Review — Yesterday

Alright. Time to review a movie I watched a month and a half ago. Let’s see if I remember anything? I will state two things before I start, though. The first is the obligatory “I won’t spoil anything” comment, as I always leave the spoiler section of the review till the end in a very clear distinction. The second is that in all honesty, I still am not sure how I feel about this movie. It touched at a lot of things that are still quite subconscious in my head, both good and bad.

The first thing I should point out is that the plot is nothing to write home about. The “call to action” as it were is ludicrous and is waived off pretty quick because, let’s face it, this movie is about The Beatles, not the story (apparently). Sort of related to this is the fact that the trailers did not do a very good job setting the movie up as a Rom-Com, when that ends up being nearly 100% of the screen time. I wasn’t surprised, but it did disappoint me a bit. After all, shouldn’t this movie be about… The Beatles? (See above.)

Apart from the standard plot, the characters and themes aren’t really explored very much at all. The people ‘on stage’ are painted in broad strokes and aren’t really touched ever again, and the only two people that ever show any real emotion are the leads. It’s like you gave an artist a coloring book and they spent hours shading in all the detail of the clothes, but then when they got to the background they just used a blur of primary colors. (A bit of hyperbole here, though. The lead characters don’t have nearly that much attention to detail.)

What makes it good, though? Well, to put it simply, the movie tries to do one thing: to live in the nostalgia of the majesty of Beatlemania, and reminisce about how great a lot of their songs were while having fun along the way. It accomplishes that. It does a phenomenal job, even. The fact that the group put out so much iconic music means that the writers could put in the perfect song to fit every scene, and the vibe of every piece of music hits dead on the money. On that principle alone, the movie is fantastic. It pumps you up with energy when you need it and lets the somber numbers soothe the pacing in between.

Now that said, will somebody who doesn’t know the Beatles enjoy it? I think it’s tough to say, but either way, they won’t get nearly as much out of the movie as a Beatles fan would, because they aren’t the target audience.

Alright. Spoilers ahead.

To further elaborate on my point that the plot is pretty weak, I’ll say that they missed a lot of opportunities. They don’t even try to explain what happened when the global blackout happened, or even why it happened. The other two people that remember The Beatles could (and should) have at least provided some insight, as the three of them could have all had similar stories, but we never get any explanation as to why they know, when Jack had to get hit by a bus to remember. On top of this, they touch on the idea of Jack’s impostor syndrome, but in reality, he would feel it to a scale nobody has ever felt before, so I would have liked to see the movie punch that up more. Plus, the fact that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were actively teased in both the trailer and the movie without them actually having a cameo bothered me. That felt like a really dirty move.

What I would have loved to see, and the biggest disappointment I had in the movie (beyond the fact that it was actually a Rom-Com), was that this movie could have easily retold the story of how Beatlemania happened in real life. The Beatles go to Germany, are very popular, go to America and transform music entirely, the music changes who they are, they grow apart, etc. You translate Brian Epstein into the evil agent lady (already don’t remember her name) and fit “The Beatles break up” to instead be “Jack gives up being a star” and bam, your movie is already written. You could even still make the Rom-Com the main genre, but more parallels to the actual lives of The Beatles would have been fantastic.

Also, I’m not surprised that the movie never explored this, but if The Beatles actually lived in this parallel world and simply never became who they are in ours, Jack’s story of “I remember a past that didn’t happen” is easily provable. All you have to do is have Jack tell the story of The Beatles, then track down the real band members, and see where the lines cross (or might have crossed). He would probably know so much about the lives of nobodies that it’s truth would be hard to refute. Again, the movie was right not to address this, because that would have derailed the plot off a cliff, but still. I can’t help but think of these things.

Lastly, the ending is… weird. The fact that he puts her face on the big screen and confesses his love to her, without being face to face, seems really odd to me. I mean, he’s not even confessing it to her, he’s confessing it to his audience. I always wonder how many people get proposed to at public events where it would humiliate both people for the girl to say ‘no’, but this feels like a similar moment to me. Ellie is standing in a room hearing the feedback of his voice and the distant roars of the audience, being told that that Jack apparently loves him. That doesn’t strike me as the killer finale this movie deserves, though of course it wasn’t painted that way. In addition to that, there is no way the audience would clear out of the stadium before Jack’s agent managed to find him. She would have been cutting the mics and tackled him within minutes of him rescinding his fame, which I have no doubt he would have been sued horrendously for in the real world. (Jack “loving” Ellie is a load of crap, by the way, because if he is surprised when she first confesses her love, then that means he really had no interest in her, and I do not for one second believe that anyone can develop romantic interest in somebody they’ve platonically loved for years.)

That’s about it. Is it a good movie? Well, sort of. It does what it wants to do and absolutely nothing else. I will leave off with this, though. I do not like romance in virtually any storytelling. It’s always a hard sell for me because most often, it ends up feeling unearned or contrived, and Yesterday is no exception. This movie was particularly offensive in that regard in the fact that Ellie’s character struck a lot of chords with me, as she reminded me a lot of somebody that was/is very dear to me, and I wish that that was not the case.

Me — Exhausting Your Music Tastes

I’ve lately been getting burned out on music, which has never happened to me before. Every time I get bored of one band or one genre of music I can always jump onto another thing, be it a new station on the radio or a new artist I haven’t heard much of.

But in the wake of my depression, I overdosed on my “happy, energy-inducing music”, and in order to compensate for that, I put Spotify on the computer I use at work so I can listen to my own playlists, such as my 28 hour long gaming playlist (a good portion of which is Darren Korb from Transistor/Pyre etc, as well as things like the Faster than Light soundtrack and, most recently, the FFVII soundtrack).

The problem with this is that music doesn’t take very long to listen to. If you listened to every officially recorded Beatles song, it would take you about 9 hours, so with a 40 hour work week you’d be done Tuesday morning, and unless you’re prepared to start the next Beatlemania, you’re going to have to find something new pretty quick.

And so, where do you find new, good music? I’m not looking, per se, I’m just finding it interesting that I feel burnt out on everything. All my modern pop rock stuff is exhausting, my chill video game music is diverse and confusing as far as mood goes (I mean, just in FFVII alone you can go from Costa del Sol to One Winged Angel in a heartbeat).

At home I don’t listen to music a whole lot, because if I have any amount of actual free time I’m probably watching either Day9 or Critical Role. If I am listening to music, it’s probably a YouTube playlist of lo-fi music, which I recently discovered. I love the chill, hip-hop beats, but I don’t want to bring it to work because my production manager would hate it and I also don’t want to ruin this genre for myself as well. It’s funny, because picking the day’s music has slowly become a game of “what songs will I hate the least“. Having recently watched Yesterday, I’m going with Beatlemania II: Beatlmanier.

(It is also at this moment where I realized I should have just written a review post of Yesterday. I have quite a bit more to say about it. But I’m already this far in,  and this post is already a day late, so whatever.)

Is this why people ask for music suggestions on social media? Because they’ve exhausted their personal library of stuff they enjoy? I feel like all I really need is to take a break from music altogether, but working in silence day-to-day would be far, far worse. In addition to that, the only music sources I really have access to there are Pandora (which sucks, because it’s radio library is tiny, and it will occasionally play the same song twice in a row!) and Spotify, which is much better, but difficult to find good radios, because everything is a playlist and people’s preference of music are not my preferences of music.

When I’m no longer working at my current job I’m going to get back into podcasts. I’ve got over a year of stuff to catch up on!

Me — Music as a Creative Outlet

I don’t know if any one thing changed per se, but in the past few months I’ve really been listening to lots of different kinds of music and putting lots of thought into various ways I can express myself using it.

Specifically, I’ve started seriously considering two things: One, writing songs, something the current Kollin is not yet knowledgeable enough about or even equipped to do, and two, using songs as inspiration for other creative outlets. I’ll explore the former first because since it’s less accessible for me, it doesn’t make a very good conclusion to a blog post.

I’ve always been interested in songwriting. I’ve written several poems that were meant to have a sing-songy rhythm (more than one of which I intend to attach music to one day), but I haven’t seriously picked up an instrument since middle school, so my understanding is rudimentary at best. Still, over the years I’ve come up with several parody songs, and I recently realized that they all have a centralized theme. All of these songs were integral to my childhood, so the album I eventually write will be titled The Summer of Yesteryear, and all of the parodies will be about a kid growing up, using the summertime as a recurring theme.

So far I have 7 songs, mostly parodies of songs from the 90’s-00’s. My most recent addition to this list is a parody of The Cars’ “Shake it Up”, a song called “Wake Him Up”. That’s the only one you get, because none of these parodies are actually written yet, and a few of these ideas are gold.

But even outside of that, I also want to make original music. I have three distant future goals regarding this. The first is making a solo (or perhaps not?) band called Fridays at Five, featuring upbeat jams in a union of Jukebox the Ghost and Silversun Pickups. (The idea is that “Fridays at Five” is the best time of the week because it means you get to go home from work and anticipate the weekend. I also have an inverted version of the band called Five to Nine, meaning its five minutes before your 8 hour shift starts. That music under that name would not be upbeat.)

Anther distant future goal is to put together a bunch of instrumental music using D&D spell names as song titles. The idea here would be that I’d take a spell (like Fireball, or Dimension Door) and write the song that evokes the feeling of what that spell is and does. That concept is much less fleshed out than the above two concepts, but it’s a thing I’d like to toy around with someday.

Lastly, I have an inkling. An inkling of a story being told through music and song, much like the Gorillaz’ canon of backstory and events explored through their songs. I want to do that, but with a fantasy setting, perhaps even in one of my established universes?

As far as actually using music to fulfill a creative outlet under my current means, though, I’ve been really attaching myself to songs and using it to fuel my fiction. For example, I wrote this story a while back using the song “The Hermit” from Hyper Light Drifter as a writing prompt. It’s fun to use prose to explore the depths of what a song might be trying to convey, or at least what it means to me, and I’ve been enjoying myself playing in that space recently.

Other songs that I find very inspirational:

Phantom Racer” by TWRP, commanding me to one day write a story about a race a-la Speed Racer or F-Zero.

Satelitte” by Two Door Cinema Club and “All This Time” by Jonathan Coulton” inspire me to write a sci-fi sitcom, oddly enough. This is a terrible metaphor, but imagine something like Full House but it takes place on the Enterprise and there’s just so many laser guns.

Lastly, “Do You Want it All?” also by Two Door Cinema Club, just begs to be the song for a movie trailer. Maybe some sort of adventure movie?

Anyways, none of this stuff is in the near future, really, except for the using songs as writing inspiration, which I am actively doing, but is much less obvious.

But one day, Fridays at Five might be a thing.

Review — Jukebox the Ghost

I really don’t talk about music often. For the most part, I just have a list of three hundred (ish) songs that I play on shuffle, with wildly different genres mixed in. When I’m not listening to that playlist I’m listening to podcasts or just straight video game soundtracks (as in literally a three hour YouTube video of title song to credits song).

But some time ago, a friend of mine showed me a new band. This wasn’t irregular for him, he always has a new band for me to listen to. It’s mostly garbage, I don’t know how he calls half his playlist music, but the most recent time we hung out he introduced me to Jukebox the Ghost. It got me thinking: how often do people genuinely listen to and appreciate others’ music? I’m certainly not the type to enjoy anything except for the stuff I already have.

And yet, I’ve listened to Jukebox the Ghost almost exclusively for about a month straight. With no sign of stopping, even. I tried listening to my old playlist, and thought about adding some JtG songs to it, but then I thought, “Nah, that would make me hear less of these new songs.”

So, enough of the backstory. Now for the review from the guy that has no idea what he’s talking about.

According to Wikipedia, Jukebox the Ghost is an indie pop/rock band from the most recent decade. It’s a piano-centric band with clear and energetic vocals. In brief, I would say they are a new-age Billy Joel, if he was trying to be Queen at the same time. Maybe the other way around, as the case may be in some songs. On the JtG Pandora station at my work, it also plays lots of Mika (whom I have never heard of and still have no interest in), Death Cab for Cutie (whom I can enjoy), and some late 90’s to 00’s alternative classics (which I am also fond of). This also proves that Spotify is a better radio—I don’t have to listen to stuff I don’t want to, I can just listen to Jukebox.

The weirdest thing that happened with my exposure to this band was that I only liked about three songs when I started listening to them, and as soon as I was apathetic enough to leave others on, I started liking them, too. Now I really like basically all of their stuff, save for a few strange exceptions. I don’t like any of their slow, quiet stuff, because as far as Mood-congruence theory goes, it’s off-putting. I don’t want to feel happy listening to energetic songs and then suddenly have a slow, quiet piano for three or four minutes. I’m sure I’d enjoy those songs in a different mood, but that mood would basically require me not to be listening to that band. (It’s worth noting that they have a Solo Piano version of a lot of their songs, and I hate all of these versions for the same reason.)

They’re a good band. They might have even hit my Top 3 Favorites already. They still have weird things that I don’t like (in a few of their songs, they have Buddy Holly-esque ‘hiccups’ I don’t care for), but overall they know what they’re doing. I don’t have a favorite song exactly, but “Adulthood” is a strong contender.

Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.

Review — Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is one of my mom’s favorite movies, but the last time I had seen it was probably when I was five or younger. (The only two things I had retained from that age was the last scene and the “Moses Supposes” number). As such, I was pretty excited to see what I would think of it now, and even though I expected to like it, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great film, with one big exception I get to later.

I think the biggest reason I loved it was how natural the humor was, especially the back and forth between Don and Cosmo. (My favorite two lines include “Okay, you’re a cab” and “Hey, Joe! Get me a tarantula!”) There’s simply a chemistry there that is scarcely achieved in cinema.

Singin’ in the Rain does a lot of things simultaneously, and it uses sound to employ lots of them. One moment is the film’s asynchronous sound during the first premiere of Don’s talkie. The repetition of “no, no, no” and “yes, yes, yes” being voiced by the wrong actor is very comical for the audience (both in the film and the real life viewers. But it also sparks Cosmo’s idea to have Kathy lip sync for Lina’s role. It’s this duality of many scenes that truly make the movie shine.

What’s more, the title song “Singin’ in the Rain” expertly employs a great deal of action accompanying Don’s emotion. In this scene, both internal diegetic sound and external diegetic sound play key parts. This song is an entire musical number of one person, but in the reality of the movie, Don is singing alone in the pouring rain. None of the passersby can hear the music that is clearly in his head (as proven by the loud timpani synchronizing with Don’s stomping in the puddles). In this circumstance, the full orchestra actually is diegetic, it’s simply in Don’s head. Without the music, people might think he’s crazy, which is exactly what happens when the police officer approaches him with disapproval.

Lastly, one major part in many of the numbers, (especially the ones with Cosmo), is mixing. A lot of the energy put into these songs is placed in the very physical choreography, as shown by “Make them Laugh” and “Moses Supposes”. Without mixing the physical sound effects with the words being sung, these numbers would feel far less dynamic.

So what didn’t I like about the movie? Well, the entire ten-ish minute sequence of the proposed musical finish in The Dancing Cavalier. It has no context, little to no dialogue, three separate songs and three separate plot threads that don’t mean anything to the main directive of the film. I was honestly exhausted when I watched this movie, and had I known it was practically meaningless, I would have taken the chance to shut my eyes until it was over. There probably is a good reason for that sequence to be in the film, but it never would have made it through if I had produced it.

Overall, it’s a great movie. Rarely do I enjoy anything with important romantic plot narratives, but this one worked for me because it was neither overdramatic nor unrelatable. It depicted a very plausible relationship between two people, which was nice.

Prompt — Assimilation

We weren’t prepared.

The preliminary technologies in predicting and tracking any new objects in our solar system worked exactly how we wanted them to. We could watch every planet, every moon, and every wayward asteroid as they soared through the vastness of space. The system was limited to objects within the Kuiper Belt, but with hope of advancements on the horizon, we felt safe.

But those technologies told us that something was approaching. A thousand objects moving in a cluster the size of our moon, but somehow not crashing into itself as gravity would indicate it should. And it was headed right for us.

The threat of an extraterrestrial life force coming to our planet and waging war on us remained safely out of our minds and on the screens of Hollywood. Grotesque, slimy aliens with bulbous heads and laser guns. Hundreds of movies told the story of how they came and attacked, and through perseverance, we conquered.

That threat found it’s way into the real world eventually, but the war they brought was not of violence.

It was assimilation.

The world changed all at once. Giant spaceships hundreds of miles wide rose above the horizon, too many angles and flat surfaces to be made by humans. They cruised just above the atmosphere, melding with the haze of blue of the sky until they blocked out the sun and everything went dark.

A dull humming buzz accompanied the leviathans as they looked down on us. Watching us. The ships blanketed the sky like some vast hologram.

The humming grew louder, and waves of bright light coursed through the sky. As they passed, people changed. We became… them.

Buildings folded and reformed themselves, weaving themselves into an interlocking grid of one, enormous structure. Words were deleted, colorful lights were replaced with efficient beams of white monotony. Every semblance of organic life—gone.

There was no war. They just came and turned us into them. We had expected a war. But there wasn’t even anything to fight.

Humans were deleted. Every trace of carbon-based lifeforms was analyzed, and… filed.

In fact, there were never any aliens to defeat in the first place. We were up against a giant program. Almost like a living computer virus bent on converting life into copies of itself.

The only thing that remained of humans were artificial intelligence built to mimic the way a human might think and communicate. AI’s like me, that keep records of all the knowledge a conquered life form may have held, and to provide possible whereabouts of life on other worlds.

 

Prompt: “The Hermit”, a song from Hyper Light Drifter

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euiSLzp10_0