Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | Directed by Francis Lawrence | Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Ardnt

I've been quite excited for the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - not only because I adore the initial trilogy by Suzanne Collins, but also because I was very happy with the first book's film adaptation. Once again, I have virtually no complaints.
Catching Fire takes place just before Hunger Games winners Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark are about to kick off the traditional Victory Tour in which they travel to each district in Panem. But, President Snow is unhappy with the outcome of the Games, and he will stop at nothing to make things even more difficult, even if it means having Katniss in another Hunger Games. It is apparent that Katniss and Peeta have inspired some to rebel against their totalitarian government, against President Snow, thus thickening this very intense plot as we all hope that Katniss and Peeta will choose to focus on the good of Panem as well as their own survival.  Hence, Catching Fire was a fantastic novel, and now it is a fantastic movie.
Jennifer Lawrence was a huge reason why this film turned out so well, just like the last one. Her acting takes everything to a whole new level; it's easy to really feel what Katniss is feeling, whether it's physical or emotional pain. Between her talent and her general personality, I'll always be a Jennifer Lawrence fan.
Plus, I got a bit emotional during a few different parts of Catching Fire, just as I did during The Hunger Games' film rendition, notably when Katniss and Peeta visited District 11. Between thinking of Rue and seeing the awful system of governing take place, my heart broke. Of course, the emotions I felt toward this worst-case-scenario government of Panem were present throughout the entire movie, much like when I read the book. The state their country is in is just so gut-wrenching that it makes my stomach queasy just thinking about it.
In terms of how accurate the film was to the book... Well, I read Catching Fire in January of 2011; I don't really remember all of the nitpicky details, so I won't really talk about it from that sort of perspective. However, I will say that all of the major stuff I remember was there and was depicted the way I imagined. The only shock for me was Johanna; I just didn't picture her to look like the actress that played her (Jena Malone) at all. But I was definitely happy to see Finnick, one of my favorite characters from the trilogy.
I was also pleased that James Newton Howard wrote the film score again, and the general effects of the film were very cool, especially at the end. And they kept that horrific cliff-hanger... Ironically, I was really hoping that they kept the treacherous ending. Sure, no one really likes cliff-hangers, but I already know what happens, so now I can appreciate why Suzanne Collins would keep us at the edge of our seats like this. But I'm not saying any more than that. Just go watch it!
But as far as recommending this to people who haven't read the book (or even the first one, for that matter)... I'm not entirely sure if I can do that simply because so much of the story lies in Katniss' perspective and a lot of information is explained in a clear way. It's not that the movie failed to do anything right, the film simply cannot pause to thoroughly explain everything, and I know the person I was with (who has never read the books) had a hard time following. Fortunately, the books are amazing, so why not just read them?
Looking back, I remember when I was so worried about how the Hunger Games films would turn out when I first found out about the adaptations being made; it's such a relief that people are doing justice to one of my favorite trilogies. The setting and characters are so accurate to how I pictured them (with the exception of Johanna). I highly, highly doubt fans will be disappointed; I know I wasn't.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Another Lack of Book Reviews... Surprise, Surprise

For those that read my book reviews, I'm sorry for the lack of them. I feel like I say this at least once or twice a year on this blog, but I've never really gone in-depth as to why this seems to happen to me more than other people.
I guess you can say I get into one of those "book slumps" that many bloggers discuss, but I don't really see it in that light. It's not that I don't have a reason for not feeling like reading, because I do. I do every time. The truth is that I oftentimes end up getting busy, and whenever I have free time, I need to do other things to keep my mind off of everything. Even though I read books for escape, like many others do, I honestly feel like go about it a bit differently than other people. When I read books for enjoyment, I read every word at a relatively normal pace, and I have to get into this... Zone? I suppose 'zone' would be the right word. I can't think about anything that isn't related to the book, and for whatever reason, I tend to struggle with that when everything gets hectic. From what I've heard, this is introversion at its finest. This is probably why I read such a small amount of books compared to other book bloggers.
But if I have such a disability to relax, then why am I reviewing so many albums? Music is different. I don't need to get into that hypothetical zone; it forces me into it. The sound prevents me from concentrating too much. In essence, it's kind of like meditation. So, time restraints really aren't the problem. I just think too much.
Ever notice that my Currently Reading portion of my sidebar has been stuck on Dan Brown's Angels and Demons for a matter of months? You guys probably think I keep forgetting to update it, but I don't. That's right, I've been reading this same book for all this time. But, I suppose the fact that I'm unimpressed with Dan Brown's writing style probably doesn't help much. Maybe I just need to read something stupendous and break my undesirable habit of reading one book at a time. I don't know.
I'm pretty sure I'm the only one with this specific problem, but please feel free to prove me wrong.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

ARTPOP | Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga caught my attention during The Fame Monster's (her sophomore album) era. I was quite fed-up with pop music at the time (and I suppose, in many ways, still am), but her music was the only thing that could keep me checking pop radio stations. I could proudly declare myself a fan when she released Born This Way, which has been my favorite Gaga album for the entirety of its existence. I've listened to it so many times to the point I've kind of burnt myself out on it, so I'm definitely due for some new material.
But now, she has released ARTPOP, and I have a new favorite pop record. To be honest, I wasn't so sure how I'd respond to ARTPOP no matter how good it is since I've been so engulfed in the symphonic metal realm as of late, but Lady Gaga just has an undeniable quality in her pop music that even I cannot degrade.
"Aura" opens the album with a peculiar, almost western-esque beginning before the song explodes with laughter into, well, madness. From then on, it's Electronic City, and I love it. Gaga seems to be singing with some sort of accent in the verses, and lyrically, "Aura" has a combination of meaningful and playful lyrics. Eventually, her voice is synthed-up in a bridge-like portion before the second, which can easily be seen as one of the song's highlights. This new heavily-electronic direction is certainly appealing, and it's something I hoped would stick around for the rest of the album in some form or another.

"Venus" comes right after "Aura," and my pop music prayers are answered. While "Venus" isn't as electronically intense as "Aura," it still has that heavier electronic vibe that I love so much. More people would be able to appreciate "Venus" since the chorus is a little calmed down with catchiness, but it still has a quality that rises above a vast majority of modern pop music. The chorus might actually be my favorite part, but I still love the verses. The middle eight of this song escalates as Gaga pays homage to the rest of the planets, and I'll admit, it's a bit corny, but it would take a lot to ruin the song. Altogether, "Venus" puts me in the mind of older electronic groups with its spacey vibe, almost like Depeche Mode, but not quite.

Next, we have "G.U.Y." (which stands for "girl under you"). It begins with a narration that references mythology before picking up to a very danceable first verse. Obviously, this song is sexed-up, but it also talks about taking control and breaking what could be considered a female cliché, going against what listeners may initially expect. "G.U.Y." is very catchy, and I imagine it'll be widely well-liked. But the fourth track isn't shy about sex references even in its title. It's called "Sexxx Dreams" - I'm sure you all can figure out what it's about. This track takes a different turn from the first few since it's more mellow and dark during the verses, but it picks up during the chorus. It's not one of my favorites.

The flavor of the album completely changes with "Jewels N' Drugs," which is a collaboration with T.I., Too $hort, and Twista. I'm not the biggest hip-hop fan, but there have always been exceptions. "Jewels N' Drugs," for the most part, is one of them. The instrumental is really badass and Gaga's harmonies in the chorus sound great, but I think I'll have to be in a certain mood to fully appreciate this one. Like I said, hip-hop isn't really my forte.

Yet another change is upon us within the split-second that "MANiCURE" begins. (No, it isn't actually about getting Gaga's nails done.) First and foremost, it is a pop song, but some rock elements are thrown in as well. My best friend Nickster mentioned in his review that Gaga's vocals (particularly in the verses) can remind one a bit of Joan Jett, and I definitely agree. She really belts it! Plus, we get some guitar action, a little bit within the chorus, but a more significant amount at the end. "MANiCURE" is such a fun song; I can already tell that I'll be listening to this when I'm having a good day.

Follwing "MANiCURE" is "Do What U Want," which is a mellowed-out track that features R. Kelly. This is definitely one of my favorite songs from ARTPOP. The instrumental puts me in the mind of Depeche mode, and even though I've never really heard much from R. Kelly other than that comical "Trapped in the Closet" song, I ended up liking his contribution to this track. An excellent collaboration and an excellent song in general.

The next song is the title track, right in the middle of the album. "ARTPOP" is probably the funkiest gem of all, and I absolutely love it! It's creative and classy, not to mention catchy. A string line is prominent through much of the song, tying the groovy synths together in a very smooth fashion. "Swine," however, might have the weirdest instrumentation. I swear, I'm hearing hiccups! Anyway, Gaga's vocals get sassy in this song; if voices could do a Z-snap, this is what it would sound like. I like the instrumental breakdown after the first chorus, but like I said, I keep hearing this hiccup-like sound throughout, and I don't think I like it. Maybe the general sound will grow on me, but for now... Eh.

But Gaga's sassiness comes full force in "Donatella," particularly with all the mention of size, fashion, and wealth. I really love every moment of this fun, fashion-oriented song, and the chord progression in the chorus gave me chills somehow. I must memorize the lyrics to the half sung, half yelled pre-chorus soon, because I'm already ready to start yelling it along with the music. I'm dancing in my chair as I type this and listen to it, actually... Typing and dancing isn't as easy as I thought it'd be.

The subject of fashion is still prominent on the next track, "Fashion!" (Pretty self-explanatory, eh?) This track opens with a pretty piano part before the chilled verse comes in with a very noticeable bass line. Gaga's voice is especially jazzy in the verses, but I'm really not a fan of all the "lookin' good and feelin' fine" bits. "Fashion!" doesn't really float my boat, but the next track, "Mary Jane Holland," gets better. It turned out quite nicely in terms of electronic structure.

Nearing the end of ARTPOP, we run into a very heartfelt piano ballad bound to tug at heart strings called "Dope." Electronic elements add in throughout the song, but they don't take away from the primary piano line. "Gypsy" starts out in a way that might make us think that we're in for another piano ballad, but electronic elements take precedence rather quickly and carry on for the whole song. It's a great song; almost like a combination of "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" and "Marry the Night" in some musical senses. Another home run for Gaga; another favorite Gaga song for me.
The album ends with "Applause," which was the first single and could be seen on cute Kia commercials. It seems appropriate for this song to be the final track so we can all applaud her at the end of the album, and it certainly isn't a bad song. It was a perfect single choice, but I'm just generally not too enthused about it, probably because it's the most mainstream and I'm always looking for something more experimental. Lyrically, I've never really been able to understand the need for this wording: "Give me that thing that I love/ Put your hands up, make 'em touch." But, I digress. It's not my favorite, but it isn't bad, and I suppose it was the best way to end ARTPOP.

Even though there were a few songs here and there I wasn't quiet as crazy about, I'm crazy about ARTPOP as a whole. This is a truly fantastic album. It's so cool to see how much better Gaga has gotten since her debut album, The Fame. Her musicianship just keeps expanding and evolving with each and every album, as does her voice; she doesn't hesitate to sound as jazzy as her voice naturally is, and I've always loved her voice because of that aspect.

So, how is it possible for a superfan of symphonic metal who enjoys musical complexities and abnormalities to love Lady Gaga so much? There's a reason why she stands out so much to me; go listen to ARTPOP and you'll find out.