New Albums to Look Out For this Year

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (June 16, 2017)

Finally, this album comes off of like 6 years of no music from the Fleet Foxes. I listened to the album preview (below) and so far every song sounds amazing. Super excited for this to come out, super bummed I won’t get to see them play this year. It’s a mix of vintage sounding, folk-y music with incredible reverberating harmonies and instrumentation. Gorgeous music, feels like warm weather on your skin.

Feist – Pleasure (April 28, 2017)

I’m really not sure what to expect with this album, but I can only assume it’s going to be good. Metals came out in 2011 and was my favourite album that she’s ever made so I hope this one stacks up. The title track starts slow but it’s worth the wait for it to build up. I swear at 1:52 it’s like you’re listening to The Kills all of the sudden.

Alt-J – Relaxer (June 2, 2017)

In my opinion Alt-J is one of the most unique bands out there, honestly. Such a distinctly weird sound. The new track’s video has some glitchy, arcade-game-esque footage, and this song’s a slow burner that kind of relaxes me. Whatever they put out, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

 

Animal Teeth – ??? (???)

I’ve been hearing rumours of new Animal Teeth music through the grapevine. Don’t know when but I hope to hell it’s soon. Loving all the new songs they’ve been playing at shows in Winnipeg, and I’m looking forward to having my own copy of them. Here’s the most recent album.

Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog (May 5, 2017)

This is the first proper full album from Mac since Salad Days and I like where it’s headed. Another One felt a little too flimsy and experimental to me. It didn’t have those catchy-as-hell songs like “Ode to Viceroy” or the “Salad Days” title track. I’m excited for this one either way, but I hope it goes back to a more “percussive and full-guitar sound – Mac”, rather than “synths and odd dreary melodies Mac”.

Gorillaz – Humanz (April 28)

Gorillaz are surging back to relevance all of the sudden with this weird new video, tour dates, and a new album coming out soon. The song comes off like a slightly more modernized Gorillaz sound with those classic, catchy choruses and solid underlying beats that we’ve come to know and love from this awesome cartoon outfit. The Gorillaz are an aesthetic. Ain’t no denying it.

 

 

“A Deadly Wandering” is a Must-Read, and a Testament to Thorough Journalism

“A Deadly Wandering” is a Must-Read, and a Testament to Thorough Journalism

A Deadly Wandering is an investigative journalism piece by Pulistzer Prize Winner Matt Richtel about the death of two rocket scientists in a car crash caused by a young man named Reggie Shaw’s texting and driving–and the dialogue that it helped open up in America.

I have to preface this by saying that even as I sat reading, I started to realize how eery it was for my phone to continue buzzing and beeping periodically a foot away from me. All while reading about scientists who study the temptation of checking your phone constantly, and how it satisfies an unhealthy habit of temporary endorphin stimulus in my brain.

The book tells multiple stories side by side, the two main stories being Reggie’s mistake, his trial, and his reckoning, but also the story of the “attention scientists” who have been researching for more than half a century. The story of Reggie Shaw is a vehicle to dive into how the human brain works in terms of distraction and attention, but the science behind it is equally important.

Unfortunately, science is where you lose a significant amount of people in your writing sometimes. What works in A Deadly Wandering is that Richtel tells the stories of the actual scientists behind the research to bring us deeper into what their work means. But not only that, he explores the lives of almost every “character” we encounter throughout the book. I have to admit that at first I felt like it was a distraction in itself.

How exactly is this relevant? I thought. But reading only a little further, I understood.

For example,

  • When Richtel talks about Scientist David Greenfield starting on page 192, he explains that he “spent time himself in rehab.” This validates Greenfield’s research comparing technology addiction to regular addiction, because he himself knows what both feel like.
  • We find out about the prosecuting lawyer, Don Linton’s, childhood, and how he was abused by a priest at a young age. This brings so much more weight to his statement (page 316) to Reggie in the hallway at the end of the trial: “Instead of trying to convert people, your mission is saving lives.” You feel the anger towards the church in his words, and it hits home that much harder.

Little details about these people provide incite into their motivations and perspectives. It makes everyone more human, and makes us relate and empathize with every character on either side of the trial even more.

  •  On page 49, a seemingly inconsequential character named Terryl is introduced and we learn about her horrible home life growing up with her later revealed step father. “Get in here!” he yells at the young girl, “I’m going to blow your mother’s fucking head off.”

She’s an integral part of the story, as we find out later in the book, and the background of her painful childhood helps show us why she is so adamantly committed to making Reggie pay for causing the death of her friend’s husband. As a victim herself, we understand her crusade to advocate for other victims. That’s why it’s so much more meaningful when Reggie speaks at the government chamber meeting, advocating for a texting and driving ban, and Terryl says, “I completely turned, in a moment,” and has a complete change of heart. Reggie is acknowledging and taking responsibility for his actions, something her abusive step-father never did.

Obviously, all these intimate details about people in the book highlight the importance of detailed interviews and rigorous reporting, but also spending a lot of time with your subjects. Richtel says in the “Author’s Note” (Page 386) that there is “no substitute for getting to know people over time,” recounting that he had up to 5 years of contact with some of the people in the book.

“Memories can be unreliable, and accounts biased,” he says on page 385, before detailing the enormous lengths he went to to maintain accuracy: matching different individuals’ accounts of the same events, referencing diaries and journal entries, playing back court videos, and re-reading documentation of legal proceedings.

Often we get to hear both sides of important moments in the story, and especially the trial. According to the recorded video, and the accounts of Leila and Jackie in the gallery, Reggie seemed often blank and unmoved, specifically by the testimony of Dr. Strayer about distracted driving. But according to what Reggie says, the floodgates had opened in his mind and at that moment he was realizing that he must have been texting at the time of the crash, and that he alone was at fault.

It all speaks to a commendable level of objectivity on the part of Richtel. He also waits until more than three quarters of the way through the book before being inserting his first person perspective into the story. He even mentions a New York Times article earlier in the book that he himself wrote, but refrains from mentioning that he wrote it until the Author’s Note (Page 385) because he “did not wish to interrupt the flow of the story.”

I think one thing that his writing has clearly shown is the power of details. You should never underestimate the relevance of a particular anecdote in the grand scheme of a story. I completely understand why this book is so critically claimed. Not only because of how thorough it was, but because of the power this detailed story has to change the reader’s perspective on technology and attention.

As Richtel talks about comparing internet usage to pulling slots and winning nothing, he says the internet will often “deliver us worthless information,” (Page 198). But we keep checking in with the hope of getting that endorphin release from developing another “plot point” in our lives. Richtel still manages to stay objective, maintaining that technology has it’s place in our lives, and we just need balance.

And through referencing countless studies and testimonies from neuroscientists he clearly shows how much attention is taken away from the road by your phone. Near the end of the book, Richtel seeks to find out how close Reggie is to being like “any other person” in terms of his ability to stay attentive. After scanning Reggie’s brain Dr. Jason Watson says that he’d “classify Reggie as high in terms of attention,” further proving how a crash like that could really have happened to anyone.

But not only that, just the shear guilt and shame that Reggie experiences throughout the book, and the pain and grief of the two widows and their family should be enough for you to never want to take out your phone on the road again.

As Barbara Harsha (a longtime travel safety advocate) says on page 376, “The culture is: ‘It’s not me, it’s you. I’m the good driver.” That’s the reason why a tragic story told in passing still might not convince people not to text and drive. But Reggie’s story does. As he reinforces throughout many of his speeches, he never wants anyone else to end up like him and cause someone else’s death–or his or her own death. He doesn’t want anyone else to have to be a slave to guilt and regret.

That’s why I find the author’s direct address to Reggie, at the end of the book on page 387, to be particularly touching:

“Reggie, I hope that in some small way, the contribution you have made to this account adds sufficiently to the portfolio of your testimony so that you can forgive yourself.”

-11- Spotlight: Shedding light on a cover-up, and shedding light on top-notch journalism

-11- Spotlight: Shedding light on a cover-up, and shedding light on top-notch journalism

If you haven’t seen Spotlight yet, you really need to. It’s based on the true story of a team of Boston journalists who investigated and exposed the shocking amount of Priest molestation cases that were covered up by the Catholic Church.

Spotlight received widespread critical acclaim, was heralded as being a very accurate depiction of events, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay in 2015. It boasts an all-star cast including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery.

It’s a fantastic film, and as my Journalism teacher, Joanne Kelly, essentially said in class, “It’s amazing how a film about a bunch of people sitting around a table can put you on the edge of your seat.”

The film gives you an in depth look at how far journalists have to go to get to the bottom of a story. I think there are some people, including ones I watched the movie with, who would say that they crossed the line on some occasions, but I would disagree. We are shown throughout the movie how skeptical many of the characters are to really dive into this story because of the gravity of the situation and the power and the Catholic Church to bury a story. Not to mention that the majority of The Boston Globe’s readers at the time were Catholic.

For example, when Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews one man who had been a victim of molestation he describes what had happened to him, saying that they went to the Priest’s house, talked about sex and homosexuality and then “things went on from there.”

At that point Sacha says, “Language is going to be very important here” when we break this story, “Just saying molest isn’t enough. People need to know what actually happened.”

She’s right. The word molest is used very commonly as a blanket term with these kind of cases and news stories. So much so that people just tune it out sometimes. You tend to hear what you want to hear when the truth is too horrific. Sometimes people forget what the word “molest” actually means. However painful the details might be, people need to know specifically what happened and how people were affected so that it doesn’t get “buried” by the church.

Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the journalist who clearly has the most ties to the Boston Catholic Community. And yet, by the end of the movie he has to confront a bunch of different people directly about their involvement in the cover up. He says to one of the lawyers involved “We’ve got two stories here. One about a degenerate clergy, or one about a bunch lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry.” Ethically speaking, this is kind of a threat, but I feel like it’s justified. It’s just the plain truth. If the lawyer won’t admit any information or involvement, the press is left to assume they were in on the cover-up. He’s offering the lawyer an opportunity to prove his innocence.

There’s another scene where Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) even bribes an employee at the public records building to let him use their copy machine just so he can get the documents to confirm the details of the story. When the implications of a story are this serious the facts need to be unquestionably corroborated, so he does anything he can to get those document and back it all up.

To anyone who might say that he only did this in order to release the story first and before anyone else, you see in the film that they actually wait a remarkably long time to put out the story. Time and time again the editors refuse to go to print until they have all the facts.

The reason Michael is working with such urgency is because he knows that if another paper breaks the story first “they’re going to butcher it,” he says.

I think there are so many great examples in Spotlight of how they toe-the-line to really get the story right and as quickly and accurately as possible. Spotlight is so well done, and I appreciate it now even more than I did watching it the first time around.

It’s asking the right questions. It’s tirelessly digging for sources. It’s looking at the ‘bigger picture’ before rushing to just put out a smaller story. It’s journalism at its finest.

-10- Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Comedy done right

-10- Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Comedy done right

Over the past few years I had given up on the modern comedy film. You know, that kind of over-the-top, Will Ferrell-esque comedy that fails to scratch the emotional surface any deeper than a Hallmark Card. You might say, “It’s a comedy, why does it have to be emotional?”

Well here’s the thing: if you can’t make me feel anything, I don’t care about your characters. And if I don’t care about your characters, you’ve lost the ability to do anything subtle in the film, because people just aren’t paying attention. That’s how you get this kind of less-than-smart, obnoxious comedy style you see in the theatres these days.

I’m not saying they can’t make you laugh, because they can. But it’s a cheap laugh, and in a moment its forgotten.

That is why this weekend when my brother asked me to watch a comedy called Hunt For The Wilderpeople, it took some convincing to get me to watch.

This movie is everything good about the comedy genre.

It starts with a young delinquent gangster boy named Ricky who gets dropped off at a New Zealand farm belonging to Bella and Hector. SPOILER ALERT AHEAD–so turn away now if you haven’t seen the movie.

The movie starts out like this:

Ricky hates living there at first but quickly warms up to it, culminating in a birthday gift from the two of them of a dog that he decides to name Tupac. But in the first ten minutes of the movie Bella, the friendly, plump little farmer (who’s the one that actually wants Ricky around) dies of a heart attack. Child services issues a letter that they’re going to take him back to a foster house (or worse).

Hector doesn’t seem all that fond of Ricky at all, so Ricky decides to take off into the bush and escape. Hector, who’s an illiterate survivalist goes to find him in the forest but accidentally breaks his ankle upon finding him. They wait out several weeks for the injury to heal, but in the meantime, the outside world assumes Hector has kidnapped Ricky. So the unlikely duo is stuck together and heads off deeper into the bush–high-jinx ensues.

The fact that they kill off a character right away is heart breaking but so real. They have this super awkward funeral with like 8 people in attendance where the Priest (who happens to be the director, Taika Waititi) explains life/death as “a maze, with a door. Or two doors, but behind that door is– another door. And behind that door. Is…is Jesus.”

The film is full of so many wonderful, original characters. Ricky is this hilarious, lovable chubby gangster kid. He just constantly surprises you with the funniest lines like:

“[reading wanted poster] ‘Hector is cauc-asian’ – well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white.”

He refuses to call Hector anything but Uncle the whole movie. You just get so attached to these two characters who eventually become the unlikeliest of friends as they brave the wilderness and run into all kinds of ridiculous things: like a crazy bush man, a near-dead guy, and a gang of idiot hunters. But all these situations in the plot are just made so much funnier because I actually care about the characters.

Another thing, this movie is absolutely beautiful. Filmed in the most gorgeous and wildest parts of New Zealand, sometimes you feel like you’re in an episode of Planet Earth. They have these incredibly wide overhead shots of the landscape and it’s honestly breathtaking sometimes.

They have this sort of cinematography style too that echoes Wes Anderson a little bit. But it makes you laugh simply in the physical comedy of each shot and cut. Like in one of the first scenes when Bella kills a wild bore down by the creek so nonchalantly with a smile on her face. It’s shot like an old school horror movie, the knife flies above her head in it’s own close up shot, then as it comes down blood flies out to the side, and Ricky passes out unconscious.

The humour is so uniquely New Zealand. I don’t know how to describe it, just the right amount of dryness, but clever and kind of adorable.

Shit I don’t know, I could ramble about how good this movie was for a long time, but just ask the internet.screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-8-13-22-pm

Holy wow look at those ratings. I wasn’t kidding around.

Regardless, The main point I’m trying to get across is that the quirkiness, realness, and sprinkling of serious emotion is what made this movie such a fantastically affective comedy. In fact–look above, it doesn’t  even label itself as a comedy, according to Google. But it is. And it’s just so much better than some stuff that’s out there right now.

So go see it.