Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 | Directed by Francis Lawrence | Screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig

This review will contain spoilers for those who have not seen the previous movies/read the books.

Mockingjay Part 2 set the box office on fire this past weekend. Fans who read Suzanne Collins' books knew exactly how depressing this film could be... Personally, I dreaded watching it because of how the book impacted me: I cried so hard I vomited. Yes, vomited. I just wasn't prepared for all the sadness, and I brought a whole box of tissues to the theater just in case.

Even the overall premise kind of hints that this movie isn't going to be the happiest. Katniss Everdeen has been through hell in back a number of times, all because of President Snow's violent leadership. As the rebel forces gain strength, Katniss knows that the war will not end until Snow is dead. Peeta struggles to recover from his capture as he and the rest of Katniss' squad tries to make it through the Capitol (which has been filled with deadly traps) to reach Snow. All the while, they realize the true costs of war - not just for themselves and the rebels, but for the Capitol as well. Will all the pain and suffering of Panem lead to an era of peace, or will it all be for nothing?

Despite the bleak premise and the gut-wrenching events that occur... I only used one tissue during this film. Some of the heartbreaking things that happen (particularly THE event - those who have read the book know what I'm talking about) were really underplayed. Not on the actors' parts - the screenplay itself doesn't give some moments the right amount of face time to truly impact audiences in an extreme way. Part of me is disappointed that this happened, another part understands in the context of what the film was trying to achieve, and another part is just flat out relieved that I didn't have to go through the whole emotional turmoil that I endured when reading the book again. But that moment when Jennifer Lawrence is screaming at Prim's cat... Oh my God, she did it perfectly. Out of all the film's events, that one struck me the hardest. She's such a great actress.

Mockingjay definitely sends some strong anti-war messages, and I think that's what will resonate with people the most. When it comes to wars and worldly conflict it often seems society picks and chooses who to care about and struggles to sympathize at times. Mockingjay sympathizes with everyone harmed in conflict - rebels, civilians of the Capitol, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (Katniss, Peeta, Annie... well, most of the characters, to be frank). This story resonates with people because it isn't afraid of showing how broken we can be and because it's relevant in some ways. The again, that goes for all the installments, not just this one, but the conclusion is where the bigger picture is considered the most.

Even though I have mixed feelings about how some events were presented, Mockingjay Part 2 was one hell of a movie regardless. There's a ton of action, a heavy dose of ethics, and feels - all amid a great score by James Newton  Howard and some on-point portrayals. It seems like a lot of people like to hate on Josh Hutcherson's acting, but I honestly enjoyed his portrayal of Peeta. People also seem to dislike Liam Hemsworth's portrayal of Gale, but I think a lot of the issues connecting with Gale in the films comes from a lack of face time. As a fan of Suzanne Collins' books since 2010 I must say I'm happy with how the films turned out overall.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Concerts I've Attended (2015)

April: Nightwish
Support: Sabaton, Delain
Endless Forms Most Beautiful Tour

One does not simply miss a chance to see Nightwish after seeing the Showtime, Storytime DVD. Floor Jansen's voice is a force beyond human comprehension.

I had a lovely view of this show from start to finish, as I was at the very front of the little venue's second tier. Delain opened first, and I only knew two of their songs at the time, but I really enjoyed songs on their set like "Army of Dolls" and "Electricity" so I looked them up afterward, bought their album The Human Contradiction, and loved it. Sabaton performed next, and while I'm not exactly a fan of their music, they are fantastic performers. The energy level was borderline ridiculous, and they all seemed so nice! The Cleveland crowd certainly humbled them... It was the most energetic crowd I've been in so far. A couple of children were in the crowd and the Sabaton guys invited them on stage - it was really cute. The singer was so happy to see such a wide age range at the show: "Metal is for everyone!"

Then, the lovely headliner Nightwish took the stage. I was treated to a glorious setlist which consisted of many brand new tracks from their album Endless Forms Most Beautiful but also included a couple of their best pieces from Oceanborn, their 1998 sophomore album. Some of the highlights were expected, but even though it became one of my favorites from Endless Forms Most Beautiful quite quickly, I never anticipated "Weak Fantasy" to be as epic as it was in a live setting - what a rush! Between its general live sound and crazy lighting I was dizzy and happy. The crowd knew every word to "The Islander" and we seemed to truly impress Floor with how well we knew the words to their newer single "√Član." I was dancing along to the pipe-led folky tunes but by the time we made it to "Stargazers" I stood in awe - I feel so lucky to have seen that classic live.

The last song before the encore was "The Greatest Show on Earth" (parts two and three, "Life" and "The Toolmaker"), which became my favorite Nightwish song on the first listen... I may have gone a smidge crazy. Right as "The Toolmaker" begins when animal noises dominate the tracks I came to a startling realization: Most of the growling I was hearing (both at my show and performances I saw on YouTube just before my show) wasn't playback... It was Floor. I actually confused her for a lion - A LION, I TELL YOU. If that doesn't prove her power, nothing will. After the encore (consisting of the masterpiece "Ghost Love Score" and the perfect closer "Last Ride of the Day") the final instrumental sections of "The Greatest Show on Earth" played while the band took their bows. Nightwish's creator Tuomas Holopainen took the final bow before the rest of the group as "The Understanding" came to its final gorgeous chords. He looked so tired but passionate and proud of the band's performance, and I unabashedly screamed I loved him like a crazed fangirl.

Other associated memories: The person standing next to me was holding his signed VIP poster and tour book, so like an awe-struck fangirl I started asking him about how the meet and greet was and how Floor and the guys were. Well, he must have felt bad for me for not being able to get a VIP ticket because DUDE GAVE ME HIS SIGNED STUFF. His explanation: "I'm old. What am I going to do with this stuff?" But he wasn't even old. I was so gracious! 

May: Lana Del Rey
Support: Grimes
The Endless Summer Tour

As per usual when I go to non-rock/metal concerts, I saw Lana Del Rey with Nick at Aural Fixation Reviews. I was so excited to see her at the beginning of summer during her Endless Summer Tour since that's the season I have always associated her with, but she really could have changed it to the Endless Winter Tour for my show because it was forty eight degrees (Fahrenheit). I was freezing and couldn't feel my feet afterward, but it was worth it. Lana's live performances have improved significantly since her start in 2012, and honestly, she did a perfect job. I absolutely lost my shit during "Born to Die" and I love how she changed the chorus a bit. "Video Games" was the first song I discovered by her so of course hearing that beautiful track live was pretty wonderful too, and she played the lovely unreleased "Serial Killer." Being the hipster that I am, I was kind of expecting a lot of the people attending to be people who have only ever heard the "Summertime Sadness" remix on the radio, but all the fans at this show were diehards: This crowd collectively knew EVERY WORD of every song! Her live band was really energetic too and gave me a whole new appreciation for "Off to the Races," the last song of her set, and honestly the backdrops and props were some of the beautiful I've seen in a live artist's performance. We may have been freezing our asses off, but when I think of that show visions of summer still manage to fill my head. 

Still, a large part of the reason this concert will always be so damn special to me is that it led me to the spunky electronic artist Grimes, which is ironic considering I was initially annoyed that I wouldn't be able to see Courtney Love (she opened for the first half of the Endless Summer Tour). As I always say, I often end up liking supporting acts I didn't initially care for after seeing them live, but... Grimes is my spirit animal. I was intrigued after the very first song, "Circumambient," and then she grabbed my attention again with "Nightmusic" and "Go." My best friend Nick showed me some of her more 'normal' songs before the concert like "REALiTi" and "Oblivion," and even though I love those songs now, they just weren't the right entry point in her discography for me to take. I needed to hear the darker sounds first. Unfortunately, she didn't have a very energetic crowd (some girls in front of me were standing up so I couldn't see her and taking selfies... brats) but she was so incredibly nice and appreciative anyway.

I will most definitely see her again and I will unabashedly dance around no matter how dead the crowd is. And I will probably cry. (Sorry, Nick. Prepared to be even more embarrassed than you were when we saw the final Harry Potter movie.)

Other associated memories: Trying to find our ride home. Why is that always so hard for us? Also, me laughing at absolutely nothing on the way home because I was too tired to function like a sane human being.

Click here to see what shows I attended from 2012 to 2014.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Every Day | by: David Levithan

After hearing so many rave reviews of his work, I have finally read my first David Levithan novel, Every Day.

I was both intrigued by and weary of Every Day's premise when I first read it. It's about a soul named A who wakes up in a different body every day... interesting as that sounds I was worried A's situation might feel a little hopeless, and while it certainly seems that way for much of the story, I did not feel overwhelmed.  (The primary exception is when reading about Kelsea, the clinically depressed teenager A inhabits for a day.) Levithan leaves us in a cloud of uncertainty at the end but not without hope, and that seems to be the best note to end on for this type of book.

As A moves from body to body, life to life, Levithan examines a lot of different lifestyles and circumstances and demonstrates sympathy for a wide range of people. The examination of different types of people is actually one of the greatest strengths of this novel. Even though some of the personalities are arguably a little cliche, that does not mean that they don't exist, and I think his goal was to show extremes anyhow. Still, this story emphasizes how similar we are despite external differences. Once A finds his love interest Rhiannon, her inability to feel the same way about him as he switches bodies is both frustrating and understandable. We judge by appearance all the time, and I don't think we realize exactly how annoying this can be until we hear from a being who has no appearance.

The writing style is consistently gorgeous - Every Day is a book filled with great quotes to like on Goodreads. There are passages that perfectly sum up humanity's strange intolerance, and there are passages that describe love better than most literature I've read, because Levithan does not care if the truth sounds far-fetched and romanticized. It's reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - "Do I dare disturb the universe?" - a line that has always been spot on with me. Both positive and negative relationships are explored, and I think everyone understands either what it's like to be in Rhiannon's position in regards to Justin or what it's like to know someone special who insists on staying in shitty relationships.

Every Day is certainly an intriguing and memorable novel. I've never encountered anything quite like it before. It may fall a bit short of being a new favorite, but it got me thinking, and I'm pretty sure that was Levithan's goal with this book anyway.