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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dreamend’s ‘And the Tears Washed Me, Wave After Cowardly Wave’ (7/12/12)

Simply put, Dreamend boasts some of the best folk music since Andrew Jackson Jihad’s 2007 release People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World. Ryan Graveface’s lyrics and delivery on And the Tears Washed Me, Wave After Cowardly Wave are reminiscent of Elliot Smith while his electronica backing mixes flawlessly with raw acoustic folk, something not too many people are attempting in folk today.

Based in Savannah but formed in Chicago, Dreamend is the project of Ryan Graveface with a mix of other musicians and friends, from Mike Mularz to John Momberg, Lucas Oswald, and the wonderful voice of Maria Reichstadt on the track “Winter Wheat,” among others. Ryan has confessed that And the Tears is a sequel to 2010s So I Ate Myself, Bite by Bite. He reports on the band’s Facebook profile that the concept for the pair wraps around a “serial killer’s journal [where] part 1 covered a fairly large span of time in his life – childhood to his thirties [and] part 2 takes place after his initial taste for blood and accurately ends with his death.” In fact, Graveface describes Dreamend’s genre as “murder folk,” something bands like Andrew Jackson Jihad would probably adopt as well.

The rebellious tones, specifically in the movements of the keyboards and the layering of muffled vocals under the instruments rather than over in most cases, contribute to the disconnected narrative protagonist that Graveface has adopted for the project. I view the pinnacle moment of this narrative, the start of the killing so to speak, as the seventh song on the album, “God Went Out of Me.” Graveface really gets to the heart of feeling as if your routine has imprisoned you, essentially he’s bottled those moments where violent tendencies float into our heads and nihilism temporarily rules. As an obvious fact, the entirety of And the Tears surrounds death and the afterlife. “Cold & Dead” seems to ring as a romantic eulogy to death itself as if the protagonist is staring into the eyes of a deceased loved one, where their embrace has literally gone “cold” and “dead.”

“The Sick Cell Cabinet,” the single from the album if you could manage to pluck it from the coherent narrative, seems to suggest the brain as being a cabinet full of sick cells – specifically those not necessarily overt in our minds but would exist so in the mind of a serial killer. “Your Apparition Stays With Me Still” continues that repetition of loss and the desire to escape and get away from it all. The call and response between Ryan and the backup vocalist for the song really gets at the narrator talking to his conscience and essentially how guilt and grief can wear you away. “Mothers” calls out to mothers on the verge of insanity, as in all the cases of mothers murdering their children. Graveface seems to point to his protagonist having an abusive past here, singing to ‘all the other mothers’ and telling them not to leave because they’ve possibly made a better job of it than the protagonist’s own mother had. “Off Route 8” brings up the idea of repetition, that we’ve all been ‘down this road before’ and how we should ‘break down these walls’ of the everyday.

And the Tears feels like a voyage in itself much like any concept album should, clinging as much to its post-production rounding as to its raw acoustic effects. Dreamend carries the multi-instrumentalist techniques and baptizing vocal effects of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, along with a knack for storytelling and an ear for etching raw regret. My favorites were the wonder in “Winter Wheat” and the nihilism of “God Went Out of Me.”

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Behrend Beacon Articles

 

Chairlift’s ‘Something’ (7/12/12)

Taking big risks with their fame rather than taming themselves, Chairlift’s Brooklyn-based Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly have created a tribute to the synthesizer with their second album, Something, released this past January through Columbia Records. Working with that bigger label, whereas they were once under Kanine Records and were shot to fame with “Bruises” use in Apple advertising, has had a few effects on the band, I feel.

Where Something has embraced ‘80s sounds similar to Peter Gabriel and typical of dream-pop, this sound wasn’t where they began back in 2008 with Does You Inspire You. Simply looking at “Bruises,” the composition was a walking drum and bass line with a repeated synth pattern between verses and those verses essentially were the song. Polachek’s vocal range was inarguably the central focus of “Bruises,” besides possibly the breezy feel it projected. Overall, Inspire’s delivery was slower and more casual, debating love and relationships subtly in the vocal form of Lana Del Ray. Yet, in the case of “Make Your Mind Up” and select other tracks, the audience really got to hear the aggression Polachek was capable of, a power similar to that of Florence Welch. Also, the off-the-wall interlude “Chameleon Closet” from Inspire was a brooding preview for experimental and doom-laden tracks that sounded sure to come on upcoming albums.

Something, however, shatters most of those previous notions collected of this band. It would seem as if Chairlift has taken a turn for the worse, fully embracing the public appeal of “Bruises” as their definition and spinning a web somewhere in the ‘80s. “Take It Out on Me” revisits the auto-tuned sentiments of Imogen Heap, yet is somehow less captivating. Granted the band taps into the vintage style of The Cranberries in many cases such as “Ghost Tonight” and “Met Before,” yet the whole of the album is much too repetitive. At points when it slows down, as in the exposition of “Cool as a Fire,” Something really succeeds, tapping into a sort of crooning style that’s well-missed from that dream-pop era.

The energy of “Amanaemonesia” and “Sidewalk Safari” seem to be direct references to the ‘80s, a tendency for artists to make up new words that stretch well under manipulation and auto-tuning and a common urban fairy tale of making an everyday sidewalk into a childlike adventure. “Met Before” has similar lyrics and song length to She & Him’s material, describing a rekindled romance with a surf-like instrumental feel. The true, and desperately needed, success of the album comes with the song “Guilty as Charged,” not because it occurs at the end of the record but because it showcases Polachek’s fantastic vocals without post-editing or manipulation. Even though the song boasts a Jumanji-style bass beat from the get-go and emphasizes it through repeating it in the end, her somewhat casual vocal delivery is entrancing. When the beat rolls into repetitions and modifications in the latter half of the song, Wimberly is able to express some experimental and improvisational ability but it may be too little too late to save the album.

Essentially, if you’re looking to crown a Madonna of today, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek may be your answer, but weighted against the strength of delivery that both Feist and Florence Welch have offered in recent years, you’re better off going back to those days of Genesis and the ‘Donna. The three tracks worth listening to on Something are “Sidewalk Safari,” “Amanaemonesia,” and “Guilty as Charged,” the last of which barely fits the rest of the album but strangely rises above in quality.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Behrend Beacon Articles

 

Horror Quickies: ‘Horsemen,’ ‘Eden Lake,’ and ‘Mirrors’ (1/19/11)

Horror Close-up: Horsemen

American horror has failed me again. This probably shouldn’t be a place for bad reviews, but I just can’t let anyone who reads this paper to view this movie. Horsemen, starring Dennis Quaid, examines a serial killer case based on the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which are outlined in the book of Revelation. In Christian theory, when the end of the world comes, four horsemen arrive in the order of a white horse, a red horse, a black horse, and a pale horse (referenced as green later in scripture). With each horseman, in the explanation of the serial killers from the film, comes an offering. Throughout the movie, the audience is subject to both ritualistic torture and a combination of bad acting and bad story structure.

Dennis Quaid plays a jaded detective, whose wife has died and with his demanding job, his relationship with his two sons is fading. His oldest son begins to rebel, as Quaid’s job becomes more demanding with the four horsemen case. There’s a token assistant detective that says all the key lines like, “What do we got here?” and “What if this situation was the case?” Does any of this sound familiar yet? It does to me. The main plot points and token characters are repeated time and time again in American mystery and horror films. Besides its rather original basis (religion-based killers have been rare in film-making since Seven), Horsemen lacks on many levels including the fact that most of the plot twists are easily detectable. The ending is rather bland, and the crime scenes are very repetitive. So, all in all, I give this new release, Horsemen, a 5 out of 10 and say skip it, unless you’re a fan of redundancy.

Horror Close-Up: Eden Lake      

“One of the most provocative and terrifying thrillers of the year,” says Empire Magazine. This week, I had the pleasure of reviewing Eden Lake. The film stars Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender, two up-and-coming British stars, but the biggest triumph of the film was the writing and directing from James Watkins. The plot centers around a couple who are looking for a romantic getaway at a remote wooded lake. They bring things to camp out there next to the water when a group of rowdy teenagers begins to party on the beach. Their loud music and interruptive pets causes the boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) to say something to them. He doesn’t get anywhere as they hurl insulting attitudes toward him after he asked for them to turn the music down. He returns to his girlfriend, and when darkness falls, the teenagers leave the beach.

Without revealing any good parts of the film, the couple soon finds themselves dealing with not only the deranged and sheltered group of teenagers acting out a savage revenge scheme but with the parents and townspeople of the houses they came from. It was honestly a refreshing film in the horror genre. Not many films have the courage to explore the element of survival along with the presence of strong love between an on-screen couple, which Reilly and Fassbender clearly have. In my opinion, the film sort of explored the intertwining of two films: The Warriors and The Descent. Not as to say Eden Lake is the complete combination of those two films, but it does combine the basis of rebellious violent teenagers in The Warriors and the survivalist style of The Descent.

All in all, Eden Lake was original and did well in portraying a deranged, remote atmospheric plot, set in place by James Watkins. The film was actually scary on several different levels as it could actually happen, as opposed to monsters running rampant in other horror films. So, this week’s horror selection, Eden Lake, gets a 8 out of 10 from me. Check it out, and see what you think.

Horror Close-Up: Mirrors

“We are so entranced by mirrors, not because of us seeing an image of ourselves, but because we go through life never really knowing how we do what we do. So, in seeing that in a mirror or reflection, we welcome a certain element of wonder and entrancing power,” a quote from actress Paula Patton playing the part of Amy Carson in the film Mirrors, which I just finished watching.
All there is to say is, wow, what an amazing piece of genre gold from writer/director Alexandre Aja – most well-known for his film The Hills Have Eyes. For some of you, that previous work of his will either be a turn-off or a turn-on to see Mirrors, but you should know to not let any influence from The Hills Have Eyes lead you to believe that this film is at all similar. That being said, Alexandre Aja has come a long way from amateur horror to be a huge part of the creation of Mirrors.
Originally a Korean-created film by Kim Sung Ho called Into the Mirror, the American-written version re-titled Mirrors, stars Keifer Sutherland as Ben Carson, an ex-cop who gets a temporary job as an overnight security guard of a prized shopping center that had recently been the victim of an arson. Inside the large shopping center, resembling that of a Macy’s-style setup, he finds several rooms of mirrors. As the nights continue, he begins to see things in the mirrors and also starts finding out several things about the employees of the building before him. A haunting history is unveiled behind the building and several shocking cinematic moments unfold that all lead to a very unexpected and original ending! The movie which pulls together elements from classics like The Shining and The Exorcist alike, also stars Amy Smart – best known from Road Trip – starring as Ben’s close sister, Angela Carson. Overall, the movie was a great watch with several jumpy moments and spreading an overwhelming interest in the well-written story. I give it a 9 out of 10. Check it out, and see what you think.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Behrend Beacon Articles

 

C-Section (Fiction) (12/09)

The sign for Gary’s Funeral Products stares at me from above the entrance. It’s June. I’ve been living with my uncle in Bridgeport, since she left on the day of my graduation. . The rumble of the motor dies off, I open the door of my rusty old Bronco, and walk through the parking lot. The concrete is scarred beyond simple repair. It was better when I first came and was looking all over for a job.  It turned out that my uncle was the proprietor of the only hiring business in the city. It isn’t enough that I have to live with the asshole.  The bell above the door rings as I enter. Gary looks up, his brow lowers in anger and he returns to his work, realizing that I’m not a customer. .  The floor seems newly waxed, so I scan the store for Mina. Our shifts overlap, but she has a kid so Gary lets her leave early sometimes. He’ll complain later to me about her; he always does.

“Mina go home?” I ask, approaching my uncle behind the front desk.

“Yep.”

Uncle Gary is bald with a graying goatee. He  looks polished and pristine in his grey suit, which nobody dares to tell him matches his goatee in color.. The obnoxious red tint of his tie stares at me, and I just want to pluck it from his chubby neck. He’s writing in a vigorous flow and I wonder who got the short end of the stick this time: widow, orphan, or parent? Gary’s eyes don’t judge when it results in another television in the house, a satellite radio for his oversized diesel truck, or a new cherry wood backing for one of his many stuffed deer heads. “Babysitter was bitchin’ again.”. A pause, and then he looks up. When he had orders, eye contact suddenly became important. “The trucks parked out back and the driver’s waiting. Get to work so you can pay me this month’s rent, kid.”

He always used that word. Kid. I hate it more than anything.

However, drivers are the best part of this job.  They rotate so frequently that I began quoting Forest Gump in my mind. ‘The distributor warehouse is like a box uh chocolates, ya never know which driver, you gon’ get.’ Of course, that’s only funny to me. Edgar smoked while he worked, which seemed odd to me. When I think of physical activity, specifically the movement of a coffin from truck to warehouse, why would I want to inhale smoke throughout the process? I didn’t know, but Edgar was a visionary. He proved it in other ways, too. ”You’re probably too young to ‘member Janis Joplin, am I right?”

I nod as we place a coffin next to its mate and lament at my uncle’s necessity to always have two of each coffin in stock. I always wish for models not to sell.  Ed continues, “That’s too bad. She was hot stuff and made some real beautiful music, kid.” There it  is again! And it  isn’t even from a superior. Son of a bitch. “Her music is like listenin’ to drunk songbirds make love in nature, man. I used to drop elephant tabs and listen to it with my buddies in college.” Another long drag and exhale of smoke. “Those were the days.”

I could easily call him out on calling me ‘kid’. We’re in the same rank here, but he might fly off the handle. Mina told me he served in Vietnam for a time. I have little reason not to believe that. “How many of these things we got today?”

Edgar  stands up on the back end of the truck and leans  against the side, throwing a butt out through the docking bay, and grabbing another smoke. He lights it, inhales, exhales. “Twenty, give er take a couple, but Jimmy’ll be coming out later today with the cherry wood floor models, so there ain’t gonna be a ton of breaks.”

I sigh and step onto the truck.

***

                There’s a hill that descends from my uncle’s house with a concrete set of stairs built in. It used to be part of a path leading to the now decaying Catholic Church down the road, and the house he has used to house the sisterhood. I sit on the steps and ease The Garcia Bowl, my glass piece, from my hoodie pocket. Before I pack it, I stare up at the sky; the stars are in their height. They remind me of the first night I went to Mina’s house.

I rang the doorbell and stepped into her living room, in disbelief that that was where the front door opened to.   Mina held her daughter, Isla, in the crook of her left arm. We’d already talked about it via texts, but I was still like, woah. She said for me to come in, and I sat on a couch along the wall of the living room next to her parents. Her mother was between her stepfather and I and she smelled of alcohol and excessive perfume. She had a purple over-shirt that hugged her unsightly rolls, and black capris that led to a pair of tight sandals. She had hardened bunyans on both feet that poked from each sandal and I wondered how she could walk with them. Her stepfather was nearly bald and wore a John Deere cap so it wouldn’t show. He had a greasy five-o-clock shadow and a deflated cigarette hung from his lip. There was a movie playing. I think it was some flick where Toby Keith pretended to act. . The floor was dirty, obviously not vacuumed in a few weeks, and there were  holes in the linings of the couch and recliner.

“Do you want anything to drink?” Mina asked with a smile that showed her embarrassment. She told me that she didn’t want to meet at her house, but I insisted.

“I’m fine. Thanks,” I replied, being immediately followed by her stepfather ordering a beer.

Apparently he had finished his last one. Mina didn’t question him but carried Isla into the kitchen to grab him a Budweiser., After Mina had left, her mother smacked him on the back of the head, “You should fuckin’ say thank you. What the hell’d I marry ya for if you can’t even say thank you to my daughter?” The flannel-clad man smiled and cracked open his beer. In response, her mother crossed her arms, scooting an inch away from him and from their cuddle position. . That sure was some serious punishment. . I think she was drunk, too. Her face was reddened and she slurred her speech just a little.. She slipped occasionally. When she did, she’d concentrate real hard on her next try, her brow lowering, her lips tightening.

“What do you do, Nick? How’s your summer?” Mina’s mother asked, and the fact that those two consecutive questions were pretty unconnected didn’t bother me.  “Have you ever ettin’Cajun food?” she sat back, retried, “Ee-tun Kay-jun food-uh?”

I collected my monologue for the string of questions. “I work for my uncle at his funeral product store. It’s the same place that Mina works. . The summer isn’t going too bad, but I can’t wait until college.” I watched her sit back again, possibly offended by my college aspirations. “Actually, I haven’t had Cajun food. Why do you ask?”

She stood up, already halfway to the kitchen, when she said, “I made some Cajun food last night, kiddo. You’ve got to try some.” Kiddo. Was that better than kid? I agreed to try some of the spicy vegetable and sausage dish. I wasn’t sure if it was actual Cajun food, but I could tell she used Cajun seasoning. Alas, the American way.

Later that night Mina put Isla to bed, and we drove back here. She held my hand on the center console of the Bronco, as I drove with my left. The night was chilly, but we sat  outside anyways. I had The Garcia Bowl that night, too, but I was too nervous to come right out and show her. She knew I smoked, and she’d said she’d smoked before as well, but I wasn’t that forward enough of a person.

“I’ve been listening to Modest Mouse a lot,” she opened. “That CD you gave me had some good stuff from them on it, but I like their more experimental songs.”

I was about to commend her on her discoveries, but I didn’t want to sound too into her, even though I was. “I think Brock’s musical patterns in his more experimental music don’t match up to his great music like Third Planet and Life Like Weeds.” It was bullshit. I knew it. She knew it and reveled with a smile..

“Uh-huh,” she said with a push to my shoulder. We laughed a little and then sat in the resulting silence for a moment. She followed with, “So, do you have any weed?” I knew I loved this woman. I smiled, immediately showing the fact that I did indeed have said bud. She expelled a timid laugh , and Garcia got his first female kiss.. The first two of hers and mine were long, one  right after the other; the last happening when I took her home a couple of hours later.

The grass I smoked on that night was a similar, passionate high  to the headies I smoked tonight, and I missed her.

***

                “Heave!” Carlos exclaims, as the two of us  throw an oak coffin into its section of the warehouse.. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, “Phew!”, but it’s only the first coffin.

I’d worked with Carlos several times before, and his excessive use of the word ‘heave’ made me want to refer to him as one of the seven dwarves. However, he was Mexican, and besides his rather odd, repetitive obsession with that word, he was pretty racially confused. He came into work every time with baggy gray jeans with gold patterns on the pockets, a long white shirt under an obnoxiously colored basketball jersey, and a flat-brimmed cap with dollar signs all over it and the manufacture sticker still on. The second day we worked together he told me the story of his father and mother having a baby together, and how his father couldn’t handle that pressure so he left town. That baby was him. He said his four sisters came after that. Two were with a travelling salesman that his mother met at an AA meeting; one was with the neighbor’s brother, reportedly a pot dealer; and the last, one that he named as Jura, was a mulatto with a one-night stand. He told me that as soon as he was sixteen, he was out of there. Carlos said his mother didn’t cry but threw things at him, saying he was a failure to the family. He said he looked down from his mother’s gaze to see his sister, Jura. She was smiling wide, unperturbed, walking through the living room with her heavy diaper all but falling away. At that point of the story, Carlos paused and stood halfway between the truck and the warehouse. I didn’t even feel the weight of the coffin, but his story was heavier. After a moment of silence, I talked him into finishing the carrying of the coffin. I never mentioned it again and neither did he.

My frown merged with a smile at his use of ‘heave’ and created a smirk. Carlos didn’t notice, but stood wiping the sweat from his forehead with a hankie which he slipped back into the entirely too low back pocket of his jeans.

“You ready for the second one, man?” I asked and patted him on the back. He wasn’t like the other drivers. He was better.

“Sure,” he said, and we walked back to the truck.

***

                The first time Mina and I had sex it was in my basement room at my Uncle’s. We’d drunk a little bit, her more than I, and we were watching Waiting. It was one of my favorite movies, and she hadn’t seen it. It was before I got that couch that I put in front of my bed, so we sat on the edge of the bed. I remember she was wearing a black Tragically Hip tee that hung low with a picture of   a sunset on it. It was one of their album covers, and as much as I loved that band I wanted to tear it off of her. She passed me back the flask, laughing at one of Louis Guzman’s lines in the film, nearly spitting the mouthful onto the carpet. Her laugh was so cute. I listened closely to it before I took a sip. The shot was hard, a cheap liquor that my cousin had bought for me. I gave him thirty, but something tells me he took a hefty tip.

When she went to take the flask from me, our hands touched for longer than I expected. In my moderate drunkenness I’d held the flask back unintentionally. She didn’t take it, but instead slid her hand up further behind my head and pulled me in close. We kissed. I missed her mouth a little, but she straightened me. She was skinnier and took more shots than me, but I was drunk and she was buzzed. After the first long kiss, I sat back, closed the flask, and threw it to the floor. Simultaneously, she shut the movie off, walked quickly to my stereo, and put on Porcupine Tree’s newest album. It was amazing how much focus sex gave to drunken people. At least it was that way with us.

Before reaching the bed, Mina slid her jeans to the floor. White cotton panties with little yellow flowers. I could’ve called it, but for some reason I thought she’d be in black. It must’ve been a personal expectation. I nearly tore my belt, throwing my pants off, followed by the hurried removal of my shirt, but I remember placing my socks neatly, side by side on top of my pants. I still have no idea why I paid them such careful attention, but I suppose the situation needed some odd obsession in my influenced eyes. She stood before me in that black shirt and panties, and said, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

I hadn’t understood the pause she made and went to pull her down beside me, “Ya, Mina. More than ready.”

She hesitated for a second but then fell into my pull, and landed, straddling me. I flipped her onto her back and stood up at the end of the bed. I slid down her panties. It tickled her toe, and she jerked her foot back, but she didn’t laugh or smile. I slid slowly on top of her, pulling down my boxers and slid into her. She moaned slightly, pulling herself back so that we were centered on the bed. We kissed strongly, her hand returning to the back of my head. She was tight, tighter than I’d assumed a mother would be. Mina rubbed her left breast through her shirt. We moved to our sides because my face was reddening from the drunkenness. We were more relaxed on our sides, and Mina pulled me fast. It seemed like she was rushing. I kissed her again, and began to remove her shirt. Her arm fell to hit mine harshly and my arm fell away. I didn’t realize that was intentional and I tried to lift her shirt again. Mina pushed me away from her and sat up at the edge of the bed. She grabbed the flask, quickly and opened it. I was confused and sat up. I moved over to her and saw that she was holding her shirt down stiffly. When I saw she’d  begun to cry, I had to ask, “What’s wrong?”

She paused for a couple of seconds, trying to control her tears. “You’re not going to want me anymore.”

“Yes, I will. Whatever it is,” I replied, denouncing her worry.

She sniffed and looked straight into my eyes. “I had a C-section.”

***

                Mina and I kind of drifted apart from there. It wasn’t her C-section. Or was it? I couldn’t decide. I think it was the fact that she had a kid, or was it? I held her and rocked her to sleep several times. I remember my mother doing the same for me, and we could hear my father screaming from behind the bedroom door. He pounded, and my mother whispered to me about how she’d never let the big bad wolf get me. She promised. She rocked unsteadily, rubbing my back as someone would pet a stingray. The big bad wolf never got into that room, either, but mom left when I fell asleep. She rubbed my back shakier each night, except when my father never came home. Then one night, my father came home from the bar to an empty house. Mom was happy. For a while.

I was leaving for college soon and   Mina wasn’t going anywhere. We didn’t hang out nearly as much after that night we had sex. She didn’t like weed as much anymore either, and she took to pills. Mina got skinny really quick, and when I was around, she was always jittery and nervous when I touched her in the slightest.

Her stepfather hit her mother for the first time in the same week I decided to break it off. She came to me after it happened. Her mother was in the hospital, and she drove Isla in her car to my Uncle’s house. I was sitting on the front porch playing acoustic. She asked me for a glass of water to take a Percocet. I said our faucet was broken, but she didn’t believe me. It wasn’t, and she poured herself a glass. I heard Isla crying from the car, and I walked out from the house, leaving the door open behind me. My uncle woke up from his nap and walked into the kitchen, “Get the fuck out of my house!”

I was halfway to the car to pick up and hold Isla when my uncle stepped out of the house, holding Mina by the wrist; the glass of water fell from her hand and shattered on the gravel of the driveway. “You haven’t been to work in two weeks and you show up in my house popping pills!”

He let her go and she ran into my arms. I didn’t embrace her, but moved her  behind me, away from my uncle’s rage. “You should go back to bed, Uncle Gary. I’ve got it under control.”

He opened his mouth, about to yell and heard the child’s cries. He pointed his fat finger at me from the porch, and exclaimed, “I hope so! You’re mother was the same–”

“Go back to bed, you bastard!” I yelled, my face reddened and my foot stepped forward. He turned around and went inside, slamming the door behind him.

I turned to Mina. She was crying,  leaning against the car. I gave in and hugged her. She cried on my shoulder for a few minutes, shaking from something, probably the pills. I watched Isla cry and squirm in her car-seat, and finally walked Mina to the passenger door of the car. I drove them to the hospital and carried the baby inside. Mina followed timidly with occasional fits of crying.. Her mother, in a room on the third floor, was still drunk and steaming. I watched from the interception desk, as she threw anything she could grab at her presiding nurse: plastic cups, a bed pan, the crackers they’d served to sober her up, anything. The orthopedic surgeon was saying that the fracture in her arm was just getting worse, and I saw  her mother pushing a nurse away from the room into the hall. I didn’t respond to the doctor but  handed Isla to Mina and took the elevator back down to the ground floor without saying goodbye.

***

                I left for college early in August. I didn’t start until early September, but I had enough money to get a place and maintain it until I could find a job. I ended up working at a corner market, a mile away from campus, and I lived at an apartment about four miles further out than that. I lived on the top floor of a three floor complex. There were six apartments, two on each floor. My neighbors across the hall were a couple. My third day there I was unpacking my Epiphone guitar and equipment, when a knock came at the door. It was the two of them, Matt and Holly, with their four year old daughter, Ann Marie. They invited me to take a break from my unpacking and to go to the park with them. I did..

The park was a ten minute walk away. We talked about what I was planning to study at college, where I lived to begin with, and what kind of music I played. It turned out Matt was in a folk band, and once did a session with Isaac Brock in California. I didn’t believe him to begin with, but a couple weeks down the line, he showed me the two song demo they made. Now, I play guitar with Matt every chance I get. It could be that I want to possibly meet Isaac Brock, but the instrumental practice is good, too.

There were kids, couples, and parents all around of different ages and backgrounds. Ann Marie was playing with two other girls on the spiral slide, and I sat on the swing set, taking it all in. Matt and Holly played with Ann Marie from the bottom of the slide and jungle gym. Like the rest of the parents, they didn’t want her to get hurt. A couple of hours later, Holly came to me and knelt down as if I was her own child. She seemed to emphasize the fact that she was older than me, that she was my superior, and I didn’t want Matt to be with her for some reason. “I think we’re going to head back to the apartment. Are you ready to go back, kid?”

I looked up from the ground to meet her gaze. “I think I’m going to stay here awhile.”

She nodded awkwardly and they left.

I stayed on the swing set. Families and kids whirled around the area all day, and some teenagers came around late to smoke some pot on the monkey bars. I watched the sun set.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Creative Work

 

Branagh’s ‘Henry V’ (2/2/10)

There are several moments where Henry’s ruthless nature challenges the notion of his heroism from the point of view of the film’s audience. However, I think within the world of the film he’s ultimately seen as heroic. Branagh uses several techniques within Henry V to emphasize not necessarily Henry’s ruthless nature outright, but genially creates an underlying question of the king’s heroism.

            Branagh often uses close-ups within the film to emphasize emotional moments, most notably in the beginning hour of the film. As Henry is delivering the initial speech in response to the gift of tennis balls, you can see his anger and passion better in those close-ups. Shortly after that scene comes the scene with the French King and Dauphin where there are several close-ups on the Kings rather ragged face, similarly throwing the audience into his disparity and uncertainty. “Branagh managed to achieve both intimacy and scope in his use of the camera” (Crowl, 34).

            Probably the biggest moment within the film where Henry’s heroism is challenged is in the scene where Bardoph is hung for stealing from a church. Branagh uses not only the aforementioned close-ups in this scene, but he shows a flashback of when Henry and Bardoph were drinking together. This creates the assumption that they were close friends and now, as Henry is King, he lets Bardoph be hung for a crime in front of his eyes. Flashbacks are often utilized within the film to show relationships with Henry, and I find it interesting how they are created very gothically and with ominous dialogue at the end to suggest disconnection and guilt on Henry’s part. “The film surprised, too, because it included, graphically, some elements from the ruthless side of the young king excised from Olivier’s more heroic portrait” (Crowl, 34).

            I also agree with a third point that Crowl makes, “The score romanticizes the English victory in a way that the battle’s images do not, opening the door for Branagh’s detractors to accuse such moments in his films of being ideologically unstable and politically pernicious” (Crowl, 30). This explains the point I was getting at earlier in the essay of his heroism being emphasized within the film versus the audience’s reaction which, in my view, is strongly less heroic and ruthless. The battle scenes within the film also show Henry’s ruthlessness in that he ordered the action of the war. Branagh’s techniques on the cinematic battlefield depict violence in nearly every way possible. It all comes down to what I think Branagh was trying to portray about war; that if you put country against country someone will lose, if you put sword to sword, someone dies. There’s no getting past it.

            Lastly, it was also interesting that Branagh left in the last chorus that discusses how Henry V’s actions were pretty much pointless because the throne of France was lost soon after. Olivier left that last chorus out of Henry the Fift, losing that use of Memento Mori – or reminder of death. All of these techniques lead me to believe that “by a shrewd merger of art and commerce, Kenneth Brannagh magically resuscitated the Shakespeare movie just when everyone was announcing its death at the hands of television” (Rothwell, 234).

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses

 

Response to Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ (2/10/10)

I’d first like to state that Whitman was the first poetry that I was semi-extensively exposed to, and I love it. I think his descriptions of the world around us are over-powering, yet simple in their text. He creates peaceful universes while in actuality not striving far from the real and everyday. My favorites were songs 20, 42, and 47; the first two for the existentialist properties and inquisitive quality and the latter being what I view as being derived from religious themes.

            In Song 47, Walt Whitman’s artistry is truly exposed, or at least his ability to recreate himself in grander positions than his own. I feel that he addresses his audience from the point of view of God, or possibly to a lesser extent, himself as God. It could be an earlier, not yet homage-like, tribute to modernism and the idea held within it of “the artist as God”. Either way, the poem deals with what seems like a spiritual transition into some common lives at the end. I feel as though he’s speaking as God in this, “The driver thinking of me does not mind the jolt of his wagon, The young mother and old mother comprehend me, The girl and the wife rest the needle a moment and forget where they are, They and all would resume what I have told them” (Whitman, 1053).

            I don’t think I would’ve generally thought of this personification unless Whitman had used the descriptive words and phrases that he did earlier in the poem: “Unrequited love”, “I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?”, “The farm boy plowing in the field feels good at the sound of my voice”, etc. The poem just seems to make sense more and connect to me better if it is from that divine perspective.

            However, Whitman could also be playing with notions of poetry itself, and maybe personifying himself as poetry, even. Some of those lines, for example: “And I swear I will never translate myself at all, only to him or her who privately stays with me in the open air.” There it seems like he’s exalting poetry and the appreciation thereof, but for some reason, I digress to the religious theme. Especially with the connection to “the nearest gnat is an explanation,” granting the idea that the narrator created life. Song 47 is difficult like many of the rest, but these are the themes I came up with.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses

 

Response to Loncraine’s ‘Richard III’ (2/14/10)

Generally, I responded to Richard III’s 1930s setting with mixed feelings. I think that at points the imagery and character portrayals work very well, even to be called grippingly artistic in some scenes, as the one where Anne delivers her speech to the three-generation Elizabeth lineage near the wine garden. However, for the most part in the exception of those few scenes, the 1930s setting is awkward for me. I am one to agree that the 1930s do seem as “ancient and obscure” as the fifteenth century, but I would’ve much rather seen a fifteenth century setting for the artistry; not in the same right as Olivier made his films, but a modern film set in those times, like Shakespeare in Love, for example. Yet, I am also one who tends to think that Shakespeare’s plays should stay “within” that time period on screen.

            As far as deciding whether the setting created a gimmicky feeling, I’m not sure. The costuming was exquisite and Loncraine pulled off a modern approach to war well, but the choppy quality of the story really threw me away from its captivity. For example, the scene in the play where Richard kills off Anne’s husband, and furthermore, almost every death that Richard orders with the exception of Clarence, isn’t seen in the film version. I think that greater connections, less confusion, and less awkward chops would be the result of Loncraine placing those scenes in the film. They show Clarence being murdered and the audience really gets that sense that Richard is ruthless.

            After viewing the film, I realize that observation of the mixture of British and American accents. Many critics have debated which is better to perform Shakespeare with, and it seems that the American accent, as reported in class, is much closer to the tongue of the people that performed Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe. However, the 1930s setting works better in a British context than it would in an American one. This is due to the monarchy that still exists in England and is seen in Richard’s coronation in the film, where he dawns crown and robe along with all of his subordinates in their crowns and robes. It just simply isn’t as nonsensical in England as it would be in America.

            “The genre that Loncraine most relentlessly and effectively exploits is the 1930s American gangster film” (Crowl, 115). This is seen best in the last scene homage to White Heat, where Richard dies in the same right that Cagney did, an explosion. “Critics reaped scorn Richard’s uttering, ‘A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!’ while anachronistically riding in a jeep” (Rothwell, 224). I think that scene, while others including the final duel do not, works within the world of the film. Since there were horses introduced in the film, and though unlikely that he would actually get away from a tank on a horse, his jeep is broke down and Richard wishes for a horse. It makes sense. 

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses