Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Divergent - Another Poorly Done YA Novel Adaptation

Here we go again, another YA novel movie adaptation which tries to capitalize on the popularity of the Hunger Games but fails miserably.  This would be fine if it hadn't happened a bunch of times already (I’m looking at you Mortal Instruments).  Divergent capitalizes on the public’s current obsession with dystopian science fiction but fails to create a story which is either emotionally charged or particularly exciting 
                The story focuses on Beatrice, a citizen of the destroyed city of Chicago 100 years after the “end of the world”.  She lives in a society separated into five factions which are designed to keep people in line based on their personality traits.  Beatrice belongs to Abnegation which is the selfless class and the ruling government body.  However, at the age of 16 every member of society is allowed to choose which faction they wish to be a part of.  Once the decision is made, there is no going back.  Beatrice much decide between the safe decision of staying with her family or the hard decision of leaving them behind forever and joining the military faction Dauntless which she has always envied.  If she joins them and fails, she risks becoming faction-less and having to live on the streets with no food or shelter.              
                Before choosing, Beatrice is evaluated only to find out that she is a Divergent meaning she fits into not one but three categories.  Her evaluator hurries her out the door and tells her never to speak of this.  Divergents threaten the system which has kept this society in line for over a century and are thus eliminated.  When the time comes, Beatrice decides to join Dauntless and leaves her family behind to start her new life.  The trials are difficult but she manages to pick herself up after every fall and keep working at it, determined to succeed.  Eventually, Beatrice finds herself at the center of a plot to overthrow Abnegation by the intelligence faction Erudite.  Beatrice must work together with her Dauntless instructor Four to try and save her old faction. 
                The story has more holes in it than I know what to do with and was predictable from start to finish.  There are so many questions, which makes it difficult to take the concept seriously.  Why don’t the faction-less rise up and overthrow the others?  Why does no one have any desire to leave the city of Chicago?  Are there other settlements around the country or the world?  It’s been over 100 years since the end of civilization and no one has once thought about trying to contact other pockets of survivors?  Are we meant to believe that Chicago was the only place to survive?  And these are just the big questions!  Beatrice’s decision to leave her faction and join Dauntless is supposed to be emotional because she will never get to see her family again and yet she takes a Saturday stroll to see her brother in Erudite one afternoon as if it’s no big deal.  I could go on and on.  In the end, the issue is that humans are far more complex and free thinking than this system implies.  It just wouldn't hold up for the 100 years it has.  
                Now let me take a minute to confess that I haven’t read the books.  Many of these questions may be answered in subsequent sequels.  But the questions weren’t the only problem with the film.  The sub par romance between Beatrice and Four was predictable and completely unnecessary.  The films climax is over in 15 minutes and even that is far too long as a mind controlled Dauntless army stands ready to shoot every member of Abnegation awaiting only the Erudite leader’s final command.  But in typical Bond villain fashion, an exorbitant amount of time is wasted allowing Beatrice and Four to save the day.  
                Overall, the film felt hurried and poorly thought out.  When this genre is done correctly, it can make for an exciting film for all ages as in the case of movies like Enders Game or Percy Jackson and the Lightning Theif.  But Divergent was a prime example of a movie that left WAY too much to the imagination which for someone over the age of 18, was hard to overlook.  Unless you can relate to Beatrice on a personal level (i.e you’re a teenage girl who doesn't feel like she fits in, but can overcome any obstacle if she puts her mind to it) than the film just isn't for you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Noah - Slightly Embellished, But That's a Good Thing

Noah was a standard Russell Crowe epic with breathtaking effects and a story which was slightly embellished (this is Hollywood we’re talking about).  Personally, I am not a religious person so I had little knowledge of the story of Noah and the Ark besides the two of every animal detail which I’m sure almost everyone is aware of.  That being said, the film didn't
seem to stem too far from truth.  The tale begins with Noah as a boy witnessing the death of his father.  It shows that from an early age, Noah was made brutally aware of the evils of humanity.  Fast forward many years and we find an adult Noah who is living peacefully with his wife Naameh (played by Jennifer Connelly) and their three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  After having several dreams of a great flood and witnessing the growth of a flower at his feet, Noah decides to take his family to seek advice from his grandfather Methuselah.  After escaping the clutches of the same ruthless band of people who had a hand in his father’s death, Noah and his family make it to the scorched land inhabited by the Watchers, fallen angels who've lost touch with the Creator because of their willingness to help Adam and Eve after the Fall.  Along the way, they pick up the orphaned Ila (played by Emma Watson) and welcome her into their family.  After reaching the top of the mountain, Methuselah (expertly portrayed by Anthony Hopkins) informs Noah that he was chosen by the Creator to save the animals, the so called “innocents” from a great flood which is supposed to wipe out the Creator’s biggest mistake, humans.  Noah accepts and after planting a seed from the Garden of Eden, given to him by Methuselah, witnesses the immediate growth of a massive forest.  Upon seeing the work of the creator right before their eyes, the Watchers agree to help Noah build the Ark.  Throughout the course of the film Noah is faced with difficult choices and does his best to carry out the Creator’s wishes, even when it means potentially killing members of his own family.  While at first I was skeptical, the movie turned out to be very entertaining.  I enjoyed learning the back story of Noah’s lineage and Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Methuselah is worth the price of admission in and of itself.  Stunning visual effects and some emotionally charged moments between Noah and other members of his family contribute to the success of this film for sure.  Not only that, but the embellishments make the film feel more like a Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie than a biblical epic which is a good thing because if you are not a religious person, the movie can be a little much.  However, as with other stories from the Old Testament the fantastical elements make for a compelling and captivating film which was fun to watch and didn't just feel like a Sunday school lesson.

Songs from Today's Playlist

1. Heaven is a Truck - Pavement
2. Gladiator - The Jesus Lizard
3. Low Season - Bob Mould
4. Thin Twin - Hunters
5. Bent Nail - Nothing
6. No Below - Speedy Ortiz
7. Suffragette City - David Bowie
8. Lust for Life - The Stooges
9. This is Anarchy - Tacocat
10. Oliver Twisted - The Vaselines

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tacocat Issue Incredible Debut LP

Tacocat’s debut full length “NVM” is some spectacular alterna-pop.  The albums thirteen songs sound like a cross between the upbeat new wave of the Go-Go’s, the powerful indie rock of the Breeders, and the soft lighthearted 60’s surf rock of the Beach Boys.  The Seattle based four-piece is starting to burst out of the underground and garner some mainstream attention which is both a good and bad thing.    The members, in true DIY spirit, are all involved in side projects which are not only just as good as Tacocat, but contribute to a scene which has for decades now produced some of the best alternative music the world as ever seen.  Notable tracks include “Bridge to Hawaii” about escaping the dreariness of the northwest by building a bridge to the tropical paradise.  Poppy drums and simple alt riffs contribute to the catchiness of all of Tacocat’s songs, particularly on the 50’s style “Party Trap”  which sounds like something from the Grease soundtrack and is followed punk charged  “F.U. #8”.  The band gives its own take on the popular subject of anarchy in “This is Anarchy” which tackles millennial angst and frustration with the economy.  The riot grrrl charged “Hey Girl” is about the objectification of women and is the heaviest song on the record both in sound and subject matter.  Fans of bands like Dum Dum Girls, or Bleached will LOVE this album though the songs have something for every musical taste.  From start to finish, each and every song is just fun and catchy with great lyrics that make you want to dance around the room and smile.  Plus, their band name is fantastic.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Simply Superb Sequel

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was spectacular.  The follow up to 2012’s amazing Rise of the Planet of the Apes which rebooted the famed franchise, Dawn continues in the same vein with action packed tension and emotional depth.  Taking place ten years later, we find the world devastated by the Simian Flu, the deadly virus which kills humans and boosts apes intelligence that was shown spreading worldwide at the close of the first film.  Still in the woods outside San Francisco, Caesar has built a developed community and is the leader of a new generation of apes living in peace.  This is until a chance encounter between a group of humans led by a man named Malcom, and Caesar’s son Blue Eyes alongside a fellow ape.  One of the humans with Malcom shoots Blue Eyes’ friend and the group flees.  Caesar decides to lead a large number of apes to the human settlement in a show of force.  Riding into town on horseback and clearly establishing himself as the leader, Caesar addresses the human colony telling them if they stay on their land, the apes will stay on theirs.  This would be fine if it wasn’t for the hydroelectric damn near the ape’s village which the humans desperately need for power.  Malcom convinces their leader Dreyfus (played by Gary Oldman) to give him three days to attempt to make peace with Caesar.  Friendships are created and loyalties broken as Malcom and Caesar attempt to preserve peace contrary to the wishes of Dreyfus who arms the humans for conflict and Koba, Caesar’s second in command who despises humans for the treatment he received under their care before the outbreak.  The film is a cinematic triumph as you sympathize with both the apes and the humans.  Neither is in the wrong, and despite the emergence of one distinct villain over the course of the film, everyone involved is just trying to survive and make a life for themselves.  The scenes between Malcom and Caesar are by far some of the most powerful as Caesar comes to realize that there are plenty of decent humans left and that despite his na├»ve point of view, there are plenty of evil apes.  The film contrasts the societies of the apes and humans in wonderfully unique ways to show that while we are different, we are very much the same.  This realization of equality is all the more heart wrenching as the two sides fall deeper and deeper into a conflict which will inevitably lead to all-out war.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has proven that the first film was not a one hit wonder and that the newly revamped franchise is only going to get better and better.  The film is still playing in some theatres so go see it while you still have the chance!

Songs from this Morning

1. Hey Girl - Tacocat
2. Follow Me - The Coathangers
3. Psychic Trauma - Cloud Nothings
4. It Will Not Be Moved - Classics of Love
5. Scienceless - Lemuria

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cloud Nothings Deliver Powerful Follow Up to 2012's Attack on Memory

Cloud Nothings new LP Here and Nowhere Else is a sophisticated and logical follow up to 2012’s Attack on Memory.  Employing the same influences and sounds cultivated on their 2012 breakout, lead singer Dylan Baldi has proven that his band has not only done a 180 from where they began, but has carved out a nitch in the current indie-rock landscape which is sure to see continued success.  Much like Attack, Here and Nowhere Else’s eight tracks combine the forceful, gut punching drums of heavy metal with the blistering guitar riffs of punk.  Combined with Baldi’s uniquely shrill howl, the album is some truly fantastic modern rock and roll.  Lead in track “Now Here In” is reminiscent of The Men and has great tempo changes combined with a loud/quiet/loud song structure alongside some softer vocals from Baldi.  “Quieter Today” has heart stopping pauses which erupt into mind numbing explosions of lightning drums and a much shriller howl from Baldi.  “Psychic Trauma” starts out slower but transforms halfway through as Baldi shrieks into the mic as if it were his last time on stage.  By the end, his sincerity oozes from the speakers and finishes out the punkiest song on the album.  The poppier “Just See Fear” is the most radio friendly on the album and is followed by the rock heavy “Give Into Seeing” which has a forceful chorus that builds and builds and finishes with an echo-y verse that gains momentum with its repetition even as the song comes to a close.  “No Thoughts” is very reminiscent of the songs from Attack on Memory with a central guitar riff which is accentuated by several pauses of the rhythm section all leading up to Baldi’s loudest finish on the album which sees his voice so raspy and ready to break that you’d think he had laryngitis.  The 7 minute “Pattern Walks” shows that the band has not only settled in to their new sound extremely well, but that they are also not afraid to push the boundary.  Combining the best elements of every song on the album, the song is a powerhouse of modern indie-rock and sets Cloud Nothings apart from other bands.  The album closes with the chunky “I’m Not Part of Me” which has a catchy chorus and is a stand out stadium rock song that definitely sounds the most “mainstream” out of any other song on the album.  Overall, Cloud Nothings has put out a phenomenal release which follows up the incredible songs on Attack on Memory and shows that this is a band which is not only capable of making a dramatic change in their sound, but capable of evolving that sound and continuing to develop it on subsequent releases, something many bands struggle with.  One thing is certain, Cloud Nothings are here to stay and have proven that they are band whose genre bending rock and roll is a force to be reckoned with in the modern music landscape.