A Few of My Favorite Things: A Look Back At 2014

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Well, look at that. The year of 2014 has come to a close. Was it a good one for you? Looking back, some really cool stuff came out this year. Here are a few of my favorites.

Favorite Movie: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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This is, by far, one of the coolest movie experiences I’ve had in a while. The story of a washed-out actor struggling to find relevancy is intriguing enough, but every part of this movie helps to make this an extremely enjoyable couple of hours.

The visual style alone will leave you mesmerized. The whole movie is filmed to look like one continuous take and the camera is almost constantly kept at a close-up shot, providing a sense of profound confusion and delirium. Those visuals, combined with a soundtrack made up of the hypnotizing drums provided by jazz artist Antonio Sánchez, created an environment I never wanted to leave. Throw in stand-out performances from the entire ensemble (which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone,) and you’ve got one engaging ride.

Favorite Book: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley 

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The Scott Pilgrim series was a godsend for me back when I was in High School, and I found Lost at Sea to be a very enjoyable character study. So I didn’t need any convincing when Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, Seconds, was published last summer. The concept is a perfectly ordinary one: A young chef’s life starts to fall apart, so she uses magical mushrooms that she receives from a mystical spirit to rewrite history and fix her mistakes. Simple, right?

Well, get past the quirkiness of it all and you find a cast of charming and relatable characters, gorgeous art and a wonderful story. A story that manages to be funny, poignant and enlightening simultaneously. I loved my time reading this one and I recommend you give it a read.

Favorite Album: You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

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Man, am I glad to have listened to this one. You’re Dead! is the latest studio album from experimental producer Flying Lotus. An album that tackles dark themes such as insanity, addiction and, above all else, death itself.

It’s also one of those albums that you’d probably enjoy much better by not paying attention to the track list and listening to the whole thing in one go. Each track flows in and out of one another in such a way that it all becomes one mesmerizing ride, mixing in large amounts of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music to create FlyLo’s signature sound. For my own tastes, this album did a lot to push me outside of my love of electronic music and start taking a look at the jazz scene, so it’s certainly had an impact on me.

Favorite Indie Game: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Yeah, I had my problems with this one. I didn’t get to spend much time with the game, due to it’s short length, and I haven’t gotten to see the ending yet because I’m too much of a wimp to tackle the game’s only jump-scare section. But there’s still so much about this game that there is to love.

Ethan Carter is an atmospheric first-person exploration game where you play a supernatural detective, who can communicate with the dead in his search to find out what happened to a missing child. As you solve puzzles and murder mysteries, more and more of this wonderfully creepy story comes to light. All while exploring one of the most gorgeous game worlds I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if nothing else, pick this one up for it’s atmosphere. Throw on a good pair of headphones and turn out the lights. You’ll be in for a treat.

As we wrap up 2014 tonight, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have taken an interest in my ramblings. I certainly don’t have plans to stop yet. There’s more to discover out there, so I’d better get to it!

Something to Watch: “Birdman”

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Oscar season is officially upon us, and it’s time for some of the biggest names in the business to get in on the independent film game. Among these efforts, one of the most notable entries is an ambitious tragicomedy directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Enter the dizzying world of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a darkly-humorous satire of show business in the 21st century.

(Note: The clips embedded in this post contain some vulgar language. NSFW)

We’re introduced to Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton, of Batman fame), a washed-up actor once known for playing a popular superhero, the titular Birdman, in a series of Hollywood blockbusters. Having left the role quite some time ago, with a slow decline in fame ever since, Riggan hopes to get his career back on track by starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In the days leading up to opening night, Riggan wrestles with a strained relationship with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), the renegade actions of lead actor Mike (Edward Norton) and, above and beyond all else, his own ego.

The first thing you’ll notice about this film is the cinematography. There are only a couple of standard “cuts” in this movie, as every scene in the movie will go on for 10 to 20 minutes at a time on a single take. The camera bobs and weaves from room to room, always focusing on a close-up shot. And most of the scene transitions are handled so smoothly, you may not even notice when they happen. It all comes together to create an environment of blissful confusion and spiraling delirium.

(Note: The clips embedded in this post contain some vulgar language. NSFW)

That’s all to say nothing of the performances from the actors, which are all exemplary. The film employs an all-star cast which includes, in addition to the above listed, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan among others. Each turning in strong comedic and dramatic performances. In particular, Keaton provides one of the most fascinating and entertaining performances of his carer, balancing his ego and arrogance with the a genuine desire to impress and leave his mark on the world.

I was entranced by this movie from beginning to end. I enjoyed the laughs (and there are plenty), while contemplating the film’s questions about dramatic ambition, the importance of social media and the ideas of where you stand in the grand scheme of things. It’s a technical achievement filled with grade-A performances and challenging ideas. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot about this one, come February.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is now playing in select theaters. For more info, you can visit the official site at BirdmanTheMovie.com.