Month: December 2014

Live Fast. Die Young. Be Wild. And Have Fun.

Enigma. It’s a word that means someone or something that is difficult to explain (according to Merriam-Webster Online). When I was in middle school we had a word study class to help prepare us for SAT’s. We had a new word list every week and we would do exercises to help us become familiar with the words and their meanings. This was my first exposure to the word enigma. But only in recent times can I think of someone to perfectly fit the description: Lana Del Rey…or if you want to get technical, Elizabeth Grant.

Maybe a name change is the first clue to the perplexing modern day singer, Lana Del Rey. In fact she started to get bigger once she made the change (she released an album under the name Lana Del Ray called A.K.A. Lizzy Grant). The world’s first exposure to LDR, mine included, came in 2011 when she released the single “Video Games” and shortly after made a highly criticized appearance performing it on SNL.

I must admit I downloaded the song prior to seeing her SNL appearance, but the song never stood out to me. It was one I would skip while listening to my most recently added songs on iTunes during that time period. Up until the following summer I didn’t really hear much about her but as the record states, she released her “debut” album in January 2012, Born to Die (she bought back the rights from that 2010 A.K.A. Lizzy Grant one and pulled it from the shelves hence the quotations around debut). The summer of 2012 is when she hit me though, like a ton of bricks near the end of June. I watched her video for “National Anthem” and I was hooked.

See the thing is the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. Years prior to hearing “National Anthem” I created a playlist for the 4th of July of songs that referred to or mentioned the holiday, fireworks, or anything else that had to do with Independence Day. For instance, I’m in no way a Katy Perry fan, but I listen to her song “Fireworks” around the 4th every year just cause it has something to do with the holiday. So you can understand why I found an instant attraction to “National Anthem”. Not only that, but it was/is a pretty good song (believe me…I have songs on that playlist that aren’t that great but they made the cut cause there are limited 4th of July songs). After listening to “National Anthem” repetitively for weeks, even after the 4th holiday, I bought Born to Die. It was about a month after I first heard “National Anthem”. I fell in love with the album and loved Lana Del Rey ever since.

But let’s get back to enigma. Why is Lana an enigma? If you have ever read an article about her or listened to an interview with her, you’d understand why. She’s made some interesting decisions in her life. Her life also always seemed to be filled with controversy. She spent time living in a trailer park (not because she had to for lack of resources). Her song lyrics glorify violence, sex, money, and degradation of women. She’s made statements that disregard feminism. There’s even questions about how she or whoever came up with name Lana Del Rey. She’s just an entire mystery. But maybe it’s just the case that she’s entirely misunderstood.

I love Lana Del Rey, but I disagree with a lot of the meaning behind her lyrics. I disagree with her views on feminism and I probably wouldn’t engage in the same questionable behavior she does/did (I have my own fair share of strangeness anyway). Yet I still love her. I’ll buy a new record if she releases one. I’d go to see her again if she had a show near me (saw her last spring…it was amazing and she was amazing). Why? Because I don’t take her statements/lyrics/decisions/etc. too seriously. I honestly don’t think she takes her words or behavior seriously either (I could be wrong but it’s just an opinion). At least not as seriously as most of her critics do. She’s an artist. She’s trying to make and create art with and through her music. Instead of over-analyzing her songs and videos about what they represent, I just take them for what they are. Artwork. She bases her music/videos on what she feels and what inspires her and that’s something we can’t take away from anyone. Sure sometimes her lyrics can seem pretty ridiculous, but her music is deep, alluring, and hypnotizing. It has an old school vibe to it too. It creates a nostalgic sensation like you could have heard something similar in the 60’s or 70’s. So despite any negative views associated with her, you still have to credit her for the way she sounds and the artistry she demonstrates. I think that’s the sure way to fully appreciate the enigma that is Lana Del Rey.

(As a side note, Lana Del Rey released an EP and another album since Born to Die. In the fall of 2012 she released the EP Paradise along with Born to Die: Paradise Edition which contained all the songs on Born to Die as well as the Paradise EP and a few additional songs. In June 2014 she released the full length album Ultraviolence. She also wrote and starred in her own short film in 2013, Tropico. This summer she’ll embark on The Endless Summer Tour.)

Lana Del Rey Song Recommendations:

1. “National Anthem”

2. “Diet Mountain Dew”

3. “Ride”

4. “Money, Power, Glory”

5. “American”

6. “West Coast”

7. “Brooklyn Baby”

8. “Cola”

9. “Blue Jeans”

10. “Young & Beautiful” (Song from The Great Gatsby Soundtrack)

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The Countdown Continues: Road to the Women’s World Cup – Brasilia Tournament Recap

Last weekend the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) finished up the Brasilia Tournament by advancing to the title game versus Brazil. The game ended with a 0-0 draw giving Brazil the tournament win because of the points they acquired during the group stage. I’m sure from the previous matches the outcome of the tournament wasn’t something the team was particularly hoping for.

Their first match on December 10th against China PR ended in a 1-1 draw (could’ve been better). They lost their second match 2-3 against a highly ranked Brazil squad featuring five time FIFA Player of the Year, Marta (not their best effort). Finally, they finished group play with a 7-0 win against Argentina (more like it but no offense to Argentina, they were the weakest team in the tournament).

With less than 6 months to go, the Women’s World Cup is quickly approaching which means preparation time is slowly dwindling. The most recent world rankings released saw the USWNT drop to the number two slot as the German Women’s National Team took over the first spot previously occcupied by the United States. As a fan, I’m not happy about that. Since I’ve been following the women’s game and this team (roughly since the last world cup but more intently since the 2012 Olympics), the USWNT has been number one. To see that happen so close to the World Cup and to also see a sub-par performance in this most recent tournament makes some nerves start to set in.

I want these girls to get it done this June. After watching the last World Cup end in such heartbreak with such an incredible road to the final, I just wanna see this team walk away victorious. But there’s no need to re-hash what I’ve already stated in the last post I made about this team. There’s still time and I have all the faith in the world that these ladies can get it done. In the coming months there will be camps, friendlies (two overseas in February against two highly ranked teams, France and England), the Algarve Cup, and time to put in the work to achieve World Cup glory.

I’ll probably say this every time I write about these girls until the World Cup but I can’t wait for June to see what they can do. I will be updating continually until then and through the World Cup so I encourage you to stick along for the ride. Maybe it’ll make you want to watch some games and get into a sport I, myself, never thought I’d get into. I’ll say it now that the USWNT may just be the best national team this country has to offer. They make soccer, or should I say football, a beautiful game especially when they play at their best.

 

California Here We Come

I’ve been such a slacker in the last week and half by not updating this blog. I’ve been busy though. It’s a busy time of the year. You know, Christmas time, when everyone does at least one thousand and one extra things besides all the things they do on a normal basis. Secondly, I haven’t been able to come up with a good subject matter for the next post (obviously I finally have but we’ll get to that).

I guess I could’ve taken the easy way out and wrote about Christmas music or Christmas movies, but I’ve been lacking Christmas spirit for the past 2 years. I’ve had no desire to watch A Christmas Story or listen to Bayside’s cover of Angels We Have Heard On High or anything like that. In fact I haven’t really had any desire to involve myself with anything Christmas-y until last night when I was wrapping gifts (I consider gift wrapping as something you have to do..it’s not really a choice unless you want your loved ones to hate you) and realized it was the first night of Hanukkah. Then I knew exactly what to write about. Christmas episodes. More specifically Chrismukkah. But even more specific than that, The OC.

Like any TV show I have fallen absolutely in love with, I started watching The OC during it’s second season. The first episode of Season 1 aired back in August of 2003, but I started watching it in 2004 and it’s been one of my all time favorite television shows ever since. I just made it sound like it’s still on, but it’s not. It lasted a total of four seasons ending in 2007. In my opinion and I’m sure other viewers can agree, the show really died after Season 3 along with one of its main characters (no spoilers…promise).

The OC was a drama set in Newport Beach, CA and followed the fictional lives of teenagers, Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), and Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), and their affluent families through their interesting and eventful life challenges. That’s kind of a poor description of what the show’s about, but if I told you the show begins when lawyer, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) decides to help his teenage client who lived a pretty tough life growing up in Chino, CA (Ryan) by taking the boy in to live with him and his family in his huge home in Newport Beach then maybe you’d have a slightly better idea of the show. But maybe not, cause I really didn’t mention much about Seth, Marissa, and Summer.

Seth is Sandy’s nerdy, comic book/indie music loving son and eventually becomes like a brother to Ryan as he helps him adjust to his new school, with girls, and all the other fun that comes along with living with a well-off family in the OC. Marissa aka “Coop” (Summer’s nickname for her) lives next to the Cohens and becomes the love interest of Ryan shortly into the series, but she also has a multitude of issues in her own life which play a factor in their roller coaster of a relationship. Summer is the long-time crush of Seth and also Marissa’s best friend.

Now you’ve got a better idea of the whole thing, but if not you can always watch to find out more (wink wink). In general though the show covered all sorts of teen and life issues in it’s 4 seasons of existence, but it also had a yearly tradition of including what fans would look forward to around the holidays, a Chrismukkah episode. Chrismukkah was a hybrid holiday created by Seth that combined both  Christmas and Hanukkah and involved both sides of his family’s’ holiday traditions (Sandy was Jewish and Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), Seth’s mom, was Christian). To quote Seth’s description Chrismukkah is “eight days of presents followed by one day of many presents,” and it left fans, myself included, wanting to take part in this epic celebration. It was so epic that even though it’s been 8 years since the last Chrismukkah episode aired, I still wished I had another one to watch last night (first glimmer of any Christmas spirit this year for me). In fact, if I have time, I may even try to watch a Chrismukkah episode in the next few days.

Besides Chrismukkah, the OC was incredibly important to the indie music scene of the early 00’s. Along with soundtracks for each season which had indie songs that were featured on the show, it also included episodes where bands like, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, The Subways, etc. played a few “live” sets at the local hangout/venue, The Bait Shop, which debuted in the second season. Plus, Seth was the coolest, nerdy, indie kid you’d ever want to meet, and I don’t think Phantom Planet ever had a better or more well-known song than “California” (the theme song for The OC). The show really did a lot for those bands and indie music from the exposure it gave. Although this post isn’t really about music, I do recommend checking out the track listing for The OC soundtracks and giving some of those songs a listen, especially “California” if you can’t already hum those all too familiar opening notes.

Along with Laguna Beach, The OC was one of my favorite television shows while in high school. It was actually one of the first shows I would watch religiously as new episodes came out every Thursday on Fox. And like Laguna Beach, it played a role in creating my desire to visit Southern California. It was the show that initially made me want to visit SoCal and then watching Laguna just added to it (naturally I visited Newport Beach on my trip to California last year as well).

It really is unfortunate that The OC ended when it did. To me it feels like something that was gone too soon, but I guess if you saw the 4th season you knew it was inevitable. Luckily I received the 4 seasons of The OC as Christmas gifts every year as they came out from my grandpa and I can watch the old episodes any time. I think they’re available on Netflix as well for anyone wanting to check it out. If not there, then I’m sure you can find them online somewhere. Since it’s one of my all time favorite shows I’m gonna have to say that you should check it out no matter what, but especially if you’re in the mood for some Christmas and Hanukkah themed entertainment in the next week or so (watch one of the Chrismukkah eps!). Captain Oats would want you to (if you don’t know who that is then you better watch the show). Anyway, Merry Chrismukkah from me and the Cohens and I’ll leave you with a wonderful description of the holiday from Season 1 by the man himself, Seth Cohen.

The Countdown Continues: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw

Today was the draw for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, which begins June 6th. The results of the draw are as follows:

Group A – Canada, China PR, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group B – Germany, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Norway, Thailand

Group C – Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador

Group D – USA, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria

Group E – Brazil, Korea Republic, Spain, Costa Rica

Group F – France, England, Colombia, Mexico

So what does that mean for my favorite ladies in the red, white, and blue? Supposedly Group D is the toughest group in the competition with 3 of the top 10 teams in the world as part of it. Those three teams being the USA (#1), Sweden (#5), and Australia (#10). Nigeria is also the top African nation out of those that qualified for the Women’s World Cup (#35 in the world).

The media can say whatever they want about making it sound insanely tough for the USA just to build up a good storyline about the “group of death”, but the truth is the USWNT is the best in the world so there’s no reason to worry. Whatever group the USA was placed in would have been a challenge because every team in the world knows they’re one of the best. They’re no underdog. It’s theirs to lose. However, to be the best in the world, you have to play against the best in the world and win against the best in world. So in this way, the script for the USWNT in the 2015 Women’s World Cup group stage cannot be written any better. They have to bring their A game throughout the entire competition. Maybe it will allow them to be better prepared for games in the Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals assuming they make it to those stages.

Sweden will most likely be their toughest test in group play and it’s not like they haven’t faced them in the group stage before. Actually they’ve faced them in the group stage during the last 4 Women’s World Cups and have a 3-1 record against them. The loss came in 2011 where Sweden ended up winning the group. So it’s not out of the norm despite the hype.

The Women’s World Cup is still 6 months away and there’s a lot of soccer and preparation to take place until then. The USWNT plays in a tournament in Brazil beginning this Wednesday December 10, 2014 where they will kick-off against China PR. They’ll also play two more games against #6 ranked Brazil and Argentina. The final of the tournament is December 21st. In February the team will travel overseas for friendlies against England and France. Then, in March the team will compete in the annual Algarve Cup tournament which takes place in the Algarve region of Portugal. There may even be a few more yet to be announced friendlies that happen before the World Cup begins on June 6th. There’s plenty of time to prepare and I have no doubt when June 8th rolls around (the first match vs. Australia) they’ll be ready to begin their quest to rightfully be called the best women’s football team in the world. It’s gold or bust.

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence

In the upcoming weeks the movie world will go full throttle into what is known as “awards season”. Awards season begins in the fall and culminates with Academy Awards in February. With that being the case and knowing I had seen some pretty worthy movies in the last few months, I did a quick internet search for projected Academy Award nominations. It was no surprise to find Boyhood and Whiplash, two movies I previously wrote about on here, as part of the projections (links to those blog posts on each of their respective names). Another that was near the top of the list for nominations was the film Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.

I saw the preview for Birdman a few months ago (I actually think it was in the coming attractions when I saw Boyhood) and it looked like a film that I’d be somewhat interested in. Because of that and the high praise it seems destined to receive, I decided to go check it out yesterday. After seeing this movie, it makes complete sense as to why it’ll be on the top of the list for awards season.

The plot centers around a washed up actor, Riggan Thomson, and his quest to get back into the limelight by writing, directing, producing, and starring in his own Broadway play. Earlier in his career Riggan starred as the superhero, Birdman, which gave him his claim to fame. The story really examines Riggan’s desire to be relevant and important to the world and in turn looks at the other characters’ need for relevance as well.

What stood out to me in this film was by far the cinematography. It seemed like it could have been filmed with one camera over an entire day(s) as the movie never really cut to different shots. Instead the camera would circle a character’s body to get a view of another character they were talking to or both characters would get so close together that they were both shown talking in the shot. When a scene ended, the camera would follow one character from the scene until another appeared. Then it would either stay with the first character or switch to following that other character depending on what the next scene required. It was like every scene in the film seemed to be merged together so that the movie looked like one long shot. It’s not something you’d commonly see.

The second thing that stood out was the acting. I haven’t seen that many Edward Norton films. I have seen Fight Club though, which was probably his most notable. Birdman was Fight Club good Edward Norton, but his acting in this even surpassed Fight Club. Actually in the first quarter of the movie it felt like Edward Norton stole the show for me. As it went on though, both Michael Keaton and Emma Stone shined in their respective roles.

So do I recommend you see this movie? I would say only if you’re really interested in seeing a film that’s sure to win a bunch of awards or you’re really interested in the plot line or one or more of the actors. I did enjoy Birdman, but it wasn’t as high up on my list of must-see projected award nominated films such as Boyhood or Whiplash. I would also say to see it if you’re interested in film as an art form because like I said the cinematography is one to be reckoned with. I’ll actually be disappointed if it doesn’t win the Oscar for it. Win or lose though no matter what the award or category, it will probably go down as being one of the best films of the year.