Monday, January 14, 2013

C'mon, Disney, you know how to do this

WARNING: This week, I get into some really, really indignant Nerd on the Internet tones. Like, guest star on The Big Bang Theory bad. Still, it felt good to write, so I'm posting it anyway. Push up your glasses and check your pocket protectors—we're talking shop with Disney 3D rereleases!

We like the Disney thing here at Diversion 2.0. There's my substantially incomplete series on the entire Disney canon, obsession with Disney games, and my super gross Word document detailing every Disney Blu-ray that has come out and speculating which movies will release next in hi-def and when. Disney is my jam. So when Disney makes knuckle-headed moves with their theatrical distribution wing, I can't help but wince. Imagine your niece, an eight-year-old precocious little squirt, who likes to loudly blow bubbles with her milk in public places, except now she's doing it onstage at the school talent show, and she actually isn't blowing bubbles very with this time around.

It's like that.

Disney, having hastily green-lit shiny new 3D conversions of their popular films after The Lion King's rerelease made nearly $100 million last year theatrically, backed out of their commitment to reissue The Little Mermaid in theaters this September. Their strategy just wasn't working. Every subsequent rerelease made less and less money: Beauty and the Beast snagged $47 million, Finding Nemo barely made $41 million, and Monsters Inc. is limping its way past $30 million. Once thought a sure source for quick cash—do a quick conversion for a couple million, rerelease, and your coffers will fill themselves—Disney's plan to reap the benefits of old releases tanked.
My take: no duh.

A quick aside: I love the idea of rereleasing old Disney classics theatrically. Enjoying quality animation with an audience is a much different experience from enjoying it by myself, and basking in the picture quality and surround sound of a good theater setup never gets old. This idea can work.

In fact, it already has worked. Before home video became a thing, Disney would bring their old-school hits back into theaters every seven or so years. "For a new generation," or something like that; and that is why seemingly every man and woman raised in the United States has seen at least one "classic" Disney film (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Peter Pan, etc.) during their childhood. Disney was in the nostalgia business, and business was great.

With the advent of home video, though, the strategy became redundant. Why go through the trouble of carting around prints of The Aristocats to Hank's Cineplex and Bowling Alley in Ronan when you could put it in every Target, Shopko, and grocery store in the country? The theatrical rerelease thing died down in 1996 or so (I remember seeing Oliver & Company in theaters, and I don't remember much old Disney in theaters beyond that), and hasn't been a thing since.

Until last year, when Disney decided to flank The Lion King's 3D Blu-ray release by a two week "special engagement" in theaters. After it opened at number one with $30 million, though, Disney decided maybe it would try this theatrical rerelease thing again, and announced it would convert several of its films into 3D and put them back into theaters. Easy money, right?

You have to do it right, though.

Personally, I think Disney bungled it the moment they decided that Pixar movies would be the crux of their 3D rerelease strategy. Not that I don't love Pixar; they're an exceptional studio, and I actively love a good chunk of their filmography. That said, their decision to use Pixar films runs contra to their most important weapon in reissuing content: the Vault.

The Vault, as you probably know, is Disney's self-enforced moratorium. It's a place where Disney puts their most precious cargo, keeping it from the unwashed masses until, out of the blue, they decide to put it back on the market for a limited time. Then moms and dads who grew up on Bambi and The Jungle Book buy it because, hey, my kid can watch it to, and the scarcity drives demand; instead of a steady trickle of sales over several years, it's a huge shotgun blast of sales over the course of a year and a half before, wuh-oh, it's gone again.

I have no numbers to back this up, by the way. I'm going off of speculation, that law of Supply and Demand that I hear about, and the idea that, surely, if Warner Bros. wants to copy the whole Vault thing with the Harry Potter series of movies, it must work, even a little.

Anyway, the Vault. When it rereleased films theatrically before home video, Disney took their prints of Alice in Wonderland and Fantasia and threw them in a Vault until the time was ripe to bring 'em back out. That's the basis for the modern Vault system that Disney uses for its home video. It works. Why else would they do it for over fifty years (1944 saw Disney rerelease Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, mostly because the Disney studio was broke as hell during all of World War II and they needed cash)?

Pixar, to my knowledge, is not at the behest of the Vault. If I wanted to, I'm pretty sure I could waltz over to Kmart and pick up A Bug's Life on DVD for the sheer, unadulterated hell of it. I can't do that with, say, Aladdin. If there's no scarcity involved with finding the movie, why should I treat a rerelease like a big deal? Yeah, I can see it on a huge screen, but is that worth taking myself, my (hypothetical) wife, and our two (hypothetical) kids all the way to the theater, paying $11.50 a pop to get in, shelling out even more for concessions, and finagling with those damn 3D glasses? No thanks. I'll watch that at home.

By using the Vault, by creative scarcity, you're heading me off, making sure that I can't watch it at home. If I don't have a copy, you're forcing me to play your game and see it in the theater. When $30.15 million worth of audience members went and saw The Lion King in theaters during its opening week, they didn't go because wow! it's in 3D. They went because they hadn't seen The Lion King since 2002, when it was last on DVD, and wanted to watch it. If they could have bought The Lion King at any old time they were at Sam's Club, they wouldn't have bothered.

This is the problem with the movies Disney picked to rerelease. Beauty and the Beast had been out on Blu-ray since Fall 2010 when it hit theaters in January 2012, and both Finding Nemo and Monster's Inc. have been readily available at any time since they day they first hit home video. These are films that the kids have likely had on repeat in the DVD player, and who wants to put up with the time and expense to hear Nemo say "Touch the butt" for the thirty-sixth time?

Incidentally, I feel the exact same way about every 3D rerelease that whiffed at the box office this year, with the exception of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, because that was just asking for it.

The worst part—the worst part—is that, at the end of three seen-it-before releases, Disney had promised The Little Mermaid, a film that went in the Vault in January of 2009 and one that I've been waiting to see again with bated breath. It's a smashing picture, and one of those movies for audiences to actually rediscover, instead of simply rewatch. But no: Disney mismanaged their money-printing rerelease strategy spectacularly, and then got gun shy before they even got to the best part. I've been picturing myself in the theater, blown back in my seat when Ariel sings "Part of that World," for a year and a half. Now, nothing.

Yes, yes; what an awful first-world problem for me. I'll do just fine in picking up The Little Mermaid on Blu-ray when it drops, and enjoy the rest of Disney's suite of franchise pictures, tent poles, and whatever else they decide to release under the Dreamworks banner (I'm hoping for Lincoln 2!). Life goes on.

I'm not mad, really, at Disney. Just disappointed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

20¢ worth of advice about Star Wars: Episode VII

When you're ill, you start to think about what matters most. Star Wars, for instance.

I've spent most of the past four days in bed, days I could have spent doing productive things like playing video games endlessly, or writing any number of movies blogs, or (more likely) getting drunk with my friends in town for the holidays. But no. I've been sequestered to my room, surrounded by Gatorade bottles filled with water, blankets of every sort, and a growing frustration at my own frail mortality. That is not the point of this entry, but I thought I'd vent a bit; I've been in here a while.

What I have been doing while recuperating is watch the original Star Wars trilogy. Specifically, Star Wars the way I grew up watching them: on VHS in full screen—there's something about the warm, soft picture that comes from magnetic tape that penetrates my deepest comfort sensors and makes me feel good inside. That, and there's no "Jedi Rocks."

Anyway, since I've had adequate time to contemplate on why these three films work so well, I thought I'd chime in on what I would do with the three upcoming Star Wars flicks that Disney has so earnestly told its investors are in pre-production. Certainly, we've had enough of these lately, but I haven't made any lists yet, dammit! Besides, I need to get in the habit of writing for fun, even if my opinion is redundant, and though I may have recently crawled out of the nadir of the sickest I've ever been in my life, writing a list about Star Wars sounds pretty damn fun about now.

Ten bits of unsolicited advice regarding Star Wars: Episode VII

1. Star Wars is a Saturday afternoon serial

Something easy to lose sight of amidst the constant blitz of Star Wars media—comics, TV series, novels, oh my!—is how Star Wars got started. As I understand it, and I could be wrong, Lucas wanted to make an homage to old sci-fi movie serials like Flash Gordon. That's where the Episode VII's construction needs to start. Elemental conflicts. Good vs. evil. Heroes getting out of scrapes. Villains concocting fiendish plots. If it takes more than three good, long sentences to abridge the story structure, start again. A simpler machine is a better machine when it comes to great myth (which is also what Star Wars is based on).

2. Great characters are key

Just because the conflict is simple doesn't mean the characters are allowed to be shallow. Look at Luke and his arc: farm boy who undergoes a hero's journey in the first film, undergoes trials and hardship during the second, then comes into his own in the third. How about Han: do-anything mercenary who learns to value the loyalty of friendship in the first film, then love in the second, then personal responsibility in the third. Now let's think about Anakin in the last two prequels: evil kid who doesn't bother pretending he'll become evil later acts sullen until he eventually goes full-tilt evil. Simple stories, rich characters, this is the stuff that myths are made of.

3. Practical makes perfect

If there's anything the Lord of the Rings trilogy should have taught special effect artists everywhere, it's that practical effects married with CG age much better than pure CG. Hell, I sometimes cite Episode I as my favorite of the prequels because it "feels" so much like the first three, and most of it comes from using practical sets, effects, and generally not being so CG-drunk as Revenge of the Sith. I'm serious, build those six-foot scale models of Star Destroyers, film sets on locations that look like real places, use stunt doubles and not CG replicas for the more intense stunt work. It will look better and feel more like Star Wars, guaranteed.

4. Quip it, good

Like I said, it's a Saturday afternoon serial. Junk is supposed to be popcorn magic, and the best popcorn films generally have a modicum of humor, or at least good quotes, sprinkled throughout. It doesn't have to be quite as Waka Waka as Return of the Jedi, but certainly more than either Attack of the Clones (where it was obvious where the quips *should* have been) or Revenge of the Sith (which was deliberately dark, often at the expense of being a Star Wars picture). "Laugh it up, fuzzball." "This will be a day long-remembered." "I am a Jedi, like my father before me." All more memorable than the anonymous screenwriting of the prequels; if you want me to recall your film fondly, make me talk its language.

5. Sounds good to me

Please, please, please keep John Williams and Ben Burtt for your sound design. I can't imagine why either wouldn't acquiesce to continue work on arguably their most esteemed series to date, but, seriously, give them as many cement mixers full of money as they require to get them to stay onboard.

6. Short, sweet

Both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back squeak by at just a hair over two hours. Return of the Jedi is about two hours and fifteen minutes, but just about everyone admits it's the weakest of the trio. Both The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith hover near two hours and twenty minutes, which still feels bloated even in today's post-Dark Knight blockbuster landscape. Remember, Star Wars is a Saturday afternoon serial! Get us into the theater, then give us *just* enough space opera before kicking us out, the better to hop back in line and see it again.

7. Don't adapt it from the EU

Maybe take bits and pieces from the various books, TV series, video games, etcetera ad infinitum? Either way, there's a brave new world waiting to be explored by some intrepid young screenwriter out there, one that shouldn't be constricted by pre-existing fiction.

Okay, just straight-up take Thrawn. I don't mind. But that's all.

8. Visit new places

This kinda goes with my previous point, but please don't retread old areas for nostalgia rush. How many damn times do I need to see Tatooine before I've had my fill? The same goes for Hoth, Endor, Mustafar, Courescant (especially Courescant!), everything. Show me some exotic planet whose life only dwells in subterranean mines, or one consisting entirely of mountain ranges. And while you're at it, I'd like to introduce you to the Bridgers…

9. Remember when aliens didn't speak English?

This is a small touch, but an important one when dealing with alien life. Personally, I liked it when I had to read Greedo's speech from subtitles, and that I couldn't understand what Jabba had to say; they sounded more menacing that way. It's what makes the galaxy feel more unexplored, more adventurous. Besides, what's the point of being fluent in over six million forms of communication if everyone talks the same lingo?

10. Make it Star Wars

Every blockbuster series released since 1977 (hmmm) has wanted to be Star Wars. Episode VII has the unique privilege of actually *being* Star Wars. Don't chase trends. Don't mimic other films. Learn from The Avengers, from Lord of the Rings, hell, from Skyfall, but remember your heritage: a Saturday serial as conceived by one of the wunderkinds of New Hollywood (and Star Wars is every inch a film a part of the New Hollywood movement it so swiftly snuffed out). Be exciting, be thoughtful, be an elegant film from a more civilized age.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ocean's Six Iranian Hostages -- Argo (2012)

Let's not bury the lede: Argo is a terrific, airtight political thriller, and a work of cinematic craftsmanship that will likely be among this year's best-of discussions. That is all you need to know before going to see it, and I advise you to do so knowing as little as possible about Argo other than it's a tremendous picture.

Argo is also hilariously funny, ranging from darkly comic to laugh-out-loud, and none of it subtracting from Argo's intensity when the time comes to get serious. It's a movie for grown-ups who may want to take a short hiatus from superhero pictures and animated flicks about sassy talking animals—challenging without being alienating, rarely over-explaining unless it is absolutely necessary, and about grown-ups dealing with grown-up issues in grown-up ways. That is also all you need to know before going to see it, so please, for pity's sake, go and see the movie and then come back and read this review. I went into Argo popsicle-cold and loved the hell out of it, and part of my enjoyment stemmed from the surprise in where the movie headed. Go see it. Now.

Seriously, go. I'll be here when you get back.

Alright, hopefully you're just returning from a matinee of Argo and are ready for this spoiler-filled discussion.

Here's the secret that made Argo so much fun to watch unfold: Argo is a film about how six American hostages escape from the Iranian hostage crisis by posing as a film crew scouting for a shitty-looking Star Wars ripoff. Imagine if Seal Team Six gained access to the Bin Laden compound by claiming they were in a damn Ed Wood picture and you're part of the way there. Once you realize that this most serious of problems is being solved by such an unorthodox plan, Argo turns into a joyride of subverted expectations and familiar thrills, especially because Argo does such a good job of establishing the stakes of what will happen if the operation fails.

Argo follows Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), C.I.A. extraction specialist who is called in to consult on rescuing six American embassy workers who are holed up in the Canadian ambassador's house. Mendez and his boss (Brian Cranston) are stuck until Mendez is hit with an idea while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes with his ten-year-old son (Aidan Sussman): pretend the hostages are location-scouting for a science-fiction movie and fly them out through the airport. This includes hiring make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and director Ken Taylor (Alan Arkin) as consultants to help produce the fake movie, and cooperating with the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber).

My favorite thing about Argo is how, deep down, it's a heist movie in disguise. Just as Inception was a heist picture disguised as mind-screw science fiction, so, too, is Argo a heist picture disguised as a period political thriller, operating under many of the genre's rules even as it doesn't adhere to them all the way. Consider: our protagonist (Mendez) needs to assemble a team (O'Donnell, Chambers, Siegel, etc.) in order to infiltrate an impenetrable zone (Iran) and walk out with valuable cArgo in-hand (six American hostages), after which they formulate a plan (pose as a crew scouting for a movie) and execute said plan, dealing with any unexpected snags along the way. It's The Italian Job, except substitute gold bullion for sympathetic human beings.

What fascinates me about Argo is how disparate the tone ranges during its scant two-hour runtime. It boils down to juxtaposition and balance between the darkly comic, nail-biting tension, and just enough belly chuckles. Consider the first scene showing a rioting crowd outside of the US Embassy, burning American flags and chanting angrily. Inside the embassy, a desk worker peeps under the blinds and idly remarks how it seems like there were more of them yesterday, relieving the pressure before it buckled under its own weight and setting up a precedent for subverting viewing expectation.

In fact, Argo's chief appeal, other than watching Mendez and his team narrowly avoiding all kinds of mortal peril, is how it consistently subverts itself. The very first image in Argo is the Warner Bros. logo, the 1970's one with three dots that shape a "W," while splotches of damage to the movie's negatives mark up the edges. Wait, negative damage, in a digital theater? And while Argo doesn't carry the ruse the whole time à la Grindhouse, it keeps the viewer off-guard through such an atypical opening, a feeling exacerbated by a short Iranian history lesson conveyed through a mixture of archival news footage and film storyboards. Yes, film storyboards.

The only way a film with as many spinning emotional plates as Argo could work is with phenomenally canny editing, and William Goldenberg performs admirably, balancing Argo's most stressful and light moments. Goldenberg's editing is primarily responsible for Argo's best scene, which crosscuts between treatment of Iranian political prisoners and an in-costume Argo table read, juxtaposing the fake glamorous Hollywood veneer with the real-world political climate and somehow not feeling incredibly inappropriate. Goldenberg's work on Argo ought to be crowning work in a prestigious caree—wait, this guy cut Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Kangaroo Jack? Cripes, I guess some days you got it and some days you don’t.

Three times makes tradition, and Argo has Affleck scoring a solid hat trick of critically-praised movies for grown-ups, after 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town. Affleck wears many hats during Argo, directing tense scenes where the six American hostages are hiding in broad daylight among scads of murderous rioters shot like any modern political thriller, and short humorous breaks on Hollywood acting like Hollywood, complete with '70s-looking camera movements and shot composition. During the last half hour, Affleck goes for broke and ratchets down the tension, reminiscent of Spielberg's work on Munich, and reminding me how few quality thrillers are released today. For his tonal juggling act, I would love to see Affleck given a Best Direction nomination.

The only parts that give me pause are the small army of interim scenes where we visit the Canadian embassy and endlessly watch the sequestered six pace about and worry about how they will likely die rather than evacuate. Eventually, Mendez joins the rest of the crew and kicks the plot into high gear, but the first 45 of Argo's fleet-footed 120 minutes are much rockier than the proceeding 75.

Argo is a perfect October film, low-key enough for the mid-fall season while stoking enough interest for awards attention. Also, in this day of tenuous relations in the Middle East, it's nice to have a reminder that US Foreign Policy has been much worse. Argo is my surprise film of the fall, and I'm excited to see where the conversation around it leads come Oscar season.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Track Talk - "The Show" by Lenka, performed by Kerris Dorsey

I'm just a little bit caught in the middle
Life is a maze and love is a riddle
I don't know where to go, can't do it alone
I've tried, but I don't know why

The other day I decided to watch Moneyball again – stemming from a conversation about how Clint Eastwood's upcoming Trouble with the Curve looks like a Bizarro-world version of the film – and discovered that the film holds up well. Damn well, considering I know where the story is supposed to go and why Jonah Hill got his Oscar nomination and how Aaron Sorkin's dialogue rolls off of Brad Pitt's tongue like boulders after Indiana Jones… actually, I think I've just described why it holds up so well. Q.E.D.

Anyway, one part I didn't remember, and the part that cat-in-horror-picture jumped out at me, was when Billy Bean's daughter Casey plays him a song in the middle of a guitar store, and that same song plays near the end during an extended shot when Billy decides whether to leave Oakland or to stay with the A's. The song is Lenka's "The Show," and in the film it is performed by actress and singer Kerris Dorsey. I've been obsessed with the song for the past few days, and on this fine Saturday morning (afternoon to you on the East coast!) I want to write about it.

"The Show" belongs in the lilting camp of indie-pop, a genre I try to avoid because I don't like when I can hear a singer audibly smirking during his or her performance. That was mean; let's it try again. "The Show" is indie-pop, a genre I generally don't care for. What's different about "The Show," what separates it from so many other indie-pop songs my former college roommate used to listen to, is that it has an honest-to-blog* melody and said melody is really damn catchy. Moreover, the lyrics are fun and earnest; they're phonetically playful without sounding overly clever (listen to the small internal rhyme of "little" and "middle" during the chorus) and straightforward enough for a curmudgeon like me to get behind. It's like someone took everything I didn't like about Juno's soundtrack and corrected to fit my taste.

Even better than Lenka's version is Dorsey's cover, which was recorded for the movie's soundtrack and can (read: should) be purchased on iTunes right this very second. Lenka's original take on the song is full of large, bombastic sections of horns, strings, and other instruments that all sound, for my ears, too large for tiny song like "The Show;" perhaps it fits if you take the title literally and imagine a sort of Ziegfeld's Follies-esque stage performance – the bridge conjured images of a velvet curtain and balancing elephant in my head, but I don't expect everyone who hears horn-pop to get knee-jerk images of the circus.

Dorsey, though… ah, now we have something. Dorsey nails the small, anxious emotions suggested by the lyrics, and the intimacy afforded by an acoustic guitar turns the song into a sort of confession set to music – a way to express and deal with insecurity, rather than a gaudy, showy number. Her voice is timid but strong, and comes from genuine place of diffidence, selling the experience and making everything sound so personal, inviting us to share with what she's feeling. I get the sense that she just wants to enjoy the show in front of her, rather than be the show itself, and it's this difference by degrees that makes Dorsey – only twelve when this song was produced! – an essential part of why "The Show" works as well as it does.

"The Show" is, really, an anti-Andrew song; intimate, sparse, and bloody acoustic pop. Still, I'm not going to fight when I like something so damn much, and I do enjoy "The Show" an awful lot.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I Am Batman -- The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

First things first: The Dark Knight Rises isn't as good as The Dark Knight. It contains fewer exciting setpieces and laugh lines, the middle part sags like udders on a cow, and not one soul electrifies the proceedings like Heath Ledger as the Joker. That said, lesser Nolan Batman is still Nolan Batman, and The Dark Knight Rises, for its flaws, clenches the crown of crown of 2012's best blockbuster, and I'm already making plans to see it again.

Reasonably non-spoiler plot synopsis: in the eight years that have passed since Harvey Dent died at the end of The Dark Knight, Gotham City enacted radical new laws that effectively cleaned the streets of organized crime. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has holed up in Wayne Manor as a recluse, despite the pressings of his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) to go outside every once in a while. Gotham slips back into the throes of chaos, though, when mercenary and all-around unpleasant guy Bane (Tom Hardy) shows up in town and commandeers a fusion reactor from Wayne Industries CEO Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and board chairman Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) with the intent to turn it into a nuclear bomb. At the urging of Gotham cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Wayne must take up his mantel as Batman and fight back against Bane, who holds the city hostage with his makeshift WMD, while also contending with master thief Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway).

What follows is 164 minutes of grim desperation punctuated by brief character moments, exposition, and fleet scenes of action that are over far too quickly. If The Dark Knight wallowed in bleak nihilism, The Dark Knight Rises submerges itself, holds its breath, and has you hold the stopwatch. Carefree entertainment it isn't, and only a rousing climax in the last forty-five minutes and perfect ending (yeah, I said it) save it from being pure misanthropy.

Not to say it isn't fun in places. Batman's newest toy, a hovering battle vehicle that looks like a cross between a harrier and a Maine lobster, zips around lighting up baddies and obstacles, while the Batpod makes a welcome, heavily-armed return. Hathaway's Selena Kyle purrs and snarls sarcastically, and watching her play as a wild card among two opposing sides gave me much joy. Also, the climax I mentioned in the previous paragraph is one of the highlights of the trilogy, providing action-packed thrills and emotional closure for fans who have followed Nolan's Caped Crusader since 2005's Batman Begins.

In fact, The Dark Knight Rises ties in with the first film in several important ways, referencing events and supporting characters with frequency. It feels more like and extension of Batman Begins than a sequel to The Dark Knight, though with more continuity in the story (e.g. no random turns to zombie film-making). Though not my favorite film in the saga, I'm glad The Dark Knight Rises ties into both films so well, making them all an essential and tightly-packed trilogy.

Bale is the strongest he's ever been in any of the Batman films, exuding shades of fatigue, hurt, and mingled amusement unseen by Bruce Wayne thus far. Caine steps up and makes an even bigger emotional impression as Alfred, though he disappears far sooner than I would have liked. Oldman also sits out for an extended length and is given less to do, nodding and acting knowledgeable but always keeping us at arm's length. For my money, the newcomers all give the best performances: Gordon-Levitt's dogged, honest turn as John Blake holds down the fort while Batman is offscreen, Cotillard's enigmatic charm still carries volumes - even if her performance is, beat for beat, Mal from Inception - and Hardy's Bane more closely matches the comic book's take on the character--intelligent, powerful, and not to be trifled with under any circumstances. Also, Hathaway, but we already gushed about her.

Stepping up the apocalyptic stakes are composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, who lend gravitas to the score by adding a Gothic-sounding choir to several choice moments. Though the chugging, one-note motif used for Bane never caught my ears the way past themes have, I appreciate the heightened stakes reflected in the score.

Regular Nolan editor Lee Smith, having hit his stride with Inception's cross-cutting uber-climax, scales his ambition back for The Dark Knight Rises, generally focusing on one scene at a time, though when he does get his plates spinning in time for the endgame, the result is a tense, epic-length juggling act between three different plots as they all come to a head. Not quite as dreamily-presented as past projects, but still exciting even during moments absent of action.

On his absolute best behavior is regular Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister, who photographs more and more varied settings than either of the previous films, and makes my favorite Pretty Cinematography shortcut (falling snow) look absolutely gobsmacking. Down in the dumps though The Dark Knight Rises may be, it never looks less than smashing.

The Dark Knight Rises isn't a watershed moment in cinema the way it's been built up to be, but it is absolutely good enough to wrap up one of the most acclaimed film series in the last decade or so. See it once to watch how it ends, then see it again to drink in the small details and widgets of a dense, rewarding auteur picture disguised as a summer tentpole.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Am the Night -- The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight might be, minute for minute, the most depressing, unsettling film I own on home video, but I rarely notice unless I'm actively looking for it. Shocking for a film whose primary antagonist likes to express himself through wanton acts of violence and nihilism, and whose closing scene of child peril and emotional wreckage is some of the rawest footage I've seen in a major studio film intent on making money.

With all of the dark and moody trappings, why do I, heavy-handed purveyor of escapist feel-good cinema, enjoy The Dark Knight so much? Tonal balance, friend. For as bleak as it gets - and make no mistake, it becomes very dire in places - there are small splashes of comic relief, a tossed-off line or an unexpected bit of comic violence (one of the only times outside of a Tom and Jerry cartoon I praise comic violence), which lessens the tension and makes the rest of its bleakness much more palatable. Throw in several exciting setpieces, and it’s easy to forget how grim The Dark Knight becomes. Spoonful of sugar, and all that.

It’s hard to talk about The Dark Knight without making comparisons to Batman Begins (or vice versa, depending on the order you first saw them). I won’t labor heavily on them, but I do want to toss off a few reasons why I prefer The Dark Knight. Aside from its surer balance of tone, the action scenes feel bigger and more satisfying (the truck chase is one of my favorite bits of action in recent movies) and the more grounded Gotham City is easier for me to wrap my head around. The Dark Knight also functions as a stand-alone narrative, and though I like the bits in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne iterates on the Batman persona, I’m always grateful in a super hero movie when I don’t have to sit through an origin story, especially one as well-known as Batman’s. Batman Begins also lacks a big bad, a problem The Dark Knight does not have by any stretch of imagination.

For all conversations about The Dark Knight eventually turn to the Joker. I’ve seen The Dark Knight around eight or so times since 2008, and each time Heath Ledger’s smacking, mincing, casually-psychotic performance as the Joker blows me right on my ass. Ledger disappears inside of the Joker, distorting his voice, hunching his shoulders, and acting like the most charismatic bastard ever capable of murdering civilians. His hair is mankey and his white makeup is frequently unkempt; he looks the part of a so-called “agent of chaos,” and his raggamuffin appearance makes it even more unsettling when he starts killing people. Alternately dangerous and horrifyingly funny (sometimes at once, like his magic trick), Joker is the biggest example of why The Dark Knight works as well as it does. Mark Hamill’s Joker is more fun as well as frequently threatening, but Ledger is one memorable mofo, and The Dark Knight would be a lesser film if he were absent.

Not that Christian Bale and co. have been slouching since the previous film. Granted, Bale doesn’t portray as many sides of Bruce Wayne as he does in Batman Begins, but his fake playboy persona is even funnier in his pushy, clueless mannerisms and his straight non-Batman Bruce feels more lived-in and natural. Oldman’s tension with Batman as Commissioner Gordon grows slowly over the course of The Dark Knight, and he’s given more to do and more chances to perform. Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox hold steady with typically great character work, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes in much bouncier, sassier tones. Nearing Heath Ledger’s level is Aaron Eckhart as fallen D.A. Harvey Dent, whose journey from Gotham’s white knight to the villain Two-Face is made more painful by Eckhart’s convincing turn as both a classy, nice guy and angry, vengeful killer with an Anton Chigurh-esque penchant for coin-tosses. If I had one minor complaint, it’s that Eric Roberts’ Sal Maroni fails to make me forget about Tom Wilkinson, but actors that are Tom Wilkinson are much rarer than those that aren’t, so I’m hardly bothered by the change-up.

Even more than Batman Begins, Hans Zimmer and James Howard Newton outdo themselves with the soundtrack for The Dark Knight. In addition to Batman's previous theme, which carries over from Batman Begins with no decrease in its heroic glory, the pair introduces Joker's... well, the word "theme" implies a piece of music that can be hummed, and there is no merrily whistling Zimmer's razorblade-on-piano wire motif from when The Joker is onscreen. Like the character himself, the low, scraping din is noncompliant with the rest of the surrounding score, and creates an unease that meshes perfectly with Joker's dangerous, unorthodox effect on Gotham City.

Added to cinematographer Wally Pfister's box of tools is the IMAX camera. Every establish shot and most of the important action setpieces appear with heightened clarity and a changed aspect ratio, and the result adds not only better picture quality, but also to the sense of scale and scope in The Dark Knight. The picture at times is HUGE, and give the movie a greater heft, especially during the scenes in Hong Kong and on the ending ferry when the aspect ratio keeps changing.

Editing keeps the kinetic, discontinuous style from Batman Begins, and now it, too, has new tricks. Ramping up the tension are three sequences that cross-cut between two or more separate, parallel conflicts, and watching each section tighten and build to a head gives The Dark Knight a more active, grander feel, though the emotional build-up watching so many conflicts causes The Dark Knight to feel every minute of its runtime, while Batman Begins flies on by. Still, the three-way conflicts all feel so active and busy with incident that The Dark Knight never overstays its welcome.

A quick word on the dialogue. I recognize that The Dark Knight contains more self-referential, self-consciously “profound” dialogue, and that I should, by merit of its own awareness of how “profound” it is, spit on every “He is the hero we deserve” turn of phrase it throws at me. Eff that. Like the editing and score, it adds to the heightened reality and grandiosity of The Dark Knight while never jumping ship of posturing. My favorite passage of dialogue, which took me more than a few viewings to first notice?

Dent: “You’ve known Rachel her whole life?”
Alfred: “Oh, not yet, sir.”


The Dark Knight is the best film based on a comic book of all time, and one hell of an act for any summer tentpole to top (including, from what I’ve read so far, The Dark Knight Rises). Both exciting to the more lizard-like portions of my brain and imbued with heavy, thoughtful ideas, The Dark Knight operates as both blockbuster entertainment and art house reflection, and how many movies can claim that, ever?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Am Vengeance -- Batman Begins (2005)

I want to get something out of the way before I start in earnest: Batman Begins is a film whose appeal, while not eluding me per se, is diminished compared to the gobs of unfettered praise and nice words it has been steeped in since 2005. I like it, and I enjoyed it more so than ever during my most recent viewing, but I don't think it's a film I'd casually pick to watch on a night off the way I would, say, The Dark Knight. For my tastes, it's humorless and lacks excitement, requiring a bit more investment to "get" anything out of it than my favorite films, which doesn't jive well with my escapism-based film-watching habits--consider this my acquiescence to being a total wuss.

Now that I've said my piece, we can talk about what Batman Begins does right, for it does an awful lot of things right. Made during a time when super hero films weren't known for their quality or depth, even in post-Spider-Man 2005, Batman Begins not only treats each member of its large and distinguished cast with respect, but also (and you'll excuse the implicit smacks of superiority I'm radiating) like actual movie characters. Actual movie characters from an actual good movie. Toss away the cape and cowl, and you have a character study about a man's search for identity after a childhood trauma, and the lengths he goes to find and maintain that identity. It's methodical, serious, and as concerned with probing character questions as it is with inventing new, explosive set pieces; here is a film where Batman first appears no less than an hour into its 140 minute runtime, and we don't mind at all.

First a bit of plot, because maybe you haven’t seen it in a few years. Batman Begins tells how Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy and Gotham’s “favorite son,” becomes a symbol for justice in an effort to save his home city from tearing itself apart by crime and corruption. Batman Begins can be broken into three delineable sections: Bruce Wayne’s travels and early childhood trauma, Bruce Wayne “builds” the Batman persona, and Batman’s shift from fighting organized crime to repelling the League of Shadows. The middle “learning” section is the most satisfying, showing Wayne iterating on crime fighting methods and learning as he goes. It’s also the most “realistic,” showing Batman taking on the mob before things go off the rails in the third act, but the tendency towards realism suits Batman Begins, more so than Cillian Murphy arbitrarily riding a horse, anyway.

One of the most fascinating things about Batman Begins is how it takes all of Batman's well-known gimmicks (bat costume, utility belt, creed not to kill people) and makes them all traceable parts of the character, and their presence in Batman Begins is not just justified but necessary. Bruce Wayne dresses as a bat not to obscure his identity, but because he wants to be an Idea in the minds of criminals as much as he wants to be a solution to Gotham's civic ails. Like I said earlier: respect. Show me all of the scenes of a hero sewing his super suit that you want, but I need to know why he puts it on in the first place, and Bruce Wayne decision to strap on a cape and cowl feels as natural as Rocky's decision to get in the ring with Apollo Creed.

Part of this credit must go to Christian Bale, who juggles no less than four personas of Bruce Wayne over the course of Batman Begins, all of them distinct and convincing. My favorite contrast is during the first forty five minutes, which crosscuts between hardened Bruce Wayne training with the League of Shadows and bitter twentysomething Bruce Wayne contemplating killing his parents’ murderer. Small moments of regret and pain are sprinkled liberally throughout Wayne’s time onscreen, helping add to Batman’s plausibility.

Bale is one of many strong performances by a distinguished cast of big names and bit parts. Reliable standbys like Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, and Morgan Freeman all paint their characters in large, comic book-y strokes (I love Wilkinson’s choice to play Falcone as a 1930’s mob boss), while Gary Oldman’s weary, idealistic portrayal of Gotham’s only honest cop helps ground Batman’s existence and necessity in Gotham. The best in show, though, goes to Cillian Murphy as Dr. Nathan Crane; strung-out, uptight, and always radiating the sensation that he might go for your neck at any moment--and that’s before he takes his glasses off. Murphy’s Crane is off-kilter, unsettling menace, and it’s a damn shame that Batman Begins disposes of him so early into its climax.

Batman Begins builds a solid thematic groundwork, arguably the hardest part of a comic book film, leaving the rest of its filmmaking bits to fall neatly into place. In particular, I am a fan of the editing, which eschews straight continuity for internal rhythm. Watch how the cuts interact with the the emotional beats and how each shot seems to start and stop during a moment of climax ("quitting while it's ahead," I called it in my head). Combined with the use of establish shots as action cuts (notice how the camera never stays stationary when shooting wide shots of locations), Nolan and editor Lee Smith give Batman Begins a momentum that makes its 140 minutes seem as fleet as a Bugs Bunny short.

I think I like the editing so much because of it works with the music. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's horn-and-cello theme used for Batman operates much like Christian Bale's Batman: subdued and somber with a touch of heroic bravado, with a small nod to Danny Elfman’s work on the previous Batman films without outright quoting from it.

I do have a few gripes, though. I've never cared for the way Gotham is portrayed in Batman Begins; its opulent high-rises living so close to the glorified shantytown of the Narrows strikes me as a bit too fantastical, and though its Urban Hellhole motif is a feature and not a bug, I find it repelling and not much fun to look at. Speaking of fantastical, I always wonder how the microwave weapon stolen by Ra's al Ghul is supposed to vaporize all nearby water while leaving nearby human beings (which, I gather, are anywhere from 50-65% water) unscathed. Lastly, I always get a bit twitchy during the last half-hour, mostly because the carefully constructed reality of Gotham is thrown out the window in favor of zombie-film sensibility.

Still, it’s the first film to nail why Batman picks up his uniform and fights crime, and it takes no emotional shortcuts getting there. Batman Begins is a film I appreciate more as a piece of craftsmanship than I do a transporting piece of fiction, but what fine craftsmanship it is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bella Swan and Thor's Excellent Adventure -- Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

As a rabid Disney-phile, I've been eying both of 2012's adaptiation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. February's Mirror, Mirror was a light, comic affair meant for families, but June has brought us Snow White and the Huntsman, an epic, badass tale for a generations raised on the Lord of the Rings films and currently steeped in HBO's Game of Thrones. Take heart, though, for Snow White and the Huntsman isn't nearly as derivative as the previous sentence implies, and for that reason, perhaps that reason alone, I actually took a liking to it.

Snow White and the Huntsman's narrative is one of much happenstance and small incident. Plot points occur in bits and spurts, and characters are introduced and then dropped with little introduction or explanation. The whole mess of the story boils down to this: the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlieze Theoron) wants Snow White's heart because it will give her immortality. She hires the Huntsman to retrieve Snow White, who has fled into the aptly-named Dark Forest, but the pair soon team up and evade the Queen's guard led by her brother Finn Sam Spruell). Snow White finds her way to a sympathetic Duke's castle with the help of up-to-eight dwarves, and there she learns that she is the only one who can defeat the Queen because, I dunno, she's the chosen one who can bring balance to The Force or something.

It's a bit of a mouthful, but most of it clips by reasonably quickly, with a few odd dips here and there. What strikes me is how Snow White and the Huntsman uses the Brothers Grimm fairy tale as a framework for a new story, rather than a series of self-consciously deliberate "twists" a la nearly every fairy tale rework since Edward Everett Horton started narrating them on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Queen Ravenna was burned before by men because of her beauty, and so she desires to be fairest so that she can stay powerful. The dwarves are a part of a larger race of miners who have long-since gone away, subsisting as thieves and victims of the Queen's rule. The apple, cleverly, is addressed in the film almost right away before being tucked into a place in the narrative where it acts as a surprise, rather than an inevitability.

I saw Snow White and the Huntsman with a friend for matinee price, which diminished my expectations enough to walk away reasonably entertained.

Story isn't a strong reason to see Snow White and the Huntsman, though. The real incentive is the incredible production design by Dominic Watkins. One part huge vistas and jaw-dropping wide shots of impossible moors and enormous mountains, one part drafty castles, muddy villages, and cold, shining steel. It somehow glamorizes the nasty, unpleasant bits of living in a time before central heating while still emphasizing how awesome it is to ride horseback and whack stuff with a sword. Ornate, impractical costume design meets grounded realism and exceptional world-building.

It's for this reason that Snow White and the Huntsman reminds me the most of Tron Legacy. It's a "pretty decent" movie with a suspect story and weak characters all propped up by awesome-looking visuals and kinetic action. Brother, when it connects, which it does more often than not, it's a grand slam.

Feel free to use that one in the advertisements, Universal.

The deliberate alterations made to the Snow White yarn are inspired, for the most part, like the humanoid mirror.

Acting is neatly divided in two. Steward and Hemsworth both play withdrawn, contemporary-ish fantasy types (Hemsworth at time seems to be reprising Thor with a Scottish brogue in lieu of a Mid-Atlantic accent), while Theoron and Spruell chew the scenery with great bulging eyes and foaming mouths. Theoron in particular reaches for great, operatic heights of expression in the most Tim Curry-esque fashion, and though it's embarrassing as it is effective, I can't pretend it doesn't create an impression. The dwarves, played by a game troupe of British heavy-hitters lead by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Ray Winstone, adhere closely to the "dwarves are the comic relief" school of fantasy acting, and don't have much to do for well over half of the runtime, but are pleasant to watch in the usual ways one expects from classically trained English actors asked to pad the ranks with their mere screen presence ("The Hogwarts Faculty Role," I call it in my head).

As a side note, I have seen a few criticisms that Snow White and the Huntsman employs full-sized actors for the dwarves instead of, you know, actual dwarf actors. Regrettable, but I was amused by McShane and crew all the same, and besides, casting Peter Dinklage in a movie with as many bases for comparison to Game of Thrones might have been cutting it a little close.

They do their damndest, but the dwarves don't have much to work with between their truncated screen time and the fact that there are up-to-eight of them.

Snow White and the Huntsman eventually devolves into yet another series epic medieval battles so often on-hand since Peter Jackson showed everyone how it was done ten years ago, but on a pleasantly small scale. Rather than greedily staging the dual between armies of thousands, the ending conflict is comprised of maybe a few hundred soldiers between the two sides, and the lowered stakes actually helped me invest myself further in the proceedings. The unfortunately hectic editing sometimes gets in the way of gawping at the costumes and scenery, but I found myself resistant to the noise and bluster, and actually enjoyed the chaotic spectacle.

This is the best level on which to watch Snow White and the Huntsman: an exhibition in stylistic excess as applied to a fairly tale nearly everyone already knows. The narrative, on the other hand, doesn't offer much, though I did find it gratifying that Snow White drove so much of the plot in her own story. Snow White and the Huntsman is not without its flaws, but its visual appeal is so great that I already want to see it again. We'll see if I can keep the first burning long enough for it to release on Blu-ray.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yet another project: Andrew + Jordyn Watch the Best Picture Winners

I’ve started a new blog. Well, I didn’t start it and it’s not truly my blog, but the gist is that I’ve started writing in another location on the internet. The story goes like this: my good friend Jordyn has been watching and writing about the films that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture for several weeks now. After a long, convoluted conversation spanning two or three different social networks, she has invited me onboard the BP train, and we have started a blog to commemorate it.

You may remember, if you are a longtime reader, that Jordyn and I have attempted to do a crossover blog before and how it resulted in Bluthanized, a blog where we analyzed the cinematic works of animator/director Don Bluth. You may also remember how we stalled out shortly after watching Thumbelina, and how its lain dormant for the last two years, waiting fruitlessly for our joint review of A Troll in Central Park. With that ten-film failure behind us, we can move on to bigger and better things, like an 84-entry retrospective on the Best Picture winners! Hell, it’ll probably be 85 by the time we’re done.

I digress. You all should stop by and give us encouraging words or, if you’re more the Statler and Waldorf-type, heckles. I’ll be posting my main thoughts on Diversion 2.0, but Jordyn and I will be hashing out a back-and-forth discussion on the main blog, so it will be worth your while to follow both. Besides, you’ll want to be around for when our tastes inevitably diverge and we start fightin’.

The new blog is called Andrew + Jordyn Watch the Best Picture Winners, a wonderfully self-explanatory title if I've ever heard one before; just like Zach and Miri Make a Porno, there is no possible way to misconstrue what will happen. Besides, we're basically The Avengers of Blogger, so there's nothing wrong with stunting the talent involved in our little project. We look forward to your readership and, as discussed, heckles. Cheers!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Testermix - Spring '12

We're grinding through the year pretty quickly, aren't we? Why, it feels like just the other day that I promised you all that you'd be getting Testermixes left and right! Crazy, huh?! At any rate, we're back on track now, and while you gear up for my half-finished write-up on my Summer mix from last year, let's burn away the last few weeks of school (for sub-collegiate folks, anyway) with this year's Spring mix.

1) Pretty Lights - "Hot Like Dimes"

The electric boogaloo continues, but at least it's not more dubstep. Well, not quite anyway. Combining the huge bass hits and drops of big-beat electronic music with the soulful swagger of hip hop, Pretty Lights is the audio equivalent of DJ Shadow and Joe Boyd Vigil spending a night together drinking Grey Goose and Chuck Norrises and then decided to cut an album. "Hot Like Dimes" is my favorite out of what I've heard so far, sounding cocky and powerful with its driving guitar line and bubbly synth.

2) Lupe Fiasco - "I Don't Want to Care Right Now"

I like Lupe Fiasco, though his albums can be pretty tricky to listen to; they're often weighed down by over-indulgent runtimes (Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor), heavy-handed themes and lyrics (Lasers), or both (Lupe Fiasco's The Cool), making casual spins infrequent for me. Still, a few tracks from Lasers are pretty easy to listen to, and "I Don't Want to Care Right Now" is one of my favorites.

Confession time: you know how folks on the internet make continuous peanut gallery comments about how Auto-Tune is Destroying Music As We Know It™? Well, I am a member of the Auto-Tune-liking populous that convinces record producers to add the effect to so many songs nowadays. I am, in short, part of the problem. At any rate, it's this affection for the robot voice that endears me to so much "I Don't Want to Care Right Now"; I think it adds a spacy quality to the song, blending well with the electronic vibe from the rest of the production. Lupe's verses in this one are fun, battle-rhyme fare, which gel much better with me than ham-fisted polictical messages.

3) Four Year Strong - "Fairweather Fan"

Four Year Strong’s third album, In Some Way, Shape Or Form, dropped a little less than two years after their previous one, Enemy of the World. I Sometimes wonder if the band should have taken a break somewhere between the two releases because man do they sound tired on In Some Way. The melodies sound better, granted, but every song exudes less energy than on any of their other records. Every song, that is, except for "Fairweather Fan."

"Fairweather" has everything I like about Four Year Stong crammed into the same place: half-times, double-times, gang vocals, and lots of double-bass pedal. The melody is easy and unforced, making it a welcome departure from Enemy of the World's screech-y flailing, and they even have a short reference to one of their earlier records, which is a gesture I greatly appreciate. Time will tell if the group continues on the slightly-mellower path taken for most of In Some Way, or if they’ll come back swinging with more songs like "Fairweather Fan."

4) deadmau5 - "Moar Ghosts 'n' Stuff"

What a self-explanatory song. Remember "Ghosts 'n' Stuff," that song from my Spring '11 mix with all the organs? It's like that, but moar, er, more! I'm still pretty crazy about "Ghosts 'n' Stuff" even after listening to it for the better part of a year, and "Moar" does a good job of calling to mind that song while still doing its own thing. Admittedly, it does this by teasing at the four chord organ part from "Ghosts" throughout the song, but absence makes the heart etc. I've also grown to appreciate the main synth part, which sounded before like tuneless noodling and now sounds like... fun tuneless noodling!

5) Maroon 5 feat. Christina Agulara - "Moves Like Jagger"

Loyal followers will know that I'm not always punctual with my pop music selections, and am prone to discovering songs six to eight months past their sell-by date. Case in point! Remember when everyone was going nuts over this song last summer? Flash forward to March of the following year where we see Andrew at a bar, nursing four-to-seven rum and cokes and looking up in surprise at the song coming from the dance floor. "What is this song with the whistling and the bass?" he wonders aloud. "It's kinda catchy."

Turns out I could stand to have a bit more cultural awareness.

At any rate, "Moves Like Jagger." Maroon 5 has never quite been on my to-do list, with "Harder to Breathe" being their only song to make me sit up and take notice of them. "Moves" sounds pretty divorced from their usual pop-rock catalog of music and goes straight for the nightclub jugular with pulsing bass hits, off-time synth straight out of "Alejandro," and that cheery whistling earworm that must be one of the most devious things in '10's pop music. Christina Agulara's vocals don't wow me, but she does give the track a touch of feminine perspective, and the idea of both singers bantering back and forth is fun.

Come to think of it, that describes "Moves Like Jagger" exactly: fun, and that's why it's on my newest mix.

6) The Cab - "One of THOSE Nights"

Once upon a time, a young college student was flailing about in his dorm room for more untested bands to discover. After searching through Myspace and iTunes for far longer than he should have, he finally wound up on the webpage of his old favorite record label, Fueled By Ramen. There, he found a few songs from a new band he could get excited about, and promptly put one of the songs on his Winter mix once he discovered it was on Rock Band (drink), and the second one he put away for a rainy day.

Later, he realized the band wasn't really his style, and promptly stopped paying attention to them.

The first song from that fairy tale was "Bounce," a pop-punk-by-way-of-NSYNC track that was a HELL of a lot of fun to play on drums, and "One of THOSE Nights" (stupid, stupid ironic capitalization) was the other. For my money, the chorus for "Bounce" is catchier, but I love the energy for this song, which has a nice verse counter-melody (you don't see those terribly often) and some reverb-heavy snare hits. Also, if you want to appreciate how far ahead of the game Patrick Stump's vocal talents are, listen to the way he sings the song's chorus and how much more compelling it sounds than the actual band that wrote it.

7) Quietdrive - "Lie to Me"

I'm a bit torn on this song. On one hard, it's a fantastic throwback to the catchy, urgent pop-punk that Quietdrive made for one album (and one album only) on their debut record. On the other, it's perhaps the only song that sounds like it on their whole new CD, Up or Down. The song's title is pretty fitting for the album, now that I think about it. Bitterness aside, "Lie to Me" is hooky and sweet, with soaring vocals, boisterous power chords, and energy to spare.

8) Blue Öyster Cult - "Don't Fear the Reaper"

Good ol' classic rock radio. I played this song on Rock Band a fair few times in college (drink), but I think I needed exactly the right moment on exactly the right sunny day to make me fall for it.

If you didn't grow up listening to "Don't Fear the Reaper" blaring from your uncle's CD player, you've probably seen a certain Saturday Night Live sketch that added to the song's infamy. As such, you're likely familiar with the main guitar riff and Eric Bloom's mellow, carrying vocals, along with the weird, ethereal breakdown during the middle that sounds nothing like the rest of the song. It's an old staple, but sometimes songs are staples for a reason.

It could probably use more cowbell, though.

9) The Eagles - "One of These Nights"

Being a Montana boy, I've listened to my fair share of country, and one of my favorite country bands is The Eagles. They have a soft, acoustic sensibility that gels well with their straight-up rock material, and that variability makes them a great band for most occasions. "One of These Nights" combines the two elements for a slinky, sexy piece of western rock, perfect for night drives or, say, sitting around with friends. In a van. Just enjoy the damn guitar solo, okay?

10) Darren Korb - "Spike in the Rail"

Turns out that I like video game music. Last summer, Supergiant Games' Bastion wowed me with its super-saturated art direction, minimalistic storytelling, and fun action-RPG gameplay, but its best aspect by a walk was its soundtrack, a combination of bluesy, Old West guitars and electronic percussion. Of the 22 songs available for download on iTunes, "Spike in the Rail" best demonstrates what the soundtrack is capable of: it has the biggest beats, the twangiest guitar, and the damndest finger-tapping melody to ever come out of an XBLA game.

11) Black Eyed Peas - "Rock Your Body"

Some songs sound better after two or three cocktails. "Rock Your Body" took anywhere from 9 - 25, but it still does what all good club songs hope to: worm its way inside your head and convert you to its insidious ways with a catchy, oft-repeated phrase. That phrase in this case being, of course, "Yvan eht Nioj." Aside from the auto-tune chipmunk voice, the pulsing, spacy beat gives the song a hypnotic momentum, and the Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock sample warms my heart, even as I watch's habit of copy-paste beat-appropriating working its way into a gallop.

12) Silverstein - "Apologize"

Kids today love posturing and irony, and Fearless Records' Punk Goes... compilations have capitalized on this trend since the mid-2000s. The series has since denigrated into Melodic Hardcore Versions Of Top 40 Songs Vol. 4, but Silverstein's cover of OneRepublic's "Apologize" actually hones in on the emotional center of the original, and is, for my money, one of the best songs across the whole catalog. Granted, it descends into unclean vocals near the latter half, but they sound earned rather than gimmicky and the dour instrumentation approaches something like catharsis for this angsty twentysomething. Plus, the key of this version appeals to me more than the original's, so there's that.

13) The Offspring - "All I Want"


Sometimes I like my punk rock poppy and full of hand claps. Other times I like it thrash-y, and "All I Want" is a satisfying way to get my fill of double-time drums and vaguely rebellious lyrics. I originally discovered this song through the Dreamcast game Crazy Taxi, which I spent entirely too much time playing at various Target kiosks across Montana, and it showed me that a) video games besides Tony Hawk's Pro Skater can have good "real music" soundtracks, and b) The Offspring made songs before "Pretty Fly For A White Guy." Who knew?

14) Baracka Flacka Flame - "Run the Military"

You may remember that for last year's spring mix I included a song from everyone's favorite emcee-slash-US president (well, after Rappin' Ronnie Reagan). Perhaps I'm hoping to make it a tradition, because here I am, one year later, still listening to Baracka Flacka Flame. Rather than a parody like last time, though, "Run the Military" is a true blue original, and sports killer production work in the form of a bombastic, Southern-fried beat that tips, swaggers, and doubles down with thirty-second note hi-hats during the chorus.

The lyrics are pretty damn funny as well, using gangsta rap vernacular to reference President Obama's current political activities ("Catch me in that White House flexin' / I ain't even stressin' over re-election") and dropping disses during the second verse ("Herman Cain is a lame he should stay up out my lane / You a lil' road block like Palin and McCain"). Hopefully Baracka is working on something for election season in November, because I am prepared to buy the hell out of whatever this guy puts out next.

15) Ellie Goulding - "Lights (Bassnecter Remix)"

I've seen the name "Ellie Goulding" tossed around on Twitter for a good few months now (a side-effect of following white college girls), but it took another fateful trip to the bar in order for me to actually hear one of her songs*. Goulding’s voice carries a rather unique timbre, occupying a much higher register than other singers in pop music, and her vocals stand out in such a way that they practically pop off the track, drawing attention to the odd, haunting quality of the chorus. The ominous-sounding bass line gives the track a further feeling of unease, and the remix’s heightened pace makes the song sound urgent.

16) There For Tomorrow - "The Joyride"

More Warped Tour-ready pop punk! Actually, in this case, I did get this song from a Warped Tour compilation, but that's neither here nor there. Truthfully, there's not much that's special about "The Joyride," at least in the sense that There For Tomorrow sounds an awful lot like other drop-D-using emo groups, but dammit I do like a good hook. "The Joyride" includes few new ideas, outside a few bits like the echoing part during the bridge, but it's sweet and satisfying in an empty calorie sort of way, like a Fruit by the Foot. An angsty, moody Fruit by the Foot.

17) Tonight Alive - "Starlight"

More Warped Tou—aw, screw it. And yes, I did actually find out about these guys from the Warped Tour website. I’m going to see them, you’re going to judge me, and I’m not going to care.

Anyway, Tonight Alive. Ever since I discovered Paramore at my local Hastings in 2005, I’ve been enamored by female-fronted pop punk groups, and Hey Monday turned my passing fancy into a mega-crush. Tonight Alive isn’t perfect (the lead singer’s vowel-pronunciation becomes suspect at times, likely because the band is Australian), but they have energy to burn, and I firmly believe that more pop punk groups should incorporate double-bass as part of their sound. "Starlight" is lead single-y to a fault, but it brims with drum fills and punchy guitar lines, and the main chorus is damn catchy. See the above entry about its nutritional value as music; I eat this junk all the time.

18) La Roux - "Bulletproof"

In truth, this is more of a summer '10 song, but I've been playing it enough on Dance Central 2 lately to merit its inclusion here. Honestly, there's not much about this song I can recap; it has a fun, bouncy melody and a set of whoop-ing synthesizers that are very imitable in an annoying sort of way. Instead, I'll think about the dance moves during the chorus that involve spreading out my arms like an airplane, tucking them back into my chest, than twisting my waist around and pretending like my arm is a piston. Mmmm, good times.

19) Hot Chelle Rae - "I Like It Like That"

I like to include at least one "why the hell is this song here" entry on each mix, and this one's right up there with putting The Ready Set on my Fall '10 mix. This song is, honestly, a collection of dirty tricks designed to manipulate me into liking it it, rather than a song that I actually respect and enjoy all the way through. There are so many little things about this song that bug the crap out of me ("Missed. My. Ride. Home. / Lost. My. i. Phone.", "If the cops roll up (*fake crowd vocals* 'So what?!')", the entire New Boyz section), but then then bleeding chorus starts and the "Oh-oh"s kick in and then I'm singing along like an idiot. It's a sensation of being played and being aware of said playing: I know what's going on and why, but I can't help but go along with it anyway.

20) Journey - "Faithfully"

I thank my lucky stars every day that my friends are more musically-cultured than I am, by which I mean that a good chunk of bros and bro-ettes all listen to classic rock. Seriously, betweeen these guys and Rock Band (drink), it's a revolving door of music that's ready-made awesome. Speaking of songs that would go well on the old R to the B, "Faithfully" is an exceptional rock ballad, and represents all kinds of serenading possibilities for anyone of any gender. Throw in heart-melting keyboard part and a face-melting guitar solo and you have a song that's ready for spontaneous lovin' break-outs. Also, Steve Perry. Seriously, you guys, Steve Perry.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Testermix - Spring '11

The early portions of 2011 threw several hard-and-fast changes at me, causing me to spend longer than usual tweaking this mix; I had a tough time finding exactly what I was doing in life, let alone on my iPod. Fortunately, I was able to steady myself enough to knock out a decent collection of tunes that covered the usual bases: a little classic rock here, a little ducklips music there, and a whole heaping helping of songs I play on Rock Band.

In fact, I'm going to resume my earlier Diversion 2.0 drinking game: drink every time Rock Band is overtly mentioned. Don't worry, I'll help keep track. Also, drink for the mention in the previous paragraph. The game starts NOW.

1) Blue Öyster Cult - "Burnin' For You"

When assembling these mixes, I generally compile a big ol' song pool out of whatever I'm listening to, and choose the songs that sound best together. Sometimes, if a song is cut, I try to sneak it into the next season's mix, to see if it would "fit" better with the other tracks. "Burnin' For You" is a prime example of this. I'd been trying to slot it in since at least Fall '10, and finally found it a comfortable place in this mix.

I like "Burnin' For You" for most of the same reasons I like "Ridin' The Storm Out" by REO Speedwagon, which is fitting because I used to get them confused with each other. Like "Ridin'," "Burnin'" is in a pleasant, easy-going key, and both get a chance to show off several guitar-gymnastic solos. The main difference between the two is that of intensity—"Ridin'" attacks the track with its constant bass drum back-beat, while "Burnin'" drifts by like the countryside during a lazy afternoon drive. Great melody, great song, and a great potential candidate for Rock Band.


2) New Found Glory - "All Downhill From Here"

Ever since I put Story of the Year into the previous mix, I've started integrating songs from my high school years into my tracklists. Warped Tour staples New Found Glory made a big impression of me back during my sophomore year (the time when I was just starting to drink the Teen Angst Kool-Aid), and "All Downhill From Here" was one of my favorites, mostly because of its monstrous opening riff. The trippy music video is neither here nor there, but "All Downhill From Here" reminds me of driving my crappy Nissan Sentra to my friend's house in Amsterdam, hopped up on energy drinks and excited to talk obsessively about Magic: The Gathering and Alternative Press. Fortunately, I've since grown up and matured, and learned not to read AP under any circumstances.

3) ZZ Top - "La Grange"

When I was a kid, I think I used to get this song confused with Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." I was an idiot as a child. Anyway, there's an astronomically high chance you've already heard this song's main riff, which is good because there's not much else to "La Grange" besides it and some show-offy guitar work. That's far from a complaint, however, as both said riff and guitar work are fantastic.

"La Grange" begins quietly, with a snare-rim percussion rhythm setting the tempo and the lead guitar playing a understated version of the main riff. After the lead singer warbles a few bars of the melody, though, a huge-sounding fill throws the rest of the track into high gear, with the off-time guitars and galloping bass pedal driving the experience. From its down-tempo beginning to its kinetic main section, "La Grange" is my song of choice if I were to be involved in a car chase.

4) Dev - "Bass Down Low (Featuring The Cataracs)"

My love affair with Ke$ha is well-documented (and I like her music, too!), so what's to stop another ign'ant, duck lips'n white girl from invading my playlist? To be fair, Dev does sound different from her music-best-enjoyed-trashed sistren, as she's even more production-focused than nearly any other mainstream singer. Good thing, too, because The Cataracs are easily the best weapon up Dev's sleeve; they sampled her on Far East Movement's "Like a G6," propelling her into the spotlight, and provided the production work on all of her new album, The Night the Sun Came Up.

The main reason I like "Bass Down Low" is because its siren-sampling beat reminds me of a song from SSX 3 by Overseer called "Screw Up." I also dig the bending, 808-sounding synth that backs the chorus. Dev's lyrics are a shallow and anti-clever in the way the Ke$ha's usually aren't, but when the production is as stellar as it is on "Bass," silly things like lyrics don't bother me.

5) The Romantics - "What I Like About You"

Honestly, I don't have much to say on this song, other than that I've wanted to put it in a mix for some time but kept forgetting. Most of my memories of this song come from a compilation album my friend Luke and I used to listen to while playing Super Nintendo, and it's stuck with me for all of that time. Cheery chords, hand claps, and boy-likes-girl lyrics—what's not to like?

6) Mountain - "Mississippi Queen"

Like most near-ubiquitous classic rock songs, I first heard "Mississippi Queen" in a music game (Guitar Hero III, in this case), and played it enough to learn to appreciate the song's subtleties. "Mississippi Queen" is also featured in an episode of The Simpsons, which all but cemented its spot in my pantheon of Testermix songs.

"Mississippi Queen" has perhaps one of the greasiest-sounding guitar part in all of music, and is completely and totally awesome because of it. Seriously, everything about the main riff is unmixed, nasty-sounding, and completely unrefined, which gives "Mississippi Queen" indelible personality. I'm also a fan of the snare triplets that play during the back parts of the verse.

Drink. Well, half-drink; Harmonix didn't make Guitar Hero III.

7) Deadmau5 - "Ghosts 'n' Stuff (Featuring Rob Swire)"

Last year, for Christmas, I became partially obsessed with DJ Hero 2's setlist, with its cavalcade of song mash-ups and remixes. Highlights included Lady Gaga's "Love Game" vs. Kanye West's "Heartless," PCD's "Doncha" vs. Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)," and Iyaz's "Replay" vs. Rihanna's "Rude Boy." Amid the torrent of familiar-sounding mash-ups, there was a remix of Lady Gaga's "Just Dance," which combined it with some organ-sounding song by Canadian DJ Deadmau5. One day, out of curiosity, I looked this organ-sounding song up on YouTube, just to see what it was like, and I've been obsessed with it ever since.

Honestly, it's the organs that get me. It's a simple, four-chord hook, but for reasons inexplicable to me it toggles some hidden joy button in my brain, and I'm powerless to resist. I went with the three-minute single version for this mix; Rob Swire's vocals give the song more direction, and the protracted running time is more conducive to cramming other songs onto the mix.

8) Quietdrive - "Way Out"

A small bit of trivia about how I assemble these mixes: generally, if an artist worked before, then dammit they'll work again! Case in point: "Way Out," which came of the thought process, "I put a Quietdrive song on the Winter '10 mix, so why not put them on this one?"

It's not like they don't deserve it, though. Quietdrive has been one of my favorite pop-punk bands since 2007, and if I decided to commemorate their new album by slapping a song on my personal mix series, then so be it. "Way Out" is a bit slower than most of my preferred pop-punk, but the less-aggressive tempo helps give the mix variety, and I like how the drums give the chorus an insistent, intense feeling.

9) The Police - "Roxanne"

Forget that tango one (you hear me, Kailey? Forget it!). The original Police version is where it's at, at least for my tastes. Yes, Sting's pained, lovesick lyrics carry over well to Baz Luhrmann's esteemed jukebox musical, but the Moulin Rouge! version lacks the best part of the song: the chorus. That wonderful soaring, harmonizing, bass-drum-driving chorus. It's literally the reason I listen to the song, and any version lacking it is woefully incomplete.

Oddly, the live versions of this song I've heard from Sting's solo career also lack the chorus. Whatever; it's his song, after all, and he can tweak with it as he sees fit.

10) Judas Priest - "You've Got Another Thing Comin'"

Get out your hip flasks, because here's drink #3. I played the hell out of this song on the original Guitar Hero during my freshman year of college, and did so again during my junior year in Rock Band, but on drums this time. I'm not sure if Judas Priest's brand of 80's epic metal is quite up my alley, but far be it for me to take away from this weighty, powerful-sounding track.

Every note, every beat, every word sung (yelled?) feel as heavy as the Iron Boots from The Legend of Zelda, and the palm-muted chugs of the rhythm guitar sound like a freight train. "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" has enough power to smash through a brick wall, and I can't help but dig on the cocky drawn-out, three-note phrase that makes up the main riff. Not into metal? Well, you've got another thing &c.

11) Artist vs. Poet - "Runaway"

Artist vs. Poet is a simple, fly-by-night power pop band that's no more memorable than the bag of Gushers I had with lunch today. But much just like said fruit snack, however, they're sweet, immediately likeable, and tasty right up until the very last bit. "Runaway" was my first Artist song, and fits well with my usual roster of power pop groups (I also included another of their songs, "Car Crash," on my Spring '10 mix. Must be the time of the season).

12) Journey - "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"

One of the most recognizable keyboard openers in 80's rock and I first hear about it through Tron: Legacy. Yes, dear readers, my introduction to this Journey staple was not through a Greatest Hits compilation, nor through my local classic rock radio station (though it certainly didn't hurt the song's placement)—instead, I learn of its existence from a movie directed by a guy who makes video game commercials. Though, to be fair, they are stonking great video game commercials.

It's not just the synth that calls to me with "Separate Ways," though. The constant floor toms give the song an understated intensity, and the unusually-heavy-for-Journey guitar lets the audience know that the band means business. Of course, Journey's penchant for soaring vocals boosts "Separate Ways" into a sort of 80's rock overdrive, and, really, who can say "no" to Steve Perry's siren voice? Rawr.

13) Avril Lavigne - "What The Hell"

Oh boy. At least once per mix, I have one or two guilty pleasure songs that a masculine dude like myself should have no business liking. Yet here we have "What The Hell," Avril Lavigne's successful attempt to out-brat her 2006 hit "Girlfriend," and the catchiest damn song to make me do the most embarrassing actions while car-dancing. It's bad, and will go further undiscussed. Let's just quickly gloss over the song's excellent use of organs, simple melodies, and both "la-las" and "woah-ohs."

A anecdote story about this song: the first time I heard it, I was on a road trip with my friend Jordyn to Missoula from Helena, where we were to drop a friend-of-a-friend off at the airport. During the drive (a two-hour jaunt, which isn't bad for Montana), Jordyn idly mentioned that, oh hey, there's a new Avril Lavigne single out. Being morbidly curious, I decided to impulse buy it from Amazon with my smartphone. We listened to it once, and thought it was no big deal. Then once turned into twice, turned into five times, turned into the whole damn afternoon. All the while, we chatted about the various garage sales and Christmases it took for Jordyn to collect her entire catalog of Disney Animated Features, and how I was working on my own DAF collection. It wasn't until much later that I realized that my friend-of-friend passenger's first impression of me consisted entirely of Disney VHS packaging jabber and a continuous drone of "All my life I've been good! But now!"

Unsurprisingly, I haven't heard from her since.

14) Ray Charles - "Mess Around"

Many of my Testermix song choices are informed by Rock Band (drink), but this one was informed by, of all things, Family Guy. Specifically, the Return of the Jedi parody episode "It's A Trap." Specifically, specifically, it's the portion where, during the battle of Endor portion, an AT-ST driver reenacts a scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where John Candy mimics playing Ray Charles while driving. Making this the most disgustingly meta pick on the whole playlist, and I'm going to stop thinking about it right now.

Anyway, "Mess Around" is a fun, manic little track, replete with lots of early Motown-isms like a sax solo and Ray's own signature piano playing. Lord knows why it made the final cut of this mix, but I like how it acts as a break in the action; 2:39 worth of lively soul music, and a small reminder of watching Family Guy with friends. Could be worse.

15) Eddie Money - "Shakin'"

I've already written at length about "Shakin'" and how it helped fish me out of an emotional torpor, so here's a quick summation of why I love it: "Shakin'" is the most erotic-sounding song I've ever heard. The floor toms, the sexy guitar, and the slinky sonic trailing-off that hallmarks most of the verse all give the impression that something is going to happen, and that's not even including the lyrics ("It got so hot we had to pull to the side / and did some shakin' till the middle of the night"). Rawr pt. II.

16) Foo Fighters - "Everlong"

Out of all of my favorite songs to play on Rock Band (drink), "Everlong" is an absolute blast. My antipathy towards most 90's rock is well-established, but "Everlong" has pacing and energy like few other tracks from the decade of VH1 and Furbies. Particularly, the drum-playing, which has a delightful, challenging series of bass kicks and drum fills—small surprise, considering what a talented dude Dave Grohl is on drums.

I honestly don't have much to say about this song, other than the melody ramps up perfectly from verse to chorus, and the backing instrumentation creates a wall of sonic intensity that complements the vocals splendidly. It's powerful, it's uplifting, and it's hard for me to actively listen to this track and not get chills.

17) Chali 2na - "Don't Stop (Featuring Anthony Hamilton)"

When I was younger, one of my favorite hip-hop groups was Jurassic 5, a six-member conglomerate from Los Angeles specializing in old-school-mentality rhymes and attitude. Unfortunately, the group broke up sometime in 2007, but several ex-members still carry the torch in their solo work. Chali 2na had easily the most unique voice out of the group (describing his deep baritone as the "verbal Herman Munster"), making him an ideal choice for a solo career.

"Don't Stop" was featured heavily on Bozeman's local Top-40 station, which makes no sense to me because of Chali's independent, underground roots. Que sera, sera. Anyway, the breezy flute-loop beat wouldn't be out of place in a J5 song, and 2na's Marianas Trench-deep vocals provide a pleasant cushion for the ears. I may not get a new Jurassic 5 album any time soon, but as long as I can still purchase music from its members, I'll be able to get by.

18) Fall Out Boy - "G.I.N.A.S.F.S."

A bonus track from Fall Out Boy's third major release, Infinity on High, "G.I.N.A.S.F.S." went unheard by me for nearly three years, on account of my poor decision not to drive to Billings and purchase the album at Best Buy, where it was an exclusive song. Most of the nice things I usually say about Fall Out Boy apply here: Patrick Stump's ramrod-straight vocal delivery of Pete Wentz's clever-but-self-consciously-so lyrics, Joe Trohman's strong guitar-playing, and Andy Hurley's erratic, energetic druming (which manifests itself in this song through some intensely-satisfying snare triplets). A quasi-hidden gem that I was all-too-happy to dig up.

A side note: I looked it up, and apparently the song title is short for "Gay Is Not A Synonym For S@%#$y." Yep, that's Pete Wentz, alright.

19) The Material - "What Happens Next"

<mushy, personal stuff>

During the beginning of 2011, I left my steady job at a large company here in Bozeman. The office culture was great, and I was working alongside many excellent people, but I couldn't get into the actual work itself, and departed in the face of becoming slowly, steadily miserable with myself. Unfortunately, I didn't have much in the way of a back-up plan, and would flounder around for work for a long while afterwards.

It was during this time that I bought The Material's "What We Are," the debut full-length album from a San Diego band I'd followed and enjoyed since 2007. The Material's juxtaposition of aggro guitar and punchy drums with pretty, feminine-sounding vocals suited me well in my post-employment blues, particularly "What Happens Next," a forward-looking, bittersweet tune about changes and moving on. It fit, and so it's here. It's a reminder of how things were, and the hope that things would get better.

</mushy, personal stuff>

20) Man Down Medic - "Extra, Extra"

Man Down Medic is a small, four-part band from Washington that I saw at a show during my sophomore year of college. Their music is everything I don't like about the indie genre, yet they've rearranged most of the egregiously twee stuff and make it sound palatable. Kind of like how a Bloomin' Onion tastes good, despite still being a damned onion.

Nearly everything about "Extra, Extra" is slight but pleasant, from the lead singer's voice to the simple melodies of the verse and chorus. What draws me in the most, though, is the synth/violin hook, which I find mildly exhilarating. I also dig how the female singer harmonizes with the male one during the chorus, and the memories is conjures of when I traveled to different towns to watch shows. "Extra, Extra" is a slight downer, but that's why it's near the end of the mix and not further up.

21) The Who - "Won't Get Fooled Again"

I'll be honest: some of these picks can get pretty impulsive, and similar to what happened with "Shakin'," I chose this song because I happened to be tired while listening to the radio one night. In this case, I was making my way home from a late night Bell-ringing (I have no words in my defense), and I came in during the ginormous instrumental break that takes up almost the entire latter-half of the track. I like to end my mixes with large, sprawling songs (it gives the ending a sense of finality), and I basically decided then and there that "Won't Get Fooled Again" would make this mix.

Another fun note: the end track is almost invariably this first song sequenced once the final pool of songs has been decided on, and often one of the first songs put into said pool.

At any rate, election season's coming up, so I don't need to get into the song's not-subtle jab at politicians and the fun game of American and/or British politics; seriously, if even I can get it, it must be pretty apparent. Instead, I'll mention in passing the organ (a recurring theme for this mix) and extended guitar solo, and briefly note how satisfying that extended musical break is.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all during my next write-up.

Unless (*puts on sunglasses*) you get mixed up.