A Word on Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan was a recent Yale Graduate who at the age of 22, died in a car crash on the way to her families vacation house. She wrote for the Yale Daily News and wrote a number of notable pieces including Song for the Special, Even Artichokes Have Doubts, and The Opposite of Loneliness

More and more I find myself captivated by Marina Keegan’s beautiful eloquence. Her fantastic command of language. Her flawless diction. But most of all, her artistic vision. I’m bordering on obsessed. The aspiration of any young writer is to be classified as the voice of their generation. That term is extremely confusing. How can we possibly expect one person’s voice to fully encompass the opinions of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic classes? Perhaps it’s an unfair label. Nevertheless, Keegan so accurately captures the young adult teetering on the edge of adulthood. She perfectly pinpoints the anxiety, the excitement, the fear, the jubilation, the love and the anticipation. She recounts the constant battle between romanticism and pragmatism, the struggle to distinguish ourselves in an increasingly competitive world and the concurrent optimism and fear and doubt that we regard the future with.

She documents our desperate clinging to the innocence of our pasts as we simultaneously prepare ourselves for our unknown futures. Some of the things that she has written undoubtedly struck a chord with every single person who read them. As someone who once resembled a wannabe writer, I often thought my words conveyed both the exhilaration and the apprehension of my generation. In these illusions of grandeur and bouts of manic psychosis I imagined myself speaking for those who are coming of age, just as Kerouac spoke for the Beat Generation. And then I got sober and began thinking more rationally. I gave up these “unrealistic” dreams of a screenwriter or a novelist to focus on more pragmatic pursuits. But Keegan never did that. She maintained this mystical romanticism, she valiantly fought off self-doubt and held fast to dreams that many would scoff at. She completely destroyed the notion that a prerequisite to growing up is abandoning your idealistic and romantic values. She knew what she wanted and she followed it relentlessly. She did everything I wanted to do but was too frightened to go after because I was afraid to fail. If I chased my dreams and failed, then I would be left with nothing. No visions of a greater life, no higher aspirations, no wild fantasies. The possibility was too devastating for me and my self-esteem was too fragile to ever even undertake writing seriously.

So it remains a distant dream, something intangible, illusory. A nice fallback on a gloomy day that promises that things will get better, that I was meant to do greater things in life. But if I take any proactive steps towards achieving my goal, the illusion is shattered. So I settle for mediocrity, and fool myself into thinking that my situation will change or improve if I just patiently wait.

Keegan’s words and her tragic end make me want to give it a second chance. I’ve closed so many doors in my life due to crippling anxieties, burnt relationships and immature and impulsive decisions but her inspiring articles make me want to pry open these doors again. They make me want to say fuck words like “realistic” or “feasibility” or “pragmatism.” And for that, I will be eternally grateful. Keegan made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like other people felt like me and yearned like me. The following F. Scott Fitzgerald quote seems as if it has never been more applicable: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Keegan died far too young, but through her writings she is able to live on, share her tragically incomplete legacy with others, speak for the silent, inspire and truly fulfill her goal of making a difference in the world. I know she has made a difference for me.

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Movie of the Day: True Romance

Every time I watch True Romance, I can’t help but wonder, “What if Quentin Tarantino directed it?” What would its legacy be? Would it be held in the same esteem as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction? The story goes that Quentin Tarantino penned two scripts, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance and gave them to Tony Scott, who had previously directed Top Gun. Scott read them both, told Tarantino he wanted to make both and Tarantino told Scott he can make True Romance but he was saving Reservoir Dogs for himself. Scott got True Romance, and he made a very good film, but I can’t help but feel like under Tarantino’s direction, it could have been legendary. Tony Scott is a very respectable filmmaker, but he’s no Tarantino.

Patricia Arquette

The script is fabulous and has very witty dialogue, as you would expect from Tarantino. The heavy involvement of Elvis in the script, even from the opening sequence is just more evidence supporting Tarantino’s obsession with pop music, which I touched upon here. Tarantino describes the protagonist, Clarence, as his stand-in but he has mentioned that Scott’s vision of Clarence was much “cooler” than Tarantino envisioned. Christian Slater plays Clarence, and he plays it pretty well, capturing a little bit of the oddball character Tarantino was going for. Patricia Arquette plays Alabama, the hooker with a heart of gold although Tony Scott really wanted Drew Barrymore for the role, which I think would have been perfect, but she was unavailable. Slater and Arquette have unbelievable chemistry together which really aided the film, as I was truly convinced of their love.

“I know I’m pretty, but I ain’t as pretty as a pair of titties.”

Gary Oldman portrays Drexl, Alabama’s white pimp who thinks he’s black. It’s is a bit of a weird role to see him in, given his recent turns as the good guy, playing Jim Gordon in the recent Batman movies and George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Samuel L. Jackson played a bit role, appearing in less than a minute of the film, but he continued his trend of featuring in almost all of Tarantino’s work. Even he had the good sense to avoid Death Proof though.

“I’m the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood.”

Christopher Walken plays mafioso Vincenzo Coccotti in a role portrayed so well and so powerfully that Empire Magazine named him 85th greatest character in movie history despite only featuring in the film for one scene. The late Dennis Hopper plays Clarence’s father, a recovering alcoholic and Walken and Hopper combine for what is without a doubt my favorite scene in movie history.  Controversial due to the racially charged nature of the dialogue, the scene features Walken pseudo-interrogating Hopper wabout the whereabouts of his son. Long before his iconic role as Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini played one of Walken’s henchman. Of the scene, Gandolfini says, “I was glad to just be observing Hopper and Walken. We were crowded into this little trailer when Hopper gets shot, so everyone was offered earplugs. I remember Walken didn’t ask for any, so, being very cool, I didn’t ask for any either. I couldn’t hear for three goddamn days.”

A young Brad Pitt

Michael Rappaport plays Dick Ritchie, a struggling actor and Clarence’s friend in Los Angeles. A young Brad Pitt plays his stoner roommate. With Reservoir Dogs just coming out, Tarantino was becoming a commodity in Hollywood. Pitt, who had just appeared in Thelma and Louise, called Scott and asked to play the role. Regarding the dynamics on the set, Gandolfini remarked, “Everybody was young and nuts. Brad Pitt was around, too. I don’t think he was “Brad Pitt” then, but he was great. I just had to watch him and say, “What a fuckin’ flake.” He improvised a lot.” Val Kilmer had initially wanted to play Clarence but Scott was not keen on the idea so Kilmer ended up playing Elvis.

Tarantino had actually written the great scene at the amusement park to be at a zoo but Scott changed it, thinking an amusement park would be more exciting. Rappaport and Bronson Pinchot, who plays Elliott, are both actually scared of roller coasters in real life, and Rappaport needed to take Quaaludes to get through the scene. The late Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore, before all his legal troubles, play two cops and are very effective in their roles.

One of the most violent scenes of the movie is Gandolfini’s character beating the hell out of Alabama (full scene below). The dialogue in this scene was particularly good, with Gandolfini recalling his transition into a killer in a menacing and incredibly believable way. Of the scene, Gandolfini said, “It was a little rough. There was a lot of throwing. You didn’t see that often with a man and woman. I ended up doing it a lot on The Sopranos for some reason.”

In the original script, Tarantino had Clarence die at the end and the innocent characters, Alabama and Dick Ritchie remain alive. Scott, who had fallen in the love characters, decided Clarence should live at the end. Tarantino later remarked, “I tried like hell to convince Tony to let Clarence die, because that’s what I wrote and it wasn’t open for conjecture. I made this big dramatic plea: “You’re losing your balls. You’re trying to make it Hollywood shit. Why are you doing this?” He listened to the whole thing and then convinced me 100 percent that he wasn’t doing it for commercial reasons.”

True Romance actually flopped at the box office but in the last decade it has achieved cult status. Saul Rubinek, who played Hollywood producer Lee Donowitz, had said, “The movie bombed. I don’t think the studio knew how to market this kind of movie. If they released it today, it would be a hit,” while Dennis Hopper remarked, “I was surprised. The movie had no theatrical life—it came and went in a week. Were people expecting a traditional love story?” Bob Dole, who ran against Clinton in the 1996 Presidential election, lambasted the film and regarded it as an example of a movie that “revel[s] in mindless violence and loveless sex.” After hearing Bob Dole’s comments, Tarantino said, “I knew Dole hadn’t seen True Romance or Natural Born Killers. I couldn’t believe that a guy running for president of the United States, the land of the free and the home of the brave, was condemning art he hadn’t even seen. You fucking asshole, you’d say anything to get elected.”

Don’t be confused by the title, this isn’t some sappy love story. It is a love story, but a different type of love story, a Tarantino love story. A love story disguised with tremendous violence, action, and profanity. I mentioned at the beginning that I thought it was only “very good” but over the course of writing this, I’ve convinced myself otherwise. It’s a great movie, but just not quite legendary. Tarantino later declared, “True Romance and Reservoir Dogs were the growing pains for Pulp Fiction’s success. Audiences were seeing something they hadn’t seen before—comedy and violence switching on a dime. They’d be horrified one second and laughing the next.”

Song of the Day: Welcome Home by Radical Face

Radical Face’s Ben Cooper is a talented and inspired musician from Jacksonville, Florida.  Cooper chose the name Radical Face after seeing these words written on a flyer; he liked the ring to it and the name stuck.  Cooper later found out that the flyer was for a plastic surgeon and the text actually read “Radical Face Lifts.” Cooper is also one-half of Electric President and Iron Orchestra and one third of Mother’s Basement.  Cooper began exploring the arts as a young boy through drawing and painting, and by middle school he was creating short movies with his friends and later, discovered his interest in music.

“Welcome Home” was featured in a Nikon commercial that replicates a montage of sentimental and memorable videos that define people and who they are.  I really like Nikon’s use of this song and the visuals they set to go along with it.  The personal value that is associated with photographs and videos, as crude or professional as they are, captures the essence of “Welcome Home,” which allows this commercial and song to seamlessly mesh together.

Cooper’s style can be deemed as acoustic and alternative rock, although it is difficult to label Radical Face’s style, as it is very dynamic.  “Welcome Home” is song filled with emotion, both lyrically and instrumentally.  You can tell Cooper’s soul is put into this song from the very beginning as the chimes blowing in the wind create a dramatic and ominous effect.  The delicate vocals that are introduced after the short musical overture gently build as the song progresses.  The introduction of the strumming guitar creates a tender dynamic to this song that is repeated in each verse.

The chorus of this song is by far the most intense part, and my favorite.  A crescendo leads to the introduction of a deep, bold piano melody.  Cooper’s lyrics are poetic, which adds to the emotion that this song portrays.  You can tell he is singing about a passionate matter, but it is difficult to completely decipher the situation Cooper is trying to depict through his articulate lyrics.  There are many meanings to “Welcome Home,” and it is left up to the listener to interpret this song as they wish, which is another aspect of this song that makes it so enjoyable to listen to.

 

Is Rajon Rondo the East’s Last Hope Against the Evil Empire?

One of the interesting joys of sport is the act of rooting against a team. We all do it, for one reason or another, and many of the teams we share. The Yankees, Duke basketball, Manchester United, the Patriots and the new flavor of the week, the Miami Heat. We hate them for many reasons. Their endless bankroll, the buying of titles, their douche bag quarterback, their arrogant coach, or the fact that they flop. But what we hate the most is that they are good. And they win. Well most of them. The Heat haven’t won yet, at least not what matters, and most of the population is united in the hope that they falter once again, and their season ends and LeBron is left with that stupid look on his face that just screams, “How did that just happen” and Chris Bosh is crying in a tunnel somewhere. The Eastern Conference’s Semi-Finals are set and with Derrick Rose’s injury, most have assumed that LeBron and Co. will walk right into the Finals. While Rose’s injury certainly made the path a little easier, Rajon Rondo, Boston’s dynamic point guard, poses a unique threat that Miami may not be able to deal with.

This is entirely hypothetical as the Heat still need to get past the Pacers and the Celtics need to get past the 76ers, but I think it is worth a look. Rondo is one of the most intriguing and distinctive players in the NBA right now. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal summed him up rather well, “[B]ut his quirky talent must be witnessed to be understood; there are at least four or five times in every game that he does something that no other player can do quite like him.” Gay continues, “Rondo delivers something different—more elusive, unpredictable, an acquired taste not for shy stomachs. He’s an electric enigma, and he may be the least boring player in the NBA.” While his outside shot isn’t great, the defense is forced to pressure him because if they back off, his ability to see over the defense will allow him to pick them apart. It’s a lot like dropping eight against Peyton Manning. In theory the idea is good, there will be more people defending the pass, but if you don’t get any pressure on him and let him have all day, he will tear the defense to shreds. Rondo also has a very quick first step and is a very good finisher through traffic, creating quite a conundrum for the defense. You pressure him and he’ll blow by you, but if you give him space he’ll pick you apart. Mario Chalmers is a decent enough defender, but he’s not a physically imposing defender who has the ability to unsettle Rondo.

Boston also played Miami better than any other team this season, taking 3 out of the 4 meetings. In fairness, one of those games was the second to last game of the season and James, Wade, Bosh, Garnett, Rondo and Allen all were rested. So let’s say Boston took 2 of the 3 matchups, that’s still impressive. In those 3 games, Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds. In the game Boston lost, he had 7 turnovers, in the games Boston won, he had 3 turnovers and 2 turnovers respectively. Taking care of the basketball is one of the keys to victory for Boston as the Heat are way too good to give them extra possessions. Another key to victory is Kevin Garnett’s ability to shut down Chris Bosh. In Miami’s sole win in the season series, Bosh had 18 points on 8-11 shooting and 11 rebounds. In Miami’s 2 losses, he combined for 17 points and 20 rebounds on 7-24 shooting, less than 30%. The insertion of Avery Bradley into the starting line-up also improved the Celtics defensively, as he is able to cover Wade much more effectively than Ray Allen, and Allen can be a potent scorer and a dangerous threat on the second team. In the one game that Allen started, Wade has 24 points and 8 assists on 8-15 shooting, and the Heat won. In the two games that Bradley started, Wade averaged 17.5 points, 4 assists, and shot less than 40 percent from the field. Oh yeah, and Boston won both of those games. A large amount of Boston’s successes is dependent on the health of Paul Pierce’s knee. Pierce is their go to guy offensively and they need him healthy if they want a chance against the Heat.

While this is obviously a hypothetical match-up, I really don’t see Indiana giving Miami any sort or trouble, and I think Boston will be able to get by the 76ers, based on almost experience alone. Kevin Garnett has 111 playoff appearances. Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday, Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams combined have 119 playoff appearances. Of those six Philadelphia players, only Elton Brand has played a series past the first round. I’m really hoping for a Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals matchup. To me, it remains one of the more compelling hypothetical’s, right up there with the Thunder-Lakers matchup that LA keeps trying to fumble away, but hopefully we’ll be able to see both.

Song of the Day: New Slang by The Shins

The Shins are an indie rock band formed in 1996 from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Band members James Mercer, Joe Plummer, Jessica Dodson, Yuuki Matthews, and Richard Swift never fail to create instrumentally rich tracks tied together with expressive and animated lyrics. The many elements The Shins are able to incorporate into their music showcase each member’s musical talent.

The Shins are able to do something with their music that is becoming a rarity these days; they are able to captivate the listener and pull them deep into the song, allowing the listener to develop a personal connection with the music. The enthralling nature of their track, “New Slang,” which came out as a single in 2001 for their debut album, Oh, Inverted World, leaves me in awe every time I listen to it.

“New Slang” holds emotion behind each chord, and vigor behind each lyric. The strong and steady guitar strum that sets this song’s pace evokes a tranquil tone, while the bold and upbeat tambourine spurs a cheerful feeling. I like this song because I find it to be very versatile. It doesn’t have an overbearing sound to it that dictates your mood; instead, you are able to see the elements you want in The Shin’s subtle musical tones.

It is no wonder why The Shins have yet to fade off the music scene. Their delicate approach, deep sound, and musical ability will always be appealing to listeners who enjoy their indie rock foundation and diverse musical talent.

Music in the Movies: (500) Days of Summer

In the last segment of Music in the Movies, I focused on Quentin Tarantino’s use of music and his penchant for presenting songs as diegetic sounds. In (500) Days of Summer, the music is presented as non-diegetic but it still effectively serves the filmmaker’s goals. (500) Days of Summer is a quirky, clever, and incredibly honest romantic comedy that was released in the summer of 2009. Very witty, often quite humorous, and paced extremely well, the film was lauded by critics and landed on a number of “Top Ten” year-end lists of 2009.  It starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, a hopeless romantic, and Zooey Deschanel as the oft-distant Summer. It featured a soundtrack filled with the best that the indie rock, alternative rock and folk rock genres have to offer. More important though, instead of just being thrown into the movie randomly, these songs were employed extremely effectively, enhancing the emotionality of a number of scenes. The soundtrack fully captures the “hipness” and offbeat postmodernism that (500) Days of Summer so embodies.

The entire track listing of the soundtrack is below, but there are a number of songs that were featured in the movie which were not on the soundtrack. Belle and Sebastian’s “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” which I wrote about here, was featured, as well as Spoon’s “The Infinite Pet,” The Black Lips’ “Veni Vidi Vici,” and “The Music” by Paper Route. Several of the songs were used particularly well to increase the sentiments of a number of scenes. Regina Spektor’s “Us,” during the opening credits in conjunction with the home movies on the screen helped set a cautiously hopeful tone for the entire movie. “There Goes the Fear,” employed with a well-shot montage, also stood out to me as it almost symbolized Tom falling for Summer.

The use of “Sweet Disposition” on the train to the wedding also worked well as it reflected Tom’s hope for a second chance with Summer and instilled similar hope in the audience who at this point is already rooting for Tom. Feist’s “Mushaboom” in the very next scene was utilized similarly and it continued to echo Tom’s hopeful sentiments. The extremely clever split-screen shot that compared Tom’s expectations to reality was accompanied by Regina Spektor’s “Hero,” a perfect complement as the song starts out hopeful but ends in a dizzying disappointing tone, mirroring Tom’s feelings. “Vagabond” was utilized flawlessly, probably the best of any of the tracks. Tom had just hit rock-bottom and he was slowly recovering and picking up the broken pieces of his life. “Vagabond” conveys an inspiring feeling of re-creation, and its involvement in the scene completely enhanced its effect. “She’s Got You High” was played during the closing credits and really almost tied up the loose ends of the story, instilling confidence in the audience that Tom has truly found love this time and is happy.

(500) Days of Summer is a perfect example of effective use of music in a movie. Never overshadowing the action unfolding on screen but always providing a boost, the music helped communicate both the ecstasy and the heartbreak that Tom experiences over the course of the movie. While there were good performances and an extremely witty script, an impeccable use of music was one of the integral reasons why (500) Days of Summer was one of the surprise movies of 2009.

  1. “A Story of Boy Meets Girl” – Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen
  2. “Us” – Regina Spektor
  3. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
  4. “Bad Kids” – Black Lips
  5. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths
  6. “There Goes the Fear” – Doves
  7. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates
  8. “Sweet Disposition” – The Temper Trap
  9. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” – Carla Bruni
  10. “Mushaboom” – Feist
  11. “Hero” – Regina Spektor
  12. “Bookends” – Simon & Garfunkel
  13. “Vagabond” – Wolfmother
  14. “She’s Got You High” – Mumm-Ra
  15. “Here Comes Your Man” – Meaghan Smith
  16. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – She & Him

Top 5: Best Desserts in New York City

Let me begin by re-stating what I said here: Dessert makes my world go round. I have a sweet tooth of epic proportions. It has become the stuff of legends. And lucky enough for me, I live in New York City, a place never short on dessert establishments. Here is my five favorite desserts in New York City.

5. Led Zeppole: 328 E. 14th Street (between First Ave. and Second Ave.), NY, New York

Led Zeppole’s Fried Oreos

The same owners who have successfully established and upheld the reputation of Artichoke Basille’s Pizza and Brewery are also responsible for the fabulous dessert spot, Led Zeppole.  As you can gather from the name, their specialties are zeppoles, which are balls of fried dough smothered in white, powdery confection sugar.  The other desserts on their menu include fried Oreos, cream puffs, fried Twinkies, fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, funnel cake, cannolis, Italian ices, soft-serve ice cream, and waffle ice cream sandwiches.  My personal favorite is the fried Oreos.  There is nothing as novel as America’s favorite cookie, deep fried, and coated with powdered sugar.  This may not be an everyday type spot, due to the richness of such a treat, but it sure is good when you’re in the mood for that special something to satisfy your pallet.

4. Momofuku Milk Bar: Locations

Milk Bar’s Crack Pie

This next dessert location is rather unique.  Momofuku Milk Bar is owned by accredited chef David Chang, who has lucratively launched many restaurants including, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, Pêche, Seiōbo, and of course Milk Bar.  Here, they offer a variety of unique “pies,” cookies, cake truffles, shakes, soft serve ice cream, croissants and bread.  The pies are served by the slice, although full pies are available for purchase, and come in an assortment of original flavors; the Crack Pie, which is my favorite, comes in a crumbled oatmeal cookie and brown sugar crust, with a rich creamy filling consisting of brown sugar, egg, butter, vanilla and heavy cream to hold it all together.  The taste is incomparable, as is everything at Momofuku.  My other favorite item here is the birthday cake truffles.  The little spherical shaped truffles hold immense flavor that overpower your taste buds with sweetness as the colored sprinkles evoke a jovial feeling as you bite into these delicious dessert specialties.  It is so difficult to explain just how great Momofuku’s creations are because of the uniqueness of their offerings, so you must go try for yourself.

3. Molly’s Cupcakes: 228 Bleecker Street (between Sixth Ave. and Seventh Ave.) NY, New York:

Molly’s Cupcakes

Molly’s Cupcakes captures you from the beginning, as its pretty and quaint yellow paneled façade catches your eye and allures you inside, where you’ll find a country styled seating area with marble topped tables and chairs, and wooden counters atop the bakery showcases.  What I love about Molly’s is the freshness in their products.  Their specialty, obviously being cupcakes, although they do have assorted other bakery goods, is baked homemade on premise everyday, which becomes obvious after taking a single bite out of a Molly’s creation.  There are so many flavors available here that you will never see anywhere else – my favorites being the crème brulee and the happy birthday (which is a level above any other bakery’s attempt at this style of cupcake).  Each flavor tastes exactly as the name describes.  The happy birthday is filled with a delicious filling that tastes and has the consistency of raw cake batter.  The crème brulee fittingly has a custard filling, and the top of the cupcake has that torched sugar taste like actual crème brulee.  The best part of Molly’s is the little counter area where they have fun shaped sprinkles that you can add to your cupcake or carry out on the side.  I love giving my business to such an amazing little local bakery. It may not have the level of corporate branding as chain cupcake bakeries do, but the homemade atmosphere from décor to baked goods makes you feel at home, which has gotten me to come back time after time.

2. Wafels and Dinges: Food Cart- locations vary

Liege Waffle

I sought out the waffles from this cart one day to appease a hankering I had for a good old Belgian waffle.  I had seen this cart around the city, and had to act on my craving, which brought me here for the first time.  The Brussels waffle was my first endeavor and I chose to top it with strawberries and whipped cream.  This waffle looks and tastes like a classic waffle you make in a waffle maker.  It was delicious, but did not compare to the second waffle I ordered and have been ordering every since.  The liege waffle is a thinner and sweeter waffle.  When topped with speckuloos, which is one of their signature toppings, this waffle sends you soaring through an unfathomable dessert dream.  They heat up the waffles before they top them, which makes this creation even more delicious.  This is a sweet and filling dessert and ever since the first time I tried it I have been hooked.

1. Lula’s Sweet Apothecary: 516 E. 6th Street (between Ave. A and Ave. B) NY, New York

Cake Batter Soft-Serve at Lula’s

Lula’s reminds you of the tiny little country store you would see on the Andy Griffith Show.  Lula’s welcomes you with a black and white checkered tile floor, and a wood counter topped with penny candies.  The front freezer holds the homemade ice cream flavors, and in back is the soft serve machine where the most incredible cake batter soft serve ice cream is dispensed.  I have come here in the rain, the snow, and the sunshine just to get some of their cake batter soft serve.  When you take your first spoonful, you don’t exactly know what hit you, nor are you able to fully make sense of the grandness of the flavor. It tastes so similar to actual cake batter that if you closed your eyes you would think that you are really eating a piece of cake (except for the coldness of the ice cream).  When I finish my Lula’s I am always left wanting more.  I never tire of this flavor, and do not foresee that happening in the future.  It is one of my absolute favorite desserts in the city, and if you live in the area I highly encourage you to try it one day.       

Movie of the Day: Mesrine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was scouring Netflix when I came across the two-part 2008 French gangster biopic Mesrine. Mesrine chronicles the life of arguably France’s most notorious modern day criminal, Jacques Mesrine, an anti-hero akin to John Dillinger. The film is split into two parts, Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L’instinct de mort) and, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (L’ennemi public n1). It is meant to be watched as one 4 hour epic, but on Netflix it is split into two films. It is directed and co-written by Jean-François Richet, whose only U.S. credit is directing Assault on Precinct 13, the 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 film starring Laurence Fisburne and Ethan Hawke. Part 1 is based on Mesrine’s autobiographical book L’instinct De Mort, while part 2 details Mesrine’s criminal career following his escape from prison. While a bit messy, Mesrine is certainly entertaining and while in my opinion the first part really outshines the second, it’s certainly worth a watch if you have a long attention span and 4 hours to spare.

Just as Saturday’s Movie of the Day featured  an underrated actor in Brendan Gleeson, Mesrine features the oft-underrated French actor Vincent Cassel in the title role. Cassel’s career has been extremely distinguished but in my opinion, his best roles have been in French films. I haven’t seen La Haine yet but his performance has been critically praised and he was nominated for a César Award for Best Actor, the French equivalent of an Oscar. In 2000, he starred alongside Jean Reno in Crimson Rivers and in the very next year his role in Sur mes lèvres (English title: Read My Lips) was nominated for another César Award for Best Actor. In 2002, he starred alongside his real-life wife Monica Bellucci in Gaspar Noé’s experimental film Irréversible. Irréversible was presented in reverse chronological order and while the idea was original, the novelty wore off quickly. In the end it came off a bit gimmicky and just didn’t do enough to enhance the power of the story to justify its use. I found myself wanting to like it a lot more than I did. With that said, Cassel’s performance was enthralling and his portrayal of a vengeful boyfriend was absorbing and at times, even haunting. His American credits include Ice Age, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen, a brilliant turn as the unstable Kirill in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, and most recently as the ballerina instructor in Black Swan. Out of the movie’s I’ve seen of his though, Mesrine is his crowning achievement. He is absolutely riveting, his intensity comes through in every scene and his performance is truly masterful. He deservedly garnered the César Award for Best Actor his role as well as numerous other accolades.

As I mentioned earlier, I found part 1 to be the far superior film. It was much more character-driven than the second which relied more on action to carry itself. Some people prefer action but I favor the first part which developed Mesrine very well and truly delved into his shortcomings and complexities. Part 1 was based on Mesrine’s book and part 2 seemed to lack the storytelling ability of the first film. I found the movies to be messy and in a way a bit unconnected. Richet’s transitions were interesting as he didn’t seem to document any time passing (i.e. “Two years later”) and just jumped from scene to scene. While it certainly helped with the pacing and kept the movie going, in the end it resulted in a product that was slightly disorganized. In the same vein, the transition between both parts of the film is missing and time elapses between the end of the first part and the beginning of the second without the viewer being informed as to what happened. As a whole I felt the first part was a bit more focused, the second wandered a bit and the first part was paced much better and as a result, towards the end of part 2 my interest began to wane. I found the movies to be very good but not great as there were a number of faults. Still, not enough could be made of Cassel’s powerhouse performance. He had such a charisma and was so captivating that his role makes Mesrine well worth your time.

Music in the Movies: Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction

I find the personality of the piece through the music that is going to be in it… It is the rhythm of the film. Once I know I want to do something, then it is a simple matter of me diving into my record collection and finding the songs that give me the rhythm of my movie.” – Quentin Tarantino

The soundtrack is often one of the most overlooked aspects of a movie. Songs have this powerful ability to often say more than dialogue. Music can communicate emotions much more effectively than actors can. With that said, music in movies shouldn’t tell us how to feel, but rather enhance the sentiment of the scene. Trainspotting, which I mention previously in a previous post, is an example of an excellent movie soundtrack. Boyle’s use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” during Renton’s overdose is simply on point. Quentin Tarantino is a master of using song, more specifically popular music, to convey messages, often presenting them as diegetic sound. His attention to detail in compiling his soundtrack is unparalleled. In Pulp Fiction, there a number of examples of Tarantino using songs as diegetic sound allowing the music to naturally complement the action unfolding on screen.

As the opening credits roll, Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” plays before suddenly transitioning into Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” It’s then revealed that the song is actually coming from Jules & Vincent’s car radio and as Jules and Vincent discuss Amsterdam, you can still here “Jungle Boogie” but it’s at a much lower volume. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” is playing in Jack Rabbit Slim’s as apart of the dance contest. Urge Overkill’s “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” is only included when Mia turns on the stereo in her house. “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers is playing on Butch’s car radio and the lighthearted nature of the song creates a perfect contrast as in only seconds, Butch will proceed to run Marcellus over. As Butch enters the pawn shop, Maria McKee’s “If Love is a Red Dress” is playing on a small portable radio. By incorporating songs as part of the narrative sphere of the film, Tarantino supports and enhances the emotion of the scenes without disrupting the natural flow of the story.

“Although the story is very much present day, it has a ’50s feel but I used music from the ’70s. In one scene, the audience learns that a local radio station is hosting a Super 70’s weekend and that’s why I am using and referencing the bubblegum music that was popular during that period. I found that the music was a terrific counterpoint to the action on screen” -Quentin Tarantino on Reservoir Dogs

In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino uses a mock radio show, “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of The Seventies” as means of distribution of the number of “bubblegum pop” songs included in the movie. The up-beat sound and innocent nature of the songs seems like a peculiar pick for a movie noted for its copious profanity, stunning ferocity, raw power, and strong violence but as Tarantino notes above, it creates a stark counterpoint and contrast to the action unfolding on the screen. None of the uses of song are as memorable or distinguished in Reservoir Dogs as the use of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” during Mr. Blonde’s torture scene of Officer Martin Nash.

“If a song in a movie is used really well, as far as I’m concerned, that movie owns that song, it can never be used again” –Quentin Tarantino

You can no longer bring up “Stuck in the Middle With You” without someone bringing up this iconic scene. Once again Tarantino presents it as diegetic sound as Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, goes over to the radio, turns it on, and then increases the volume. “Stuck in the Middle With You” comes on, and its cheery and happy-go-luck sound seems to clash with the seemingly psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He starts dancing and singing and the upbeat nature of the song is almost contagious. As the viewer you start tapping your foot and almost want to start dancing too. Tarantino is making the audience choose which emotion they want to feel. The disgust, horror and sympathy for Office Marvin Nash or the foot-tapping, lighthearted ecstasy inspired by “Stuck in the Middle With You?” After cutting off Nash’s ear, Mr. Blonde steps outside to his car to get gasoline and leaves the music in the warehouse. Suddenly, silence and the sounds of a sunny afternoon. As a viewer you get a bit of break and you begin asking questions, wondering what’s next. Mr. Blonde walks back into the warehouse and the music returns. Mr. Blonde is dancing maniacally, Nash is pleading for his life and Stealers Wheel continues to confound and conflict the viewer. Classic Tarantino, a truly iconic scene, magnificent directing, squirm-inducing action, and all set to the backdrop of a”Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite” as described by the K-Billy  DJ voiced by Steven Wright.

Song of the Day: Night on the Sun by Modest Mouse

There is really nothing quite like old Modest Mouse. The rawness of it is almost overpowering, and some of their newer stuff, while being more refined, seems overproduced and lacks some of the rough almost desperation you hear in some of the early tracks. “Night on the Sun” is the title track of Modest Mouse’s 1999 EP, which was released only in Japan. It’s a lengthy track, over 9 minutes long, but once again Isaac Brock proves his poetic prowess and as all the instruments seem to flow together so perfectly, the resulting instrumental segments are truly enthralling.

Despite a ridiculously expansive discography, Modest Mouse never quite gained the full notoriety they deserved. I’ve heard them compared to The Velvet Underground, as they seem to expand guitar-centric rock music to levels most have never heard of and frankly, most aren’t ready for. Like The Velvet Underground, I think Modest Mouse will come to be appreciated much more in retrospect. The Lonesome Crowded West to me is one of the best and most ambitious albums released in the last 20 years. It represented the band’s breakthrough, a creative masterpiece and was so incredibly diverse. The emotional shift from one song to the next is remarkable as the conveyance of sentiments from assured to susceptible is seamless and as such, breathtaking.”Night on the Sun” was just one of a handful I could have chosen which is a true testament of the depth of Modest Mouse’s arsenal.

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