Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review: The Descent: Part 2

Another video review, this time for the horrific sequel to The Descent.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

It's been a while, but I'm back with a new format! I can't guarantee I'll be updating all that often due to workload, but I'll try to put out a review every once in a while.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Decemberists - Hazards of Love

This review is mostly a response to the reviews that are already out there for this album. It's also my first music review. But let me state this: I've been playing music since I was six, and can play to differing degrees the piano, cello, and guitar, and I sing as well. I've been listening to music forever. I've played everything from Bach's cello suites to a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel's Ghost. So I feel fairly qualified when talking about music. Most of my interest is with classical, indie, and rock (I'm not big on mainstream pop, country, and most rap).

I've been listening consistently to The Decemberists since The Crane Wife came out a couple years ago, and they are one of my favorite bands. But I think their most recent album has been getting a lot of undeserved hate. And I hate to say it, but for every negative review I'm reading (and they say mostly the same things) I want to shake my head and say how dumb today's music listeners have become. And I was so proud of our music generation!

The thing that bugs me about the current reviews (such as Pitchfork's) is that there's a concensus that the album is 'too much work, not enough payoff'. Wait, what?

Did you ever listen to The Wall? Yeah? Epic Pink Floyd rock opera? You see, The Hazards of Love is the closest thing to a rock opera you're going to see around today. That means that the songs are going to be more connected than most albums, and the songs generally continue from one to the next without much in the way of a break. The story is a sort of medieval/victorian/whatever affair based around a changeling-like figure and his lover. There's wordplay and archaic words. So basically, this album is inaccessible to people because it's not like every single other thing out right now. Because there's not always a freaking chorus. Because the songs have continuity and a shared theme.

I think part of it is that people today have become so single-focused and can't see music in the context of albums anymore. People don't even listen to the radio as much any more, but they still only seem to want to have one-song tastes of artists. When they're presented with a whole album that's meant to fit together, suddenly people cry, "This is too hard!"

I don't understand why this album seems so hard--is it because you have to listen to it more than once to grasp the story behind it? Does that make it impossible to listen to? I think another part of it is that the sound is more electric than the sound of Picaresque and The Crane Wife. So the reviewers also can't handle a change in sound. This isn't an unfamiliar phenomenon to me. Sometimes the post-breakout albums suffer from a slight change in sound, across the board. Some examples: Evanescence had its breakout album Fallen, but when it was given greater musical resources, The Open Door fell a little flat. For Death Cab for Cutie, they struck gold with a new sound in Transatlanticism and Plans--then Narrow Stairs was a massive disappointment (to me, at least--these are mostly my opinions). But I think The Hazards of Love is in a different strain--unappreciated changes in sound. Some better-known examples: haters of MCR's The Black Parade, which sounded more 'mainstream' to some but sounded to me just to be utilizing its resources to have some more musical diversity. My other example is the shift in sound that occured halfway through Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and took over in Skeletal Lamping. Skeletal Lamping was really difficult for me to get into after listening to The Sunlandic Twins so much, but after a while I got used to the sound change, and loved the sound change. Now it's one of my most-played albums. Sometimes it actually takes more than one playthrough to like something. And I still don't get why The Hazards of Love is 'difficult'; Atom Heart Mother is difficult. For me, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place is difficult. Hell, even some classical music (like Debussy's string quartet) could be considered 'difficult'. But The Hazards of Love is downright conventional compared to a lot of the stuff I've listened to. If your musical repertoire is Coldplay and Nickleback and Kelly Clarkson and then of course The Hazards of Love is going to be inaccessible! You haven't been listening to music! You've been dropping in on music for a visit! At the prison! On the other side of bulletproof glass! Musical Nerd Rage!

Take off those waders and go buy some Pink Floyd and get back to me later.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Review: Lost at Sea - Bryan Lee O' Malley

So sorry, precious blog, for not updating you. The last few weeks have been schedule/busy hell, so you're going to just have to deal with it. Oh, and I sent P&P&Z over to raych at books i done read and she reviewed it. Pretty nifty!

Now, I've never reviewed a comic book before, so you're going to have to bear with me here. I've talked a lot about comics, since I draw comics myself, and though I've never really gotten on the superhero train, I definitely know a thing or two about comics. Well, as much as a college kid can know without being male, smelling bad, and hanging out exclusively in a dank, moist room (I hang out in coffeeshops! Difference!).

Bryan Lee O' Malley is currently best know for his work on the Scott Pilgrim series, of which I have read the first two books of and love. But. The comic (at least the first two volumes) are flawed by two things:

1) Being a little weak on character motives
2) Making girls confused as to why we're supposed to forgive Scott Pilgrim's <plot point removed>.

But! It is awesome because it is an English-language comic book that takes big cues stylistically both from manga and alternative American comics. And I won't explain that because I'll get rantish.

Wait... I was reviewing Lost at Sea, though. And let me tell you--where O' Malley fails in Scott Pilgrim, he absolutely nails in Lost at Sea. I'm not sure if this is because the comic is stand-alone and really gives off the sense of completion, but either way, it is just a pile of awesome.

First off, for summary: Lost at Sea is the story of a just-graduated-high-school girl, Raleigh, traveling with three acquaintances north through the American northwest on their way back home to Canada. Raleigh is disconnected and unsure of herself, for reasons that she tries to explain through the comic. It's hard to say exactly what the plot is because so much of the comic is rambling and going on in Raleigh's head. The moving action is not the journey to Canada, but the exposition of Raleigh's dilemma.

The art is simplistic and unique. It seems sloppy at first, but everything is perfectly framed and put together--the sloppiness adds to the writing and message of the comic. The comic is dark, and I've heard it described as depressing, but I don't know if that only works on the extrovert-types-over-thar because I thought the ending was somewhat uplifting. Some other criticisms I've also heard are that O' Malley inserts way too many pop culture and video game references, but honestly? Even if you don't get the references (as I didn't in a lot of Scott Pilgrim) there's still the sense of the bizarre associated with them to make them entertaining. Lost at Sea does not depend at all on the understanding of references; as a matter of fact, I can't even remember any of the references right now.

Probably the best part of the book is the characterization of Raleigh and her friends, because it is one of the most honest depictions of teenagers I've seen before in current works--no, not just comics, I mean everything. Movies. Books. That kind of stuff. Sure, these teenagers are probably somewhat part of the nerd culture that O' Malley originates from, but who's reading this comic? Seriously? The conflict seems real without being melodramatic, and the teenagers actually have brains! Take that, Gossip Girl! So I say pick up Lost at Sea, and for God's sake, buy it because you will be reading it over and over.

I give it nine arbitrary numbers out of ten.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Phew. 319 pages finished in a day. I'm pretty proud of myself, for not having read too much recently.

Anywho, for the uninitiated, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been described as a "literary monster mash-up". If you can't tell by the title, it's basically Pride and Prejudice... with ZOMBIES. It does not pretend to be much else, but I was delighted by passages such as this:
"...Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in--and I am sure my dinners are good enough for her, since she is an unmarried woman of seven-and-twenty, and as such should expect little more than a crust of bread washed down with a cup of loneliness." (49)
Now, shouldn't that have been in the original? Don't all the early-eighteenth-century classics need a little more brutal honesty and a little less circumvention? Or how 'bout a dash of good ol' fashioned brutality?
"...I delcare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
"Spoken like one who has never known the ecstasy of holding a still-beating heart in her hand," said Darcy. (44)
But on to more...er.... serious business. I was fairly indifferent to Pride and Prejudice when I first read it, and of course I was interested in a zombie mash-up. You'd have to have no sense of humor to not find it at least somewhat entertaining. I loved the way that Seth Grahame-Smith integrated the "zombie mayhem", as well as his other lowbrow humor, by making it sound as if Jane Austen herself could have written it... if, you know, she wanted to throw zombies and ninjas in for spice. It has a similar tone, and you could almost miss some of the references if you lapse into what I refer to as "Dickens mode", when you're just kind of getting the story so you can remember it later for that test. For example, he adds in a bit of lowbrow humor that I almost missed:
" 'I should like balls infinitely better,' she replied, 'if they were carried on in a different manner.' 'You should like balls infinitely better,' said Darcy, 'if you knew the first thing about them.' " (45)
Hmmm... and then later:
" '...Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.' ' On the contrary, I find that balls are much more enjoyable when they cease to remain private.' " (73)
And again:
"She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. 'Your ball,s Mr. Darcy?' He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, 'They belong to you, Miss Bennett.' " (205)
As if to do a little "nudge nudge, wink wink" to less careful readers, he has Elizabeth blush at the impropriety after each exchange. And I'm not really into slapstick or really coarse humor, but I love Monty Python--so in the doses he gives his humor, it's definitely tolerable. Seth Grahame-Smith gets points on several changes he makes to the story--which I won't spoil for you--but I actually think he could have done more. The text is still 90% Jane Austen, and he didn't make any major changes (by my standards) to the storyline. From the looks of it, though, this will probably become something of a series if he has any success, so I dare him in future attempts to rip apart the classics as he pleases. Just don't touch Jane Eyre. This is my one big complaint, because I feel like I've mostly just reread Pride and Prejudice, and I just wasn't that into it the first time for me to like it much better the second time. But the zombies were an improvement.

Also, scenes like this, playing off on what I believe to be the modern readers' mutual fantasies:
"...and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself--"
Elizabeth presently drew her Katana and cut off Lydia's head, which fell into the open hatbox.
The others looked on in a state of silent shock as a torrent of blood sprang forth from Lydia's neck, staining their dresses. Elizabeth sheathed her blade, and in a most delicate tone, said "I beg you all forgive me, but I could stand her prattling no longer." However, when she spared another glance toward Lydia, she was surprised to see her head very much attached.
"Lord! How I laughed!" continued her younger sister. "And so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died."
Elizabeth sighed. If only she could really cut off Lydia's head. (176)
Despite its failings, the book automatically gets a point for the two pages of "A Reader's Discussion Guide" at the end. This is all Seth Grahame-Smith, and it is awesome.
7. Does Mrs. Bennett have a single redeeming quality? (319)
Ah. That's better. I give it 7 arbitrary numbers out of 10.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: A Preview

So I was walking through Borders today and saw something that inspired me to start up this blog:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

So maybe I had been forced to read Pride and Prejudice in 10th grade. Maybe I wasn't the biggest Jane Austen fan out there. But this. I had to pick it up. Curiosity would not let me put it down.

Now, I would probably have left it behind due to my small bank account, but after doing some internet-wise research in search of a review of this book (okay, maybe I am a little dubious about anything that can attach "...and zombies" to a Jane Austen masterpiece and publish it), I found out that it wasn't supposed to be released for at least three weeks. Hmm. So after some more research, it seems that there must have been some snafu with Border's release dates; I've read some comments saying that they found it in Borders and then were confused by a different release date online. Even the release dates are dubious: different sites have it as April 1st (leading some to believe it's one big fat April Fool's joke), May 13th, and June 1st. But I assure you; this is no April Fool's joke. Just a published joke. Ehem.

There appears to be a fair amount of hype over it, so I'm going to do a pre-release review of it. Wow, it's almost like having and advance copy! No, I fear it's just a release snafu. But either way, I'll read this book qiuckly so I can either quell or push forward the hype. Perhaps this release error will end soon and only a few people will actually have gotten a copy. But one of those people will be me.

I'm currently on Chapter 3, and let me say this: my initial impressions are a bit dubious. Seth Grahame-Smith hasn't really rewritten the novel so far, as much as taken the book and morphed the scenes to include zombies and such. But really, Pride and Prejudice was definitely not quite so catching without the zombies. So hopefully, the comedy will be well-placed and not just for gags. And also, I hope that some out there will pull the stick out of their ass and take the book for what it is: pure fun. Let's see how this turns out.