Saturday, August 18, 2007

Love and Loss: Brokeback Mountain Film Review

The abstract concept of love has always been discuccable yet undefinable. Love brings us together and tears us apart. Love creeps up upon us when we least suspect it and is often dificult to fend off; it is often said that ince in love, you can never fall out of it. Whatever the case may be, love is nearly impossible to directly describe, and so writers have, for centuries, created tales of love. Filled with varying human actions that seek to distinguish what is love from what isn't, some come across as corny and most are filled with cliches. In film, we usually run into the same problems, but the advantage of film is that the ultimate power of the written word can be combined with human interaction- film (like the acted plays) provides us with a chance to experience the poetry of love. And when the combination of the human element and the written word is a seamless weave, the viewer can wrap himself the warmth of love, and if but for a fleeting few hours, can understand what someone's defintion of love.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is one of those films. Set in Wyoming, this tale of lovers is, on a superficial basis, littered with cliches: forbidden love, affairs, lost love, utter devotion, etc. But what sets this film apart are the layers upon layers on which it is built. Under the careful direction of Ang Lee, a love tale is brought to life. Combining precise cinematography and composition with a fine set of actors, Lee portrays this tale of forbidden love. Ennis Del Mar, a tight-jawed midwestern cowboy played by Heath Ledger and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) seek employment in the early 60's. They are both hired to guide a flock of sheep up a mountainside -Brokeback Moountain- through the summer. They only spend meals together, carrying out different tasks for the rest of the day. Slowly they begin warming up to eachother, and, when a bitter cold has Twist invite Del Mar into the tent, the two make love in the warmth of the tent, and continue their affair until the end of the job. From here the story begins its rocky tavels forward, as Del Mar returns home to his soon to be wife Alma (Michelle Williams) and Twist soon finds a wife in Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). The film continues for the next 20 years or so, with Del Mar and Twist reuniting at Brokeback Mountain to continue their affair.
To say anything else about the plot would be giving too much away, so I'll continue with a discussion of the elements that made this film a beautiful exposition of love. First of all the acting was superb. Ledger gave an Oscar worthy performance, with his tight-jawed Midwestern accent and demeanor, he believeably portrayed a man torm between love and a life of responsibility towards his daughters. His facial expressions conveyed so much. While with Twist, be it happy or sad, you knew he was feeling either emotion. While separated from Twist, in his eyes one could see the longing of a man who knew love but struggled with societal norms and expectations that tore at him in every waking moment. There is a bit of history that also prevents him from fulfilling his heart's desires, and that notably eats at him too. Williams plays the role of betrayed wife well. She actually sees her husband kissing Twist and remains tight lipped about it until a crucial scene where she cracks. And as bad as you feel for Twist and Del Mar, so you feel for Williams's character.
An ability to make the viewer feel torn is yet another strength of the film. Del Mar and Twist are clearly in love, but you can't help but feel bad for Alma (Williams) and Newsome (Hathaway). These two women are innocents in a story much bigger than the players. Alma is in love with her husband and Newsome is struggling with a marriage that should have been nothing but a fling. And of course there are children involved, so the complications only build.
Lee's composition is a key element of the film. The placing of chracters in relation to the background conveys more than words sometimes, and supplements them others. When Del Mar and Twist escape to Brokeback Mountain, the beauty and serenity of the scenery provide for them that utopian dreamworld where love rules over reason. The craggy mountains and arduous storms are symbolic of the path they must tread if they wish to be together; the lush greenery, the clear water of the rivers and streams and serene ambiance of the natural and wild realm are symbolic of the purity and truth of the love they feel for one another. Careful composition of their flirtations and physical interactions also help convey their intense feelings. After not having seen eachother for four years, the two hug and then are pulled into one of the most passionate, affectionate kisses captured on film, their embrace only rivaled their final one towards the end of the film. While kissing, the camera places them somewhat off center, focusing more on their hands as they feel eachother's faces in surreal disbelief, clutching at eachother's wardrobes as though if they were to let go the other may be lost forever.
The love in the film is definitely real. The ending is perhaps one of the saddest I have seen and I wept in a heaving mess of tears. As a film it is tremendous and as a love film it dominates.
If asked to define love and all of its complexities and all of its simplicities , I would show that person BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

This film is a 10 of 10.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finding Forever Review

Common has always been an incredible MC. Like his recent career choices or not- acting, Gap ads, etc.- one can't deny the uncanny rhyming ability, presence, flow and diverse subject matter presented by the Chicago representative. From tributes to Political refugee Assata Shakur ("A Song for Assata") to well disguised metaphors (hip hop symbolized by a former lover in "I Used to Love HER") to unique love songs ("The Light") to storytelling ("Testify"), Common has set the standard for originality and general song composition; let us not also forget his ability to mold genuine, true-school, Hip-Hop anthems ("The Sixth Sense").
It's no surprise then that his last album, BE achieved great commercial success and a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. It was critically acclaimed by both fans and tough critics alike, and with good reason. Producer Kanye West seemed to be the guiding light (no pun intended, vis a vis recent attacks on Kanye's sexuality) to help Common back in to port after a head scratching, yet somewhat satisfying ELECTRIC CIRCUS. Common seemed to be more focused and flowed more naturally over the boom-bap and soul inspired production of West.
Finding Forever finds Common and Ye teaming up again to create an even better album. Kanye handles production on 8 of the 12 tracks, with one apiece by, the late Jay-Dilla, and Devo Springsteen. It plays like a continuation of BE which both hurts and helps the album. Usually a "say the positive first" kind of guy, I'm going to go head and do the opposite. The album tends to drag a bit on a few songs. The production on "Black Maybe" and "Break My Heart" stick too close to both Common and Kanye's formula's respectively. "U, Black Maybe" sounds like something that would have made ELECTRIC CIRCUS more grounded and "Break My Heart" finds Kanye relying on his usual formula of a repetitive sample, a bit too lazily.

The album, though, excels past the boundaries of BE.'s production on "I Want You" is his best since his Nas hit "Hip Hop is Dead" and works perfectly for Common, as it's synth plays well against Common's ode to an old lover. In content, the song is reminiscent of "The Light" in how bright it stands against the dense fog of cookie-cutter rap love songs. "Drivin Me Wild", featuring the delicate yet savvy voice of Lily Allen, is a testament to Common's storytelling ability and commanding flow, as he navigates the choppy, infectious beat with a tale of characters in troubled waters. "Misunderstood" stands out with its haunting piano, ominous flute and well placed Nina Simone sample, while Common deftly plays social observer, detailing the paradoxes confronted by struggling people. "U, Black Maybe" (despite my previous comments) stands as a powerful observation on culture and lifestyle. "The People" is a more upbeat social commentary, embedded with hope and sense of pride in self that comes from introspection as opposed to egotistical machismo found in the bawdy mainstream rap anthems of today. "Let's Start the Show" is the perfect 'Track 2'- that first full song on a rap album that blows your mind and usually foretells a dope album (i.e. Atmosphere's "Onemosphere" on GOD LOVES UGLY), and "Southside" is filled with lines that make you go "Ohhhhhhh, sh**!". Kanye, appearing on the latter, trades similarly potent verses with Common that help solidify him as -lyrically- one of the strongest in the game.
"So Far to Go", produced by the late, great and long time Common collaborator J Dilla, throws D'Angelo back into the mix, giving a feeling reminiscent of the soliquarians' chemistry from LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. This track appeared on J Dilla's last album, but was worth the inclusion, as Common has many times stated that the album is somewhat a dedication to the much missed producer. The standout track, however, is "The Game". If you know me, you know how much I love DJ Premier and Common last collabo- "The Sixth Sense". It is, in my opinion, Common's greatest achievement. This track might be just sharing a spot upon that pedestal. Kanye actually produces the track, but Preemo's scratches stand out in typical Preemo style, a style that will never die, that will always be hip-hop. (It's also a good indication that Preemo did not take offense to Common's line: My daughter found Nemo/ I found the new Preemo {from "The People"}). The album ends on a positive tip with "Forever Found". It rings with and upbeat piano and scant drum placement, while Common tells of great achievements of his own and his culture. "No religion or race could ever describe us" he says, while a vocal sample plays softly in the background. It is if he were looking back over his phenomenal career and the rocky roads traversed towards progress endured by all who have struggled, with reality causing him to choke back a tear and a hopeful glint in his eye guiding him towards forever.

I Highly recommend this album.

8 out of 10.

Friday, August 10, 2007

the write

Thank you Armando.
Thank you for your inspiration. I just typed up 5 1/2 pages worth of the vampire story and I think, for once, that I statred it out right.
I'll post more on this story as it becomes availiable.
I must also thank Salem's Lot, in which the writer chracter wwas said to have written for three hours straight, 3 times in one day. Three hour increments sound reasonable, I just wish it could be three of them. Oh well. On my last day of summer I find inspiration and I write.
Go figure.

yours in ghost,


Friday, July 20, 2007

Dead in the Eye

I shoot over to Amosphere's Myspace and a new song is posted. "Sad Clown Bad Summer 9". I can't wait.

This being my first post, I've gotta give respect where it's due. Atmosphere was the group that made fall in love with Hip Hop again in college. It must have been before the school year started that Jason put me up on Atmosphere.
I'll tell this story later, but I have to send out a big thank you to Atmosphere for fueling me in so many ways.