinion a week ago but only now was able to edit through my notes. As of this writing, I have yet to listen to Lorde’s new single, “Liability,” which released Thursday. For the sake of reviewing this song independently, I’ll be waiting until after this is published.)

The TL:DR is, Green Light made me feel disappointed.

But it’s complicated.

Retrospective

I remember the first time I heard “Royals,” in my sophomore year of college, through my roommate’s YouTube feed. The video (both New Zealand and US versions) was remarkably low-concept. Though impressive, it felt like something she could have shot with her friends in her bedroom. I think my exact reaction was something close to: “This is the most incredible songwriter of the next generation.”

Though she was already attached with producers at that point and getting attention through the radio, for a long time I thought she was a Youtube sensation along the lines of Justin Bieber. And that was a lot of the appeal of Lorde. She posted ramblings on Tumblr. She hung out with a non-celebrity boyfriend. Her full album, Pure Heroine, was filled with suburban humility and biting commentary on the upper classes.

Her first album absolutely became my go-to for studying, driving, chilling out, Et. Al. It was my happy place. It was bouncy and stylistically crisp, with pleasing vocals. I most loved Lorde’s lyricism, though, which has a unique, grammatical playfulness that has always appealed to me in poets. Even in her stage name, “Lorde,” was hand-designed by her in order to evoke power, yet include a feminine touch at the end.

I don’t know anyone who was prepared for her performance of Royals at the 2014 Grammys, which featured a flickering gothic archangel, black makeup, and feral dance moves that seem to have been inspired by a clawing demonic possession. No one dances the way Lorde does, and no one ever will again. Over the years, I’ve struggled with this image—which makes me so uncomfortable—coming from someone whose music is so inspiring to me. I eventually decided that Lorde’s dancing (which has since become signature in all her video appearances) represents the kind of unbridled emotion only present in artists who dance without care for being judged.

For better or worse, it didn’t stop me from desperately wanting more music. When she was picked to curate the Hunger Games Mockingjay soundtrack, I cheered. Lorde proved to be the perfect match for bringing Katniss’s voice to life. In my opinion, the album’s feature single, “Yellow Flicker Beat” is still her best work to date (with the sole exception of her South Park cameo “I am Lorde, Ya Ya Ya,” which parodied her upper lip hair).

Which Brings us to Today

Green light seems so different from the Lorde of years past that the first several times I listened, I didn’t know what to do with it. Lorde herself admits it’s different, and wants her audience to accept it as part of her evolving public image. I think this leads audiences into a great quandary, because the fact is, despite how an artist’s livelihood is tied to their fans, artists can and do change without those fans’ approval.

Most artists with an extended career will eventually produce albums that resonate differently with different people. For example, I am deeply impacted by Coldplay’s sound and lyrical themes pre- “Viva la Vida,” and I think their new music is boring. However, I know people who would argue that technically, the band is currently doing their most daring work (or by some reports, is “done” making music after having hit the ceiling).

In Green Light and in all the promo material for her upcoming record, Lorde presents a decidedly more mature image. She is still intimate, but no longer a bedroom pop prodigy. She’s growing up. And it’s not like we weren’t expecting it to happen. In her announcement for the album, Lorde said she wanted to chronicle the last three and a half years of her life. Her new album appears to be primarily about this journey into adulthood. The night before she turned 20, she wrote:

“All my life I’ve been obsessed with adolescence, drunk on it…Since 13 I’ve spent my life building this giant teenage museum, mausoleum maybe, dutifully wolfishly writing every moment down, and repeating it all back like folklore. And now there isn’t any more of it…Writing Pure Heroine was my way of enshrining our teenage glory, putting it up in lights forever so that part of me never dies, and this record – well, this one is about what comes next. ”

In-Depth Analysis

So Lorde is definitely changing. But the question is: is it progress?

She said she wanted to write music she could dance to—and I guess this delivers. It’s not her catchiest tune. But as soon as I made that conclusion, it got stuck in my head for the next two days. The tag “Hope they bite you” in particular feels like it’s been a part of Lorde’s music for years.

It still feels like a Lorde song in many ways. She is still writing about disillusionment, with her inability to “get my things and just let go.” She mentions how the “Great Whites they have big teeth” —Teeth are a major theme in her earlier work. Structurally, it’s as creative as her old work. But it takes risks in different ways, and in the end, I just don’t like it as much.

My biggest problem with the song is common to other pop anthems, where the chorus sounds like it should have just been a pre-chorus. There is a huge ramp up of emotion at “I hear the sounds in my mind,” and especially when Lorde and the backups shout, “I’M WAITING FOR IT, THAT GREEN LIGHT, I WANT IT” like the pit crew of Speed Racer. But technically, the repeated part is only two lines, and it falls flat. Even if you include the pre chorus as “…I hear the sounds,” it’s just not long or distinctive enough to feel like a chorus. You can dance to it, but it makes it harder to sing.

One thing that stands out from a little research is Lorde’s dedication to the labor of songcrafting. I have to admit I don’t have any complaints on the lyric front. It’s the subtle things that make the song: “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car” followed by the added -s at the end of “We order different drinks at the same bars.” The way she almost says “Honey” without an H for the sake of the aesthetic. Or her use of “ever” in place of “wherever” on the line, “I’ll be seeing you ever I go.”

Probably the most suggestive part of the song is “Sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom,” and I don’t have words to describe how good a line that is. Confessional, sultry, yet just vague enough to totally work.

This is a song that can be interpreted ambiguously. Apparently, it’s about a breakup. But it also paints a pretty good picture of compulsive debauchery and self-medicating through adrenaline. I don’t want to judge Lorde’s moral character, except that she clearly judges herself throughout the song. There is so much packed into the lyrics that by the end, there is little question about the kind of emotion she’s describing, regardless of the specifics you imagine.

It’s a song about recklessness, or at least restlessness. It is filled with reverb and various sounds fading in and out like a passing car in a city. For all the fun and dancing, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness. It starts abruptly, and is over too fast. That could be the point, if the song is intended to imitate a wild night. But because I’m not by any means a music critic, all I have to draw from is how the song made me feel—which is just that. I wanted more.

This is what happens when you fall in love with music, but not with the artist. I know it’s nearly impossible to follow up a great debut. But though Lorde paints herself as having grown up, it’s hard not to feel like she’s lost something.

I’m not giving up hope, though. Lorde says that the upcoming record, Melodrama, has the best lyrics she’s ever written, and she is prouder of it than anything else she’s ever done. I know that feeling. From all accounts, she absolutely poured herself into this upcoming record. Regardless of my own expectations for how it should be done, there is something confidence-inducing about a project when it is clear that the artist was intentional about the choices they made. Their dedication allows you to accept and respect it, because it’s important and true to them. At least Lorde’s confidence makes me want to trust her enough to see where this goes.

Confessions of an Egomaniac

April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

 

Two years ago, I wrote my first article for the Bagpipe in the Opinions section about my first Kilter experience. A month later, when I followed that up with a review of Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz album, Emmett Gienapp told me that the whole staff room cheered.

Since then, much of my college experience could be summarized as a cycle of trying to be remembered. I am part of a hall community that thrives on public stunts, with which I’ve taken every opportunity to use my talents in writing and theatre to create an image and boost it. My Facebook page has oft been filled with ironic meta-statements on the nature of connection and bombastic pictures featuring my photogenic personality. During this time I’ve also acquired more nicknames than could reasonably be counted.

When offstage, I sometimes try to keep a low profile and build an air of mystique, only speaking when necessary. The idea is that this way, when an issue comes up that I may want to change, I can reply with an out-of-the-box comment and people might listen. Although to be fair, I don’t know how well I’ve pulled this last strategy off. I tend to talk a lot when I get excited.

What I am saying is that I’ve attempted analysis on how I’m being perceived by strangers and adjusted my life accordingly. Some of this comes from childhood insecurities I’ve struggled against my whole life. Related to this is a well-intentioned, but fear-driven desire to make my best friends in college, and make memories I can take into my adult life.

But despite the many photos, stunts, and memories documented in my file, when I look back at my time in college, I will no doubt see it as a very troubled time in my life. More than that, living my life in a “public image cycle,” always waiting for the next time I can get that high from being the center of attention, has affected my ability to use my gifts responsibly.

The trap comes when you are focused on earning the love of others—which really just stems from a love of self—at the expense of glorifying God. The truth is, one cannot know how they are being perceived, and even if they could, it should not influence their convictions to speak boldly or to love others through ministry, when those convictions are being prompted in your heart by God.

There have been many times when I’ve wondered, because of my insecurities and rapt attention on some constructed, imaginary persona, whether I should be allowed to give opinions, perform, or otherwise live my life in freedom of expression. Is it narcissistic to consider whether you’re showing off too much? Furthermore, is it worth risking being called a narcissist if you think the things you want to do would glorify God and serve your community?     What is the limit on taking initiative? On stepping out in roles of leadership?

I write this article not because I have the answers to these questions, but because I have an opinion on them. More importantly, I want to speak to people who, like me, may also have opinions, but are too worried about what others will think to speak into their community’s discourse with them.

Don’t spend your time in college, or your life, worried about your legacy. It will never be enough, and it will cripple you in places you actually care about.

Don’t spend your life concerned about what others are thinking. You will be disappointed.

When God calls you to do something, you should do it, even if it means more responsibility and the chance that you’ll be in the public eye.

Be yourself. But remember to try, at least imperfectly, to keep your bigheadedness in check. Matt. 5:3 says, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And it seems to me that living life under that philosophy, with a healthy understanding of where your gifts and opportunities come from, will save you from a lot of problems that come with egocentrism.

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

 

This article contains no major plot spoilers.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that many would claim shouldn’t be talked about, out of fear of giving something away and ruining the experience. The disadvantage of that philosophy, though, is that it prevents those considering going to see it from knowing whether they’ll actually like it.

The premise is simple, but intense. We follow Michelle, who gets into a car accident at the beginning of the film. When she wakes up, she is in an underground bunker with two men who tell her the world has ended, and if she leaves, she will be infected by a terrible disease. They have no outside contact. She hears the occasional rumbling of something unknown from the surface. However, she has no way of knowing what, if anything, they are telling her is true.

The film is concerned with themes of abduction and abuse, so it may not be enjoyable for all audiences. But the acting and writing are both pretty good. I can say the film is very different from 2008’s Cloverfield and is in a completely different genre, but fans of the first should enjoy this one as well.

John Goodman has a good, meaty part against type as the mysterious and gruff leader, Howard, and he plays the character with real nuance and subtlety. Throughout the film, Goodman is fascinating and dominates attention, transforming as the story progresses and even working in a bit of his comedy at one point as well. The less familiar leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., are also incredibly interesting to watch. Here’s hoping they get more work in the future.

The film shares many style elements of others that Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ company) has made in the past. Out in front is Abrams’ “mystery box,” which refers to a large, mysterious plot element designed to lure in audiences—in this case, the question of what is on the surface. The trailers for this film are obscure, like they were for the original 2008 Cloverfield, and recently, the new Star Wars. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Most of the film takes place inside the house, and everybody wants to know, “what’s in the box?”

The film feels dangerous, although it didn’t surprise me as much as it could have, to the film’s detriment. With such a killer setup, the movie really shines when you don’t know what’s going on and how everything fits together. At the risk of sounding like a genre snob, I’ll say that fans of other suspense movies may be able to predict the major framework of the plot. But it’s well-crafted. Like I said, it’s a good genre thriller; it’s just nothing game-changing.

Many will enjoy it, but as the plot twisted, I found myself expecting other twists that ended up being unfulfilled, and additionally, the stretches of the movie that came between plot points sometimes lagged for me.

Perhaps this was intentional. Even after all is revealed, this film seems to be more interested in the potential of our human minds for paranoia and our ability to imagine destruction, than actual monsters themselves. This is a refreshing and thought-provoking move. By the end, one feels they have witnessed a significant emotional journey, and I found myself trying to link the major conflicts Michelle faces, including the movie’s shifting power relations, the characters’ backstories, and the total entrapment of the house itself.

The house definitely works as a clear metaphor for the entrapment of a controlling relationship. However, there’s some ambiguity, or maybe even muddling, in what meaningful things the film actually has to say about this topic. To be safe, I’ll leave that to a second viewing and your own interpretation.

Perhaps the film can best be summarized with one of its own images, in which the characters look at a large jigsaw puzzle and one remarks that there are pieces missing.

3.5/5 Stars.

A Few Words on Batman vs. Superman

April 1, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

It was a surreal experience watching Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and even after leaving the theatre I must say there’s nothing else like it. On the one hand, I have always wanted to see Batman—my favorite superhero, beat up Superman—who I distinctly remember haunting my childhood nightmares, on the big screen.

Yet the film is an enormous contradiction, and what’s more—it seems to know this and gloat in it at every turn.

Step 1: Cast Ben Affleck—much maligned for his performance in Daredevil, to replace Christian Bale—universally praised for his childhood-defining turn as the Dark Knight, in a film to chronicle Batman’s return from retirement.

Step 2: Enter Jesse Eisenberg—cast against type and with a full head of hair as a high-pitched, sniveling and wisecracking Lex Luthor. He sounds like the Joker.

Step 3: Miraculously turn what by all accounts should be a low-brain, blockbuster action romp into a deeply nuanced and well-thought out philosophical treaty on the nature of heroism and godhood.

You can observe many of these steps from the previews, which ran simultaneously with the much-better marketed and prematurely leaked Suicide Squad trailer. But then the early reviews started pouring in. Affleck put on more than 24 pounds of muscle for the role and was so successful with test audiences that the studio not only sent the film back for more Batman footage, but granted him a three-picture deal with Writer/Director/Actor credit. What?

And the critics panned it. So I went in with no expectations. I mean, after all this, what kind of tone was I supposed to have prepared for?

Now, having seen the movie, there are a few things I can say confidently, without need for spoilers, from a fan’s perspective. As promised, much of Batman’s characterization in this film is based closely on the 1986 comic, “The Dark Knight Returns,”  by Frank Miller, and though I don’t care for that particular take on Batman in Miller’s story, I’ll concede that Affleck embodies that version of the character. He more than meets the challenges of the role and defies expectations. If you like the source material, you won’t be disappointed, and casual fans will find that Next Gen Batman is fresh and exciting to watch. Even though he perplexingly uses a semi-automatic gun now.

The acting from the others is good as well, even Eisenberg’s Luthor. While it may be tempting to judge this film going in, an open-minded audience should be pleasantly surprised with the story’s twists and compelling story.

Watching this movie feels like reading a great comic book. It is epic, fun, and even thought-provoking. Though sometimes the ideas did get a little too heavy to keep up with, I left the theatre impressed with the range and subtle delicacy of the many questions the film provokes about the role of religion in society.

Not only does it pave the way for everyone to pass more Batman and Justice League posters for the next ten years, this messy masterpiece of popular culture managed to both entertain and enlighten.

TV Revivals in the New Golden Age

March 20, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

I’ve noticed a growing trend recently of event television series that reunite the cast and writers of long-ended shows for a “revival.” I’m not talking about remakes, but true sequels with a limited run of episodes continuing the show’s story many years later, or else featuring a new cast (sometimes the children of the original characters).

We already have an impressive list from the last three years, with Heroes: Rebornand 24: Live Another Day, new seasons of Arrested Development and The X-Files, and even a sequel to the 90s sitcom Boy Meets World, titled Girl Meets World. This year, developers have confirmed follow-ups to 80’s science fiction drama Twin Peaks, HBO’s Deadwood, the classic BBC series Are you Being Served?, Prison Break, andGilmore Girls. Perhaps the most stunning example debuted last month with Netflix’s Fuller House.

These kinds of series are made possible with two things: first, a loyal fanbase, and second, mass streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. In our new Age of Information, fans of even the most obscure cult show can stay connected through the Internet and keep interest alive. Meanwhile, the services, motivated to stay ahead of their competition and provide original content, are always bidding on the most attractive and marketable shows. This easy access to dozens of classic series has contributed to higher demands for throwback series, which from a business standpoint are guaranteed at least a portion of the original’s pre-existing audience.

Not every series I’ve mentioned premiered through a video on demand service, but this phenomenon translates to more potential buyers for independent projects made for select audiences. The risk is just comparatively less selling to independent distributors than pitching a brand new pilot for broadcast television. And this definitely applies to revival series. Case in point—last year, a Kickstarter campaign raised over six million dollars to produce fourteen new episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. And after being cancelled in 2014, NBC’s Community released their sixth season on (now defunct) Yahoo! Screen.

To add to this equation, more independent and A-list filmmakers are flocking to television than ever before. The giants of television’s last decade have been critical darlings like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad, which featured high-quality, serialized stories and often offered more compelling entertainment than cinema—which seems to be ruled more by “franchise syndrome” and blockbusters every year.

Now, with new mediums of distribution, creators can film episodes at their own pace and release them all at once, allowing for more creative control. For example, it is hard to imagine pitching a show ten years ago like Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, which is an MA-rated cartoon about a middle-aged anthropomorphic horse sitcom actor going through a midlife crisis—quite a specialized audience if there ever was one. I would argue that our recent influx of so many superhero shows is also connected to this newfound appreciation of niche audiences.

But I digress. What I find unsettling is that with this new precedent, it is easier than ever to pitch a revival of any show, from any time, raise the funds for it, and find a producer to put it online. It’s basically Open Season.

There is great appeal in series like Fuller House. Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “pleasure and sadness…caused by remembering something from the past and wishing…you could experience it again.” For fans of shows like Gilmore Girls, whose finale was widely seen as disappointing, it may be argued that a revival is important for bringing the series to a proper, satisfying conclusion.

The problem with these series is that so often, they just don’t work. While some shows, such as the CSI, NCIS, and Star Trek spinoffs have found popularity through original content, shows that rely on nostalgia or weak ties to the original inevitably fail. Ever heard of AfterMASH or the Friends spinoff Joey? They each lasted only two seasons.

Launching a revival series also assumes you can get the original actors to come back in the first place, and that they can all schedule to be in scenes together. After enough time, one has to wonder who the story’s intended audience even is: the new generation, or the old?

I think the desire to hear your favorite character say their catchphrase one more time is understandable, but this revival trend says less about newfound opportunities and more about our inability as a culture to move on. Every culture has heroes and legends, but by not allowing our stories to end, we reveal an inability to make peace with our past, or forge new directions for the future.

To conclude this sad state of the union: we have streaming everywhere, more shows than we can watch, higher quality, and more creative opportunity than ever before. But if this is  truly the new golden age of television, it should not be defined by the pursuit of profit or creators further saturating the pool with endlessly rehashed fanservice.

And for all this talk, there’s still no Firefly revival? I rest my case.

Diamonds

Stars

Are like fireworks. In a way…

And like poetry…

Because when I see them,

I am reminded of the time

I once watched a fireworks show from my front porch (on the Fourth of July)

I could say it was pretty,

but I wont. I don’t know if that’s true.

I will say I felt so many emotions well from within

that I had to write a poem

Describing it as colored diamonds, lighting the darkness, bursting forth and then crumbling back

or some shit.

Before I decided those emotions were too girly to be printed

And I threw my poetry in the trash.

That is why when I look at the stars now,

they are like fireworks.

Except stars do not go away.