4.09.2017

How to write an IMDB review.

I admit it, I can be a little obsessed with reading reviews. Be they books on Amazon, albums on iTunes, movies on IMDB, tech reviews, furniture reviews, you name it, I'm reading all 146 reviews of it. In this way do I know the pattern that the average person tends to follow when writing what they assume is their totally unique perspective on a product. So herewith! How to write the most cliched of all things - the IMDB movie review.

1) Choose either a 1/10 or a 10/10 rating. No reason to waste any brain cells attaching the subtlety of a 4/10 or 7/10 to a movie based on an even basic list of pros and cons that you carefully weighed before logging in to the app/website. Either you hated it or you loved it. All or nothing. No shades of gray. Who has time for nuance in modern society anyway.

2) Make a bold statement. And by this I mean, if the movie isn't a part of your current favorite comic book universe, doesn't cater to your spoon-fed ideologies, or challenges you in any way, go ahead and boldly claim with absolute authority that it is in fact 'the worst movie ever made.' It doesn't matter that, technically, only one movie can hold that title (and we all know what that movie is); or that you've probably said that about fifteen different movies; or that making sweeping absolute statements on the subjective quality of an art form could be construed as lazy thinking at best in some circles. Go ahead! Declare it!

3) Critique the editing, screenwriting, special effects, etc. The cool thing about the internet is you can just say anything. You don't have to have any prior knowledge or experience in any field; you still can make definitive statements with comforting certainty. So if you loved a movie, make sure to point out that the technical aspects of it are award-winning; if you hated it (again, there's no in-between), it's important that people know that the movie failed technically in every way. This is especially true for CGI, as it's usually "terrible." Don't worry, you don't need to provide any evidence or comparison to back up your statement. People spend years, even decades honing their craft to bring the impossible to the big screen, but you know that they're really the worst at their jobs.

4) Point out exposition. Exposition can simply be defined as "the act of explaining something." So you'll have one more weapon in your arsenal when cogently critiquing a movie if you can point out the abuse of exposition. Does a character tell someone her age? Too much exposition! We should be able to tell by her actions and behaviors her exact age of 33. Does a character quickly toss off the fact that the main character's son died? Abuse! The script should waste time showing us in vignettes instead of advancing the narrative. Remember, if any character at any time gives any information at all - you can ding the movie for providing "too much exposition."

5) Point out deus ex machina. This of course means "god in the machine" and refers to ancient Greek plays in which a god character would be lowered onto the stage to save another character from a hopeless situation. Basically it's cheating. What it isn't, is the series of on-screen events woven into the plot that lead to a climax, payoff, or narrative shift. But who cares? The point is to pile up the movie's transgressions, not be honest.

6) Make outsized comparisons. Everyone knows that your five-year-old nephew could write a better script than the seasoned writer who was paid $1 million by a studio whose job it is to make money. Though completely impossible, it is fortunately now a 100% acceptable way of getting your point across. Use it! Besides, how could The Godfather win an Oscar when I had more fun watching stick figures on three sheets of paper scroll across an open shoebox??

7) Bring home the fight against gender and racial equality. Guys. Literally. Guys. We all know there are just things women and minorities can't do, like be the best in a difficult field or own their own wealth. It's all of our job to make sure the average person understands this. Besides, how detrimental would it be to show marginalized or underprivileged people positive representations of themselves and give them the idea that anything could change? Nonsense. Put a stop to it. Using IMDB.

***

I realize this is more of a 'how to shit on a movie you don't like' tutorial, but then, that's what so many IMDBers do best. It keeps things interesting, I guess (I may have misspelled "infuriating") and besides, it takes much more effort to defend a movie you did like, and using those brain cells for good is half the battle.

Happy reviewing!


1.08.2017

American Horror Story: Freak Show

After a three-year hiatus from watching American Horror Story, I finally really needed something to binge during the 2016 holidays so I picked up where I left off and began watching Freak Show, devoted to the lives, loves, and deaths of the performers in Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities and set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952. I actually had no idea it had been so long since I finished Coven, but my hesitation about the fourth season's premise is what kept me from catching up much sooner. For me, it ended up not being a waste of time - the show's high production values, at least, were instantly familiar and comforting - but ultimately Freak Show suffers from a variety of ills that I will, of course, now detail. (As this is a season retrospective, there will be spoilers)

I'll start with what I liked. The biggest pleasant surprise for me was Sarah Paulson. I'll be honest and say normally I can't stand anything else she does on AHS but she acted her ass off as conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler, and when the writing didn't fail her the twins were the best part about Freak Show. She was truly believably conflicted and cautious as Dot, and simultaneously eager and naive as Bette. I thought the somewhat Hitchcockian angles used when presenting only one twin head or the other worked consistently, and co-producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk - the whole team, really - made genuine and sympathetic what could have been the most banally-conceived freaks in the camp.

Frances Conroy continues to be a national treasure; she was dry and knowing as the ghostly maid in Murder House, absolutely divine as fashion-loving Myrtle in Coven, and here as Gloria Mott she is perfectly polite, doting, and deeply conflicted as the mother of the season's most ambitious character. More about them later.

The best episodes of the season for me were "Edward Mordrake Pt. 2," in which we get the bleak backstory on Jupiter's resident psycho clown Twisty and watch a new, much sillier killer rise out of the ashes of his sojourn to the afterlife; the penultimate "Show Stoppers," the one episode that lives up to the promise of the darkness, horror, and very unpleasant but thrilling surprises which the series continues to struggle with delivering; and "Orphans," which deserves its own long-winded post on my blog for being the most beautiful and poignant episode of perhaps the entire anthology, during which Naomi Grossman as the ill-fated Pepper delivers award-winning scenes and makes me long for a much more expertly handled season on the whole.

10.20.2016

New music.

The 90s was a weird time for music. The whole decade is essentially typified by the alternative genre, and I'll just say that for me, most of what came from alternative was a wash - so purposefully un-melodic and apathetic it made me want to put a gun to my head. The snap-back from those long, painful years was the bright, shiny, pointless pop of Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc.; we clearly got what we deserved.

But this blog post isn't about shitty 90s music. I'm just prefacing to get to where I want to go. By the early 2000s I was hearing songs that gave me hope for music's future. Since then popular music in most genres has returned to melodic form, and even in increasingly sub-subgenres like dream pop and post-dubstep and EDM, writers and producers are still discovering the infinite ways to spin and wield a dope melodic/harmonic progression. Think of La Roux's 'Bulletproof,' Goyte's 'Somebody That I Used To Know' - hell, even Nicki Minaj's 'Superbass' has an earworm.

Which brings me to today, and my happiness at discovering some new musicians to listen to who, in a different decade, would have fallen prey to the times, but here and now are fantastic.

First up is Banks (first name Jillian), discovered in the car stereo of a friend last week. She's got a couple of albums out in the 'alt-pop' genre, which is dominated by 'sultry [women] singers backed by uber-hip electronic beatscapes,' something I happen to very much enjoy, thank you. I especially appreciate her use of interwoven vocal motifs in the absence of acoustic instrumentation, and she consistently sets a wonderfully evocative, moody atmosphere. Although after several methodical previews of both albums via iTunes I only came away purchasing a handful of songs, the point is that she's in the right direction and she's something new to listen to.

(One thing I realized after obsessively listening to those songs was that they were everything I wished so much that Ellie Goulding's third album, Delirium, would be, and in fact, Banks sounds a lot like Halcyon-era Goulding. It makes me sad that Goulding abandoned a perfect sound and structure in favor of 'progress' or 'love' or whatever, and I hope that on her next album she gets back to what works best)

In the reviews for one of Banks' albums someone suggested she pair up with James Blake. So I looked him up and...story time.

10.16.2016

Halloween viewing list.

Because apparently I can only do lists anymore!

I realized after putting together my 'best movies of the decade so far' list that I left out of consideration a couple of truly stellar scary flicks, which chastened me because I'm always the one saying that the intelligentsia should finally start recognizing and awarding those outside genres like sci-fi and horror. If applicable I will rectify this on the eve of 2020 - pending we're all still here, of course. ;) (I'm not a doomsday prepper, I just don't know what's wrong with this world anymore. Sigh) In the meantime, I'll put an asterisk next to the names of movies that should have been in the running for last year's list.

I think that the 2010s have been an incredible time for scary movies because they're finally being done right. We're past the slasher insanity of the 70s, the teen nonsense of the 80s, and the self-awareness of the 90s and 00s. Finally, filmmakers are making good on the truth that the only thing to fear is fear itself - it's what you don't know, what you can't see, that is the scariest, because the mind will fill in the blanks with whatever scares you the most. In this way, the 'scare' factor impacts a much larger portion of the audience than is possible with gushing blood and feral screaming (which, shocker, isn't scary!).

So, herewith, my list of movies to watch during the witching season that should leave you good and scared by the time Halloween night gets here. Enjoy...IF YOU DARE. No, just enjoy.

(in no particular order)

Paranormal Activity (2007) The first movie to dare to capitalize on the found-footage premise of Blair Witch Project almost a decade before, PA scared THE SHIT out of me. It is only one of three movies that have ever kept me awake at night after seeing it (the other two being Signs and Event Horizon). It's basically 100% 'things that go bump in the night' and that is really all I ask for. Of the sequels, only part three reaches the level of the first. Absolutely do not watch this alone with the lights out. You will die.

Insidious Chapter 2* (2013) While the first Insidious was great, the sequel blew my mind, for several reasons. First, I think the concept of The Further is awesome - a dead zone parallel to ours, all dark empty houses and bad memories and regret (the motionless people seen in the third Insidious were a great touch, for an otherwise subpar installment). Second, the integration of the events from the first movie, with the intruder, is phenomenal. If the screenwriter did not write the first movie with any inkling of a second in mind, he's a genius. Third, I thoroughly enjoy how Chapter 2 taps into the contemporary ghost hunting craze, as the characters investigate an abandoned hospital (classic!) and an essentially haunted house. Fourth, the backstory on the Old Woman is both creepy as hell and heartbreaking. If you twisted my arm, I'd have to say this is my favorite on the list.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014) If you've never seen Flight of the Conchords then you will be unprepared for the majesty that is Jemaine Clement. He and fellow kiwi Taika Waititi produced this comedic gem (Watiti, fun fact, is currently directing the third Thor - whaaa?!). The movie is a mockumentary about four vampires living in a huge, rundown house in modern-day New Zealand, and their struggles to stay relevant yet still undiscovered. It's so second-by-second hilarious that at one point I was laughing so hard I couldn't hear what else they were saying and I thought, oh well, there'll be something else ridiculous along in a moment. No worries! Of course this movie isn't scary and isn't meant to be, but it will make your Halloween for sure.

12.31.2015

Best movies of the decade (so far).

I'm not even sure if luxuries like blogs will be afforded us in 2020 with the way this world is going, so I might as well get this in. Besides, there have been a lot of great movies in the last six years and it would be a bear to whittle out a top ten list after four more years. One interesting thing to note is how many of these movies feature the same actors. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Also, just to get this out of the way now, I make no apologies for including three (3) Christopher Nolan movies on this list. Let's begin.


1. Her (2013)

(Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, directed by Spike Jonze)

In the near future, Thomas Twombly (Phoenix) is a greeting card composer by day and sad divorcee by night. When a tech company unveils a new operating system featuring evolving artificial intelligence, he purchases one and becomes fast friends with "Samantha" (Johansson). They become inseparable as their relationship deepens amidst a futuristic backdrop where a romantic relationship with a computer can be deemed simply "cool," simply one more step for humankind, simply one more way to connect when human involvement is eternally complicated and disappointing. Thomas and Samantha fall in love in scenes featuring the most divine cinematography I think I've ever seen, through dialogue that is perfectly shaped by director/screenwriter Jonze, brought to life by Johannson's beautifully capable voice acting and a steady, measured performance by Phoenix that pays off incredibly when his world is finally rocked.

Samantha's psychological and emotional evolution is so incredibly fascinating to watch; when she reveals that she can have thousands of simultaneous conversations with other people and other OSes at the complexity she experiences with Thomas, you're forced to finally begin contemplating the larger world in which the OSes are likely far more intelligent than their creators anticipated. Her is an endlessly gorgeous, heartbreaking sci-fi love story unlike anything I've ever seen and I have no doubt that when this decade draws to a close it will still sit at my number one.

2. Sarah's Key (2010)

(Kristen Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

Sarah Starzynski (Mayance) and her parents are victims of the Vel d'Hiv roundup in 1942; when the police arrive at their apartment, Sarah locks her little brother Michel in a closet so that he may avoid detection. Unfortunately, Sarah and her mother are taken, and Sarah hangs on to the closet key and what becomes a singular resilience and obsession to return to the apartment in time enough to save her brother. Concurrently we have the storyline of modern-day Julia Dormond (Thomas), an American journalist living in Paris working on a story about the Vel d'Hiv roundup, during which she finds little Sarah's labor camp photograph.

It is hard for me to say more without giving spoilers, so you must see it for yourself. Mayance is fabulous, and tackles the complete range of emotions required of her with brilliance. The cinematography from the scenes in 1942 is breathtaking at times, and I think the director did an amazing job pacing and crafting scenes to have utmost emotional impact. It can be too easy to assume that any film dealing with the Holocaust must be by definition well-crafted and heart-rending, and having seen my fair share, I know this is not the case. Sarah's Key packs an indelible punch on its own merits, and is a film that, if you're lucky, will haunt you for a long time. (Seen at the 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival)

3. Inception (2010)

(Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, directed by Christopher Nolan)

After being accused of murdering his wife (Cotillard), Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) flees to France where he continues to work with a team as an extractor, entering the dreams of unsuspecting sleepers to steal information and secrets as corporate espionage. He is offered the chance to go home, and see his children again, by Saito, a Japanese magnate who in return needs the opposite of extraction: he needs the son of a rival to decide to take his father's company in a different direction; he has to believe it is his own idea; he has to be incepted. And to plant an idea means the team has to go further down the rabbit hole than any of them have ever been.

While the plot is complex and nearly flawless, the cast is dynamic and the overall effect is that of breathlessness, what I love most about Inception is how the elegant statements on dreaming touch on the metaphysical aspects of life that we struggle with even when we're convinced we already have the answers. Life being a dream that feels as real as dreams do while we're sleeping; recurring dreams being akin to life events that keep repeating, for good and ill; what deja vu really is; that in order to wake up from this madness you have to die. All of these gems are casually dropped throughout the script and add another exciting layer to an already intense and mind-opening experience.

12.12.2015

The year of music.

Every now and then a bunch of my favorite artists will come out with new albums all within the same calendar year, which is obviously awesome, so I've cobbled together a rundown of each from this richly musical 2015. Keeping my 'analysis' to one paragraph apiece is almost heartbreaking, but I must.

Kelly Clarkson, Piece by Piece
Release date: March 3

Though her last album, Stronger, won her her second Best Pop Album Grammy award, I feel this is the, er, stronger album - more variety, more vivid production, even if she doesn't break any molds. It's shocking but her American Idol contract had her locked in for SEVEN albums, and with this release she is finally free. Seriously, OMG. Here's hoping with her next one she can really try something new. Side note: Piece by Piece was just nominated for Best Pop Album for 2016.

Best song: "Good Goes the Bye"
Her best album: Piece by Piece

Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind
Release date: May 4

Their latest release is a sad study in the bullshit way nobody is ever happy with anything. If M&S had put out another acoustic album everyone would have allegedly been bored, but they did a 180 and went 'electric' and everybody was all omg, whaaat, I don't get it, who do they think they are, Coldplay, omgaaah... Objectively Wilder Mind is a perfectly solid rock album that is very charming and would have been the darling of worthless overpaid music critics everywhere had this been their debut. As with some of the best things, the more you spend time with this album, the more you understand it, and the more brilliant it becomes.

Best song: "Tompkins Square Park"
Their best album: Babel

Florence + and the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Release date: June 1

See here.

Best song: "Long and Lost"
Their best album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Lana del Ray, Honeymoon
Release date: September 18

A gentle recap: Born to Die was a huge breath of fresh air; Paradise is stunningly beautiful and dark. We'll forgive her Ultraviolence since apparently Dan Auerbach knows hypnosis. Honeymoon is a true return to form - yes, she seems to be singing even slower, yes, somehow she's even more tortured - but that's why we listen. The first four songs come off a bit disappointing at first, because an entire album along their lines would sink like a stone, but everything picks up with "High By the Beach" and doesn't let up till we've floated past "Swan Song." LDR has a funny way of setting up a song's core melody, and then hitting the bridge and spinning a whole new soundscape; the effect is just subtle enough to make you lose yourself for a moment.

Best song: "Blackest Day"
Her best album: Born to Die

Carrie Underwood, Storyteller
Release date: October 23

Carrie can do no wrong, let's just get that out of the way. But her last album, Blown Away, was a bit underwhelming. She has new producers for Storyteller and it definitely shows - she's got some blues, some 80s, and - some R&B, which I think is fantastic. It shows in her inflections in the song "Heartbeat" and the structure of the chorus of "Clock Don't Stop." While rap-country may never take off (sad! just kidding), I'm a huge fan of musical acculteration and think there's so much potential in marrying country and R&B, and frankly it should be the direction of Kelly Clarkson's next album. Just sayin'. The only negative I have for this album is it's missing a really beautiful ballad in the vein of "Someday When I Stop Loving You" and "Wine After Whiskey." I was so looking forward to a new one.

Best song: "Clock Don't Stop"
Her best album: Play On

Ellie Goulding, Delirium
Release date: November 6

Ho-kay. Halcyon is my favorite album of the decade. She killed me and raised me from the dead with that one. I needed more of that. And...she went in a completely different direction and I KNOW, I just defended Mumford & Sons, but come on. Like 98 dance tracks, seriously. Beneficent critics have tried to point out 'ballads' - that's a joke, there ain't one damn slow song. Anyway, there are a couple of quality tracks but I'm so let down with this...plus, ok, she's in a relationship, fine, whatever, but of course that means she has lost the ability to write some real-ass lyrics. Amid the ridiculously overproduced beats scientifically designed to induce people to dance in da club, there's no way she could fit in a line like 'I think of dying all the time.' Tsk, tsk!!

Best song: "Army"
Her best album: Halcyon

Adele, 25
Release date: November 20

So there's this British singer who puts out some good songs, don't know if you've heard of her, but I'm sure one day she'll get her due. Anyway. I think 25 is legitimately better than 21 - 21 had some highest highs ("Hiding My Heart Away") but also several tracks I would regularly skip. The only track on 25 I find myself zoning out on is "River Lea." She's keeping up with the times by having fresh backing beats, and yes, her voice sounds stronger; let me give you a little tip. A person's voice doesn't fully mature until their early 30s. So...expect her voice to continue to get stronger. Be 'in the know; at your next party. Side note: I don't get the high praise for the Smeezingtons' production of the track "All I Ask." How hard is it to produce a vocal over a piano. Geez, people.

Best song: "Water Under the Bridge"
Her best album: 25

Well that was fun. Maybe next year my dudes can come out with new stuff? Ray LaMontagne, Kings of Leon, Gavin deGraw, Jonny Lang, Casey James? Etc. etc.? Please and thank you. :)

10.21.2015

Waking up in the future.

Just about everyone has weighed in on the accuracy of Back to the Future 2. I know. But when all of pop culture waits 26 years for a single moment in time, it'd be kind of a waste to let it pass by. So here we go!

What the movie got right

- digital cameras (which no one seems to have noticed)
- weather predictions - this appears to be presented as weather control, which we (allegedly) don't have, but I do have a weather app that now tells me exactly when, for example, rain in my area will start and stop, down to the minute
- 80s nostalgia
- crazy clothes/hair - it doesn't look like what we're wearing, obviously, but I imagine someone from 1985 might balk at a girl with a half-shaved head or some idiot with his pants down around his ankles
- a car that costs $39,999.95
- thumbprinting
- flat-screen TVs

Neither here nor there

- the Cubs winning the World Series. Unfortunately as of this moment they have dropped three games in a row to the Mets in the NLCS (why? because Cubs suck) but they could still come back tonight, win four games straight, and go on to the WS. We'll blame it on the magic of Hollywood

- multi-channel TV. This is an option on some TVs but the majority of people still watch one thing at a time. But the other day I was nonchalantly scrolling through Netflix and it reminded me of this movie...I don't know, for some reason I feel like the two are similar

- the visors Marty's kids were wearing. They were alerted when the phone rang and as to who it was, so you have to wonder what else they were used for. Watching TV? Natch. Maybe listening to music? I would say cruising social media but they, uh, didn't have internet. Anyway, wearing the visors is pretty much like everyone staring down at their smartphones


What the movie got wrong

- hoverboards
- flying cars
- sleep-inducing alpha rhythm generators
- the enduring popularity of almanacs (hahahaha)
- power laces, powered clothing
- the abolition of lawyers
- fully automated gas stations (completely skipping the inevitable reality of self-service)
- in the day's newspaper, a town named Wilmington was preparing for 'Queen Diana's Visit.' Awwwwwww :(
- voice-activated everything
-and much, much more

My main gripe

Instead of taking Marty thirty years into the future to impersonate his son, just have him make a freaking time capsule with a note that says 'on Wednesday, 10/21/15, take son camping.' A plot that revolves around changing a future that hasn't even happened yet is...interesting, but not logical. As we learned from the Terminator, 'the future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves.'

***

It's not easy to accurately project the future. A creative, imaginative effort should be applauded - just not counted on. To me, the most accurate futuristic films are the ones in which the world looks dirty and unkempt - films like Judge Dredd, Robocop, and the bone-chilling Children of Men. In them, there are plenty of technological advances but humanity is raw and unpredictable, not presented as wearing all white and moving with creepy fluidity, as if advancing into the future means shedding what actually makes us human.

To create a logical depiction of the future, I would focus more on the shifts that we ourselves endure; culturally, economically, socially. (I would say politically but come on - any vision of the future MUST be totalitarian). I would make any fictional tech a part of the woodwork rather than front and center, on display. (The near-perfect movie Her gets this really right) Changes in how we relate to each other; how the norms of today can create the nightmares of tomorrow; whether advancing technology will draw us together or push us apart - that's what the future is really about. The future of us.

Happy Back to the Future day. :)


10.17.2015

Snapshot.


What I'm Reading: Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufmann
What I'm watching: C-grade scary movies on Netflix
What I'm listening to: Honeymoon, Lana Del Ray
Mood: searching
Smells: oddly...nothing
Sounds: someone perpetually tinkering on their brokedown-ass car
Temperature: 53 degrees
Thoughts: so proud of myself. Two blog posts this year. Really doing it, I am.

7.25.2015

Review: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

It's safe to say that all three of Florence + the Machine's albums have been radically different from each other. The first, Lungs, contains three styles: torch songs, 'big' songs, and girl group pop songs. Weighted, there are more of the first two styles, and to me only 'Dog Days Are Over' and 'Between Two Lungs' fall into the third category, but taken as a whole it feels nicely balanced stylistically.

Their second album, Ceremonials, pointedly favors 'big' songs. This was cool with me because I had loved 'Cosmic Love' and 'Blinding' so much, and now I had even more in 'Seven Devils,' 'Heartlines,' 'No Light, No Light,' 'Spectrum' - wait, actually, the entire second half of the album. Which in hindsight, was not the best choice. (Dudes, it was nominated for Best Pop Album at the Grammy's and lost to Kelly Clarkson. Whom I love, BUT STILL) Ultimately the album felt bogged down in the heaviness, and this was pointed out a lot by fans who were hoping for an album that contained torch songs in the vein of 'Girl With One Eye' from Lungs. They could see what I couldn't because I'd gotten what I wanted. Ha.

Now, with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, F+TM have refocused again, this time favoring the girl group pop. If this was a conscious decision, it makes sense - moving away from the mistakes of the previous album but still mining the potential in a style not unprecedented for Flo. It also made it easier, I think, to introduce a much wider range of dynamics and expression with the several moodier, rock-influenced songs on the album. There are no highs higher than anything in their catalogue, but there are much lower lows and it is fantastic.

There is also a noticeable difference in the songwriting. The lyrics finally sound like they come directly from her experiences, instead of consisting mostly of literary enigmas which, while interesting, ultimately can prevent one from fully immersing in a song. 'Various Storms and Saints' is a great example of a track which might be tossed aside as initially uninteresting, except the words and the way she owns them turn it into a performance that gets more urgent and beautiful the longer she sings. Those words are raw, too: "I don't know how I don't just stand outside and scream."

12.03.2014

The stories we tell about ourselves.

In 2008, the television game show Jeopardy! hosted a Kids Week Reunion, bringing back contestants who were originally on the show when they were 10, 11, or 12 years old. If you have ever caught Kids Week, you know that every kid knows they're destined to be a brain surgeon, an embedded war journalist, concertmaster of a symphony, the first person to [enter achievement here], a Supreme Court justice, an astronaut, and/or President of the United States.

They have additional aspirations of curing cancer, solving world hunger, and ending political bipartisanship. They're so bright-eyed, and so smart, you root for them to achieve their dreams. Heck, aren't they already halfway there just by being tiny geniuses? So I made it a point to watch the Kids Week Reunion and see what kind of impact each now college-aged young adult had already made on the world.

For the last six years, every now and again, I've thought back to that week of shows, wondering just what happened to those kids, just what went 'wrong.'  Now, don't misunderstand me - I didn't think that by 19 or 20 they all would be Steve Jobs-like gurus. But I did imagine exciting D.C. internships, a patent pending on an invention, national math and science awards, a published book...things of that nature.

There is extremely limited information online about that week, so I have to go on memory - and what I remember is that they had somehow morphed into average citizens whose contemporary goals looked nothing like their assured dreams of yesteryear; looked like the goals of the rest of us who never competed on Jeopardy! as a child. Although I can offer no particulars, the disappointing ordinariness of the contestants can be summed up with the fact that one of them was currently attending community college.

The show runners responded accordingly by creating categories and 'answers' that were mildly challenging at best; the contestants, in turn, still struggled. And I remember feeling sad for their lost dreams.

More importantly, though, I wondered how could this be? There would be nothing odd about three or four of the contestants having stumbled along the way to greatness; but the majority of them?

If they were too bright-eyed as kids, too confident of their future, it wasn't their fault. Maybe their parents and teachers, even the community, put too much emphasis on the budding intelligence of upper-elementary students; maybe on that side of the American Dream a successful future was too exciting, seemed too inevitable.

Maybe those kids were told stories about themselves too compelling to resist.