5 Things I’m Proud Of

I’m in a bit of a lull right now. The excitement of graduating college has long since subsided. Summer is coming to a close, and I’m about to receive my first student loan payment. I knew it was going to be tough, but it’s turning out to be really tough. Too much time alone with my own thoughts isn’t doing me any good. So I’ve decided to make a list of five things I’m proud of–things I’ve done or experienced in the past–to help remind myself of how awesome it felt, to try and rekindle a fire within me, so that I continue to chase excitement and wonder even when things seem dull or bleak.

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(2009) I rappelled down a three-story tower in Italy 

On a People to People trip in high school, I had the opportunity to go rappelling. You can’t really tell in the photo so much, but it was high. I remember leaning off the side of that thing and the dude with the camera was like, “Cheese!” and in my head I was like, “Try not to look terrified.” I was scared as hell–we all were. You descend with your back to the ground! But I did it.

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(2010) Rocked my high school grad party

My best friend from high school pushed me to do things I wouldn’t have otherwise. But “push” isn’t really the right word. She made me want to do it. I was nervous about performing, and she made me okay with the idea of it.  So we rallied a bunch of our friends together and played a bunch of songs in my backyard that summer. It was a lot of fun.

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(2013) I worked my first internship

From May to August, I worked on a daytime television show as a script intern. Looking back at it, I don’t know how I remained so calm through it all. It could’ve gone horribly wrong, but it surprisingly went really well. I made my mistakes early, and learned from them. I got to meet a bunch of celebrities and hang out with the hosts, which was a really great way to spend my summer. I miss a lot of the people that worked there, and I hope we cross paths again someday.

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(2013-2014) I became a screenwriter

Having tried and failed to write a full length screenplay before, I didn’t have high hopes when I enrolled in writing classes at school. I got close with a great deal of talented creatives, and had so much fun dissecting each other’s stories. It was through this experience that I really decided that screenwriting was worth pursuing. In May, I finished the screenplay, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

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(2014) I took the road trip of a lifetime

The original plans for four of my close friends to RV across America fell through. This is was so frustrating to me, because I depended upon this trip to help ease the transition out of college. Two of my friends were still down to travel, but we didn’t really know how to go about it, so naturally we acted impulsively. We bought plane tickets to California just days before the flight, rented a car, and the rest is history. I hope that travel can always be a part of my life.

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As for “what’s next,” I don’t really have a good answer for that. I’m doing my fair share of planning for “what’s next,” and I hope that I’ll have that figured out relatively soon. Is it stressful graduating college and facing life for the first time? Of course, and nothing is going to accurately prepare you for it. Though, even as I sit here writing this I can’t help shaking the feeling that I’m only just getting started, that life has so much more it hasn’t shown me yet, and for once, I think I’m ready for it all.

10 Comedy Specials on Netflix You Ought to See

Never has there been a better time to peruse Netflix for some hearty LOL’s. Both comedians you know and love, as well as under-the-radar gems have plenty of specials currently on Netflix for your viewing pleasure. Here’s 10 of the best:

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(10) Rob Delaney: Live at the Bowery Ballroom (2012)

Twitter-God Rob Delaney takes his social media persona onstage and makes you cringe with his crass delivery. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those who like to laugh.

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(9) Kathleen Madigan: Madigan Again (2013)

Kathleen riffs on touring with Lewis Black in Afghanistan, as well as her Irish heritage and home life in the Midwest. Endearing as ever, Madigan will charm the pants off you and make you laugh until it hurts.

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(8) Eddie Murphy: Delirious (1983)

This special shows the younger generation what makes Eddie Murphy one of the greatest.

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(7) Morgan Murphy: Irish Goodbye  (2013)

TV writer Morgan Murphy covers her own life and topical stuff, in a refreshing and funny way.

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(6) Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening (2009)

This special emerged as its star did in 2009 through Parks and Recreation fame, but is one of his best.

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(5) Louis CK: Hilarious (2009)

Comedy icon Louie CK takes you through the daily nuances of life, and how difficult it is being a father. There may never have been a comedian who makes fun of himself quite as deftly.

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(4) Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

Seeing Richard Pryor perform his set from 1982 and be every bit as relevant to our world today is proof that he’s one of the greats. This is a must-see for comedy lovers all over.

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(3) George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya (2008)

George Carlin fans will be pleased to know that there’s a wide variety of his specials readily available on Netflix, as he was known for putting out such a large volume of material in a small amount of time. “It’s Bad For Ya,” shows us an older comic acknowledging how the world has changed over the years–but is every bit in line with ‘ole Georgie.

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(2) Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion (2006)

Most popular for his acting roles in the Hangover movies, Galifianakis is doubly as talented with his standup comedy. His clumsy delivery is endearing, humbling, and utterly hilarious.

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(1) Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (2013)

Birbiglia certainly blurs the line between standup comedy and straight up storytelling, but this is what makes him such a spectacle. Sit back, buckle up, and let him take you through his life in a way that only he can: With speed, love, heartbreak, and, a worldly sense of humor driving his act.

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St. Lucia’s “When the Night,” A Track by Track Review

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Described by frontman Jean-Philip Grobler as a musical progression from day into night, St. Lucia’s album When the Night is an alternative album that demands to be heard. Its tropical pop vibe recalls funk, pop, and rock of the 80’s, in addition to calling on traditional sounds from Grobler’s native South Africa. Here is my track by track review:

(1) The Night Comes Again

It’s that odd time of day: Not quite nighttime, and yet, no longer evening. The sun is still out, but it’s begun its descent. Looming synth pads are swirling around to open When the Night, symbolic of this ethereal space between six o’clock and nine o’clock. After about two minutes of priming listeners for nightfall, this introductory track explodes into an 80’s-pop-tinged anthem that could make Tears for Fears cry. This is where we meet St. Lucia. Right in the middle of a celebratory, tribal, chant that is as infectious as it is tropical. The night has most certainly arrived by the end of this track, and you’re left starved for more of this peculiar, wonderful, echoing goodness.

(2) The Way You Remember Me

Loud, brilliant, staccato synths accompanied by some guitar reverb introduce the next song. It’s considerably faster than “The Night Comes Again,” and it’s a welcome electrifying tempo change. Most of the album feels nostalgic, calling on tone and color enhancements like excessive reverb and chorus – but this track feels specifically designed to invoke it. This nostalgia, coupled with lyrics about your own self-image, memories of the past–it all meshes together quite well. Though, the most impacting thing about this track is it’s fantastic and bold conclusion.

(3) Elevate

The bold thing about this album, is its brilliant way of tackling subjects like love, passion, friendship, happiness, and blending them together in both form and lyrical content. There’s not a song you can point to and say, “Oh, that’s just a love song.” It isn’t that simple, here, and “Elevate” is a great example of this. “No one elevates you” is a line that is so ingeniously wired to make you look at yourself. It makes you look at where you are versus where you want to be, and makes you swell with the passion and curiosity it takes to get there. It’s magic. As if it couldn’t get any better, about halfway through the song there’s a stomping guitar riff change up, and a Michael-Jackson-esque group vocal that is, plain and simple, fun as hell.

(4) Wait For Love

Much of When the Night, is about metamorphosis–life’s inherent changes. This track is very much in line with the band’s style of mimicking these changes in the musical arrangement. Starting with a groovy bass line, “Wait For Love” slowly evolves into a loud, celebratory synth jam. There isn’t much I can say about this lovely, sun-kissed, track that listening to it won’t make readily apparent. Check out this video of St. Lucia busking down the streets of (what appears to be) Los Angeles:

(5) All Eyes On You

Much more relaxed, but every bit as St. Lucia, “All Eyes On You” introduces us to a bit of lovesickness for the first time. This song is a great companion to “Wait For Love,” in that they both come at similar themes in different ways. Where “Wait For Love,” is carefree and happy, “All Eyes On You,” is much more serious about the relationship in question. It’s about dedication, and like much of the album, transforms itself into a much louder plea by the end of it. And, oh yeah, there’s a kickass saxophone solo.

(6) Closer Than This

More nostalgia is on the way, as frontman Jean-Philip Grobler sings “I remember all the sounds you used to make,” at the onset of this particular South-African sounding track. Everything–from the vocals to the incredible percussion–sounds tribal and tropical, here, which sort of sets itself apart from other tracks that echo more of 80’s pop music. Essentially, this song is representative of the refreshing capacity St. Lucia has to surprise us inside of itself.

(7) Call Me Up

“Call Me Up,” is another backyard-summer-party-dance-anthem, but is particularly clever in its vocal arrangements of the final chorus. Like “Elevate,” this track is great at delivering a punchy hook, and then totally flipping it for the final chorus. You won’t be able to sit still.

(8) We Got it Wrong

If “The Night Comes Again” is the onset of nighttime, then this next track is what separates night from late night. By now, the sun has retreated below the horizon enough to make the sky an orange-pink. The album starts to transform with this track, into more of a live-instrumentation sound, into a thumping vintage techno good time.  The synth melodies call us back to that of “The Way You Remember Me” from earlier, but the intensity is much greater here. About halfway through the record, there’s a sense of completion of what was initially incited, but now something new is coming. A new journey begins by the end of this really fun dance-track, and luckily there’s six more tracks to experience it all through.

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(9) September

“September” takes us deeper into the dead of night, where no light can escape. Now’s as good a time as any to indicate how well produced this album is. In the wrong hands, a track like this could have been dismissed as much too busy.  “September” is a wonderfully different dance track that meshes live-instrumentation (percussion, brass, guitar) with synthetic (synthesizers, arps, etc.) In short, this track is epic.

(10) Too Close

Fans drawn to “September” will appreciate this further step into the darkness. When the Night has a great way of pairing these songs in an order that really compliments the nuance of each track as an individual piece, as well as its relation with the whole. “Too Close” is an apt segue to the title track that follows.

(11) When the Night

This is what we have been waiting for. The entire album has been preparing us for this monster track. At nearly seven and a half minutes long, it’s got everything that St. Lucia has founded itself on in the opening ten tracks, and more. It sort of blurs the quietness and the loudness–it unites the two halves of St. Lucia. About three quarters of the way through the song, the denouement begins. We’ve reached the climax of When the Night, and now comes the unraveling. The track sort of melts away, much like the passage of time after midnight. There’s a time of night when it’s no longer a raging party, but more of a mellow period of recharging. “When the Night” takes us to the party, but when it’s over, it rocks us to sleep.

(12) Forgiveness

This track showcases St. Lucia’s knack for backing an already-great tune with impeccable, chanting, harmony. Now that we, as listeners, have journeyed through most of the album with St. Lucia–it’s time to celebrate this fact. A positive message, wrapped in a neat, pop, package that is certainly sure to satisfy fans of 80’s revivalism.

(13) Cold Case

Slowing the tempo down again for “Cold Case,” St. Lucia reminds us of their versatility.  “Oh yeah, they’re not just this.” It’s a daunting task to try and describe this band, and with good reason. The tracks are all unique, and yet are united under the umbrella of tone, color, nostalgia, and echo.

(14) Out Tonight

So, the album starts out with the coming of night. There’s songs to dance to, songs to rage to, and songs to lay down on a hammock and stare at the night sky to.  By the time “Out Tonight” kicks on, the sun is getting ready to rise again. This is the cyclical nature of our world–mirrored in works of art for millennia.  But something about this album highlights the cycle in a beautiful and humbling way.  The first humans identified the “night” with combatting survival, not knowing if the sun would ever return once it had set. After all this time, there is still an emotional conjuring that happens at nighttime, all indicated in the wonderful conclusion to When the Night. Mellow, introspective, and dazzling, “Out Tonight” is the perfect wrap-up for what has been an incredible sonic experience.

See St. Lucia on the road.

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Is ‘Boyhood’ an Effective Story? Is it Effective? Is it a Story?

Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood is anything but forgettable, and is sure to be talked about for years to come. There’s nothing else quite like it. What’s driving most of the criticism is its hook, namely, locking a cast into a single production over twelve years. But, for argument’s sake, let’s disregard this fact. Let’s assume for a moment that Ellar Coltrane was not cast, and a different actor played Mason at the various ages the audience inhabits his life. Would the film lose its impact? Does the story’s effectiveness depend on Linklater’s experimental choice? At first, I thought Boyhood was all concept no content, but the deeper you go the more there seems to be.

My initial reaction to the film was sort of ambivalent. It doesn’t swell to any sort of emotional conclusion, or resolve any dissonance. Mason, fully grown and Mumford and Sons’d up, is spouting some vague philosophical cuteness to a pretty girl, and it cuts to black. Moving from one scene to the next doesn’t really have any sort of rudder to guide the audience. Mason ages several years in a matter of just a few short scenes, and there isn’t any perceivable rhyme or reason to these time jumps. What’s more, Mason doesn’t really have a whole lot of defining characteristics other than being a generally cute kid who [eventually] cultivates a passion for photography/creativity. Mason just kind of exists rather than develops. The easiest example of this is when you put him side by side his two separate verbally abusive step-fathers (both of whom, sadly, came off way too stereotypical to yield sympathy from me).

In both instances Mason reacts to abuse rather passively, despite having had years in between the two step-fathers to process how to handle it. You could argue that in the second instance, Mason sort of shuts the door in his face, but that’s really pushing it. His personality doesn’t drastically change–he doesn’t make choices that he then has to grapple with. Mason’s just a timid dude, and for this film that’s perfectly fine–he’s likable enough to carry the film, which is really the most I think you could say about Ellar Coltrane’s performance. He’s a token, cute, sweet, responsible, kid–he’s average, like most of us–and he’s won enough of my affection to sit through three hours of somewhat-related scenes of his “life.” The family and friends surrounding Mason are doubly charming, and it’s delightful to be with them as time passes. I’m rooting for all of them, and honestly, you wouldn’t even know the film is approaching three hours long.

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So, if there is no decisive plot, no character transformation (excluding aesthetic), no assertion, why the hell is this film so gosh darn likable? Some might say that it’s because seeing such a realistic depiction of life is enjoyable. NICK, THE FILM LACKS STRUCTURE AND MEANING BECAUSE LIFE LACKS STRUCTURE AND MEANING. IT’S SUPPOSED TO FEEL LIKE A DISJOINTED STRETCH OF SEEMINGLY RANDOM EVENTS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT LIFE IS LIKE, MAN! To those who hold this position, I say to you: BULL! Life is life. Movies are not life. If movies = life, then you could watch three hours of a lady bug crawling across a fern. And so a film’s success cannot depend on how close to reality you make it–unless it’s a documentary, and even then there’s a manipulation of reality but that’s a whole other article. The point is, making something realistic is not the same as making something real. This is not to say that building empathy by virtue of it’s depiction of real people in real circumstances is useless. Of course it isn’t. But it still isn’t enough by itself to make this film work. There has to be something more substantial to yield the emotional response that I experienced, and there is.

Initially it wasn’t clear to me why the film was such a critical darling, but when I started thinking about the film as a whole it started to click. No individual character changes significantly, aside from a haircut. But ALL of them change a tiny bit. Mom chases her passion, achieves her career goals, and then is left questioning if it’s truly what she wanted. Dad is clinging to the youth that was robbed from him by becoming a parent at 23–and decides to settle down the traditional way, later in life (once Mason is 18). Sister is really bad at giving toasts at graduation parties, but hopes that she’ll improve someday*. And Mason, even after being alive for 18 years, 12 of which we’ve watched him for–still doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. All of it is perfectly imperfect. To borrow from the monumentally awesome Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Wherever you go, there you are.” All of these events, however causally linked they are or aren’t, have culminated to Mason, sitting with friends enjoying himself. In an infinite number of ways to arrive at this moment, existence has worked its hand pulling knobs and levers behind the curtain, and chosen this path for Mason and his family. “The moments, they seize us.

Ultimately I think it’s a very personal film that’s either going to massage your nostalgia buttons or isn’t. It’s heartwarming, satisfyingly funny, and enjoyable–but, nothing totally new. I think it’s a good film disguised as a great film. But what the hell does any of this really mean about Boyhood anyway? Why can’t you just tell us if it’s good or not? Go see it an experience it for yourself, and why don’t you say goodbye to that little horseshit attitude?

 

*This is a joke.

 

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Digital Detox

If you’ve ever eaten copious amounts of junk food or watched a long stretch of trash TV, you’ll understand and appreciate the need for a break from those things. Every so often, the human animal needs a period of respite to recharge the body. After your third Twinkie you might say to yourself, “Shucks, I really ought to stop eating Twinkies for a bit.” It would kind of make you nauseous to go for another Twinkie. That’s how I get with social media sites.

I’ll be in my laptop-lit room, hand trembling over the keyboard at way-too-late o’clock just refreshing my Twitter feed. What’s everybody tweeting #GoT for? And then someone will have posted a link to a YouTube video. Yes I do want to see Bryan Cranston’s toothpaste commercial from 1997. But then that’ll lead me to a whole set of Breaking Bad outtakes I haven’t watched in a couple of weeks. Haha! Aaron Paul is always forgetting his linesAnd then I’ll wonder what Aaron Paul has been up to lately, so I’ll flip through his recent photos on Instagram. Wow he got old already. I’m afraid I’ll keep going down that rabbit hole until I’m incapacitated in a pool of my own filth while a YouTube clip of a Neil Peart drum solo is buffering.

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Thankfully, it hasn’t actually gotten to that point yet. Like I said, I catch myself doing this stuff now which means that I’m much more aware of my own behavior (thanks, Mindfulness Meditation). August 2008 is when it all really started. I joined Facebook.  I was one of the last ones of my social sphere to sign up, and I was one of the first to jump ship (I permanently deleted my account in August of last year).  In these five years I’ve also been on and off of Instagram, Snapchat, Buzzfeed, etc. I’ve definitely cut down how much time I waste online, but I still spend plenty of time staring at a blinking cursor trying to think of a witticism that will get me a shit ton of favorites. That’s when I go, “Okay, Nick, enough with the Twinkies. It’s unhealthy.” I’d rather be staring at a blinking cursor in Final Draft, struggling with a piece of music, a drawing, or even just spending that time outside doing something.

So I’m going on a diet of sorts. I have a lot of creative work that I’ve been neglecting, and I’ve finally faced the following realization: the time to work on this stuff is now. In the past when I’ve done digital cleanses it’s been great. (I’d recommend it to anyone who hates feeling unproductive for too long.) And that’s really what this whole post is about, folks. In order to give me more time each day to work on a number of projects, I’m following in Patton Oswalt’s footsteps and I’ll be unplugging from the Internet from Tuesday July 1st up through Friday August 1st.

I’m using ChromeNanny to block all of my social media sites for the next month, I’ll be limiting the use of my smart phone, and I’ll be journaling how it all goes as best I can so that I can report my findings to you all when I get back. I’ll leave you with the words of a much more talented writer than I, Mr. Oswalt himself:

“I want to de-atrophy the muscles I once had. The ones I used to charge through books, sprint through films, amble pleasantly through a new music album or a human conversation. I’ve lost them — willingly, mind you. My fault. Got addicted to the empty endorphins of being online. So I need to dry out, and remind myself of the deeper tides I used to be able to swim in — in pages, and celluloid, and sounds, and people.” –Patton Oswalt on going “Radio Silent” for the summer.