Friday, June 28, 2013

The Heat | Directed by Paul Feig | Written by Katie Dippold

Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the same film? Whoever came up with this casting idea needs a party thrown in their honor.
When I first saw the trailer for The Heat, I immediately thought it was going to be a third Miss Congeniality, which I wouldn't have had a problem with. Though Sandra Bullock's character certainly isn't Gracie Hart, The Heat does resemble the Miss Congeniality films to some extents. Bullock's character is an FBI agent that strives to continue a  case and be promoted, but McCarthey's character is simply dedicated to clearing the streets of Boston of criminals, keeping her brother (who'd recently gotten out of jail) in mind. Much like in the Miss Congeniality movies, Bullock and her sidekick go to crazy extents to do their job and get into a little trouble while doing it. With that, fans of the Miss Congeniality movies will likely find satisfaction in this new comedy.
Nowadays, I feel like the people who write comedic scripts expect audiences to laugh at basically anything that could be considered slightly ludicrous, disgusting, or generally odd, never giving us anything actually funny. The Heat wasn't written that way. It's a quality comedy; I could actually laugh multiple times through it all. There were a couple of gross parts (including a cringe-worthy CPR scene that had me itching at my neck), but it isn't so potent that it overpowers the whole thing. And it certainly doesn't run like a weird Saturday Night Live episode, in which I can sometimes sit through without cracking a smile.
Besides... Is there a bad Sandra Bullock movie out there? If there is, I haven't seen it. Plus, Melissa McCarthey was quite the character. I've been a fan since she played the role of Sooki on Gilmore Girls (which is one of the best television shows ever made EVER), and it's so interesting to see her take on a role like this. She's funny as ever, but in a completely different way. She and Bullock really knew how to share the spotlight; they're a dynamic duo.
As far as the plot goes, I was surprised by who the guy they were tracking down really was. There isn't much epic lesson-learning or hectic mystery in The Heat, it's just a really fun comedy. Sure, there are some serious moments (well... kind of serious) concerning the characters' families, but as implied, it's all tackled in a crazy, lighthearted way. 
So, the only disclaimer I can think of is that if you have issues with swearing, you won't like this movie; an f-bomb is dropped every minute or so. (Parents may want to keep this in mind.) Other than that, don't hesitate to buy your ticket to see The Heat. You'll laugh - I promise!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If You Leave | Daughter

Daughter is a trio that's relatively new to the indie scene, having only released a few EPs before their debut LP, If You Leave, an album that proves to be just as sullen as the title.

Daughter's music is led by Elena Tonra's relaxing vocals, a series of lazy guitar lines (I'm calling it lazy in a good, peaceful way), and peculiar lyrics. The lyrics on this album are quite different than any other, which is sometimes refreshing and interesting, but other times a flaw. It depends on the song. But one thing that a few songs on this album do well is ending with the most personal, sad-sounding lyric, which almost guarantees to leave some sort of impact.

The introductory track is called "Winter," and though the lyrics of this song are still quite different than one may be used to, it still sets itself apart from the other tracks on If You Leave because as "Winter" goes on, they're set up like the type of poetry with bits of one to three-word lines forming large stanzas, but it doesn't flow as nicely. Instead, it's a little more chaotic, sometimes rhyming but not always. In this song, I like that the lyrical meaning isn't so in your face but isn't too randomized. As a whole, "Winter" captures a lot of what I love about melancholy indie music. The music formulates some sort of real-life intensity. 
That feeling still takes precedence in the song "Youth," which is one of my favorites, along with "Winter." It drew me in right away, especially when the music picks up after the lyrics "the lovers that went wrong." I love that blend of light guitar and heavy piano, and the chord progression is perfect.

A couple of other tracks that stood out to me include "Lifeforms" and "Smother." While the guitars of "Lifeforms" sound very dreamy right away, it's not the whole song that I'm in love with. At first the lyrics are a little odd and don't seem to flow with each other or with the music, but it's much better in the chorus, which is the prettiest part of the track. Though the lyrics of "Smother" are still written in an unusual way, I find no flaw with the way they're assembled in this particular song. They even tugged at my heart strings a bit at the end.

Really, I can't help but appreciate the uniqueness of the lyrics of If You Leave when they don't have an awkward feel, but sometimes the flow just isn't right between the words and the vocal line itself. This is evident in the song "Tomorrow," though I did enjoy the instrumentation when it picks up towards the middle, leading into the end.

But more than anything, if there's anything I can say about If You Leave is that it's quite gloomy, which I don't mind, but I don't think I've ever found an album quite as openly bleak as this. The only remotely upbeat track on the entire album is "Human," which wasn't bad at all. "Still" is also a bit less bleak than the other songs, but the lyrics were so repetitive and I couldn't really see the point. Hence, anyone looking for something happy and bouncy shouldn't pick up this album.

Still, although Daughter displays an incredible potential to make quality music on this debut LP, they still have their work cut out for them. If You Leave has a fair share of moving moments, but there's a lack of experimentation; quite a few of the songs blend together in my mind. If they'd break out of their box a little and fixed the occasional vocal line and lyrical clashes, they could completely win me over. Until then, I can only recommend a few songs from them and not this entire album.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Amazing Music: Scala & Kolacny Brothers

Scala & Kolacny Brothers have come to be one of my favorite musical groups, in which Scala is the name of a female choir from Belgium and the Kolacny brothers arrange/write/conduct music and play the piano accompaniment. They have a few original songs such as "Our Last Fight" and "Seashell," but their albums primarily consist of covers... Absolutely beautiful covers, perhaps the most beautiful ever made. The artists they cover lie within a pretty decent-sized range, including tracks from Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Marilyn Manson, Bjork, Nirvana, and several songs by Radiohead and Depeche Mode. The Kolacny brothers take the original music and arrange it for female voices and piano (though they have incorporated other instruments from time to time), giving them a signature dark, melodic ambience.

Though the average person has probably never heard of this lovely ensemble, many have come across their music in movie trailers, myself included. Most recently, their haunting rendition of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" was featured in the Zero Dark Thirty trailer, but they've showed up in other trailers as well. Some notable appearances include their cover of Radiohead's "Creep," which was featured in the trailer for the award-winning film The Social Network, and their version of Rammstein's "Engel," which was in the trailer for the horror film The Possession.

I discovered them through The Possession's trailer. After watching it, I did some research and found "Engel" on YouTube and I could not stop listening to it. I've never been a Rammstein fan, but Scala & Kolacny Brothers' cover of "Engel" is one of the most gorgeous yet eerie things I've ever heard. Even now when I listen to it, I can't just play it once; I never get tired of it. The piano is perfect, the vocals are perfect... The verses are whispered by the choir, but it builds throughout, leading to an amazing climax of female vocals and powerful piano.

Of course, after being so impressed by that song, I had to look up everything else and begin purchasing their music. I don't think I've heard a single track I haven't liked so far. It all has a Scala & Kolacny Brothers feel to it, but that certainly doesn't mean it's all as thick and dark as "Engel." Songs like "Solisbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel are much happier-sounding, while many others such as Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" and The Foo Fighters' "Everlong" have a dreamy quality. Actually, upon buying their self-titled album, "Everlong" caught my attention right away. It's some peculiar combination of emotional and peaceful, and it's definitely one of my favorites.

One personal bonus from this group is that they cover artists I like, so it's always fun to see how they can transform a piece into something smooth and classical. But even when it's not something I know (or even like, for that matter), I look up the original and compare the versions to see how different they are. However, I don't disregard their original music; it has an undeniable quality that is equivalent to that of their covers.

But lately, I've been quite addicted to their cover of "Exit Music (For a Film)," originally by Radiohead. It's so melancholy in its quietness and ending climax alike. I get chills every time, and I'm not exaggerating. Those high notes just get me... Every. Time. This song is probably their most epic. I have to give Scala props for the chills; their voices have an incredible effect. But I also need to credit the Kolacny brothers. Steven Kolacny is one of the best arrangers, and Stijn Kolacny is such a heartfelt conductor; it's easy to see that he really feels the music with us. Those two are just as responsible for bringing Scala to life as the women of Scala are, just as the Scala ladies are as responsible for bringing these arrangements to life as the brothers themselves.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books at the Top of My Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a lovely meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish, and this week our topic is:

Top Ten Thirteen Books at the Top of My Summer TBR List

Sailor Moon Volumes 6-9 by: Naoko Takeuchi

I've fallen quite behind while reading the ever-wonderful Sailor Moon manga, primarily because Sailor Moon 5 was a good place to stop and finding a good place to stop in this series is rare. (Cliff-hangers galore!) Volumes 6-8 are quite a priority for me to read since those are the books in which the Infinity story arc span, and as I mentioned in my Sailor Moon appreciation post, the Infinity arc is very special to me because I became a bit attached to Sailor Saturn's character in the anime. I can't wait to read these.

Sailor Moon Volumes 10-12 by: Naoko Takeuchi

These volumes of the Sailor Moon manga contain parts of the Dream story arc, which I know virtually nothing about, as well as the Stars story arc, which seems to be a fan favorite. I must admit, I'm not sure if I'll love any of the story arcs more than Infinity due to the impact it has had on me and the nostalgia it brings since I watched that portion of the anime the most, but from what I heard, Stars is absolutely spectacular, so I'm quite eager to get to it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by: Stephen Chbosky
I've had this book on my TBR ever since I saw the trailer for its film adaptation. Though I know that basically everyone praises it and I've even memorized some of its quotes despite never reading it, I fear it may be depressing, and that's part of the reason I've held off on it. However, I must get to it this summer so I can finally be subject to the greatness everyone promises.
Life of Pi by: Yann Martel
Life of Pi has been everywhere for the past year, but I first discovered it while overhearing a conversation about how mind-blowing this book is. I recognized their description as I saw TV spots for the film adaptation, and since then, I've felt a dire need to read this interesting-looking book. From what I've heard, it's a rather one-of-a-kind reading experience.
The Dark and Hollow Places by: Carrie Ryan
I loved Carrie Ryan's other two books that take place in the same dystopian world, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves, and I'm sure I'll enjoy The Dark and Hollow Places just as much. Seriously, Carrie Ryan has done no wrong in these books, and I don't even like zombies very much. I can't wait to see how this continuation of The Dead-Tossed Waves plays out with Annah, who we've only heard of before, and how her story crosses paths with Catcher.
Marcelo in the Real World by: Francisco X. Stork
This looks like a lovely contemporary; the summary definitely sounds intriguing. I've never heard of Francisco X. Stork before seeing this book around in the local bookstore, and I'm curious to see what he'll have in store for readers pursuing Marcelo in the Real World.
Villette by: Charlotte Brontë
Since I love Jane Eyre so much, I'm embarking on a quest to read a ton of novels by the Brontë sisters. When I first began looking them up, Villette was the first one to catch my attention. Everywhere I look, people are saying that Villette is actually better than Jane Eyre, and while I'm not so sure that's possible, I'd say it's certainly safe to assume that Villette must be really good.
Angels and Demons by: Dan Brown

From what I've heard, Angels and Demons is a relatively awesome piece of work. Though I don't know that much about it, I can already tell it concerns topics I'm interested in but never read that much about. (Yes, I know that there are apparently flaws in Dan Brown's research; the entire Internet seems to unanimously agree on that.) Anyway, one of my best friends was talking to me about it some time ago, and she spoke highly of it. So, I'm finally going to try and get around to it this summer.

I'm so excited to finally get to all these books! Please let me know if you've read any of these as well as what's on your summer TBR! Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Across the Universe | by: Beth Revis

There have been many times in which I've mentioned how I took a ridiculously long time to get around to reading a specific book, but this by far is the most ludicrous. Seriously, Across the Universe by Beth Revis was on my TBR long before it even got a cover (I somehow ran into the summary somewhere in the bookish realm of blogs), and I'm just now reading it, when all the other books in the trilogy have long been released.

How did this happen? That summary grabbed me like no other summary I've ever read, the book trailer is the best book trailer I've ever seen before in my life, and it ended up with one of the most beautiful covers of all time. This is what happens when the TBR list gets too big.

Anyway. Across the Universe is dually narrated by main characters Amy and Elder, both aboard Godspeed, a spaceship destined to reach a new Earth-like planet. While Elder (who is bound to be the future leader of Godspeed some day) is fully conscience living on the ship like many others, Amy and her parents are amongst those frozen, preserved to be awakened once the ship lands on the new planet. Their lives become intertwined when Amy wakes up early, and it becomes evident that there is a murderer on the ship. It is extremely difficult to get any answers when it seems that Eldest, the current leader of the ship, and the primary doctor shield the truth concerning just about everything.

...Where to start? First of all, WOW. Second of all, I haven't plowed through a book so urgently since Mockingjay, nor have I read anything so utterly intense in a very long time. Across the Universe is fantastic; I could not put it down. I never felt that I wanted to continue reading, I felt that I needed to.
Part of that need came from my constant worrying over Amy and Elder. How could I not - I like them so much! Amy felt very real to me and I sympathized with her throughout the story, but I also enjoyed reading about Elder and Harley since they were both kind of raw in a unique way. But my nervousness was also caused by the primary antagonist, Eldest. I could not stand him. He is perhaps my least favorite antagonist of all time... Really, all of the antagonists in this book were cringe-worthy, even the ones without Eldest's power. Take Luthe for an example; he's an  absolutely horrid excuse for a human being.
In addition to Luthe, the Season disturbed me. It gave the people of the ship (particularly the Feeders) such a primal feel, and when the Season wasn't in swing, they were like brainwashed zombies in some ways. Everyone has been so consumed in lies. Between them and Eldest, I felt like poor Amy had to fear nearly the entire ship, and that's what made this dystopian novel especially scary. To top it off, it's not like she could run or hide anywhere, it's not like she can just leave the claustrophobic realm of Godspeed.
Despite it's like a cage, I must say I loved the concept of being on a spaceship. It's quite interesting to see how generations of people lived on Godspeed and how technology has advanced, but it's also fascinating to see how Earth-like they tried to make it by (poorly) insinuating the outdoors. It all doesn't seem to be too unrealistic, and it's unsettling to think about.

The ending of Across the Universe was indeed fulfilling but I can sort of tell that there may be a conflict ahead in its sequel, A Million Suns. I can't wait to unravel more of Beth Revis' sci-fi magic in her lovely, emotional prose (though I wouldn't necessarily say it was 100% perfect, she's definitely good!) and I must admit, I'm excited to see Elder and Amy's relationship develop some more, especially since it's been developing at such a normal pace compared to other characters I've read about.

I really don't know what else I can say about this amazing book, all I know is I haven't said enough. I feel as though I can't entirely express my fascination with it. But without a doubt, I loved Across the Universe. It's definitely one of my favorite books, and hopefully the other two novels make it one of my favorite trilogies... But at this point, I really don't think they'll disappoint. If you haven't read this book, buy it. Now.

**I gave Across the Universe 5/5 stars on Goodreads**

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Classics: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is one of the tiniest books high school students may encounter during their journey through required reading, but quite a bit of meaning is crammed into those one hundred pages.

Protagonist George travels with a man named Lennie, who is mentally handicapped, as they look for work during the Great Depression. Though Lennie always means well, his disabilities often cause them to pack up and leave their jobs behind, for Lennie doesn't understand exactly how strong he is, nor does he understand how some of his actions could frighten others. But this time, George and Lennie hope to maintain their job long enough to get the money to have their own place, to fulfill the American Dream that no one else seems to be able to achieve. Unfortunately, between their initial circumstances and their new job, things may not go as planned.

While I read Of Mice and Men, I just had that awkward feeling in my gut that something was going to go horribly wrong. At every page turn, my conscience seemed to say "Wait for it... wait for it...!" And even though this book isn't very long, feeling that negative buildup put a damper on the reading experience. John Steinbeck basically gives away the theme immediately with the opening quote, leaving readers with the worst type of drawn-out dread.

The characters don't help in this department either. George was so harsh toward Lennie sometimes; it made me sad. But even the rest of the people on the ranch help set a melancholy mood, whether with general negativity or general hopelessness, which probably captures the Great Depression quite well.

So, John Steinbeck forces emotion upon readers (I even teared up at the end), accurately depicts a time period, and enforced a theme quite well. Surely nothing could be wrong with this book... And really, nothing is wrong with it. The only complaint I have concerning this novel is that it could've been beefed up and made more complex, and did I have to have the sense of impending doom the entire time? I can't help but wonder how this book could've been better. Of Mice and Men has so many good elements, especially in terms of meaning, and I wish that this book was written in a different way so that these positives could shine brighter.

Consequently, I'm not the biggest fan of this classic. Sure, I liked it in a general sense, but I think it could've been better if John Steinbeck expanded the plot a bit and made it more intricate. But no matter what, I feel that the dreadful sense that something wasn't going to end well would've been there no matter how much the plot was expanded.

As I summarize my thoughts, I suppose it's safe that in a nutshell, this book just wasn't my type, because even though I'm not crazy about this book, I didn't exactly dislike it, either. I'm torn; my feelings are so mixed between the content, the way everything was executed, why it was good, and personal preference.

In the end, I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads, and somehow I think that rating sums up my feelings towards Of Mice and Men.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Teen Wolf (MTV Series): I Love This Show

As a fan of the MTV series Teen Wolf, I am so pumped for its third season, which premiers tonight. But as I watched the trailer in excitement, I realized that I've never talked about TV shows on my blog. Truth to be told, I don't watch a lot of television, but it's not like I completely shun it. There are a few shows I try to keep up with, and Teen Wolf is one of my favorites.

However, when I first heard about the show's debut in 2011 by reading a preview in Channel Guide, I was uninterested. It just didn't look fascinating to me for whatever reason. But, one night I saw the sixth episode of the first season, "Heart Monitor," and I never stopped watching since then. I was intrigued. The characters faced some sort of mystery, there was cool music included, and Tyler Hoechlin's character Derek seemed so interesting. That was apparently all it took, and even now, "Heart Monitor" remains one of my favorite episodes. Though I definitely became a fan during the first season, I was quite irritated with the main character, Scott (played by Tyler Posey). All he seemed to do was think about Allison and run around while Derek actually seemed to have a decent handle on things.

The tables turned in the second season though. I grew to really love Scott as a character while Derek became a bit of a nuisance... but still fun to look at, as usual. Season two was much more mysterious and action-packed than the first season, bringing twists I never expected. Both seasons managed to include superb season finales, leaving me so stoked for the next season.

Still, there are a couple other characters I truly enjoy watching in this show: Stiles and Lydia. Stiles is the ideal BFF and is absolutely hilarious. His personality contrasts with Derek's in such a comical way! I love it when they have to team up because I know I'll get a good laugh at some point. On the other hand, Lydia isn't really ideal in any sense, nor is she particularly funny. She's sassy and kind of strange in her own way; I don't know how Holland Roden does it. I've seen her in interviews and it's like watching an entirely different person; the way she speaks is so different. I guess I got used to the idiosyncratic snippiness.

Stiles and Derek share an awkward moment.
So, this addictive show returns tonight for the third season. The trailer and teasers that have been released seem to imply that the action won't let up, but it also makes me concerned for some of the characters... This looks like it'll be one chaotic season.