Friday, December 21, 2007

Best Music Of The Year 2007

by Timothy Zila

Okay, so 2007's list is called “Don’t Worry About the Numbers.” I know I’m probably not supposed to name best of lists, but I’m okay with breaking the rules this time.

# 1
Feist’s The Reminder

http://www.patrolmag.com/index.php?id=184
Scroll down about half of the way.

# 2
Iron & Wine The Shepherd’s Dog

The Shepherd’s Dog is a brilliant piece of musical construction if nothing else. There’s never a drum beat or guitar note that feels out of place, or one that isn’t important to the overall experience in some vital way. This is Sam Beam and band officially divorced from minimilism, but The Shepherd’s Dog isn’t just filling up the space previously occupied by the echoes of Beam’s whispered words, it’s about capitalizing on that emptiness. The album may fall well short of being transcendental, and at least a little short of being truly affecting, but it’s simply unrivaled in its sheer musical and lyrical craft by all but a few. (In Rainbows is among them, but this is much, much better.) Plus, “Resurrection Fern” is what Beam intimacy sounds like when brought out of the basement, and placed in the blazing sunshine. Brilliant.

# 3
Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky

This is the kind of album that, at least most of the time, doesn’t seem to want your attention. It’s a chill album, full of low-key songs with melodies that rarely lift off, and it’s also the album that the more you listen to it the more you’re impressed with what you hear. It’s Wilco capitalizing on over-used guitar motifs and tempo changes, and filling up the space with somewhat obscurely veiled lyrics that explode in your face. (Most notably, no pun intended, on “You Are My Face.”) Suffice it so say, it’s one of those songs that emerges as a song genuinely posed to leave you euphoric, playing the song over and over again as you try to recapture the moment and hope that it never fades.

“Impossible Germany,” on the other hand, is notable for just how little and how much it says about it’s subject. It eschews any pretensious political commentary (pick any popular artist that, very ineffectually, talks about anything) and tries to encapsulate the song in several simple repeated lines “Impossible Germany/Unlikely Japan.” Then the song bows out with three minutes of beautifully laid back riffing (even when it’s furious), with Tweedy carrying the main melody and Cline’s furious playing weaving in and out and joining with Tweedy’s before returning to where the song started if only to remind us where the song took us in six minutes. (There might be a third guitar as well, I’m not sure.)

# 4
Radiohead In Rainbows

In some ways it doesn’t matter where In Rainbows fits into the Radiohead canon. It’s good solid music almost entirely devoid of weirdness, which makes for a good introduction to the band. “Nude” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place” are the best songs on the album. I can’t/don’t want to describe “Nude”, but I will point out that “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is just a plain good song. Bass guitar thumps in the background to match the loosely invigorating acoustic guitar strums, to prepare for Thom’s frantic, present tense lyrics.

“Just as you take my hand/Just as you write my number down/Just as the drinks arrive/Just as they play your favorite song . . . Before you run away from me/Before you’re lost between the notes/The beat goes round and round, the beat goes round and round . . . Jigsaw falling into place.”

# 5
Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√°’s Once (The Soundtrack)

Once is one of the best movies of the year for sure, but when your film is made up of approximately 60% music it’s really the music that makes the film. The film in itself is revelatory because someone’s figured out how to the kind of film I’ve been abstractly dreaming about, setting a bare-bones simple story to some of the most emotionally emotive and melodically inspired music of the year. All it takes for Once to captivate you is a few seconds of Hansard performing “Say It To Me Now” to know that this is the rare kind of music that (especially when paired with the film) can cripple you, leaving you begging for more long after the film, and it’s soundtrack, have finished playing.


# 6
Josh Ritter’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

The fun record of the year. The disappointing album of the year. The come back to album of the year.
http://www.patrolmag.com/index.php?id=60

# 7
Derek Webb’s One Zero

Although the album gets bland before the end, One Zero is a testament to just how good of a songwriter Derek Webb is. On these ten acoustic renditions of established Webb songs, Webb lets his voice stretch higher and raspier than it’s ever been before, with the result showing Webb at his rawest. Plus, this collection of ten of Webb’s previous songs is unique in managing to be both relevant, and not cancel out the previous studio recordings of these ten songs. “Medication” may be better than ever on One Zero, but it in no way cancels out the go for broke tone of the previous recording.

(Insert three great albums in order to make an even, and not prime, number. :)

Highly Recommended:

The following albums either didn’t completely add up, or were very good without being great.

Nyles Lannon’s Pressure is lo-fi rock/folk rhythm buried underneath layers of sound. Includes lyrics like, “Hearing promises from parrots in the tree/But I still never believe them . . ./I see the cracks in you creeping up from your past/I see the tracks to you bending and I can’t stop this from spilling/Let’s just slow down.”
Free download at www.badmanrecordingco.com

Kyle Andrew’s Find Love, Let Go http://www.patrolmag.com/index.php?id=107
Free download at www.badmanrecordingco.com

Lavender Diamond’s Imagine Our Love has about three excellent songs. It doesn’t add up, to be sure, but the least you can do is download “Oh No,” “Open Your Heart,” and “When You Wake for Certain.”

The Innocence Mission’s We Walked in Song.
Mostly separated from the sadness of death and winter and, unfortunately, not quite a meditation on the life and the coming of spring, We Walked in Song is still a wonderful experience, with Karen Peris’ voice once again leading the way.
Free download at www.badmanrecordingco.com


Derek Webb’s The Ringing Bell
If only to not include Webb twice, I’ve put this here. Webb’s throwback to the songwriting of the Beatles is the years most immediately arresting release, so when I say that it starts to fall flat after about forty spins is still a pretty high compliment. Give “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear” a play for it’s social commentary, “I Don’t Want To Fight” for the way the drums enter and exit the song, and “Name” for just being really, really good.

My Wish List. (Or, CD’s that probably ought to be on this list but aren’t because I haven’t heard them! It’s almost Christmas, so if you want this to imply anything, that’s okay with me.)

Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible
The National’s Boxer
Band of Horses Cease to Begin
Mandy Moore’s Wild Hope
LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Into Great Silence

I just finished watching a great docu-drama called Into Great Silence. It follows monks of the Grande Charteuse monastery - for nearly three hours. Maybe I'll get to do a proper review/piece for the Patrol (www.patrolmag.com - yes, I really can't stop myself from self-advertising), but I have to say the film was fascinating.

I'm not at all a fan of those artsy slow movies that ultimately have no point at all, and in the very process of trying to be more real, or true to life, strip all the emotion and life out of a piece and actually make it "less" like life, but Into Great Silence is an exception.

There's few surprising moments, but the few we do get are treated as every other moment in the film, whether it be a time of prayer, or song, or eating lunch. The film was profound not in that it made me think about a lot of things, but in that I spent three hours of the most peaceful, warming silence of my life.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Derek Webb Interview

Hey, I did a great interview with a artist you need to check out - Derek Webb. In the first part of the interview (the second part is due tomorrow) Derek Webb talks about growing up in the south and the vital role art plays to any worldview or culture - it tells the story of our culture. And, furthermore, is the music, film, and art being produced right now the story we want to be told. Check it out at: http://www.patrolmag.com/index.php?s=front

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Scott Orr's Miles From Today Available Free

Hey, a pretty great unknown folk/country artist Scott Orr has made his latest album Miles from Today available for free. For news and a link (look in the bottom left corner) to the download visit www.patrolmag.com.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Patrol

The website which was formerly known as the CCM Patrol has undergone an amazing transformation and is launching tomorrow as the Patrol (www.patrolmag.com) We have some amazing pieces coming up, including interviews with Derek Webb, Switchfoot, and so much more stuff. I promise if you give it a shot you'll love it. Check it out tomorrow.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Timothy Zila Caseless EP

Available this Tuesday the Timothy Zila Caseless EP is a collection lovely acoustic songs which show a temperate for confessional and heartfelt songwriting. Simple melodies abound amidst darker elements. With production values so poor you can't really blame me if you don't like it, and a voice which I hope will be tolerable the Caseless EP will stay in your room forever, and I trust it will be eventually broken in two as I don't have a case to give it to you.

Delivered by hand and, again, available this Tuesday, order yours today.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

. . . Seeing Myself in the Newspaper and The Nagging Hope that People Are Actually Reading This

Hey, so guess what everybody. If you scroll down and look at my last (and much more important) post then you'll discover that I didn't actually deliver everything the title offered. I sort of left out the part about seeing myself in the newspaper and the hope that people are actually reading this. So, here it is:

Seeing yourself in the newspaper is weird. I sort of knew it was coming, so I opened up the section very slowly, perhaps closed my eyes for a moment, and then looked. And, sure enough, I was in there. My first reaction: Aw I look terrible! I look at it again: I don't look horrible. I look at it again: Hey, I actually look okay. I look at ig again: Hey, I look good! Funny how that works.

As for the hope that people are actually reading this, there's just something cold about me sitting at my computer (I could be in Antartica for all you know!) sending out messages that are never read. I liken it to sending off rescue calls that are never answered. Save me! Read this! (And especially the stuff before this, you know.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Essence of Man and Women, Seeing Myself in the Newspaper, and That Nagging Hope People Are Actually Reading This

If there's one thing I've promised this blog would be, it's thoughtful and thought provoking. And, whether because I don't feel like anyone is reading this, or because I just haven't got to it I haven't posted anything like that yet. So here it is, a message so thought provoking I needn't post anything else in the many months to come. (Thanks to Matt and Phoenica, who showed me the core of these reflections.)

The Essence of Man:

The essence of man is to serve and protect. Whenever we men sin it is because we are not fulfilling our essence - we aren't serving and protecting. The core of most of our sins, therfore, is selfishness. When we're selfish we're not working to serve and protect others around us, we're serving our own selfish, sinful needs and desires. We're disobeying the purpose God has given us.

And when, instead of serving and protecing, we're idle it can be merely because of our laziness that we sin. If we would always be quiet, and learn self control, and listen to the prompting of the Spirit we would not sin. If we would always be about serving and protecting, we would not sin.

The Essence of Woman:

The essence of women is to bring relationship and be the very prescence that God is. (Wow!) Where men tend to rebel, women are naturally built to follow God, and that's why their essence is to bring God and relationship to men and those around them in an appropriate way. Men rebel against God when they sin, whereas women are deceived. (The reason this happens is when men are not being their essence which is to serve and protect.) Look at the first sin in the Bible, Eve was deceived by the serpent, or Satan, because she saw a lot of good things in it. The fruit looked nice, she thought, she could take it to Adam, wouldn't he like that. So, Eve really had good intentions, and because Adam wasn't being his essence she was deceived.

When women are not not walking rightly with God, or are in some way prevented from walking with Him they get caught up in immature relationships, and are dragged into bad relationships. Eventually they will end up giving their bodies away because they so intensely desire relationship, and they learn that they can get it, for a time, if they give away their innocence. This happens because men are not being their essence, and therefore women's essence becomes perveted when men do not wish to follow God.

Older women, when not in proper relationship, will go overboard in providing for their children and husband, and having to have something a certain way for themselves and everyone around them. When women turn away from God, their essence is distorted and becomes a burden to those around them.

Conclusion:

Dating is possesion and usery. Without God we become users who take advantage of each other for our own selfish desires.

This happens because we do not want God to truly be involved in our day to day life, and we don't truly believe that we must serve him, and seek to desire him in everything we do.

Because of this, we don't live in His Kingdom, or have true hope for his life.

Character: Character is sustained self control on the principles of God, with us living and guided by the Spirit, it is not a set of rules. Legalism, and the flesh kills, the Spirit gives us life.

Scriptures to Look At:

Romans 5:3-5
Genesis 1:26-27
Genesis 2:15 and 18
Genesis 3:1- 13-
1 Timothy 2:13-14
Titus 3:3-7
1 Peter 3:1
1 Corinthians 11:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 & 35
1 Timothy 2:8- men lifting holy hands is a picture of submission before the Lord.
2 Peter 1:4-8 there are two loops here -
1. Faith goodness knowledge
2. Self control perseverance godliness
We must exercise self-control to build up perseverance and the result is godliness.
Or: We must exercise self-control to build up brotherly kindness and the result is love.
Deny self, take up your cross, lose your life, and forsake all for Christ, we must truly serve others to be made new:
Matthew 10:39 and 16:24-26; Luke 14:25-35
You cannot do this on your own - by faith we place our bodies in submission to Christ and experience our will moving toward the good things of God where they belong.
This is how we become a living sacrifice: Romans 12:1&2 - the daily renewing of our mind to the things of God instead of our selfish desires.
My Notes:
That help that God is is what women were created to be.
Before sin Adam was working in the garden serving Eve.
In today’s culture we reject the help that God has given us. We rebel against those who are above of us and are supposed to be placed in front of us by God so that women are not deceived, and young men have self control.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

CCM Patrol

There are things that you think are going to be really big, and then they happen and they just sort of are, if you know what I mean. That being said, I'd say getting the oportunity to be a contributor for CCM Patrol is a pretty big step. My pieces are actually going to get read, people might actually send me comments by the form of me, perhaps stupidly, providing the people with my email address (Come on, let's get some encouragement not some, "YOUR REVIEW IS ENTIRELY WRONG, because I don't deny that possiblity.)

So here's my shout out to CCM Patrol, and to writing things that get read. Because, if you're going to write something, you might as well shove it in peoples faces. (Whether you like "Christian" music or not, the site s really hilarious. Just read enough to find out what there first tagline was, I don't want it to be funny, but it is.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Things that Annoy/Scare Me

I only have one thing to say for this article, and this is it: Having random people from the city I live in ask to be my friend on myspace is starting to creep me out. It started a couple of months ago, but now I feel like it just won't stop. Has my profile just become visible to everyone, or is there just an increase of weird peole (juding by their pictures at least) who want to be my friend. I've yet to run across an exceptionally pretty person, so I've declined every last one of them.

But, hey, eventually that pretty girl I've seen three times at the movies will find my profile, right?

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum **** (Out of Five)

The Bourne movies have drawn a lot of attention of the years. They're action movies with an actual character, that are smart and riveting and cool without being stupid. It's easy to make things explode and kill off characters, but the Jason Bourne on the other hand is a guy who knows what he's doing. In fact, Matt Damon is so good in the title role and often one man show that we forget to give him credit for his resolve and believability. Without Matt Damon could Bourne really exist and be successful?

In The Bourne Ultimatum we have a movie that's more frenzied, confused, and complicated than the earlier two installments. The first film, The Bourne Identity was a success with its story telling and it's traditionally well done sequences. The second film, The Bourne Supremaucy, was a frenzied, confusing film with Paul Grengrass behind the camera. It wasn't, however, anywhere near as frenzied, confusing, or riveting in the I don't feel like I can miss a second of this way that The Bourne Ultimatum is.

I don't know what it is that has nearly every series taking in one of it's installments the need to be interminetelly confusing and usually unnecssary complex. The "complexity", although I hardly want to call it that, of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie was all but that installments death. Characters did things for no reason, and the movie jolted us from one contrived sequence to another with not even a pretense of plot to get us there. The movie was shooting before the script was finished and it shows through dozens of loose ends and double-crossings needed to get the "story" to all it's sequences.

The third Spiderman wasn't much better (to be fair the third Pirate movie was somewhat of a redemption for the series.) And here we have Bourne following in those footsteps. Instead, which seems a staple of the series, Bourne does it in a much smarter, enjoyable way. Pirates was such a mess I wanted to leave in the first half hour, but Bourne keeps you almost uncomfortably riveted for the whole time with it's pacing and intrigue. And it's complexities are things if transparency that we know will, in the end, be more or less solved although the more I want The Bourne Supremacy the less I understand the plot. In short, in Pirates we don't know what's going on at the moment, in Ultimatum everything is rushing by so fastly we can hardly take it all in.

In the previous Bourne films we went to two or three key locations, in Ultimatum we probably visit at least five and after the first half hour the director and editors stopped telling us where we were, and they ocasionally leave us guessing although most of the time they make it clear for a quick shot that lets us know, New York, London, or some city in Morocco.

They always seems to be some sort of disconnect in movies that weren't orginally intentioned to be a trilolgy, as the Bourne series has become. And, that being said, the final mystery of Jason Bourne is at least a little disappointing. Still, the movie certainly has its moments, it's key sequence being what seems a thirty minute car, scooter, and foot chase through Morocco. It seems to be one of the most contemplated and seamlessly thrilling sequence in recent history, as it frenziedly follows three threads. And, in the end, the theme of the Bourne movies is made evident and your money proves mostly worthwhile if only for what might be the film's greatest accomplishment, it's exposure of the lies in which our government operates.

I'll end with a line from Derek Webb's "A Love that's Stronger Than Our Fear" which says expictly what the film strong hints. "What if someone would tell you the truth/But only if you tortured them half to death/Since when do the means justify the ends/And we build the kingdom using the devil's tools." That thematic content which has been brewing since the beginning is a good reason to see the movie even if you weren't planning on it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Caedmon's Call and Derek Webb

Derek Webb, as you perhaps heard of in passing, made headlines when he decided to give away his album Mockingbird for free last year. To have a guy who gives away his music for free, and even when he doesn't says in the notes on his latest album The Ringing Bell that he supports the sharing of music is a brave thing to do. Such a brave thing that I don't want his music for free, I want to support him which is why I bought another copy to give to a friend, even though he said himself he wouldn't mind if I burned a copy and saved myself twelve bucks.

That's why I'm very happy that Webb has re-joined the band that got him Caedmon's Call, for their new album Overdressed. You can check out a track from it on the band's myspace page, but to put it simply it's sounding pretty good. All the songs are co-written between several members of Caedmon's Call, including Webb and his wife Sandra McCracken (who made Paste's Magazine Reader's List of Top Ten Albums of 2006.) The band is describing the album as an organic experience, with special attention and reliance on rhythm which sounds good based on the fact I've been noticing how crucial and cool the drums sound on all of Webb's albums.

But, it gets better, besides the fact that I have great trust in Webb and therefore in a Caedmon's Call with him, and the interesting theme of the album which is said to be how we overdress ourselves, hide ourselves, and are not open to letting other people in, and therefore will remain unchanged, and spiritually deadened, but Webb and his bandmates being the great people they are, are pre-selling two copies of the album through their store (which can be accessed through their official site) for 12 bucks. So you get two for the price of one, letting you legally share great music with a friend. Never in my life have I been so excited in my life to save fifteen bucks!

Order them now before it disappears, the site gurantees they arrive in late August (they list a specefic date but I'm too lazy to go look it up again) so you'll get it by the time it arrives in stores, and, if I may hazard a guess, seeing as they gurantee it by that time it means they'll probably be shipping it a couple weeks early which may easily result in you gettting it a week earlier or more.

Oh, yeah, I forgot, your two copies also happen to be exlusive limited edition copies which include an extra two tracks. So you get two albums with fourteen songs each, for 15 bucks with their best shipping option.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More Harry Potter

I decided to post this snipet from A.O. Scott's (film critic for the New York Times) review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. At first he seemed to be giving the movie more credit than deserves, even going so far as to make you feel he actually felt it was at least "even" with the novel. And, although he doesn't giving Rowling the credit I think she deserves, he does, if it's anyting, agree with me. His words are as follows:
"And like its predecessors, it manages to succeed as a piece of entertainment without quite fulfilling its potential as a movie. Perhaps by design, the films never quite live up to the books. This one proves to be absorbing but not transporting, a collection of interesting moments rather than a fully integrated dramatic experience. This may just be a consequence of the necessary open-endedness of the narrative, or of an understandable desire not to alienate “Potter” readers by taking too many cinematic chances. "

His comment on how the movie was absorbing was not transporting buts the general feeling of the movie into the perfect words. I rarely found myself engrossed with it, and I think it's because they weren't willing to make it in a mini-series or at least give it the extra twenty minutes it needed. I always felt a little like the movie was putting a hand between me and the screen, not letting me truly focus my eyes on it like you focus your whole energy when you're reading the book. The books are fully integrated because they cover every necessary aspect of life, and how Harry feels, and they give those feelings time to realistically develop. The film on the other hands fews more like a collection of photos that capture only a mere moment from reality.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Film) *** 3/4
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book) *****
Right on the heels of the monumental and incredibly awaited release of the conclusion to the Harry Potter saga Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes the fifth film installment of the popular series. The last book being released, really, just in time for them to be able to have enough time to make a film out of it with no delay. There has always been talk, since the third film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that Warner Brothers always intended to replace Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione), and Rupert Grint (Ron) with younger actors. If they did, (they won’t as all three actors will officially return for the last two films) it would likely be all but the ruin of the movie adaptions of the series. Maybe not commercially, but probably quality wise.
In the most simple terms, those three actors and a host of other teachers and students are what continue to make the films worthwhile. While with every installment J.K. Rowling improves greatly, writing novels that cease to be children’s literature at all, but instead works that inspire and move people of all ages to line up to wait for it. Teenagers, parents, and grandparents often seem to enjoy it and get more out of it on a higher level than the children who it was originally intended for. (Which is exactly what Narnia did on a smaller level.)
With each film installment the book-reading audience of the film finds more and more crucial and precious plot points missing, or haphazardly pasted as a mere shadow of an afterthought. In other words, a eight hundred page epic masterpiece should not be made into a two hour and twenty minute film any more than Bleak House, a near thousand page masterpiece also, should be made into anything other than a long miniseries (Bleak House clocks in at a little under eight hours.) Give each of the last four books an approximately five or six hour miniseries and you’d be doing the work it’s only real justice.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the first directed by David Yates who will return for the sixth film, has its moments which are sometimes interestingly unique from the vision of the book. A story which mirrors such political events as the French revolution is the stuff Yates is interested in and it’s during these moments where Order of Phoenix is most at home. Take the first scene within the Ministry of Magic which Yates turns into a bustling stock broker kind of place, with goblins (who in Harry Potter are not the standard equivalent of Tolkien’s, but little stern eyed kind of creatures who look down upon you even though you may be a full three and half feet higher than them) hurriedly talking business with the men who tower over them. Then we come to the looming, Hitler type, black and white moving poster (all the pictures in this world are like little video screens) of Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.
The fourth film, Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament ended with Harry’s bold witness to Voldemort being back, in a sort of slitted, subhuman form, as the whole school watched him appear before them with Cedric Diggory’s body in his arms. Phoenix picks up, more or less, there where we learn that the Ministry of Magic has denied Voldemort’s return, and is painting Harry Potter and Dumbeldore as liars who want the people to feed on fear so that they may obtain power. Cornelius suspects Dumbeldore of wanting his position, forgetting, of course, the fact that he denied it many times preferring to stay away from politics, and remain headmaster of Hogwarts.
The parallels, I suppose, are in the book but the film makes them come alive. After narrowly avoiding being expelled on the grounds that Harry unnecessarily performed magic in front of a Muggle (non magic folk) and nearly half of the court not believing his claim that he only performed magic to save himself and his cousin from the attack of a Dementor, a ghastly, evil creature which sucks the life and happiness out of everything. The ministry has control of the Dementors (who guard the wizard prison Azkaban) and points out that either Dumbeldore is suggesting the ministry sent the Dementors to attack Harry, or that they are under the control of some other force, are in the trust and service of someone else than the Ministry of Magic.
Arriving at Hogwarts the students learn that the ministry has appointed Dolores Umbridge as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and that the ministry supports a strictly theoretical, hands off approach to otherwise practical learning. Fudge fears that there will be a rebellion lead by Dumbeldore, and with the ever present looming threat of the worsening conditions and mysterious disappearances (which are blamed on Harry’s innocent godfather Sirius Black) Harry is convinced to lead a sort of secret society, which they humorously title Dumbeldore’s Army - confirming, I suppose in a way, the minister’s greatest fear.
The film generally jolts the audience around from one key even to another, with no time in between for character or charm, or anything. The only progression of time we get is the scenes in the classroom lead by Harry, where in the space of about five minutes, we see the whole class improving greatly. These moments are well intentioned and neat, but the meat of the book is missing. Where’s the Quidditch? (Ron made the team), where’s the friendship and classrooms and teachers?, where’s the looming stress of the Ordinary Wizarding Levels Tests? (O.W.L’S), and very simply where’s the very thing that Rowling has a genius for: progression.
Harry Potter has enchanted the world because Rowling has created characters we care about and love. Because she’s created a school that is so wonderful and magical, and full of surprise and joy, but when you strip her sense of time and the daily, ordinary, (although it is extraordinary, and magical) things what do you have left? You have only the barest bones of the plot, the background. The genius of Harry Potter is that with every book its world darkens, but even in the darkest of times life must continue in some semblance of "normal." Sports most go on, exams must be held, friendships must be stressed, and all the turmoil outside where they live, maybe in another country, must meet the turmoil and stress and hardships inside.
In the book there’s a constant question of where is Hagrid? But in the film we feel, if not think, that he’s only been gone a half hour because we don’t have any scenes showing the effect of Hagrid missing, and his friends fear and apprehension surrounding him and why he is late. Then, of course when he does return the film misses out on one of the coolest things in the book, the story of his attempts to persuade the giants to be on Dumbeldore and not Voldemort’s side.
Oh, and what about Dumbeldore. In the book he unexplainably won’t look at Harry, won’t talk to him, walks away from him anytime he comes near to him. Harry has questions, Harry wants to know the truth beyond the turmoil and the lies of Fudge and the Daily Prophet, but Dumbeldore won’t see him, and when, as in the second film, he goes missing from Hogwarts we should see Harry more alone than ever, but we don’t. Between Dumbeldore leaving and returning there’s no story to make those emotions or story register with the audience.
The movie rushes through these things with little sense of weight, acting like we’re watching something of no real consequence. A stark contrast to the book and its awareness to Harry and his friends feelings and troubles. When we do ‘see’ these things its in a fragment of a line of dialogue, or cut and pasted moment. Take one of the darkest and saddest moments of the film, Harry and the Weasley’s visit to St. Mungo’s hospital, where we see first hand the effects of torture enacted by Voldemort and his followers. The crucial scene is cut, with only a short, by necessity barely effective scene because instead of seeing something we are instead told briefly about it in passing.
At the end of the novel and near the end of the film a revelation is made about a prophecy concerning Harry Potter and Voldemort. Without spoiling anything (the film takes the liberty of excising some very important details regarding the prophecy) the prophecy basically says this: "And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives." Although neither can truly live with the other survives, the characters, nonetheless, must live. Normal life, normal charm, normal struggles, normal people (you hardly consider them characters) is what Harry Potter is about. The film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix should be more about that struggle. It should be about three friends who are being thrust into a place and a world where there is no shelter, and there will be no rest. And yet, you must wake up in the morning, and go to school, and you have to do something, and you have to learn something, so that there might once again be peace.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is about on par with the last three Potter films (the first two included almost every detail from the book) and there’s moments where it feels truly great, but a lot of the film is clouded by its necessity of mistake. There were few moments were I was fully engrossed, and for a large part of the film there was always a track running in the back of my mind, that said this conversation is rushed, this scene is sliced up to an ultimatum, and this is "so much better in the book." Even the action packed conclusion, which should and could have been better in the film (Rowling has gotten much better at it but one of her weaknesses is action), is cut in half and changes are made that are certainly not for the better.
The real tragedy is that those people who don’t read the book (I really think that we’d be happier if everyone did) are given only a glimpse of the work’s brilliance, and that the are denied the opportunity of a first class film. Even thirty minutes could have greatly improved the film, as it would have given more weight and time for the scenes we see, and some time for others which would simply make us feel more progression, and less like we’re being jolted around as in a roller coaster about to make its descent.
That being said, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix makes you want to do one thing, read the books again, and stand at a bookstore on midnight to read this great and important series conclusion. It’s also funny how, as the day of Hallows release fast approaches, the scariest thing in the world it now bombs or terrorism, but the idea of having the last book spoiled before you’ve had a chance to dwell in it’s every page. That there are people who could do such at thing as reveal, hypothetically, the books ending, and that there are fans desperate and with no self control well -it’s a dark world but we still have to live, a thing the film verso of Phoenix forgets.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

July: Harry Potter Month

July is a great month. I have oficially christened July Harry Potter month, and that is what it will henceforth be called.


There's probably a lot of people out there who will still refuse to consider the Harry Potter series literature but putting that aside one can't deny it's success, and it's ability to make kids read a series in which several of its entries near a thousand pages. We have the fifth film in the series Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the likely final conclusion to the series which we've awaited so eagerly with tears of joy and tears of sadness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within a week of each other.


J.K. Rowling's greatest strength is in her characters, and the way she progresses them through the months and the years. The movies have departed from the central thesis of her books, by streamlining and chopping the plot and making it into a thriller, when nearly every one of Rowling's actual novels is a thing of commonality. It's about daily life, it's about school at Hogwarts, which is indeed a magical school. Because, for every five hundred pages of character progression, of daily events sweet, and sad, and funny there is a mere one hundred for action. Yes there are ominous things always occurring, but then again every day there are sad things which we don't see unless we turn on the news. Hogwarts began as a place of shelter, and now in the seventh book we suspect it will be a place which is no longer a shelter, but a place that can no longer belong because, unles evil is defeated, nothing can ever be safe again.


With every book the Potter series has become, in my opinion, much less of a children's series than such plain good literature. It's created characters you care about just as good as Dickens did, it's created humuour that is not cheap but endearing and well remembered, just as Dickens and others did, it has created a world that, for all its impossibilities, (the very idea of apparation, appearing somewhere in a second causse a whirlstorm of problems, imagine if anyone from any country in the world could suddenly appear in New York this very moment. National Security would be impossible) is at its core truthful. It's a book that's scary, and imaginative, and makes you cherish every page and every chapter with more love every time you read it. Rowling has produced some of the only thousand page books that you will read in a week, or less. That you will want to read the whole series again, at least twice a year.


The only reason to see the movie is for the effects, and the music, and the drama and it's greatest accomplishments which is that Emma Watson is hermione and Daniel Radcliffe is Harry potter, and so on and so forth. Each installement becomes more and more dense and joyful, that to do any real justice to the novels beginning with the third an epic miniseries would be needed and, based on everyone I've asked, very much preferred. Or, at least a Lord of the Rings like effort which is to say, the film will be three hours and thirty minutes, and another hour and thirty minutes for the extended edition.


If there's one time when I cried at a movie it was at the very end of Return of the King not so much because the ending was sad, althugh it was in a beaitiful way, as that the journey was over, and was to be no more. Harry Potter, in my opinion, is just as much if not more an accomplishment as Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis' Narnia is. Because it's more about character and truth than anything. The most wonderful thing of all in a novel, is to while reading the sad, stirring, and if Rowling's opinion is anything, best and utter culmination of the entire series, will be thinking back when it's all over and all 756 or so pages of Hallows of the time when Harry first got on the platform 9 and 3/34 and you got on with them, to follow them for seven years, to see them argue and fight, and cry and to think which one of these friends which we have so much cherished will die is too sad a thought to think, to great a thought, because the world and characters Rowling created have become as real as any work of fiction can become, and will, as only literature and not film or television can, enchant people a hundred, two hundred years from now, just as the best of Dickens, of Bleak House of Our Mutual Friend do. And that, is why Harry Potter is a work of literature of great importance and strength and simplicity.


Thank you, thank you, J.K. Rowling for the world and the characters you have given to us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Album of the Year (So Far)

It's my responsibility, or desire, or wish, to shove good music upon you, or at least let you know it's out there. So here's my review of what I think is probably the best album released this year - Derek Webb's The Ringing Bell. (Forgive Derek for the mediocre, tired, title.)

Derek Webb’s The Ringing Bell ***** (out of five)
Released in 2007 by INO/Columbia
Derek Webb made headlines last year when he, get this, created a website to let people legally download his album Mockingbird - for free. The result was a lot of attention, and over 80,000 downloads. It got peoples attention, and made a statement, but what about the quality of music being given away? Mockingbird was a pretty good album, that lacked something that you can never quite put your hands on. I guess most of the music of the songs never felt as fully fleshed out or realized, or passionate, or good as the lyrics which accompanied it. It’s also very simple stuff, almost shockingly background, simple guitar parts, with seemingly simple, and sweet piano compositions leading the melody. That album gets much better with time, but with The Ringing Bell Derek Webb has shown his full potential.
The Ringing Bell is, quite simply, a good old rock and roll record. So much so on some tracks, that some have hailed him as the second coming of John Lennon, and the Beatles. I don’t know about that, but what I do know is this is the album that (if there’s any fairness in the world) will get peoples attention, and make countless Best Music of 07 Lists. Derek Webb’s The Ringing Bell is the best album in Christian music for years, and an A+ effort from someone who should be finally ready to break out of his shell.
This is great protest music, filled with delightful drum beats, and all the right guitar licks and flourishes, filled out with handclaps and explosions of feel good background vocals. It’s an album that is edgy, and sweet, and sad. With the lyrics "What would you do/If someone would tell you the truth/ But only if you tortured them half to death/Tell me since when do the means justify the ends/And you build the Kingdom using the devils tools," before exploding into its chorus of "Can time be short/It’s got to be a love that’s stronger than our fear/Everything went out of control/Everything went out of control," from the song "A Love that’s Stronger than Our Fear," which is anchored by its intense guitars and drums, using its riffs and beat for the shortest moments of sadness, and moral protest. Every element of every song on The Ringing Bell comes together perfectly, creating a experience that can be simultaneously beautiful, sad, and must plain perfect.
The album is only a few seconds over thirty minutes, but nothing on The Ringing Bell is wasted. It moves from one perfectly captured moment of lyrical and musical bliss, to the next. In fact, the only real flaw with the album is the disappointing openers "The End," and "The Very End" which are one song, divided into two, with just the slightest change in instrumentation to signal the changing of tracks. Together they create an eerie, slightly electronic opening, and are good for what they are but lack greatness as a song. However, after that, the album moves from one small masterpiece of an accomplishment to the next with no mistakes.
There’s "A Love that’s Stronger Than Our Fear," which I’ve discussed earlier, the simple joy, awesome bass line, of "I Want to Marry You All Over Again," the point blank awesomeness of "Name" which is undeniable god old rock and roll, with its hippy coolness and chorus that you’ll want to hear over and over again of "So baby don’t let em, don’t let em put a name on you." We also get the earning and unresolved feelings of "Can’t Be Without You," and the protest anthem "A Savior on Capitol Hill," which contains more perfectly pointed jabs at the politics of America than I ever thought a song that clocks in at just over two minutes could possibly contain. But the last song, "This Too Shall Be Made Right," is probably the best. It’s a lyrical tour de force, with Webb’s voice rasping and singing its way through what is the perfectly emotional culmination of all the music on the album that came before. The songs lyrics in their entirety are featured in this issue, immediately following this review.
With The Ringing Bell Derek Webb has created an album of pitch perfect execution, that hits all the right notes, with every song filled with the flourishes and guitar solos that perfectly compliment everything while never distracting from the core of the song. On most albums you find a handful of songs where you’ll absolutely tired of the chorus when it repeats itself for the tent time, but on The Ringing Bell you’re longing for more, because everything is just so good and stripped down to its absolute best and essential. One might complain that the album, which is just a little over thirty minutes, is too short at ten songs the first two of which are really one song separated into two, but at the end of the day The Ringing Bell leaves the listener with one question "When is Derek Webb’s," (who has been a very prolific artist in the last couple of years) "next album coming out?" I can’t wait for more: The Ringing Bell is simply one of the best albums of the year.
Top Four Songs on The Ringing Bell:
"A Love that’s Stronger than Our Fear," "I Want to Marry You All Over Again,"
"Name," "This Too Shall Be Made Right."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Introduction to the Edge of the City Blog

I don't know if I consider myself a blogger. If you don't consider yourself the person who really cares about a blog we might fit perfectly together, if you love blogs, well, we still may get along pretty well. I think of what I'll be posting here more of essays, examinations, confessions, and the like.

The idea of starting a blog began, and Imight lose some of you here, with the desire to share my thoughts about a certain television show that I admire. I found it preferable that I should not limit myself to one topic (which is, you could say, what blogging is about) and therefore resolve to use this blog for the expression on all things, whether political, or non-political, may it be about a movie, or a film, or a great novel that inspired me, or an image, of a tree, or a mountain, or the sight of the lights of my city, as seen from the edge of the city.

If those words don't excite you, then I don't know what will, as I sat down writing this with nothing in particular to say, and ended it with something that has just in these last minutes moved me. Hey, I think I'm starting to like the idea of a blog, all the more since I have just began one.