Careers Album Review: Chamber Band’s Changed, and That’s Okay.

•September 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Careers has been a long time coming. It all started with a humble Kickstarter: $6,500 in October 2014. One month later and $2,000 extra dollars, and the basis for an album was lain. One inspired by the Hunger Games. What a time to be alive.

Nearly a year later, and Careers is finished. And it’s one hell of a ride.

Careers launches off with a false sense of security. “Bakers Boy” is short and sweet, with a beautiful acoustic guitar and harmonies between Chris and Ellen. Think Deities’ “Sleep Charm” but with a little more bread. It felt like a lot more of what we saw on Deities, and that was okay by me. But then, the album launches into another dimension.

Chamber Band seems revitalized by the outpouring of support from their fans, and it shows in the album. The album’s second song, “Victory Tour” expresses this perfectly. It’s powerful, energetic, and borderline explosive, filled with massive power chords and a truly boisterous brass section. Their sound is fuller than ever before; Chamber Band has graduated from the sounds of a small basement full of dice and fantasy worlds (Deities), into a full blown force to reckoned with, crashing into the proverbial Capitol with all the force and passion of a roaring flame (Careers).

Careers is full of amazingly full songs like “Victory Tour.” But every song brings something new to the table. “Avox” channels a more experimental feel, with funky guitars overlaid on top of a groovy bassline and echoey, perfectly harmonized vocals. In “Old Enough,” Ellen Winter reminds me of Dolores O’Riordan in the best way possible, and her emotions seep through the speakers, painting the picture of a sad and truly angry woman thrust into an unfortunate and gut wrenching situation.

In fact, the true star of the album is Ellen. I always wondered exactly what she was capable of while listening to Deities. And boy oh boy, does she kill it in Careers. Her voice conveys emotion extremely well, which only adds to the beautifully written lyrics. She’s an extremely strong vocalist, commanding the listener’s attention as she spins her tales of love and loss. She steals every single song she’s a part of and takes it by the reins, and I’m excited to see what she does in the future.

While the music itself has matured and evolved since their last album, the lyrics shine through even more. Whereas in Deities many songs had to be analyzed to find their meaning, Careers wears its messages on its sleeve, and manages to speak to the heart of the matter, whether or not the listener is familiar with the Hunger Games universe. While Deities was set in Dungeons and Dragons by being explicit in its references, Careers is much more subtle in its allusions, opting to drop small hints here and there for fans to relish, while being completely accessible and impactful without them.

Careers is a storytelling album through and through, and puts Chamber Band up with the contemporary musical storytelling greats such as Ben Folds, Regina Spektor, and Death Cab for Cutie. The tales are varied and truly powerful. They are stories that speak to the modern world: stories of self doubt, insanity, troubled pasts, and children gone astray. “Victory Tour” and “Old Enough” are particularly gut wrenching, concerning the “fame” and “glory” of battle, and if wars are even worth winning. It’s chilling stuff, and it’s presented masterfully.

“Ignite,” the album’s final track, is truly stunning. It’s delicate-minor toned duet eventually explodes into a bright wash of colors and warm sounds, only to settle back down into its lonesome finale, ending the album with a punch to the gut, just like good literature should.

Now we get to the most intriguing parts of the album: the covers. In general there are very few covers that I think are truly great: it’s simply very hard to take another musician’s music, make it unique, and have it come even close to the original piece. Chamber Band chose two extremely ambitious and difficult songs to cover. The Wallflowers’ beloved “One Headlight,” and the one-of-a-kind Tom Waits’ “In The Colosseum.” Both of these songs are classics and dearly loved by many. When it comes to Waits, his voice is so hard to emulate and his style so unique that I would call anyone who tried to cover him insane.

However, Chamber Band handles these songs with such love and finesse and style that I daresay the rival the originals. They dive headfirst into the tunes, rearranging them into twisted, passionate romps. “In The Colosseum” particularly stands out: it’s so full of bawdy energy, morbid revelry, and a wonderful rustic nature that one can’t help but picture the band, scruffy and wild, dancing and spinning whilst recording.

I cannot express how superior Careers is to its predecessor. That’s not to say that Deities is a bad album by any stretch. All I’m saying is that it now serves as a stepping stone to a much greater, deeper, more engaging album.

It’s so rare in the modern age of over-stimulation and content-overload to find something truly unique. I found that special uniqueness in Deities, but Careers bumps it to the next level on all fronts. The music is experimental, breaking out of the “indie rock” mold and into a mature and stunning piece of musical literature. Chamber Band has outdone themselves in every possible way, and they can only go up from here.


A Retrospective on Eleanor Rigby

•January 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When I was much younger, I loved The Beatles. As the years have gone by I’ve moved away from them, turning to other genres and artists, and I’ve never really gone back. The Beatles’s place in my “favorite band of all time” slot has been replaced with Led Zeppelin, or Death Cab for Cutie.

Regardless, while talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a fellow music lover, The Beatles were brought up in our conversation. He happened to be a huge Beatles fan, going so far as to say that Sgt. Pepper’s is one of the best albums of all time. This conversation reminded me of the Fab Four, and I decided to give their music another shot. It has been at least five years or more since I last listened to them, and even longer since I had listened regularly.

(Just as an aside, I do believe that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a good album. A great one actually, but I don’t believe it is one of the best. Sorry.)

wallpaper Sgt Peppers

Looking through my relatively small collection of Beatles songs, I came across Eleanor Rigby.

Man, that brought back some memories. When I was little, I had a special love of a few Beatles songs, namely Eleanor Rigby, All You Need is Love, Good Morning, and Paperback Writer. Of all the songs the Beatles ever produced, Eleanor Rigby still stands as one of my favorites.

When I chose to write this piece, I decided to pick a song I hadn’t listened to in a very long time and write about it. Write about how it made me feel, what it meant to me, or how it affected me. The Beatles immediately came to mind, and I quickly decided on Eleanor Rigby as my song of choice. That got me wondering what it was about this song that resonated with me so much that I knew I had to write about it without any hesitation.

To be honest, it was the lyrics. When I was in elementary school, the lyrics always confused and intrigued me. I didn’t understand what half of them were portraying, but they always fascinated me. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. The slice of life, vignette style portrayal of “all the lonely people” was captivating.

A lot of the metaphors of the song were lost on me. Eleanor “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door” wasn’t symbolic of anything: I thought it was a mask of some kind. Regardless, that became one of my favorite lines in the entire song. It was poetic and strange. The wonderful mixture of strange people, euphemisms, and symbolism had me listening to the song on repeat, totally pulled into the drab, gray, and lonely world that had been created.

The sad, almost longing tone of the song pulled me in as well. Up to that point in my life, most of the songs I had listened to had been happy, upbeat galivants. Eleanor Rigby was different. It painted a picture of lonely, sad people whose lives were intertwined. The whole song felt gray to me, as if the world I was hearing was perpetually cloudy.

That’s why it really resonated with me, even though I didn’t know it. It showed me that all songs didn’t have to be happy or joyous. They didn’t even have to use conventional “rock and roll” instruments. (Eleanor Rigby consists of nothing but The Beatles’ voices, and a small orchestra). It showed me that songs could be used as storytelling devices, and could portray characters and situations, real or fictitious. It really broadened my idea of what music can be, and what it can portray.

While I may not be as crazy about The Beatles as I used to, I still have a love for this song many years later. I listened to it many times while writing this, and haven’t grown tired of it yet. I really do attribute this song to broadening my view of music, and  how it’s more than just fun things to play on the radio. Music is an art form: a way of expressing oneself. Music is a way to tell stories, and share the human experience. It transcends cultures and times. Truly, it is one of the most powerful forces that can be created, and that’s why it demands to be made.


Why Black Friday is Horrible

•December 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For those of you who know me, I very much dislike Black Friday. I refuse to participate in the ridiculous, greedy madness that somehow manages to turn normal, civilized people into monsters, willing to fistfight and trample to save $50 on a Wii that they don’t really need, rather than focussing on what Christmas is really about (cheesy, I know).

Black Friday started out innocent  enough, as a holiday. Originally, stores opened up at 6 A.M. the day after thanksgiving, letting people get the deals they so desperately crave. I have no problem with this, for the most part. I don’t think people should go as crazy as they do over savings on Christmas gifts, and I wouldn’t go out myself, but to each their own.


However, I do feel that in the extreme consumerist society we Americans have that Christmas’ true meaning has been overshadowed by our collective drive to spend spend spend, rather than enjoying the act of giving things. More importantly than that, Christmas is a holiday that should be celebrated with family and friends. That element of the holiday has been steadily becoming less important as the big companies constantly push us to buy more things, and give them more money.


Now, here’s the thing about Black Friday that bothers me the most: stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day now, sometimes as early as 6 PM, in the case of Wal-Mart. This is what sickens me the most.


Think of it this way: massive, multi-billion dollar companies are so desperate to take more money from the consumers that they are willing to make their employees work on Thanksgiving, a national holiday that’s devoted to family time. Rather than spending much needed time with their families, employees must work service jobs, which are already hard enough, and have to put up with people who have shed their humanity and degraded to fistfighting in the aisles. I can’t think of a worse way to spend any day, much less Thanksgiving.


Luckily, the companies have yet to bastardise Thanksgiving: there is no such thing as “Black Thursday” yet, but I fear there soon will be. Slowly, the greed that has spread through our culture is taking over every holiday, demolishing their true meaning and transforming them into unabashed cash grabs from companies that frankly, don’t need any more money than they already have. And we, the people, are feeding this horrible machine with our wallets and time, turning something like Black Friday, which shouldn’t exist in the first place, into a viable marketing strategy to make more money.


Now, I know I won’t change anything by sending this rant out into the internet; I won’t change anything by not participating in the Black Friday madness. But it’s the sentiment that counts. During a season where it’s easy to get wrapped up in the gift buying frenzy, I think it helps to step back and try to remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Not as a time for getting things you want, not as a time to get the “best deals of the season”, but as a time to enjoy your family. It’s a time to be happy, talk, eat, play, and see the people who really matter in your life: Your family. That’s what really makes the difference.

Press X To Ruin a Moment

•November 28, 2014 • 1 Comment

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of “Call Of Duty”. The super popular video game franchise has taken the world by storm, and gathered both critical acclaim and criticism. What started out as a World War II Shooter back in 2003 has morphed into one of the highest selling game franchises ever, selling million of units each and every year. Spanning eight systems and almost 30 entries, Call of Duty (CoD) is a force to be reckoned with.


CoD is often ridiculed for it’s lackluster single player mode, being called little more than a four hour linear shooting galleries with bad plots and little creativity. But recently the campaign for the newest entry in the franchise, Advanced Warfare, has been gaining criticism for one moment in particular.


Allow me to set the scene. The main character’s good friend has been killed in battle, and they are attending the funeral. The moment is somber, and one of your fellow soldiers just gave a eulogy in your friend’s honor. Then, you see this.




And you’re instantly pulled out of the moment. It’s honestly kind of distasteful. Taking something as sad and sacred as a funeral, for a soldier no less, and making it into a measly button press shuts down any moment of nuance, decency, or impact that this scene could have.


It takes something that could have meant a lot to the player from a story perspective, and turned it from emotionally impactful moment, to a moment of “gameplay”.


And here emerges the problem that reaches far beyond a silly button press in a Call of Duty game: That AAA games can’t let the player have any moment without their interaction. They fear that the player may lose interest, or not be paying attention. How do they remedy this? They make the player push a button to pay respects at a funeral. They marginalize a moment with interactivity.


Granted, not all AAA games are this way. The Last Of Us, which is one of the greatest examples of storytelling through video games, never had to resort to button prompts to convey it’s impactful moments. They were shown to the player in cutscenes and through gameplay, without needing to be interactive to the player. The moment that I remember most from The Last of Us came in the final moments of the game. I won’t spoil it here, but I can safely say that tears were streaming down my face, and the choices I made were my own. There was no prompting from the game, no black and white decision to be made. I handled the situation on my own, and the game gave me the freedom to do this.

What I’m saying is that videogames are an interactive medium, and that needs to be used in order to tell stories in a way that no other medium can. In a time when game developers are pushing the boundaries of what stories they can tell, and how they can impact the player, juvenile moments like the one in Call of Duty only serve as a step back. Game companies need to stop forcing players down a linear story in an attempt to be emotionally impactful, and start allowing players to make their own choices, connections, memories and experiences. They need to let the stories tell themselves, because this is the only medium that can do that. If storytelling is ever going to move forward, games need to start using it to their full extent. It’s been done before, and I hope it will be done many more times to come.

Deities Album Review

•October 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

Discovering Chamber Band was a happy accident. I first heard them on the podcast Gamerstable, where their songs were played as theme music in each week’s episodes for about a month. The podcast was one focused on Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games, a la Dungeons and Dragons, or Shadowrun. The lead singer of the nerdy quintet, Chris, actually came on the show to talk to the other members.


The first song I hear by Chamber Band was “Constitution, and I instantly fell in love. Rather than listen to the episode, I just listened to the intro song on repeat. I’ll get into why I loved the song in a bit, but from that point onward I was very much in love.


So, as a tribute to one of my favorite bands in recent memory, I figured I should write a review of their debut album, Deities. Rather than overall impressions, I will review each song individually, and then wrap up the review at the end.


Also, it should also be noted that Chamber Band is fairly steeped in nerd culture. The entire album is based in a Dungeons and Dragons world, and as such, the lyrics often reflect aspects and Deities from the world. This fact does not, however, keep those without and Dungeons and Dragons knowledge from enjoying the music. I listened the the album probably five or six times through before I caught on to the fantasy themed lyrics. The music can be appreciated on its own merits, and the nerdy references are just the icing on the musical cake.


Track One: Lawful Neutral




Lawful neutral opens with a mournful low piano, before kicking off into a drum fueled, syncopated romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s almost primal sounding drum beats keep the song pulsing, while the song subtly builds, adding more frantic instruments and extra parts until a  climax right at the end, followed by immediate silence. It actually leads to the next song quite well, even if the tone of the song doesn’t mix with the acoustic-indie feel of the rest of the album.


Track Two: Constitution




Now, onto the song that started it all. A song about an immortal adventurer, and the sorrows he puts his wife through in the process, this song is incredibly catchy. With a driving drum pulse, and a frantic, upbeat pace this song is everything you would want out of a feel good, happy, summer song. Seriously, this is one of the best songs on the album. All the instruments blend well with each other, building consistently as the song goes on to keep the energy going. I’ve listened to this song on repeat a lot, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. It just makes me feel good.


Track Three: Prophetic Heart




Prophetic heart is the shortest song on the entire album, clocking in at 1:48. This song is a little bit more understated than some of the others on Deities, using only drums, acoustic guitar, a little bit of bass, and what sounds like a xylophone. One of the strong suits of the entire album is Chamber Band’s ability to write lyrics with a multitude of emotions, and this is one of the lighter songs on the album. The lyrics focus on an unnamed protagonist as he falls in love. The only problem, is that he can see into the future. As his relationship with this girl goes on, he regrets never telling her about his clairvoyance. “Going down to the river for a summery day” they write, “I already know everything that she is going to say. But I play pretend, my nodding never ends…” The light hearted lyrics fit well with the song, and create an enjoyable, albeit brief journey, through the mind of a prophet.


Track Four: Yeenoghu




This song is another to add to the “lighthearted songs” list. This song is in the form of a prayer to Yeenoghu, a Demon God. The prayer is not only apologizing for turning away from his God, but also praying strenght to “go into town and steal the one I love away”. The song is in 5/4 time, and feels almost like an upbeat waltz. All the songs in Deities are very catchy, but this one ranks up towards the top. This song’s lyrics balance humorous self deprecation, where the singer almost begs to be destroyed, and heartwarming descriptions of how much he loves this girl. It’s definitely an offbeat song, and one of the highlights of the album.


Track Five: Shape Shifter




Shape Shifter is, in my opinion, the best song on the entirety of Deities. It takes everything that the band does best, and exemplifies it. The acoustic guitar part is intricate and beautiful, the the music swells into triumphant crescendos, and back to low key verses with ease. The harmonies are tight, and all the instruments blend exquisitely. The drums keep your head bobbing, and even the heavily distorted guitar succeeds in adding some hard rock influences, without overpowering the rest of the song. And then there’s the lyrics. Shape Shifter’s lyrics are great, and slightly heartbreaking. A lament about one’s lover never being satisfied with them, it’s a theme that many can relate to, and the Dungeons and Dragons elements only serve to add a little spice to an already stellar song. It’s sad, well written, triumphant, and shows Chamber Band at their finest.


Track Six: Hold onto Us




This is the first slow song on the album, and is much more minimalistic than the previous tracks. Consisting of two voices, a guitar, understated drums, and the occasional piano chord, Hold onto Us’ overall sound fits its lyrical themes of young love and wanderlust. It’s slow, calming, and beautiful to the ear. “With a feeling inside of, there is nothing to fear. As long as we hold onto us, the future is clear”. Part love song, part travel diary, Hold onto Us sounds almost melancholy, but infused with hope. And it works well.


Track Seven: Oh Io




Here’s another highlight of the album. Of all the songs on the album, this one is one of the most blatantly Dungeons and Dragons themed, but that doesn’t matter. This song is fantastic. A lament of a homesick lover, this songs builds incredibly, starting out with nothing but a guitar and a voice, and gaining intensity at full force until the end. Keeping with the theme of darn catchy songs, this one is no exception. The chorus is syncopated, and the bridge/ breakdown section may be my favorite part of the song. (Skip to 2:35 or so, and listen onwards from there to see what I’m talking about).  Also, I love the drums in this song. I don’t know why, but they stick out to me more than any of the other drum sections on the album. Seriously, this is one good song.


Track Eight: Petitioner




Now we get to the one ugly duckling of the album. Petitioner just doesn’t do it for me like the rest of the songs on Deities. It’s syncopated, and pretty hard rocky, which seems like something that Chamber Band is not best suited to do. I can’t place my finger on exactly why, but the song just kind of grates on me, and I find myself skipping it more than any other song on the entire album. Some listeners might find its manic intensity quite to their liking, but personally, I don’t much care for it.


Track Nine: Asmodeus:




Asmodeus is a beautiful song. It’s by far the most mellow and understated song on Deities, and that’s exactly the song it needs to be. Focussed on a lamenting lover who lost his partner to a cult, this song is haunting in both melody and sound. The dissonance here matches the sorrow of the singer, helping the listener to connect with him. And the lyrics are pure poetry. I won’t post an excerpt here, because they deserve to be heard as a whole. Needless to say, these lyrics could serve as a piece of poetry all by themselves, and they are only bolstered by the music.


Track Ten: God of Greed




God of Greed is the longest song an Deities, clocking in at a little over six minutes. And despite it being almost double the length of the other songs on the album, it fits in well with them. What starts off as a search for treasure quickly turns into a fight for the adventurer’s lives, and this song feels just as epic as the subject matter. Remember how I mentioned that the songs on Deities range from humorous to downright heart wrenching? This song one of the heart wrenching ones. It’s sad, and juggles the line between energetic and melancholy very well, keeping the listener engaged not only in the story that Chamber Band is telling, but in the music itself.


Track Eleven: Sleep Charm




Now, we come to the final song of the album, and Sleep Charm feels like it’s the band’s way of saying goodbye. Its quiet, and filled with love, both from the band, and the characters in the song. The relationship described in the song is intricate, and changes over time. I won’t say anymore, but the story told in Sleep Charm is one of my favorites on the album. The harmonies between the singers are beautiful, and just help to relax the listener. It’s a perfect ending to a stellar album.


Deities is one of my favorite albums in a long while. I always judge how much I like an album by when I am in the mood to listen to it. With most of my favorite bands, I am always in the mood to listen to them. Chamber Band is no exception. It’s been almost a year since I first listened to Deities, and I still play it frequently. The music is intricate enough to not wear out over multiple listens, and I love the subject matter of the album, both from the Dungeons and Dragons standpoint, and storytelling aspects as well. Seriously, listen to this album. It transcends the nerd culture, and is just darn good music.




(Chamber Band can be found here.)

Maze Runner Review

•October 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(Keep in mind before reading this review that I have not actually read the Maze Runner book. I’ve only seen the movie, but from what I can tell, the movie is quite true to the book. As such, I won’t be assessing how close the maze Runner sticks with its source material. Regardless, on with the review.)


The Maze Runner is exactly what one would expect from a summer blockbuster based on a young adult book. It’s fast paced, filled with an unhealthy amount of teen angst, has romantic undertones, and focusses on a group of teenagers rebelling against some horrible, evil corporation. Think Hunger Games, or Divergent, or any super popular teen book series that has come out within the last few years the doesn’t involve vampires.The movie is quite like a maze, actually. The experience is fun while it lasts, but afterwards has no lasting impact on you or your life: a meaningless, entertaining distraction.

the-maze-runner poster

The Maze Runner open abruptly, with our intrepid hero Thomas riding up an industrial elevator filled with supplies. He’s confused, and has a nasty case of amnesia. There’s not much exposition in the first few minutes of the movie, and the viewer really feels the sense of confusion that Thomas does. Heck, he doesn’t even know his own name until at least ten minutes into the film. Up until that point, the other characters just call him “Green Bean”. I found this nickname a bit annoying, really. The entire movie so far had a serious, almost “Lord of the Flies” feeling to it, and to hear the other characters use such a dumb nickname for a newcomer pulled me out of the experience a bit.


Anyway, the elevator comes to a stop, and open to reveal a bunch of teenage boys standing around our confused hero. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, the world is established. The other boys are trapped in a large, square glade surrounded by massive, vine covered walls, which lead to a Maze. Everything the boys need to survive can be found in the area where they stay, dubbed ‘The Glade”. Any additional supplies are sent up the mysterious elevator, along with an occasional new recruit.


Each boy has a specific job in the community, and the society they had build reminded me of what would have happened in Lord of the Flies if the kids hadn’t been massive jerks to each other all the time. And if they hadn’t murdered each other. That would have helped too.

mazerunnerpoint group

Every day, an elite set of boys, called Maze Runners, run into the maze to try to map it out, and find an escape route. Every night, the entrances to the maze close, and the maze rearranges itself. Every night, monstrous creatures called Greavers are released into the maze to ward off and hunt down an stragglers who didn’t return to the Glade in time.


Eventually, Thomas becomes a runner, and that’s where the movie really kicks off. After that point, the movie kicks itself into high gear, pumping up the adrenaline and raising the stakes at every turn. And to be honest, some of the chase scenes through the maze, or fights with the Greavers were very tense. I knew that the writers wouldn’t kill off Thomas, but I couldn’t help tensing up a bit at every narrow escape or marginal victory, and celebrating with the characters in times of triumph.


Keep in mind, this movie is far from perfect. The source material is a novel written for a middle grade (13+ years old) audience, and that fact really shows in the movie. Now, I’m not criticizing middle grade novels: some of my favorite books of all time ( see Skullduggery Pleasant and Un Lun Dun) were written for this audience. But, books like that have their shortcomings that tend to be lost on their intended audience. There are some gaping plot holes, and the Greavers are extremely poorly explained. Maybe their origin and purpose will be explained in the later movie, but as it sits right now, I felt more confusion over the Greavers than fear.


And trust me, there will be sequels. There are still 3 more books to get through, and the movie has no problem shamelessly setting up for the sequel. The ending is extremely open ended, and honestly threw me off a little bit.


Oh, and then there’s the plot twist. Oh Lord, don’t even get me started on the plot twist. The last ten minutes of the film raised more questions than the rest of the movie combined. It added a whole other layer to the film that just felt like it was placed there to pander to what’s popular in teen literature these days. If it isn’t supernatural love triangles, it’s evil corporations to rebel against.


Don’t get me wrong, twists can be done masterfully, and in a way that adds ambiguity that benefits the film. Twist endings can also add extra layers to already complex films, requiring the viewer to re-evaluate the movie, and the information that was presented to them. They can be used make the viewer take a more active part in the film watching experience, often prompting multiple viewings, and careful examination to fully decode the film. (See Fight Club, Moon, The Prisoner’s, Donnie Darko, etc.)


The Maze Runner did none of these things. The ending was wholly unsatisfying, and was the low point for the entire movie. More than that, it didn’t achieve what a movie ending should do:  wrap up the film and give the viewer a sense of completion.


I didn’t go into the Maze Runner with high expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised overall. I hadn’t heard too many good things from reviewers and other friends, but I decided to go anyway on a whim. Glaring plot holes and poor explanation aside, I enjoyed the movie. I wouldn’t say it was “good”, but it was “fun”.


Here’s what I’ve been saying to others: If it was playing on TV, I wouldn’t turn it off, but I wouldn’t devote a lot of time to sit down and watch it. It’s the type of movie to see if you have nothing better to watch, but don’t go out of your way to see it.



Mud Review

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

After watching Mud for the second time, I feel that I can finally put my thoughts into a coherent enough string of ideas that I can call this a “review”. Unlike my review of Donnie Darko, this is going to be less of a rambly, glory-singing praise of a movie, and more of a critique of a very good one. (Expect a lot of glory-singing from my How to Train Your Dragon 2 review that should be coming out here shortly). So, let’s get started, shall we?

Mud Poster

Mud takes place in Arkansas, and focuses on two 14 year old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, as they stumble across a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey), who calls himself Mud. They make a pact with him to help him reunite with an old lover, evade his pursuers, and escape his muddy past. (Insert lame laugh here). The boys get more and more entwined in Mud’s mystery, and the strange circumstances surrounding him.

Mud is a hard movie to classify into a genre, simply because it pulls from many without ever fully dedicating itself to one. While this may sound like a criticism, it gives the movie a realistic feel without becoming too depressing or gritty. It’s part thriller, that builds so slowly that I didn’t notice until the tension comes to its boiling conclusion, and felt like the next logical step for the story. It’s part coming of age story, as Ellis and Neckbone discover that no one is wholly good or evil, and that pasts are a force to be reckoned with. Finally, it’s part slice of life, focusing on the odd quirks and daily occurrences of dirt poor families living in the middle of nowhere, where a river is their livelihood and their lifeblood.

Mud Screenshot

And while many thrillers can get so obsessed with their own plots that all other aspects of the film suffer, Mud is able to juggle side plots and characters well, and keep them (mostly) up to par with the main conflict of the movie. There’s a special way that these sub plots interact with the movie, making them feel like the character defining experiences they are, rather than just tidbits tacked on to add a false sense of complexity. My only complaint was that the love interest between Ellis and May Pearl, an older high school girl that Ellis saves from a bully , felt under developed, and only served to add to the  theme of passion and romantic despair.

That’s something that is prevalent in this movie as well. Mud’s criminal past is related to a crime of passion, and Ellis’ parents are going through a divorce that will leave him and his father out of their beloved house on the river. This, and Ellis’ relationship with May Pearl have an impact on him that makes him feel less like a movie character, and more like a real teenager faced with circumstances out of his control.

I felt like the romantic theme could have been used to make some sort of point about passion or love. If there is a point being made here, it wasn’t communicated well enough for me to be able to pull it out. Snakes and tattoos were also common images in this movie, but they were also never used to their full symbolic potential, leaving them skittering around the borders of artistic merit, without ever becoming something I could critically analyse after the credits rolled.

The ending to this movie was one of my favorites in a long time, just based on how well it wrapped up the movie in a way that fit the sleepy tone of the rest of the rest. It left just enough ambiguity to make the film feel like a true slice of life movie, without leaving you feeling as if there was more story to be told.

All in all, Mud was a very good movie. Was it something made to make a point or change your worldview? No, but that wasn’t it’s purpose. It set out to be a slightly gritty coming of age story about love, loss, crime, and just being a teen. And in this respect, it succeeded on all fronts. The acting was stellar, and the soundtrack stuck out to me more than in most films. Definitely one of the better films I have had the pleasure of watching recently. It’s available to stream on Netflix right now.


8.6/ 10

Mud Boat Tree