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star ratings systems suck.

I don’t normally write about things I don’t like, but I just need to share my hatred of star rating systems, today. Everyone has those little things that bother them more than they should, and this is one of my things.

The reason why things connect with you, and why they don’t, is vastly complex. There is often no way to know if you didn’t like a movie, book, etc., because it was poorly and unimaginatively made, or if it was because it just didn’t happen to connect with you. It’s even possible it just didn’t connect with you on that particular day, and that if you watched it on some other day you would have loved it. Even if we truly did hate something, the arrogance it takes to believe that we are the sole arbiter of whether or not something is worthwhile is amazing to me.

The idea that with a few seconds of thought, we can sum up someone else’s passion, sweat, and work with a number stars, and that this is somehow adequate, pisses me off. It’s the height of arrogance to presume that we can judge someone else’s work that flippantly anyway, especially because the vast majority of us have never created anything, much less submitted it to the world for appraisal. It’s stupid, plain and simple.

More and more, I think that at the center of a well-lived life works curiosity. Yet, more and more, we live in a world that shuts off that curiosity, that tells us that we should be pure consumers who judge everything on a spectrum ranging from Boo! to Meh. to Yay! Really? That’s the best we can do as we engage with art and beauty, or at least the attempt at the creation of art and beauty? I think we can do much better than that. I mean to.

You’re not merely a consumer, programmed to respond to things purely through a lens which helps others sell you things you might like. Your experience of art shouldn’t be belittled to the over-simplicity of how many stars you’d rate something on a scale of 1-5. It should be nuanced, complex, and should teach you as much, or more, about yourself as it does about whatever art you are engaging with. Even terrible work, when interacted with well, can teach you something wonderful in spite of itself. Yet, a consumeristic world can’t work that way, there is no room for genuine awe, wonder, and the ability to learn how to appreciate something you normally wouldn’t. Instead, it requires that you move from shiny object to shiny object, endlessly entertained but never truly engaged, quickly growing bored with your newest obsession so that you can move on to the next one.

You deserve more than that from life. More than summing up the beauty of life’s experiences based on how many stars you’d give it. And heaven forbid, maybe how much you enjoyed something isn’t the most important issue anyway, but that’s better saved for another post.

Ask better questions! You’ll be glad you did.


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i’m in love with movies. [five things 1.9.12]

This five things is movies I’ve seen lately that I think you should see, too. I haven’t had much chance to write lately, but I wanted all of my friends out there in the internets to have some recommendations from me. Here are movies that have a whole-hearted seal of approval because they enchanted, inspired, moved, and entertained me recently.

1. The Adventures of Tintin

This is the best adventure film I’ve seen in years. I loved every second of it. The motion-capture pushed past the uncanny valley and into truly compelling, beautiful visuals, with great performances by the actors being captured. If you’re in the mood for a detective adventure, skip Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and go see this instead.

Granted, there was a speech in the movie that felt like it was written in response to a conversation I had with Emily four or five days earlier, making the film deeply personal, but I was enjoying the hell out of it long before then.

I can’t believe that fucking Chipmunks 3 is making tons of money while this is floundering and failing. This is why we can’t have nice things America, this is why we can’t have nice things.


2. Another Earth

A new planet appears in the sky on the same night that a young girl makes a life-shattering mistake. The rest of the film carries on from there in a slow, emotionally suspenseful film that kept me on the edge of my seat far more than thrillers and horror movies do.

I always think it’s funny when people praise some piece of SciFi, most often Battlestar Galactica, by saying “It’s not like most SciFi, it’s more about people and politics and life than anything else.” Those people clearly know absolutely nothing about real SciFi. Classic (read ‘good’) Science Fiction is always using aliens, or robots, or spaceships to talk about something else. Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, Vonnegut, etc. etc. etc. It’s always about people, relationships, politics, the human condition. This film is a story that uses the big, exciting premise that another earth appears in our sky to tell a small, painfully human story about a girl who just wants another chance.   


3. The Secret of Kells

This movie is available on Netflix Instant, so most of you can watch it whenever you want. Please do. It’s a remarkably beautiful movie. The animation, which is rooted entirely in the aesthetic of Celtic spirituality and mythology, is reason enough to watch the film. Every frame is carefully crafted to illuminate a story which is itself about illumination.

It’s a wonderful film, which at times is dark and tragic. Yet, it has to be, because it is a story of the power of beauty, art, and faith to be a light in the darkness. This film genuinely was a light in my darkness over these last few weeks. I’m pretty sure it became another of my ‘once a year-ish’ movies.


4. The Artist

Sweet Lord. This film is pure, unadulterated cinematic joy. Almost entirely silent, and when it isn’t silent it is very intentionally and carefully done. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus is: “A crowd-pleasing tribute to the magic of silent cinema, The Artist is a clever, joyous film with delightful performances and visual style to spare.” I couldn’t agree more.

I was already in love with Jean Dujardin from his turn as OSS 117, but this seals the deal. If I ever meet him I will kiss him right on his french lips. That’s right folks, you read it here first. I want to kiss Jean Dujardin on the mouth. And Bernice Bejo, who was also delightful in the OSS 117 film Cairo: Nest of Spies, isn’t too shabby either… wee-ow!


5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The other films on the list were inspiring. This was just well-crafted bad-assery. It was simply flat out cool. I wasn’t as big a fan of the books as many, but watching this film I think I got it and felt what I’d been missing. For many, I think this story connected because deep down we wish there were violent champions for the weak against the villains and monsters.

Rooney Mara was absolutely electric.

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My Talented Friends: Gina Belliveau [The Band Wagon]

Gina Belliveau

A cold wind blows through the old growth pines, whose height towers above everything around them. They stand, stately and distinguished; weathered by years of abuse. Powerful storms have blown off of the cerulean blue Pacific, moisture laden and taut, the winds whipping at the thick, lichen covered bark. There is a natural and chaotic peace in this scene that comes from routine. Everything is in balance around this routine. There is green everywhere. The rain falls and the birds take shelter, singing songs from covered perches. No matter the weather, they sing. The song is the same, rain or shine. Beautifully accompanying the percussive patter of the rain. Their song rises and falls with the rain’s intensity. Singing from their shelter of hollowed out evergreens. These are the songs of Gina Belliveau. Drizzle and downpour all at once. Nuanced and in your face.

It feels very weird to be writing (read: boasting) about how talented and lovely a person Gina Belliveau is. She isn’t just another girl and a guitar. She isn’t just another girl. She’s a friend. A friend from back east. We were both (separately) “transposed” to the Pacific Northwest from Baltimore, as her ReverbNation profile indicates. She moved to Olympia with her husband Mike, who is a brave member of the United States Armed Forces. Formerly the bassist for Baltimore’s No Picnic!, Gina possesses immense talent. Now using the acoustic guitar as her main source of aural awesomeness, Gina has taken the percussive aspects of bass, and combined it with alternate tunings, looping, and delicate finger picking to create a style that one would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. — this is sounding cliche … ugh … here, just listen:

Gina Belliveau – Birdseed | Musicians Available


I really can’t do her justice. My words will always fall short when trying to capture the beauty of an image or song. That is why I am extremely happy there are people like Gina who see the world the way they do, and who can translate it so adeptly into beautiful songs. Her songs have depth, both musically and lyrically, and there is an urgency in her voice that invites us into the moment and into the beauty. Listen:

Gina Belliveau – Siren Song | Upload Music

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