All posts by Anthony Wetmore

The Leftovers – Questions Answered Unanswered

 

 

 

 

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The Leftovers, a tour-de-force of emotion that has graced HBO over the last three years, has finally come to an end. Evolved by Damon Lindelof (remember Lost?) from the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, we have seen growth from the source material into a modern hymn for the grieving and the hopeful. Not discounting Perrotta’s original work, The Leftovers has become something more than a mere adaptation. Never has a television show taught me more about myself and others, than I have learned here. Jumping off the premise that 2% of the world disappeared without explanation, we are plunged into a murky cold sea of confusion, tension and as we follow the lives of a select few, we find ourselves clawing for the surface in tandem. Though the world of The Leftovers is rife with doubt and darkness, it allows for the comforting discomfort of less approached themes in most modern television. There is no singular answer to the very real question posed again and again, here, and in life: How do we grieve? What does it take to move on?

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Three seasons, a short collection of twenty-eight episodes, and three major location changes is rare for any television show, let alone such a short lived project. The juxtaposition of expanse and brevity has served very well. Starting in the invented town of Mapleton NY, we watch as a single family is ripped apart by the silent and profound change the Sudden Departure (October 14th, 2011) has wrought without much incident. From something as common as divorce, to the world-bending aim to eliminate all dogs (They’re not ours anymore), we see the Garvey family and others cling to what is real in the unreal, coping in a myriad of ways. Reverend Jamison takes to the streets with a vicious smear campaign in order to correct the seemingly random removal of the 2%, adhering it to the Christian idea of the Rapture, come to remove the damned. Nora Durst collapses inward, seeking comfort in a bullet-proof vests and sharp-eyed prostitutes. Further still, Laurie Garvey joins the Guilty Remnant, a silent, cigarette smoking cult, dead set on being a constant reminder of what was lost.

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Season 2 opens with a beautifully tragic account of a prehistoric woman giving birth and making every effort to protect her newborn in the chaos of the world in a more natural state. Earthquakes, axis mundis, the world moves on, the world remains the same. Introduced to the Murphy family, residents of Miracle, formerly Jarden Texas, a town where not one person departed on the 14th of October. This turn from the Garvey family opens the world of the Sudden Departure, shifting perspective toward relief from the ultimate unknowable tragedy just before something changes for the worse. From the point of the disappearance of Evie Murphy, we see a facing off between the Murphys and the Garveys that reaches far beyond the scope of simple neighborly woes. Meanwhile, Kevin begins losing his grip upon reality sinking further and further into depression. Rife with suicidal tendencies and the consistent plague of a most powerful adversary who has returned in a seemingly divine manner, Kevin finds himself questioning what is real, and how exactly to proceed. As we arrive at the culmination of this season, Lindelof, Perrotta and company take what we know television to be and turn it on it’s head yet again in what should go down as one of the best episodes of television in it’s history.

In this second season, we see the injection of further strangeness, as well as some much needed, though still grave levity. The micro has been blown out and we see the further unravelling of how we relate not only to our immediate circle, but those around us, suffering as well, but in wholly different ways. The drive of this season is Kevin’s journey and the grand Grieve Off between the two families, culminating in a striking and powerful exchange between Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst and Regina King’s Erika Murphy. This is the height of tension and at its apex a release of rage and quiet desperation between the two that has to be experienced first hand. The Leftovers often cuts to the quick and allows the initial sting to remain long after the incident has ended.

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Rounding out the third season, we are slowly transported to Australia, nearing the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure. Seven being a number of biblical significance, there is a general consensus that something, possibly the end of the world itself will come on the anniversary, and the people the world over prepare in their own ways, for the worst. Others seem to think there will be a Sudden Return of sorts, making way for all those lost so many years ago (Gary Busey in particular). The patchwork family we have watched form and reform throughout the past two seasons are on one final push to the grand finale of the show and perhaps the world as they know it. Kevin has been exalted by some as a possible messianic figure, Nora has found solace in the promise of a machine that could return her to her Departed family, and the world tenses up for the coming crest of a seven year long wave in the making.

Without getting too into the finer details, The Leftovers makes it’s final feats expand even further to focus on an even smaller, oft overlooked important part of our lives. The stories we tell each other and ourselves, and how they weigh on our decisions as well as those around us. More than ever we see the blending of Science and Faith here at end of a modern fable, filled with holy men, scientific analysis and perhaps even a ghost or two. The show has become an axis mundi unto itself, finding the link between what we know and what we question, either in defiance or reverence. There is layer upon layer of the nature of our existence, how we process the world at large, and the ways in which the defined and the undefinable color our experiences.

As consumers of media, in particular what is now known as “Peak TV”, we are very familiar with the series finale as a concept. Often we find ourselves feverishly awaiting the final chapter, only to come away dissatisfied, vaguely content, or perhaps left in a lurch to question the entire body of work. Those that come to mind may seem obvious, ‘The Sopranos’ infamous smash cut, Lindelof’s own ‘Lost’ church gathering that divides fans to this very day, the mammoth ‘M*A*S*H’ send-off that still dominates ratings records, all remembered and revered for different aspects of what we search for when we look to television as an artistic medium.

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‘The Book of Nora’, our final entry into the world wrought forth by Lindelof, Perrotta and in just as many ways director Mimi Leder,  both drains the lake and refills it almost immediately. A shift in focus from where we leave everyone in the penultimate episode, there is a time jump and we are given exactly what we need, we are told stories, the stories we want to hear, and the ones we need. Lindelof and company leave the world of The Leftovers on a masterstroke of ambiguity that is also a perfectly recognizable finality. Both the question and answer are presented with such precision that neither is the point inherently, but rather whether or not one has their faith in check. “Do you believe what you’ve been told?” is a daring but effective and well earned note to finish on.

The Leftovers, for all it has given me, and so many others, deserves a bevy of recognition that it has not gotten in it’s short span. With any hope as years wear on, others will find it to be a haven for processing and even rejoicing in our darker recesses, relating to one another on a more human level and calling into question those fringe moments where the heavens and the earth seem to meet. A hymn worthy of eternal reprise, a true work of immense depth and beauty, The Leftovers will be hard to top, and even harder to let go.

David Firth shows us the dangerous wonders of “Cream”

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Mixed-media artist David Firth (@DAVID_FIRTH) perhaps most well known for his bizarre, unsettling yet endearing “Salad Fingers” series is still at it and taking the strange to new, chilling heights. His latest released project, a short animated film entitled “Cream”.

The short is animated in a style that will be familiar to fans of Firth’s previous works, but it has taken on a starkly realistic quality, utilizing actual faces, natural textures and drab yet shocking color to truly drive home an atmosphere of strange normalcy. We are first introduced to a new miracle product, a cream, branded as Cream, that appears to be limitless in it’s uses. Cream cures acne, it can cure all ailments major and minor, it can regrow your lawn, it can even (when injected directly into the brain) increase your I.Q.

Our main character, Dr. Bellifer, has struck gold and watches as his invention soars in popularity and cosmic power. There is no stopping Cream. Cream becomes so much more than was originally intended, much to the chagrin of the good doctor. Go on and see for yourself what horrible wonders Cream can commit.

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David Firth is a master of his craft, distorting reality with enough finesse to disturb yet equally draw one into his underlying message. Though the meaning may seem as clear as the blemish on one’s face (there’s a Cream for that.), we are privy to a multi-layered commentary on consumption, medicine, advertising, the ever present menace that can be the media and even our own personal connection to the world outside. Whether intended or not, Firth has command of imagery and dialogue, that when married together generates the reflective surface we so often forget to peer into when making purchases, large and small decisions and most importantly what we put our trust and faith into. Who can we truly say has our best interest at heart?

There is much to be gleaned from this twelve minute meditation on the human condition and how each of us can be manipulated into any reaction given the right circumstance, only to be led back into the fold for another go around.

I can only hope we will see more from Mr. Firth in the very near future, as he continues to terrify, sicken and delight me in good measure.

You can watch ‘Cream’ and many of his other polarizing projects on David’s YouTube Channel here: http://bit.ly/2rVrnRQ

The Shins – ‘Heartworms’ Review

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After a five year silence, The Shins have graced us with another set of tunes from that range from the sweetly melancholic, to more personal cuts touching on various aspects of life, loss, and love.

The album opener ‘Name For You’ paints the picture of a woman successful in traditional ways, weighed down by societal views of women and sexuality, lost amid the daily rush of life yearning for something more. The song brings the familiar Shins sound with an added flair of electronics, which is a musical motif we can find threaded throughout most of the album, perhaps a lingering air of Broken Bells, James Mercer’s side project.

It is evident from the solid wall of sound built by The Shins that while they may have taken time away, there is nothing lost in the time of their extended silence.

‘Cherry Hearts’ is a sickenly sweet track that uses the image of candy to evoke a love unrequited, like passing ships in the night. ‘You’re not wanting anybody wanting you, I get it honest fair, but I’ve been bitin’ all my cherry hearts in half and you don’t even care…’ A fantastically visceral image that perfectly displays the hollow disappointment of a missed chance. Coupled with the hook of ‘You kissed me once, when we were drunk’ it is a dizzying light look at the awkward almost relationships formed in half-confection-hearted attempts  at affection.

‘Mildenhall’ gives us a glimpse at the origin of the entertainer, a warm memory of Mercer practicing guitar chords on a rainy afternoon makes for a quietly reflective acoustic track that snugly fits in with the electric brightness of the rest of the album.

The title track ‘Heartworms’ gives us a look at a touch and go relationship leaving the suitor in a strange state of odd feelings. ‘I feel them wriggling in my blood, gonna do me harm. By now I’d rather lose this losing feeling that came on when you cooled off, started treating me in this friendly way…’ Mercer grabs for the strangeness of love missed or misinterpreted again and again on this album, succeeding nearly each time. ‘Heartworms’ delivers on it’s title in spades.

Sonically speaking there is a freshness to the familiar noises we have welcomed in days passed from The Shins. While ‘Heartworms’ hasn’t got the epic thrust of their previous output, ‘Port of Morrow‘ or the beautifully bizarre ‘Wincing the Night Away‘, it gives us another set of tracks that assures us The Shins are still relevant and willing to morph, if only ever so slightly.

Heartworms is available now from their official website and wherever records are sold.

Stand out tracks: ‘Cherry Hearts’, ‘Rubber Ballz’, ‘Heartworms’

Black Kids – ‘ROOKIE’ Review

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Black Kids, the name may sound familiar, but it’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Reggie Youngblood and company. With the release of Partie Traumatic in 2008, we were granted with a sugary sweet album of catchy hooks with melancholic playfulness, wholly rooted in traditions you may find inside 80’s goth clubs. I for one found Partie Traumatic a welcome refreshing album, and was even more enamoured with their EPs Cemetery Lips and Wizard of Ahhs. Since the radio and soundtrack dominance of ‘I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You’, Black Kids has been wholly silent. After some muddled information, perhaps a long needed long break for Youngblood, whether or not the rumors of increased anxiety are true, I am glad he and the rest of the Kids are well and still working.

ROOKIE‘ is the return that I, and I would posit many others have been waiting for, though it may not exactly live up to its predecessor. With this album, there is a return to the notions of young love, awkward sex and the impending excitement and subsequent hangover of a house party, both musically and in concept. (Look at that album art, I cannot comment on this particular aspect further. If you know the ‘S’, you know, and you sigh.) There is not too much new to report here unfortunately. The opener, ‘IFFY’, gives a sweet infectious hook that brings back a nostalgia for Partie Traumatic, it’s peppy, bright and innocently silly…but it carries on a minute or so over it’s effectiveness, but be assured, you will have it rolling around your skull all day. Maybe even all week. The next two tracks take us into the turmoils of confusing love/like emotions through the lens of The Cure, which colors the majority of these tunes. On ‘In A Song’ there is a bit of subtle unsubtle wordplay in order to poke fun at the notion of writing and singing a love song for someone. ‘If My Heart Is Broken’ is a wide-eyed danceable track that questions the nature of heartbreak and how the body carries on.

As we roll through the album, there are few true highlights as we’ve heard most of this before, and in better form from Youngblood, the true standout track comes toward the end of the album. ‘Obligatory Drugs’ is a menacing invite. Black Kids drop the facade for a moment and make perhaps the most terrifying lo-fi party anthem I have ever heard. Cool loungey piano and bass permeate the track punctuated by lyrics that creep and repeat. Perhaps it is not with intended malice, but being such a shift from the rest of the candy-gloss, heart-string pulling tunes, it starkly stands out above the rest. If they had done with the album what they had done here, ‘ROOKIE‘ would be something so much more.

To sum up, I am ever grateful that ‘ROOKIE‘ made it’s way out to us, if not the triumphant return I have been patiently waiting, it is indeed a return that has me excited to see what they put out next. I’m having a motherfucking party at my motherfucking house, are you in or are you out? ‘ROOKIE‘ is available now here: http://music.blackkidstv.com/releases

Standout tracks: IFFY, If My Heart Is Broken, Obligatory Drugs