05 November 2011

Leah's Musical Revue: Codes and Keys

    Yes, I meant to write "revue" rather than "review", because in the ideal world of my mind, this is not a post, but rather a segment that has its own little circus-type theme song and is "light theatrical entertainment", as the dictionary definition of "revue" demands. If I write another one, it will be "Leah's Musical Reveille", and it will be a wake up call. Metaphorically or literally? You won't know until it happens. 
    Anyway, while the title might be light and cheery, the subject matter isn't exactly: I'm talking about Death Cab For Cutie's...most recent album (I can't actually call it their new album since it's been out for quite some time). I'm not exactly at the cutting edged forefront of modern music, so it takes me a while to get to these things, so bear with me. I will admit, I do like Death Cab, once I got past its silly name and learned to embrace the emo-ness of most of its music. But all of that being said, this band has a horrifically skewed worldview-- but, to their credit, they don't hide it at all.
     In their new album, Codes and Keys, they (I always get confused here; are bands "it"s or "they"s?) state over and over again their predominant belief-- that love is more important than anything and is the only really true thing in this world. It's the same idea they put forth in Into the Dark, a song about two people in the afterlife:" No blinding lights / no tunnels to gates of white / just our hands clasped so tight / waiting for the hint of a spark," If heaven and hell decide / that they both are satisfied / illuminate the "no"s on their vacancy signs/ if there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I'll follow you into the dark".
     This view becomes even more clear as the song continues, as it explores the religious background of the singer: "In Catholic school, / as vicious as Roman rule, / I had my knuckles bruised,/ by a lady in black / I held my tongue / as she told me, 'Listen, son / fear is the heart of love'/ So I never went back."
    I know, I just quoted a lot of the song. I could have shortened it, but that would have messed up the rhyme scheme and I just couldn't bear to do that. And besides, it's important-- you really see where they're coming from here: religion= if not downright evil, at least misused and unnecessary, love= the only ultimate, transcendent reality.
    And that's the same thing that's displayed through Codes and Keys, and it sometimes comes out explicitly: especially in St. Peter's Cathedral (...when our hearts stop ticking, / This is the end and there's nothing past this) and most clearly in Unobstructed Views (There's no eye in the sky, / just our love / No unobstructed view, no perfect truth, / just our love), and I'm pretty sure you can see it in Portable Television, but honestly, I can't make heads or tails of that song. Now, that's a pretty bleak portrait of the world(and also, I'm pretty certain, contextually incorrect, "no unobstructed view" = double negative = obstructed view).
     What's the big problem with it? Well, I don't know if you've read your gossip magazines lately or stopped by Yahoo News on your way to checking all those important emails you have, but Ben Gibbard (the lead singer for Death Cab For Cutie) is splitting up with his wife of 2+ years, actress Zooey Deschanel. So if you carry out Gibbard's viewpoint to its full extent-- and remember, "there's no eye / in the sky / just our love"-- if his love doesn't last, then what is there worth living for?
    Of course, Gibbard isn't going to find the answer pursuing other romantic relationships. And he's not going to find it in the Catholic church or St. Peter's Cathedral. The only place it can be found is in the true gospel of Jesus Christ, but I think Gibbard has been vaccinated against anything he perceives as "religion" (not, of course, that God couldn't change his heart!). But in the meantime, it's interesting-- and saddening-- to see someone with such a skewed worldview "waiting for the hint of a spark".

02 November 2011

Superhero Appreciation 4: X-Men Part 2

    I don't know if I can call this an "appreciation" in good conscience, since it's really more of a disapproving rant, but there you go. I finally watched X-Men: First Class (I know, I'm a sorry excuse for a nerd), and it was...disappointing, to say the least.
    Where to start? Granted, I was watching it with a group of friends, and with a group (especially this group) it's never easy to take a movie too seriously. So my opinion might be bit skewed, but still, you'll get the gist. We ended up fast forwarding basically half of it. There were far more strippers and scenes in strip clubs than were necessary, ever (of course, the necessary number is 0). But even aside from inappropriate elements, the movie is just badly done. What could have been a touching and intriguing look at Erik's and Charles' friendship just devolves into a mass pudding of characters, bad dialogue, and, confused plotlines.
    Did I say bad dialogue? Cause I really mean horrific, cardboard, Lucas-worthy dialogue (and I say that with all love to Lucas, because while his dialogue may be cringe-worthy, he more than makes up for it by being a master of story, which these folks clearly aren't). My favorite line of the movie was Magneto's: "Unfortunately, you killed my mother." That is indeed unfortunate.
     The actors are all good-- in fact, excellent-- but most of their roles were either one dimensional or not given enough screen time to really be explored. Of course, all of the X-Men films have been ensemble movies (except for Wolverine), but they all focused around main characters (like Rogue and Wolverine in the first one; they were clearly the focus, while people like Professor X, Scott, and Jean had clearly defined smaller roles). In First Class, we know that the main focus is supposed to be Erik and Charles, since, after all, they're on the poster, but we couldn't really guess that from the movie. James McAvoy is a thoroughly unlikable Charles Xavier (which is hard to do, considering it's James McAvoy) who really leaves no impression one way or another. He's only interesting because of what we know he becomes, not on his own right. Erik, for his part, is a bit more memorable, but only because he almost exudes evil-- something which, honestly, Magneto shouldn't do at this point in his history, and which kind of ruins the effect when Ian McKellen is far less menacing than his supposedly on-the-good-side earlier incarnation.
    Far more of the focus seems to be on Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, who I found it hard to judge objectively judge since I was so busy trying to imagine her as Katniss. I can say though, that she certainly wore a lot of micro-skirts that not only got in the way of historical accuracy but ran over it with a train), That Nerd Who Becomes Beast Whose Name I Can't Remember, the guy from Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" music video, a chick of dubious profession who has wings and is called Angel (not to be confused with this guy. I know, it's confusing since they're in the same series and have the same name. Although don't get either of them confused with this guy either), and like, I don't know, Kevin Bacon, but he's evil, and he has like this evil red demon guy who can teleport or whatever....
    See? It's character soup. The main focus should be Erik, Charles, and their backstory. Instead, it ends up trying to split screentime between these two groups and really barely every has them interact (end when they do, it feels so awkward: Charles telling Mystique that he's disappointed in her or Erik looking old-man-amused by the young folk's nicknames. In case I'm not making myself clear here (and I have a funny hunch that I'm not), it doesn't work. We end up not investing in any of the characters.
     All of that being said, this movie had one redeeming feature, and it was an important one: the climax/ending. It was really the only time when we saw true emotional conflict, turmoil, and character development between Magneto and Xavier, as we witness Xavier being shot and Magneto choosing to save him even though their goals are clearly polar opposites at this point. While that moment cam close to being worth the whole movie, it mostly just made me wish the whole movie could have been like that. X-Men: First Class is a movie that tried to do too much and failed, while if it had set out to do one thing and do it well, it could have been excellent.