Lana Del Rey’s new album Ultraviolence is excellent. With songs like “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” and “Money Power Glory,” she lays down insane critiques of society while stopping to coo gently for the men who are still caught up looking at her lips.
It’s no surprise that her album is good. Her last album was too. She’s a killer songwriter but more than anything she’s a master at creating tension between the tone and content of her songs.
In one of her first big singles, “Video Games,” she sings, “I’m in his favorite sun dress/Watching me get undressed/Take that body downtown/I say, You the bestest./Lean in for a big kiss/Put his favorite perfume on/Go play a video game.” The lyrics make it sound like a love song, an ode to this man who she tries so hard to please. But her voice is bored as hell. She hates this guy. All he wants to do is play video games.
In “Money Power Glory,” she sings, “I want money, power and glory/I want money and all your power, all your glory/Hallelujah, I wanna take you for all that you got/Hallelujah, I’m gonna take them for all that they got.” If you don’t listen to the lyrics, it sounds like any other moody pop song. Her voice is breathy and ultra-feminine, even sweet. But then when you listen to what she’s saying, you’re like holy shit. It’s like she wrote a song in the voice of Muammar Gaddafi. Not your typical pop fare.
And then you realize, for just a minute, how weird it is to think of a woman wanting money, power and glory. Cuz, historically at least, that’s a man thing.
If you sit with Lana for awhile, you’re going to see some critiques of men, all delivered with lyrical complexity and whipped cream and a cherry on top. There’s something so interesting to me about this long-haired, gorgeous vixen sitting there critiquing men by playing dress up. Meanwhile men aren’t listening much to her because they are saying things like this about her:
-She’s so inauthentic. Her name is actually Lizzy Grant. As if half of pop stars don’t have stage names.
-She can’t sing. Crap maybe she’ll never make it to round 2 on The Voice!
-She’s shallow. Get back to your Iggy Azalea.
-She probably doesn’t write her own songs.
That’s the one that kills me most. If you listen to her songs, each one has a very distinct LDR stamp, because she writes songs like no one else. They’re all super lyrical — on Born to Die she was practically rapping she had so much to say. She slows it down on Ultraviolence, but only so she can play with repetition in new, interesting ways.
Plus you can just look at Wikipedia and see that she’s the first writer on all of her songs. She’s not just waiting around for the next song that Rihanna rejects from Skylar Grey.
It’s just tough for people to believe women can be both hot and smart, even in this day and age.
But if you’re a man and you don’t like Lana Del Rey, that’s ok. Just consider that maybe her music isn’t necessarily for you. I know it might be confusing because she’s pretty and has big lips. But her music is moody and dives deep into what being a woman is like. I don’t expect my boyfriend to drive around all summer spinning her album, thinking about all the complexities of romantic relationships and power dynamics of sexism. That’s ok!
But chill out before you troll on this particular female artist. She is different/weird/bold/risky and definitely sticking around. And that’s good.
In the short period between breaking up with my boyfriend and settling into a new apartment I’ve experienced every feeling on the emotional spectrum.
I picked up smoking cigarettes again, which could mean something existential but mostly just means another drain on my bank account.
I’ve started, and given up on, three separate books.
In the afternoons and evenings I spend a few hours at the apartment I shared with my ex boyfriend, attempting to pack, using the computer, showering. Nothing seems to change each time I come back. The same beer cans, socks on the floor. A pair of my underwear.
I don’t know how to remove myself from this place.
The hole he punched in the wall the first time we broke up just hangs there, echoing. A piece from a museum or a grave marking.
Here Lies the Beginning of the End.
I feed the cat, the cat eats, the cat disappears out the window.
The deli down the block blew up a few days ago.
I walk by the boarded up remains and wonder, “meth lab.”
So instead of there I buy my cigarettes at a smoke shop the same distance away in a different direction.
One night I pay with my card and the guy says he has to charge tax and I say it’s fine and he says it’s still cheaper than the other places and then he says “but you know what they say, cash is king.”
Cash is king.
Each day it feels harder to keep going like this. The air sticks to my skin with a tighter grasp than it did in the beginning. I wander around manhattan, just wander. Put off going anywhere specific. Eat a sandwich in front of a movie theater. It feels good to be aimless. Then sit in the hot apartment, choking, but I can’t leave.
Once a year I change my life drastically only to learn it’s hard being alive no matter what you’re doing. Get scared, jumped into the deep end only to realize I can’t swim, but it’s too late. Time moves one direction. You don’t get younger.
Wander the streets of Manhattan looking for magic. The hot air feels familiar. I remember emotions in my fingertips but it is just remembering.
I remember how to feel passionate but I am not passionate.
So it rains, so I shower, so I sleep in unfamiliar beds. My chest tightens in unfamiliar ways. The air is clouded, I have trouble distinguishing whether or not I am dreaming. Lights change color. I wish for more storms. So here I am. So here I am in limbo, in dreamland where my friends feel like ghosts.
Where my days feel like long, twisted jokes with no punchlines.
Last night I ran into my landlord on the stoop.
She was “just chillin,” her words.
I told her about the break up and she seemed to understand.
Somebody she knew passed by and they chatted for a minute.
Afterwards she told me she was sick of people taking advantage of her.
She said she’s going through so much shit and there’s nobody trying to help her.
She said she’s so tired.
She said at some point, you just realize like, you don’t have anybody. Nobody gives a shit. You’re on your own.
She said the building is going into foreclosure and nobody gives a shit.
I didn’t know the place was going into foreclosure.
One day when I was a little kid, I was at my grandma’s house being watched by a few of my aunts and uncles in their early 20s. A commercial for a new flavor of ice cream came on TV, and everyone agreed it looked good. My uncle went out, got in the car, bought some ice cream, and brought it back. As we ate it, I thought, “So this is what it means to be an adult. When you want something, you just go get it.”
I remembered that afternoon tonight as I got in my car to drive from Minneapolis to Hudson, Wisconsin. It’s Sunday, which means that Minnesota liquor stores are closed by law: if you want to buy some beer, you can either go to a bar or go to Wisconsin. I wanted to fill the fridge, so I pointed my Taurus toward the St. Croix River.
Even more than the beer, really, I wanted to drive for a while on the open highway in the setting sun. Most days I take my car to work in St. Paul, but that’s rush-hour city driving. To distract myself and to allay the frustration, I usually listen to audiobooks while commuting. Tonight, I wanted to roll my windows down and listen to some loud music.
Working on the Internet, you grow accustomed to a floating, rootless feeling: news from the other side of the world bumps up against tweets from five feet away, and the sun never sets. Driving through fields of soybeans at Minnesota’s eastern edge, I felt acutely in and of a particular place and time—a time in history that was slipping away with the sunlight.
When sociologist Orlando Patterson asked Americans, a few years ago, what activities they associate with freedom, he was disappointed to find that very few mentioned voting or exercising their first-amendment right to free speech. Instead, most of his respondents talked about their cars. Americans love to drive, and to many of us, our cars are the most tangible representations of what we consider freedom.
Will that last? It seems unlikely that it will, alternative-fuel technology notwithstanding. Our car culture—especially our fossil-fueled car culture—is unsustainable, and if we survive the next several decades of global warming, our great-great-grandchildren certainly won’t be hopping in their Fords to combust fuel as casually as we do now. The American age of the automobile is waning, and we’ll need to find another way to feel free.
Almost certainly much nearer in the future is the demise of the blue law banning Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota. After decades of shoulder-shrugging, a new generation of Minnesotans with a more acute perspective on the absurdity of this puritan law are agitating for its repeal. Whether or not that happens before Super Bowl XXVI shines the international spotlight on our Sabbath-day dryness, the change seems inevitable. My first Sunday border beer run might turn out to have been my last.
Though I’d crossed that border to Wisconsin innumerable times, I’d never done so on Sunday explicitly with alcohol purchase in mind. I realized, when I got to Wisconsin, that I’d subconsciously expected Wisconsinites to be waiting at the roadside with bushels of booze at pop-up establishments like produce stands. Instead, when I chose what looked like the first exit, I had to drive past several Hudson hotels before I found a strip-mall liquor store.
I pulled in next to another car from Minnesota, which contained the only other customer browsing the beer coolers. I grabbed a case of New Glarus Spotted Cow, an ale that holds mythic status in Minnesota because it isn’t distributed outside Wisconsin. “You can take it there to drink it,” said the clerk when she saw my Gopher State ID, “but you can’t take it there to sell it.”
Obeying her injunction, I brought the bottles back and stashed them in a private refrigerator, to be enjoyed exclusively by me, my girlfriend, and maybe our neighbors if they come to hang out on the shared porch where we’re now tapping on our laptops while sipping Spotted Cow. I wanted this beer, so I got in my car and went to get it, because I could.
It’s a beautiful Minnesota night circa summer 2014, and there will never be another quite like it.
Appropriately for a franchise centering on robots with the ability to dramatically change their appearance, the Transformers stories have evolved from a small toy line and gently absurd comic—created, on Hasbro’s order, to provide a new American narrative involving pre-existing toy molds from Japan—into a series of four increasingly gargantuan feature films directed by Michael Bay.
Really, it hardly seems appropriate to call Transformers: Age of Extinction a “movie” at all. It’s more akin to an IMAX symphony: a symphony in the mode of Mahler, sprawling and clamoring, disdaining conventional niceties of structure and development in favor of its own logic of scaffolded, massive happenings.
There’s a plot, but there might as well not be: it’s clear that Bay is not going to be bound by time, place, or character when it comes to doing precisely what he wants to do with $165 million. For the fifth Transformers film, Bay really ought to abandon a conventional plot altogether and just make a three-hour battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron (now Galvatron, in an increasingly rare nod to the first-generation continuity).
Then, we could be spared the mockery of character development we’re subjected to in Age of Extinction, as hot-single-dad Cade (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to let go of hot-teen-daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). We could also let go of the ethnic stereotypes that, in what I can only interpret as an anti-PC fuck-you, are actually dialed up from the original comics and cartoons. We used to have the black Transformer, the Brooklyn Transformer, and the British Transformer; now we have the Samurai Transformer (Ken Watanabe), the Hogan’s Heroes Transformer (John Goodman), and the exaggeratedly black Transformer (Reno Wilson).
What makes Age of Extinction compelling, in its way, is Bay’s total commitment to spectacle. As Transformers and humans slide down buildings, jet into the stratosphere, and barrel through countless windows, Bay’s camera flits around like a paparazzo. There are a lot of flying shards of things in Age of Extinction, and the motion frequently slows down so we can fully appreciate the detail of Bay’s digital creations. Even the light seems computer-generated: 3D lens flares seem as tangible as beach balls.
I say “spectacle” rather than “thrills” or “excitement,” because though the tempo of Age of Extinction is consistently high (except in the excruciating scenes of would-be family drama, as Walhberg makes wincingly meta references to his daughter’s tiny Daisy Dukes), Bay—seemingly by choice—foregoes almost every opportunity to create a genuinely suspenseful situation.
Only one scene, as Walhberg is chased down the terraced exterior of a Hong Kong apartment complex by a CIA officer, is sufficiently anchored in tangible space and time for the audience to become invested in what falls where; another promising scene, as humans crawl along vertiginously high moorings between a spaceship and the Sears Tower, disintegrates into jump cuts and whiny, gendered dialogue (Dad, Boyfriend, and Daughter venture forth; guess which one gets scared? Bingo!) until a Transformer comes along to bring us back to our regularly scheduled commotion.
Towards the end, the super-size Dinobots are summoned, but they’re almost incidental: the climactic showpiece of the film is a sequence that has a powerful spaceship sucking ships and cars up into its maw, then dropping them several hundred feet to rain down on the implausibly lucky human characters below. The soundtrack throbs and buzzes, theater seats shaking as objects the size of small skyscrapers pound against the ground. To continue the symphonic simile, this is Bay’s Ode to Joy.
Transformers: Age of Extinction represents Michael Bay turning the Michael-Bay to 11. It’s an extreme film, and moviegoers looking for this particular brand of extreme experience won’t want to miss it. Moviegoers looking for an actual movie may want to look elsewhere.
Jersey Boys, the 2005 jukebox musical that tells the (more or less) true story of Frankie Valli, is one of the sturdiest and most enjoyable Broadway shows of its type. Focusing on the relationships among the Four Seasons—in particular between Valli and guitarist Tommy DeVito—gives writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice room to explore resonant themes of trust and betrayal that go beyond the daddy issues, drug abuse, and lost love that generally provide fodder for this sort of show. It also grounds the show in a specific place and time…or, really, in the timeless milieu of “Jersey.”
Clint Eastwood’s new film adaptation seems to be aimed at bridging the gap between Jersey Boys on Broadway and Goodfellas in the cinema, but that’s a long gap to bridge, and Eastwood falls short somewhere north of Newark. The swift pace and broad caricatures that help Jersey Boys play well on stage feel rushed and off-putting when translated to the screen. The film never comes near being convincing as a gritty slice of life, but Eastwood’s efforts in that direction weigh down the musical scenes and would-be lighter moments. Though the plot is more than sufficient to tie a string of songs together onstage, there’s not enough substance in this script to fuel the quiet close-ups Eastwood positions as emotional apotheoses.
Eastwood is indisputably a gifted director, with some fine films under his belt, but these days it’s hard to separate his filmmaking from his bizarro interview with Obama-as-chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Was Eastwood drawn to this material because it seems to valorize individual responsibility and hard work, the personal traits that Republicans think can do the work of a progressive tax code? Did Eastwood’s GOP friends guffaw at the flamboyantly gay Bob Crewe, as played by Mike Doyle?
Notwithstanding the fact that co-writer Elice is gay, I couldn’t help squirming at the laugh line when Crewe tells the Four Seasons they’re in trouble if they need to have him explaining the lyrics of a song about being wrapped around a girl’s finger; Crewe isn’t just a gay character, he’s the Gay Character. That’s in keeping, of course, with a film that also has the Alcoholic Mother, the Wayward Teen, the Awkward Virgin, and…well, I won’t give away the other stereotypes. You can see the film and enjoy them for yourself.
Will your parents and grandparents like Jersey Boys? Yeah, probably. The source material is too solid for Eastwood to entirely ruin it, and no movie co-starring Christopher Walken can be all bad. Even if the musical scenes don’t soar, the music itself is timeless, and anyone whose youth was soundtracked by the Four Seasons’ harmonies will still feel their power. The shame is that Jersey Boys isn’t anything more than an exercise in nostalgia. The songs, if not the boys, deserve better than this.