Why I Will Celebrate Indigenous People’s Day

At the center of a traffic circle in downtown Syracuse, New York, adjacent to the cathedral of the city’s diocese, there is a statue of Christopher Columbus atop a stone pillar. While not as grand as his doppelganger by our much bigger sister’s Broadway and 8th avenue, this Columbus stands tall and proud nonetheless, his left hand cradling a scroll and his right slightly extorted in a proud, almost aloof, gesture. Columbus Circle is a favorite spot in the city for summertime walks and festivals. With the monument encircled by a pool that reflects the spectacular Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the romantic figure after which the area is named, it is an attractive and rather refined spot in this otherwise gritty rustbelt hub. Every July, the Arts & Crafts festival is held at Columbus Circle. Proposals are not uncommon, and the nearby performance theater brings in many musical or concert goers. A nice night of Beethoven followed by a stroll around Columbus Circle. What a fine evening going about town.

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Less than ten miles away is the nearest Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) reservation, the Onondaga Nation. It’s most famous among Syracusans of European descent for its domestically produced cigarettes. It’s also known for its dilapidated houses, rotting barns, bitter Natives, and its…colorful greeting sign.

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(at least Spitzer isn’t governor anymore…)

It took me more than ten years living in this historic land to realize, let alone learn, the darkness behind this pairing. Below the Columbus statue’s feet, on each of the four corners of the pillar, there is a face of the typical representation of a Native American chief. Whether this is a political statement regarding Columbus’ conquering of the Indians or a well-meaning (but clumsy) gesture from the statue’s Italian-American constructers to their Haudenosaunee neighbors, I cannot say. But to me, it’s more than just a pretty statue.

Last time I was in the Circle was for the Arts & Crafts Festival in mid-July. Not far down the road in a triangular urban park called Hanover Square, the Onondaga were celebrating their annual festival, the Stage of Nations ECOfest, dedicated to the Haudenosaunee’s love for community and the environment. As we drove by this scene of dancing and neighborly festivity, my dad (who knows my feelings about the Indigenous struggle) pointed it out to me. The irony of the festival’s proximity to the Columbus statue was also mentioned.
“It doesn’t bother me that Columbus gets a statue,” I say smugly.
“Oh no?” Dad inquires. “Aren’t you passionate about Native rights?”
“Yes,” I say, “But at least there are pigeons to [excrete] on his head.”

Yes, a candid statement, but I will say that it’s a sentiment I do not hold with any hesitance. It is hard to feel a lot of pity for a man who has been sanctified for centuries by our textbooks, public schools and nationalist historians. I have to mention that it is my (at times very, very difficult) duty to never say I hate any man. But I do resent the praise thrust upon many, and Columbus tops that list. Yes, he was one amongst the many greed-driven explorers of his time. Certainly. But this still means we are celebrating a man who articulated such astute theological musings as “Gold is the most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise.” Yes, Columbus loved gold. His gospel also made it necessary to read aloud a decree called “the Requirement” to the Native Americans his crew had “discovered” before coercing them into conversion. If they ignored them, Columbus and his crew could do whatever they wanted with them.

We all know that Columbus wasn’t even the first guy to discover America (at least, I hope your elementary school teachers taught you about Leif Erikson…and the Native Americans…it’s not like they sprout from American soil right after ol’ Chris’ arrival). But he was a man of science, right? Actually, the flat-earth myth, another tried-and-true argument still employed by atheists and free-thinkers to belittle the historical church in the ongoing effort to make religious people look dumb, was never part of any zeitgeist pertaining to the 15th century Church (or any thinking person, for that matter) in the first place. And in the case of Columbus, the fable that he, with strong, science-driven conviction, proved that the earth was indeed round despite the mutinous rambles of his superstitious sailors was actually contrived by Washington Irving, the guy who wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”.

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Look at that smug grin. The guy was from Westchester. Doesn’t surprise me. Downstate prick.

And the troll even knew it was a falsehood.

Not one man that walked the earth other than Christ was perfect. It seems somewhat wrong to dedicate a holiday to one man who we barely know anything about. Martin Luther King, Jr. received his holiday less than twenty years after his death. People knew his merit and had even witnessed his legacy and contribution to history as it was unfolding in the 1960s. Columbus Day was never declared a federal holiday until 1937…445 years after his initial voyage. I would think that a few details of Columbus’ tale had been lost in translation after that amount of time. So if it is faulty to dedicate a holiday to one man who lived too long ago and has little historical evidence supporting his legend, why not dedicate a holiday to an entire people group that does? A group that has fought bravely for centuries for their land, endured years of bloodshed and exploitation, broken land-treaties by the newly established government, and threatened traditions? Hey, why not?

When I heard the news in April that Minneapolis had changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, I felt a sense of justice. This past week, when Seattle followed the larger Twin City’s initiative, I felt even more justified. As one might infer from the intro paragraphs of this perpetually growing essay, this issue in history is a personal one for me. It’s one of the personal reasons I have decided to study history because I have spent my teen years treading the soil on which much of the tension took place. I see this as a true reason to celebrate. But, as it goes, not everybody’s happy. Some of the media-based reactions slightly disconcerted me. No wonder.

The changing of this holiday’s name is, according to one writer on the Tea Party News Network, “a move that will have the political correctness police cheering”. Okay. I might say that this goes beyond political correctness. But I can’t say that without repeating myself. So I will.
It. Is not. About. Political. Correctness. Visit a reservation (or take a trip to the library, look under “American history”).

The writer goes on, saying “modern day liberalism is an ideology dedicated to eradicating and replacing traditional values of American identity and pride.” Okay, so this is all just another partisan issue as always. That’s what it is reduced to again. If you ask me, there’s hardly anything more conservative (even libertarian) than the specific causes of Indigenous rights. Their struggle has been overwhelmingly faced against the American government…from the very first democrat, King Andrew and his Indian Removal Act to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which overturned their traditional form of self-government. Supposedly, conservatism has a monopoly on responsibility and self-reliance, which is a value shared by the Native Americans. Like the small-business owner, nobody is more opposed to governmental interference than the Native American chief. But I guess the deal is that liberalism has a monopoly on human sympathy and feeling. So be it.

I will have to add in my dissertation that history is not only about pride. In fact, national pride as the exclusive paradigm by which to see history harms it. To study history is to look at everything, especially the ugliness of it all, and say “it does not have to be this way anymore”. It does not have to be another century of tension and aggression. It does not have to be another day of cold stares from the Mohawk kids to the Italian kids whenever the latter commutes from the Northside of Syracuse to get a “pack-a-cigs.” It does not have to be the America that Columbus left behind.

That is why I will always celebrate Indigenous People’s day.

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Short story: Inhale

A short story I read for a Humanities class at my college. It’s based on a story I wrote in 11th grade and decided to revisit and tweak up a bit. I hope you enjoy

Inhale

Buffalo, NY. 2045.
He believed in the Mask.
He had believed in it and yet he had perished from it. The Mask just fit a little too tightly. It’d been pressing up against his Adam’s apple all those hours in the office…I can’t say why it finally killed him at that moment, but he was hunched over his desk, as always, and I heard it…he was being throttled. I had forgotten the sound, like slow crushing of walnuts, because, well, we all believed in the Mask, and the Mask had never let us down. Our delicate eyes were blocked from the Sun by the Mask, our fragile ears were protected from noise pollution by the Mask, our noses guarded from every heinous odor of the outside world by the Mask…and yet, the Mask decided that this kid couldn’t stay.
It was the first workplace accident in ten years.
And yet, every day remained the same after that. A mere freak accident that involved a little wrinkle that the government would iron out in due time. We couldn’t mourn because we knew that would just be a distraction. The only difference I noticed after his passing was that every day for every person carried a faster pace. I wake up just a minute earlier now. It used to be 7:00. It is now 6:59.
There goes my alarm now. My pod opens. We’ve been using oxygenated pods that stimulate sleep since Operation Quarantine was issued by the government ten years ago. As the iron door slides open, so do my eyelids. I see nothing but whiteness. These kinds of rooms were called Emergency Rooms when my parents were children, but now they serve as your everyday bedroom. I lift myself out of the pod. The floor is frigid to the soles of my feet. I shuffle across it to the table at the end of my room. A screen spread against the wall by the table is on the WNY Medical News Channel, as it always is. “Third pandemic this year in China,” the headline below the talking head reads, as if reporting the daily market watch. After the Virus report, a man in the Mask appears and I know right away that it is Governor Rustonvelt. He gives the same message every day. “As long as we are clean, progressive, and in control every hour of every day, we will live to see a stronger New York.”
Every day I watch the WNY Medical News Channel on channel 39. I also eat the same cereal with the same spoon and the same bowl. Naturally I put this back into my dish washer for the next day. By instinct I also wipe down the top of my table until it regains its reflective shine. Three-hundred-and-twenty-five circles with the rag or it isn’t clean. I wipe down my television set after I am finished watching the news. Then I go to my closet and put on my jumpsuit, which shines like onyx in the blinding white room. Everything is clean and nothing does not shine.
Time for work. My shoes lie against the wall of my closet, polished, and perfectly in line. I slip them on and leave my closet. A kiosk on the wall next to my closet is waiting to be opened, and I must open it, lest I choke on the air outside and die. I punch in the code on the number pad next to it. The door opens. I pull it out. I pull it over my head and suddenly the eyes given to me by that which-was-once-called-God are replaced by large protruding orbs. My mouth is now a tube, sealed by a ventilating cap. It is my Gas Mask. I believe in it. By it I shall live. Without it, I shall die.
I walk to the Station. Each apartment is situated so that it takes no more than 200 steps to get to the Station. Today it takes 199. The line is not too long. I walk inside. I find a seat. I sit. We must sit ten feet apart. No more, no less. The closer we sit, the more likely we are to touch. Touching is absolutely unacceptable in a public setting. There is this one girl who usually sits across from me on the bus. I can tell her out from the rest of the crowd because of the wave of gold that spills out from the sides of her mask. Some days when I feel like it I wonder just a little bit what every face looks like other than my own.
Masks. Nothing but Masks. Masks everywhere. Did we always have all these Masks? To my right is a fat Mask who has his head crooked back and fumes seem to be leaving his respirator. Must be snoring. This is what it is like to live, how glorious!
The city we are rushing through has come a long way from its days as a jungle of scaffolding and graffiti covered brick. Buffalo is the #1 manufacturer of the Mask. In fact, my job is to make the Mask so that everybody might be saved by its great power. I work with the greatest of fellow worker bees. We sit down at computers and conceive designs of the Mask and sometimes commission sales to other countries. It is a lovely job and I am glad to do my part. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever tire of seeing the Mask.
We have arrived at the bay where I get off. A towering building that evokes ivory casts a black veil of a shadow over Buffalo. A revolving door brings me to a wide open atrium of white speckled in with black. I look down at my timepiece. It is 9:04. I used to get here at 9:05. I walk past the same receptionist, down the same hall, towards the same cafeteria, past the same men sitting and discussing the same kind of logistics. Nobody greets me, but this comes as no surprise. The Mask isn’t very friendly. You can’t really see what people are thinking because of it, so you don’t know if they’re being sarcastic or serious or warm or cold. In fact, we actually avoid showing any emotion at all. Idle chatter is still commonplace, tedious and banal.
“Did you hear about that intern?” a low, dispassionate voice belonging to a muscular Mask ahead of me mutters. “He choked on his own Mask…”
“He wasn’t used to the kind of Masks we use in the state of New York,” a short, chubby female Mask says ten feet ahead of him, not even turning around. “We’re working on a new design to avoid reoccurrence.”
“I hear there’s a new pathogen circulating across Upstate. It came from Binghamton,” the muscle says as if this had anything to do with previous conversation.
“WNYHealth has over 300 dedicated physicians who will be able to keep this city safe and eventually contain this pathogen,” Chubby pitches. “New York will be safe once again.”
It’s time I get some lunch. The line is very expansive because we have to be separated by ten feet. There are only seven of us at the moment, so the wait isn’t too long. When I arrive at a window, a very tall and skinny Mask is serving me.
“Order, ” she says.
“Coffee,” I say. First word of the day. “Black.”
She hands me a black thermos and a lid-shaped device with a tube protruding from it. I screw this onto the end of my mask’s nozzle. This is how I am able to drink. Pretty neat, eh? I was on the committee that came up with this design. I sit down at the nearest table. I should be thinking about the latest design proposal to avoid future accidents, but I am thinking about sea cucumbers, and what it must be like to live and breathe underwater. To not have the need to simply feel.
God, or whoever you are, or whatever you are, if you really are there, please make me a sea cucumber.
I stop thinking about sea cucumbers. Something is wrong. Horribly wrong. A crowd gathers. They are a lot closer together than they should be…they seem to be circling around somebody.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” It is the first time I have heard somebody yell and curse in a long time. And it is absolutely beautiful. I walk toward the mob.
In the eye of the crowd encircling him is a man. A man in a jumpsuit like me, and all around kosher, except for one little detail.
He has abandoned the Mask.
He is looking at me. His eyes are wide open, jubilant turquoise. He is smiling, indulging in his moment of infamy.
“Breathe, my friend,” he says. “Just breathe.”
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to act. “What are you doing?” I say, still muffled behind this Thing.
“Breathe, my friend,” he iterates. “Let it go.”
He raises himself and butts his way through the crowd. The people spread out to let him through without touching them. He walks up to me. He puts a bare hand on my shoulder. Bedlam, madness, entropy take over as the crowd disperses across the shining floor.
“He has touched him!” a high ranking Mask yells.
“Somebody do s-something!” A Mask with a stutter yells. I notice these Masks trip, stammer, cough, stub their toes and curse, sob, and hit inanimate objects in fury. And one by one, they all become human.
The man’s hand is still on my shoulder. “Hello, mister” he says. “I just wanted to say to you that it is alright. It will be OK. Just breathe.” He is telling me something with his stares. My hesitation has been worn down thin. I take off the mask. I rip off the mask. I see this room through eyes that I have not used outside of my home in ten years. He leans in, his breath like the smell of earth, and he whispers something in my ear and I feel elated. Two brief, simple words. I long to go outside and say them to the first Mask, the first human, I see.
“Go,” he commands.
I run down the white halls, stained in red at one area because somebody has succumbed to a bloody nose. I run past the receptionist, who is staring at the empty ceiling because she is not empty inside, but has been a jilted lover all her life. And I run past the revolving door, covered in finger prints because sometimes the fabric in our jumpsuits rips and the skin underneath is exposed.
I am outside now. Each breath is a song and the sky is now the shade of blue that it should be. The sun kisses my face. I look ahead and see that girl, still confined by her mask, but still letting the waves of gold dance in the wind. I run up to her and embrace her. She pulls her mask off and asks me if it is safe to breathe.
“Yes,” I say, and stare. I shed a tear. I am looking into the face of innocence. But I must share the words with her.
“Are you alright, sir?” She says, her jade green irises peering at my naked soul.
“I am.”

Life happens.

So. Yeah. My blog.

I can’t tell if I’ve been extemely busy or perpetually lazy. It hasn’t been the easiest year, but probably among the most edifying for me personally. First breakup? Been there, done that (still cool friends). Associate of Arts? I got it (and I am currently one of the very few at my current college who *technically* has an actual degree, other than professors). Moving out of my parents’ house to a new college, in a new STATE?? Yup! Rebuilding my young-yet-always-struggling faith after a drought of debilitating doubt? Yes, still (spiritual battles make you into a pretty killer poet). Dealing with Pittsburgh sports fans? We all have to, don’t we!

So now that I’m a big boy now, I think I’m going to chase the dream (yes, I know, I’ve said it before) of being a blogger/free-lance writer. I’m going to keep it mostly to critical thoughts on film as I had intended but I may expand and throw in the occasional opinion piece on current events just to stir the pot. Don’t you just love History and Sociology students? How wonderful they are!

I also might share a short story now and then. If I feel like it.

So that about covers it. Just a quick one. I can feel my caffeine tank reaching “E”.

Fare thee well,

J

5 Most Anticipated Albums Coming Out In 2014

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Well, I began my last entry with a sensation-grabbing retrospect on the previous year, and I might begin this post with the same thing. I do believe that cinema (as an art form) is healthier than popular music at the moment, but nonetheless 2013 was not bad to the rock and roll fan (we will ignore the despicable MTV shows or the uninteresting year on the Top 40, it has been that way for a long time and it will probably stay that way).

But right now I’d rather look forward toward this coming year with a nice big smile (or gritted teeth?) and a positive “rock on” sign. I probably should have written this sooner as a couple of albums I was excited about a month ago (Bruce Springsteen and Switchfoot’s latest) have been released this week. Aw, darn, I got to go fill those two vacancies! Easily.

Anyway, so the two-zero-one-four.

Well, *subjectively* speaking: will this be the year where guitar-furious rock songs reign supreme on the Top 40 again? Will it be the year where the evil empire called MTV falls under the weight of good music? Will it be the year when music stops being about capitalism or grossing or monetary gain and about free expression of the soul? Well, I doubt it, but exciting things are on the horizon.

An interesting newer alternative group, a posthumous release, a band of 40-year veterans, a third-wave emo cult band coming out of a long break, and one survivor of grunge, still rocking and rolling. It may lack newer, up-and-coming musicians, but I like to let those bands surprise me as sleepers (and barely anything’s announced at this moment).

Here are albums coming out in 2014 that I am quite excited to hear.

5. Too True by Dum Dum Girls

January 28

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I laugh at the man who said “post-punk is dead.” If anybody did, in fact, say that.

Post-punk is very much alive. I suppose there was a revival in the early aughts, but that was really more of a new take on the genre rather than a raw throwback. As much as I love The Strokes, Bloc Party and Interpol, their job was really to build on the post-punk of the past rather than reviving the sounds of 1980.

Enter Dum Dum Girls, a brilliant, all-girl band who hearken back to the days of Siouxsie and the Banshees in sound. They have all the Gothic glamour of The Cure and all the fighting power of a riot grrl group. Their new sounds will be flooding my ear canal later this month. Good vintage-sounding LA post-punk to accompany my cold New York winter.

4. Out Among the Stars by Johnny Cash

March 25

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Late country star and prophet Johnny Cash embodied everything about Americana that we find…well, American. His life had the template of any good American legend: drunken outlaw found love and redemption in the end. That end was eleven years ago, and his legend shows no signs of slowing down or dying out. In March we can hear some parts of that legend that were never revealed to us: Out Among the Stars will bring us some lost sessions from the late 1980s that Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, discovered in 2012. Although posthumous compilation releases can go either way, since it’s Cash, take my cash.

You can pretend I didn’t make that joke if you want.

But anyway, the fact that we can hear a part of The Man In Black legend that we never got to hear in 2014 is another sign that this legend is still very much alive.

3. Untitled by U2

Sometime this year

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Yes, yes, I know. U2. The huge band that has as many detractors as it has worshipers. Whether or not you can stand Bono and his crazy shades, U2’s 5 year(!) vacancy has been too long for us fans of the group, and we’ll finally get to hear them again. Expectations are high after their masterful 2009 album No Line On The Horizon brought together the soaring, echoing anthems of ecstasy from their mid-’80s Joshua Tree era and their ironic, pomp-pop-kitsch experimentation in the Achtung Baby ‘90s while ultimately being part of their career revitalization of the 2000s. This record was a near masterpiece, and it spawned a fantastic tour that I got to witness in Boston.  Given that U2’s career has been almost perfectly divided into chapters by decade, their first album of the ’10s may give us something new. Maybe a conglomerate of all of their previous phases (won’t that be interesting). Whether it’s a flop or a masterpiece, the opportunity to see them in concert again will be tempting.

2. The Fifth Studio Album and First in Five Freaking Years by Brand New

We May Never Know

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And now we get a tad personal. Bear with me here.

Unfortunately prolific and high-quality do not go hand in hand. Brand New can be seen as a prime example. A band with musical and lyrical depth that most friends in the scene cannot reach, the band has transcended the “emo” label that has been following them around since their masterful Deja Entendu was unleashed on the world (which to this day, I hold that as its generation’s The Bends). They are one of the few bands I feel that I can show to both a My Chemical Romance fan and a Neutral Milk Hotel fan and say “here, I’m pretty sure that you will love this.” Now, even though I’m in BN’s own native New York, I seldom found another fan during my years in high school. Then I went to college. Then I found that they do have a fanbase. A rabid, mean, dedicated, attached, even competitive fanbase.

If there are any problems with being a fan of Jesse Lacey’s group, they are but two: 1. Other Brand New fans and 2. Waiting for more music. For quite a while, Brand New were my favorite band. I suddenly saw that I was among many rather rude people, angry at everything, cynical, taking to Tumblr to vent rage against parents, Republicans and other Brand New fans. But what turned me off to the fanbase most of all was their whining for: A. another tour; B. sold out tickets and C. a new album. Distressed by this madness, I narrowed my fandom down to listening to the music and going to festivals that would have them playing with other bands (the disaster as a die-hard, ticket-seeking fan culminated in my attempt to get a ticket from a NJ venue, where they had me wait in a “virtual waiting room” for a half-hour before telling me that there were no tickets left).

But then I realized that the more I wait, the more impatient I become for some new music. If anything, the boys in this band have not been lazy, but humbly committing time to promoting their friends’ projects (Kevin Devine, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, among others). In 2012, while on tour, Lacey announced that the band had plans for a new album. Recently in an interview, drummer Brian Lane revealed that “there is Brand New stuff happening.” As with all things that are special to me and simply excite me, I want to avoid speculating too much about what the album will offer. All I’m concerned with is whether this was worth the half-decade long wait. After four albums and zero slip-ups, I have faith that it will be.

1. Untitled But Still Announced by Foo Fighters

TBD

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Well, what else would it be? Getting personal here again.
At the age of 13, I watched a little awards show called the Grammys. A group I had known the name of for a long time was performing a song from their nominated album. This song was called “The Pretender”. While I was astounded by the stage presence that these four men, each a gripping virtuoso, committed to their performance, I actually found the melody interesting. I had thought at that moment that there was classic rock and only classic rock.  Modern Rock and Roll was dead for all I knew. But no, these four guys showed me that rock is very much alive, and that it is a powerful thing.

Fast forward to Junior year in high school. I remember the last album, 2011’s terrific Wasting Light and buying it on a Tuesday in April, right upon its release. It was, of course, like every other Foo Fighters album, a dose of arena ready rock. Wait, make that an AWESOME dose of arena rock! Like every other Foo Fighters album.

The Foo formula (Foo-rmula?) may be a formula. But it is an (ahem) awesome formula. Dave Grohl is to rock and roll what Martin Scorsese is to cinema; a master, an advocate, a mouthpiece, a historian, and a preserver. I do not know of any other rock star so dedicated to and so fervent in their passion for the genre they participate in. While selling out arenas via Ticketmaster, Grohl is not afraid to speak his mind about American Idol being a cop-out for aspiring and talented musicians. While being a mainstay on MTV (yes, that evil corporation does still show great rock videos on occasion), he’s not afraid to criticize the VMAs. He has survived Courtney Love’s wrath. And as a multi-talented performer, he has assembled the greatest instrumentalists to back up his great songwriting.

Grohl has been teasing an eighth album for months now. According to him, it will be done in a way that has never been done before. Knowing that Dave has a “shameless” practice of using a songwriting approach that works perfectly for him and his group and the kind of music that they are intent on playing, I’m guessing that he means recording technique rather than songwriting experimentation. Either way, we can expect and trust Dave to give us a rock solid album, one that can sound good played in the garage or at Wembley Stadium. As the supposed nice guy in rock, I think we’ve been able to trust this man with his project over the past 19 years, despite the fact that they haven’t gone all Kid A on their fans. This is lack of 180 degrees is, quite naturally, to the chagrin of many a critic.

A critic I used to have a lot more respect for, The Chicago Sun-Times’s Jim DeRogatis, is known for writing off the Foo Fighters (among countless other respected artists) because of their “tedious and hollow arena bombast” and “formulaic grunge retreads” as said in the scathing review of “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” (their while I can write a scathing review of DeRogatis’ rather elitist and rigidly picky criteria standards that would make even Pitchfork livid with envy, he’s right in a way. Remove his contextual tone and the subjective adjectives he uses (“tedious,” “hollow”) and he’s certainly right. The Foo Fighters have a formula that is called rock n’ roll. And that is their game: to give us some real, bona fide rockers backed by layers of guitars and couched in strong melodies. And in a genre that’s (subjectively speaking) in a bit of a slump in our mainstream media, what more could rock fans ask for? It will be: say it with me…

Awesome.

5 Most Anticipated Films of 2014.

Hello, reader, scroller, or blog explorer. I see you have found my blog. It has been an anomaly, a dream turning over in the back of my mind for months (possibly years, I do not remember) and I have decided, with the new year now a reality, that it is time for it to become a tangible reality to unleash onto the world. Here you will find reviews, thoughts, and pontificating exported from the nooks and corners of the folds of my brains. Film, literature, and possibly food will be emphasized. Please enjoy.

 

Wow. What a year.

This past year has been a plethora of surprises (The Spectacular Now), disappointments (The Bling Ring, To The Wonder), controversies (that one that was released on Christmas with that one famous actor), and heart (Monsters University), as well as many interesting movies that I have yet to see because they never came to my town and/or have been held back to compete in the midst of Awards Season (the list would be too long for a parenthetical statement).But 2013 is in the past, and, after several moments of convincing from my fellow cinephile friend, I will look upon it with a smile as one of the more exciting years in film in recent memory, joining the ranks of 1999, 2007, and the year before, 2012.

But as 2012 had its thrills via Looper and Argo (among others), and as 2013 had its memorable works in American Hustle and Mud, 2014 maybe the bookend to a trilogy. I, of course, am not talking about The Hobbit trilogy. Contrary to some naysayers, we are in a great time to be fans and matinee goers. And, even only one week into the new year, we can speculate that we have a lot to look forward to over the next 51 weeks.

Here are my most anticipated films of 2014.

1. Inherent Vice

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The Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Anderson (adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel)

The Players: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterson, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon

Paul Thomas Anderson. Say no more.

Besides my semi-fanboy dedication to the man and his work, there are many reasons to be excited about this film. Six films in, we can surely call Anderson a man to keep an eye on, a bull in a China shop, unpredictable but never uninteresting; evolving and maturing throughout his career, but starting out as an interesting artist above many others with more experience. His early films were a conglomerate of Scorsesean freneticism, Altmanesque human ensemble drama, and Max Ophuls’s restless camera. He gave us the best Sandler movie ever, and a dark Kubrickian drama that, like a good John Ford film, dripped with American blood. 2012’s divisive-yet-respected The Master avoided all expectations thrown upon it as a shallow and nasty “expose” of Scientology and gave us a compelling, thoughtful look at postwar America and the identity crisis that plagued it.

So what can we expect from the next film, Inherent Vice? I do not want to guess too soon. The text it has inspired is there for speculation, separating it from his earlier films; it involves a kidnapping plot, a stoner private investigator (Phoenix) nicknamed “Doc,” a brutish crooked cop who nicknamed “Bigfoot” (I can already say Brolin’s casting as the character is what I would’ve had in mind) who enjoys chocolate-covered bananas, and a Raymond Chandler-meets-Hunter S. Thompson psychedelic noir escapade. But even if it may fall into an established genre, albeit one with a clever twist, Anderson’s stylistic choices are not going to be easy to anticipate clearly, not this early. Will he return to the fast-paced, frenetic and disoriented pow pow pow of his early films (minus Sydney)? Will he continue further down that abstract, atmospheric road he has been with his latest films? Read the book if you wish to give me the answer, but it could go either way and still be coherent.

One thing can be speculated: Anderson wants to surprise us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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The Director: Wes Anderson

The Players: See every other Wes Anderson movie, take the standouts from each movie’s cast, shed Luke Wilson, add a young Indian actor named Tony Revolori, and Ralph Fiennes, and you’ll have the cast for this film.

(NOTE: this choice is not an excuse to tease, and I confess, my own type of people, hipsters. But I will anyway.)

My second favorite filmmaker with the surname “Anderson” (and one of my top 10 favorites overall) happens to know my birthday (March 12th) because he’s releasing his latest film five days before, on the 7th. While David Bowie was very kind last year to release his album The Next Day on the day of my birthday, I consider Wesley’s gift more gratifying as it leaves me, famously non-punctual, from hanging onto the fringes of long lines, waiting in line to purchase a snack (most likely candy to compliment the color that can be expected from this film), sitting at the mercy of a seven-foot-seven moviegoer in front of me who went because of Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, but can’t quite “get” offbeat and detached hipster-happy genre-spectacle before him. Even worse, to my left and to my right would no doubt be a myriad of hipster-couples whispering in a way that they HOPE moviegoers around them will notice, full of pseudo-film-savvy (“an oh-mahzj to Rohmer, no doubt?” “haha, I see that Godard/Truffaut echo there, Wes, you thought I wouldn’t notice?”). Please, no.

Instead, Wes will be giving me his colorful and fantastic-looking candy-coated adventure, full of strange and unique characters, a couple days after a probable hellish opening night (and a night in which I will avoid travelling to Portland or Austin). This hue-filled aesthetic will service a dark plot involving a hotel concierge and his faithful bellhop assistant (surely Gene “Royal” Hackman can make an appearance? *snicker* sorry, just a little reference) who try to shake off the concierge’s framing of the murder of a wealthy woman. This will, no doubt, be filled with dry, subtle humor (a.k.a. the kind of humor you don’t gaffaw at but can’t help but quote endlessly because of it’s charm), and that strange yet affecting quirky Wes-brand of poignancy. Whatever I’ll be seeing on my birthday, not opening night, and enjoying it with my own hipster friends. Thank you, Wes.

   3. Boyhood

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The Director: Richard Linklater

The Players: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Salmon

When Richard Linklater first began shooting Boyhood, I was a third-grader living one of those. I was still getting used to no training wheels (even at 8 I was never one for being a risk-taker). I liked to pick on girls (or follow around the tougher, more charismatic boys who enjoyed doing so) and looked at them as the opposing side in an ongoing civil war. I lived in a small Midwestern city where basically every character seemed well tailored to meet all my needs and comforts. I haven’t read much outside the Boxcar Children series, Tintin or the Hardy Boys. 

By the time Richard Linklater had wrapped Boyhood, I was a college sophomore and a year-and-then-some finished with the concept that inspired the title. I was getting into driving and my opinion of the opposite sex had matured. I now saw some that I knew as best friends (!) and even happened to be dating one. I lived in a big, Northeastern, Rust-Belt town where not every character exactly treated me kindly. And I had gotten into Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, CS Lewis, and had read some the usual Hawthorne, Huxley, Orwell, and Salinger read for high school English class (and loved each one).

That’s right, what Linklater, another favorite whether he’s an indie maverick or a studio funnyman, has done here is take a young actor at the age of 6 in the year 2002 and gave him a script, turned on a camera and turned it off again. He continued this as the boy grew, and by this past October Linklater and the now 18-year-old boy have finally wrapped. Other players are Patricia Arquette and Linklater pal Ethan Hawke, who play the boy’s character’s divorced parents.

I may have not taken many risks as a youth, but Rick has taken a monstrous risk with this film. The complete ambition sounds amazing to me. Why see such an audacious, ambitious, unconventional film like this? Because those are the films worth seeing. And as somebody who has experienced boyhood, I can’t wait.

4. Noah

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The Director: Darren Aronofsky

The Players: Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly

As a Christian who takes the faith (and the power of filmmaking on the zeitgeist) seriously, I do not allow a Hollywood blockbuster to be seen as a threat to my faith. The Ten Commandments took so many liberties in its portrayal of the Moses account, and yet it has gone down as a classic and a bright spot in Hollywood epics. I’m more concerned about whether or not it distorts the message rather than distorting the portrayal of events.

As a subgenre, I think that the Biblical Epic (and the Historical Epic in general) has been waning as of late. It is a shame because, despite some contextual things, it is in many ways an accessible genre. Battle scenes, natural disasters, swords, sandals, chariots. In real life, maybe having a Hans Zimmer score backing them up was the last thing on the minds of those warriors, but Hollywood has a way of making it popular. Hopefully, this film will give us all the feelings that our parents got when they saw Ben Hur.

You know the story, although other than the Bible this film was inspired by a graphic novel based on the account found in Genesis. Russell Crowe might not be the grandfatherly figure we are used to, but this is not the sunny, rainbow hued pictures that illustrated my Beginners’ Bible. The story of Noah is a messed up story, and Darren Aronofsky is good at directing those kind of things.

Plus, look at that trailer. Maybe not Sunday school material, but worthy of a Saturday afternoon matinee. 

5. Interstellar

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The Director: Christopher Nolan (!)

The Cast: Michael “Duh” Caine, Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain 

(NOTE: I did not place this in last place to tick off/make fun of my other kind of people, fanboys. I simply couldn’t choose where to put it.)

I like Nolan. I feel that he is the hero moviegoers deserve, and the hero that we need. A box-office friendly entertainer through and through, he is also a true thinker, and not afraid to incorporate brains into his stories that bemuses his audience, allowing them to think. Allowing them to think, that is, as much as they have to; if I do have a problem with Nolan, it is his style of dialogue. I understand that with concepts as complicated as the ones in Nolan’s head, you would be tempted to feed everybody the ideas through the words of your characters, but it makes the characters seem less human. Nonetheless Nolan knows not to abuse this in a way that makes the ending obvious, and always tends to leave the ending up to the viewer.

That and a few things about his Batman reinventions are the only problems I have with the filmmaker. I’ll save the latter for a future post so fanboys will have time to buy tomatoes and throw them at the screen. Or come up with counterarguments.

So with this new film you’ve got a team of explorers and scientists who go into space to travel through a wormhole. It involves alternate dimensions and other fascinating subjects. The stock-footage filled trailer, which looks like both an excellent teaser and a very well-put together commercial, gave us only a glimpse (and none of it was in space). No details concerning specific plot details have spilled. Good.

So much ambition. So much potential. I can’t wait.

Honorable Mentions:

X-Men: Days of Future Past—My early-Summer superhero blockbuster of choice for this year. I’m happy to be seeing Bryan Singer return to the franchise that was only he and Matthew Vaughn could effectively oversee. The fact that it’s based off of that limited series is also enticing.

Knight of Cups and Untitled—Terrence Malick is also a favorite, and apparently (we can never say for sure with that man) he has two films in post-production. Little is known about these projects, but that is what makes Malick Malick. 

Gone Girl—Would have been my #6. A David Fincher film based on a murder novel? I’m game. While I haven’t read the novel, the words “mystery” and “Fincher” alone have me.