The Continuum: Imagine Dragons

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Sep 262012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

The combination of social media, word of mouth and immediate availability has made it possible for musicians to very suddenly come into common

Circumaural headphones have large pads that su...

Circumaural headphones have large pads that surround the outer ear. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

knowledge. Such is the case with Imagine Dragons. The four-man-group out of Las Vegas has very suddenly found itself being widely listened to.

At time of writing the group’s song, “It’s Time” stand at #25 on iTunes Top Songs, a list dominated near constantly by only the most popular pop of the moment. Dragons’ alt-rock tune stands alone in a sea of well known acts.

In terms of style, the group does nothing you haven’t heard before. They combine elements of groups like Modest Mouse and The Killers and act as some kind of an amalgamation of the last 15 years of alternative rock groups. They put an emphasis on their almost frantic vocals to create an inconsistent, but solid pace to the album. The inconsistency in the album is rooted in abrupt emotional shifts within the songs themselves that makes songs seem unfocused verse-to-verse. This issue in the songs themselves is only exacerbated on the level of the album with songs that are sorrowful and angry directly followed by optimism. It’s best described as a loud and insistent kind of alt-rock that hasn’t been anywhere near the top of any charts in recent years.

As the next year comes and Imagine Dragons publishes a second studio album, they will have no choice but to either differentiate themselves from other similar acts or fade into obscurity. Dragons will inevitably face a common issue for a group with a popular first album: avoiding the dreaded status of flash in the pan or one-hit wonder.

The Continuum Book Review: They Eat Puppies Don’t They?

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Sep 192012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

 Lobbyists are the men and women behind the curtain in this country. These people, lobbyists, are among the only men and women in America who can get any decent amount of power without getting elected. In today’s world a lobbyist can change the world. That’s what They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is all about.

This book constructs the Washington that Buckley sees, a place where lobbyists and fanatics half crazy on Adderall use lies and innuendo to almost start World War 3. The lobbyist, one of two main protagonists, is Walter “Bird” McIntyre. He doesn’t retain the likability of the lobbyist portrayed in Buckley’s previous work. Bird makes the fatal mistake of doubting his effect on the world. Nick Naylor (Thank You For Smoking’s protagonist and lobbyist for the tobacco industry) knew he was a plight on the nation and more than that, didn’t care was proud of it. In that acceptance the character was infinitely interesting you felt like you had to hate him but loved his nonchalance. Bird thinks he a good guy while putting the fate of the world in jeopardy for nothing but a paycheck.

His partner in crime, Angel Templeton is a crazy Glenn Beck-esque crazy person staunchly declaring America’s need to constantly be fighting a war. It’s Angel who utters the title of the novel proudly on national television. Her crazy lack of morality seems to be there to balance the awareness of the two tricksters. Together the two characters create their own narrative, the people pulling the whole world’s strings with nothing but a couple lies and a few phone calls. They play their little game with the future of the entire planet in their hands as though it’s a penny-stakes poker game.

The second major protagonist is President of the People’s Republic of China and general secretary of the Communist Party of China. He’s the head honcho and because of Angel and Bird’s schemes, finds himself under the very serious threat of a coup. He’s a political genius is in planning well and dealing well with the hand he’s dealt. But there are no clean hands in a dictatorship and Fa knows that and at the outset of his story is being deprived of sleep by nightmares. Despite his past indiscretions Fa is by far the most likable character in the whole affair.

These two stories lay out for the reader what power represents in the world. In America, all you need is a few connections, a reason and some cash. In China you must rise to the top of your party, and fend off the near constant threat of losing your power. The President of the United States is in the picture for only a few pages, but is mentioned by nearly every American once specifically about how they either play tennis with him or question how they’ll tiptoe around the president, skirt the edge of their power and do whatever they want. The more I read They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? the more I knew I loved it. From the beginning the story felt very real, possible in the worst way. An excellent read if you have any interest in politics. It shows us the Washington under the press and it’s horrifying in a very intriguing way.   

The Continuum Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

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Sep 052012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (Photo credit: AlizeeLafon)

There’s a problem with storytelling, nearly everyone writes love into their stories. While love can be and is a central aspect of many stories, it is far more often an extra element, a sideline story that means nothing and does nothing for the audience. Basing your story entirely around love in a movie, without the excellent actors with impeccable chemistry and a masterpiece of a script a love story invariably falls flat on its face. The goal is to not only make your audience believe the love between the two characters, but feel it for themselves.

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s most recent film, it follows two young people escaping the yoke of parents and scout masters into the wilderness of a small New England island. When I saw the trailer I feared for the movie’s potential, so much could so easily drag the film into mediocrity. None of it did.

First and foremost, Anderson made a courageous decision. He put nearly the entire weight of the movie on two very young actors. They carry it without ever faltering. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play the story’s protagonists: Suzy and Sam, and this being a love story, are center stage for most of the story. There are a few hiccups, their performances aren’t perfect, but their characters love each other, you believe that and can’t help but feel it. Individually they have their issues, but together the two establish a relationship that feels more real than any other I’ve seen.

The supporting cast each uses a minimal amount of screen time to construct a character that contrasts the innocence and inherent goodness of the main love story. When Sam leaves his scout camp in the film’s opening, he unleashes a few monsters. First and foremost, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward is silly, awkward and overall there for comic relief. Three traits I have never  seen and never thought I would associate with Edward Norton, all three of which he pulls off well. His missing scout has put his belief in himself in serious question Tilda Swinton makes an appearance at the beginning of the third act, only ever referred to as “Social Services”, she acts as something of an antagonist and is, as usual, deadpan and hilarious. The most important facet of the supporting cast is made up by Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. Murray and McDormand play Suzy’s parents and get very little time to establish their characters but together are characterized by their actions toward and reactions to Bruce Willis as the island’s lone police officer, tasked to locate the protagonists. We get a very complete picture of a character who, though intelligent and caring, is alone. Willis broke my heart at one point in this movie, I wasn’t prepared for that. his part in his own love story makes up the tragic elements of the story and is just as well told if not better told than the main love story.

A couple important notes: as per Anderson’s prior works this movie is beautifully shot. Harvey Keitel makes a short cameo (he, like Murray, deserved more screen time), this movie is not in wide release which is an unqualified disaster.

Moonrise Kingdom is the most difficult movie to review, so good I cannot think of a single thing I didn’t like. It is excellent in every sense of the word, a true masterpiece. Easily my favorite movie of 2012 thus far. It even beat out The Avengers. See it.

The Continuum Book Review: A Song of Ice and Fire (Books 1-3)

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Aug 302012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

Game of Thrones (soundtrack)

This might seem an odd place to review a series, three books in with five published and the sixth on the way, but I raced through 2400 pages in three and a half weeks and now I’m hesitant to pick up the fourth book. The aforementioned 2400 pages are some of the most engaging and wholly excellent I’ve ever read. But Martin, the author, has a serious problem, he loves telling this story too much to want it to end.

It couldn’t have been more than a hundred pages into Game of Thrones, the first book in the series, before I knew I would be eager for every word. Martin’s greatest strength lies in the way he tells the story, each chapter from a different character’s point of view. What this does is create multiple protagonists, each of them we know and find ourselves supporting, even when their goals conflict.

The conflict of the story encompasses the entire world and more often than not the in the end of each book the world is pretty consistently screwed, even more-so at the end of A Storm of Swords. With the death of a what few leaders there are, the conflict steps back a few thousand pages to the same point it is at the end of the first book, minus any coherent solution for at least a few books.

I say for a few books because as it stands the characters that the end of the story surely rests on aren’t ready to play their part in the grand scheme of things. They’re by and large children who are excellently developed as characters. But their presence being so central to the telling of the story makes the larger plot seem like we’re just killing time until they’re ready to concern themselves with the welfare of the world at large.

There’s a problem that stems from telling a story about a whole world: something has to get resolved. In a story such as this, where the conflict can go on for tens of thousands of pages characters have to grow and change, which few have done. There’s nothing more exhausting than a story with lovable and relatable characters that after 2400 pages hasn’t evolved.

In the end there’s nothing about the way the books are written or the characters constructed I don’t love. I could not get enough while reading these books and in the end will almost certainly finish the series, but it begs for some heavy revision.

The Continuum Movie Review: The Expendables 2

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Aug 252012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

If my father taught me one thing about movies it was to love Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s one thing Arnie understood before running California and has proven he still understands, it’s camp. The man knows what it means to not take himself too seriously. That’s an idea that permeated the action flicks of the 80’s and early 90’s, writing movies with ridiculous plots and characters on purpose, creating a movie that is aware of any faults and compensates for them by not compensating at all.

Think of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. Everything about that movie was camp, the script, the photography and the characters are all so heavily exaggerated that you can’t help but be in on the joke. The cast and crew all understood that leaving a movie that not only knows what it is but is actually pretty good.

This is the central problem with Expendables 2, no one is in it with the same goal in mind.

The first movie had the exact same issue, it wanted to be a big, dumb, silly action movie,

English: Montage of the old-school action heroes

English: Montage of the old-school action heroes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but half the actors and the crew seemed to think they were making a straight-faced film. This skew between goals is best summarized in Stallone’s performance, he’s trying so hard to be Rocky instead of Judge Dredd. It’s a serious issue because as the protagonist Stallone sets the tone of the story, so while everyone else in the cast is having fun, relaxing and giving seemingly decent performances Stallone is fighting the cohesion of the cast tooth and nail. Every other character spends most of the film either joking or murdering people with an ear-to-ear grin, but Stallone spends the whole film fighting all the relaxed, funny camp the movie tries to have.

This movie was sold as a gathering of the “best” action stars there are, but it doesn’t seem content bringing actors as a joke and just having them act. Willis and Schwarzenegger make jokes about their previous work. Which works and is actually rather funny, it could have been a lot less blatant, less of an, “I’m staring at the camera referencing the Terminator” moment more of a subtle joke , as it is it just felt really shoe-horned and, frankly, lazy.

Then there’s Check Norris.

I had a feeling his appearance would be as much of a joke as his name is on the Internet. I didn’t give the screenwriters enough credit, Norris enters to the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, walking the slow motion walk, makes reference to his meme status, and leaves again until the finale. More confusing than funny overall.

I feel like there’s a cut of this movie that knows what color is and how to use it. At no point is anything colorful or fun, but anytime a gun is going off there are buckets of blood being spilled. This is where Planet Terror succeeded, it was colorful and insane so that when the gore gets out of control it’s funny and plays into the campy elements of the film overall. Expendables’ fascination with gore in combination with its gloomy morose color scheme is just odd. The only color that’s on display is red, and it fights the entire washed out Saving Private Ryan-esque gray Expendables tries to have leaving the action scenes aesthetically morose but psychotically bloodthirsty.

Special mention to the screenwriter for deciding to crack jokes about Dolph Lundgren’s masters in chemical engineering, and a couple scenes later painting him as a shy nerd-type. Which was actually legitimately pretty funny. Also to Jet Li who’s in the movie for the first 10 minutes, has an excellently choreographed fight before he leaves the plot, never to be seen again.

Overall The Expendables 2 is upsetting for a very simple reason, there’s plenty of talent that could have easily worked together to make the action movie the 80’s would’ve been proud of. Instead we’re left with a barely mediocre sequel in what will almost surely be a mediocre trilogy.

The Continuum: Meet Kenny Myers

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Aug 192012
 

Author: Kenneth Myers

The Las Vegas Strip, where entertainment is king

A  less than wise man once told me,

“Nothing is on a continuum anymore, it’s all either crap or transcendence.”

I wish that were true. Nothing would make reviewing books, movies and music easier. But you’re hard pressed to find a critic that acknowledges that nothing is all good and even less is all bad. That said, let me kindly introduce myself, I’m Kenny Myers and it’s going to be my pleasure to present you with as much of the good and the bad of cinema, literature and music as it’s released.

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