Monday, 18 May 2015

Blood, Boobs & Carnage

It's time for the Blood, Boobs & Carnage blogfest, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and Heather Gardner. As a participant, I am required to post about a movie, book or TV show renowned for its depiction of, well, blood, boobs and carnage, or any combination of the same. And so I have chosen to highlight a movie that exemplifies all three facets of the blogfest, the 2005 graphic novel adaptation, Sin City.

The movie was directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino. It starred an ensemble cast which included Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Mickey Rourke, Brittany Murphy, Devon Aoki, Benicio Del Toro, Alexis Bledel, Josh Harnett, Michael Clarke Duncan and Elijah Wood. It was not only renowned for its depiction of sex and violence, but for its stylish black-and-white visuals which was often punctuated by dashes of color to mesmerizing effect.

This came as a direct result of the movie's source material, which was itself a sort of homage to film noir. The movie was shot entirely against digital backgrounds, much like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow before it. From the very beginning, director Robert Rodriguez had sought to recreate the look and feel of the comic books, and the result is an almost frame-for-frame replication.

Praise for the movie extends beyond its technical achievements. In terms of acting performances, the actors all did a great job in bringing their various characters to life, especially the point-of-view characters, most of whom tended to launch into monologues which were more often than not laden with strong metaphors. But I feel the show was stolen by Elijah Wood, who plays a cannibalistic serial killer named Kevin, a character that failed to utter a single word during the entire movie.

Ultimately, it is the directors that should be given most of the credit for Sin City's nearly flawless transition from comic book to silver screen. They successfully translated the comics' singular vision, without losing any of its essence along the way. I have always had a soft spot for movies like this, with enough blood, boobs and carnage to satisfy my unending appetite for the same.

Friday, 15 May 2015

True Colors (Music Review)

We're barely 5 months into 2015, and already the year is shaping up to be an awesome year for electronic dance music, or EDM as it is more popularly referred to. We've had impressive debut albums in the form of Hardwell's United We Are and Madeon's Adventure, which dropped in January and March respectively. And now, True Colors, the eagerly-anticipated sophomore album by Zedd, appears to be the next in line to set the clubs and dance floors across the world on fire.

Those of you who happen to know me should already know my affinity for the music of Zedd. His debut album was shortlisted as one of my favorites in 2012, and he was more recently highlighted as my final entry for the 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. So needless to say, my expectations for his second album were high. Thankfully, having listened to the album about a dozen times now, I can categorically state that it not only met my expectations, but exceeded them too.

True Colors manages to feel both familiar and progressive at the same time, showing the level of growth that is to be expected from a sophomore effort. Zedd is clearly not afraid to juxtapose more standard EDM anthems like the album-opener, Addicted to a Memory, with his more somber, introspective songs, like the title track, which finds Ke$ha at her most vulnerable as she declares, "I won't apologize for the fire in my eyes," against a backing instrumental that wouldn't feel out of place in a Sergio Leone western.

I especially love the song, Papercut, which features guest vocals from Australian actor/musician, Troye Sivan. At 7 minutes and 23 seconds, the song is the longest on the 11-track record, but that length is put to good use as the song gradually builds up to its awesome climax, with plenty of time to breathe thereafter. I also love how some of the songs segue into one another, a trick that while not particularly novel, is still used to wonderful effect here, easing the transitions from up to down-tempo and vice versa.

True Colors is slated for release next week Monday, but has been on pre-order for about a month now. So if you like EDM or you're into one of its many sub-genres, you should definitely check this out as soon as you can.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

IWSG: Getting Back to Business

It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit for more information.

Last month (as most of you undoubtedly know) was the 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and I had opted not to post as part of the IWSG, mainly because I felt I didn't have anything related to my writing worth sharing at the time. I'd spent my last two IWSG posts talking about the Challenge, and it is somewhat unavoidable to mention it again today. The Challenge itself was a success, and I had a lot of fun meeting new bloggers and reconnecting with old ones, but it all came at the expense of my writing.

I didn't get much (read: any) writing done last month, and there's a lot going on right now, some of which I might announce on this blog when the time is right, but none of which has anything to do with writing. I stated at the start of the year that my sole writerly goal for 2015 was to complete my next book. Well, it's now four months later, and I am starting to wonder when and how exactly that book is going to be written.

I know I have said all this or some variation of the same before, but this is precisely where I am as a writer right now. Perhaps it is a position that can't be avoided, or completely overcome. I'd like to believe that even the Stephen Kings of this world go through the same thing from time to time. Or maybe I am just here trying to justify my recent lack of meaningful output, instead of using my precious butt-in-chair time to, you know, actually write something. Either way, I could really use a turnaround right about now.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Reflections on the 2015 A-Z Challenge

The 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge has come to an end, and right now, it is time for participants to share their experiences with one another in the form of a reflections post. This was my fourth straight A to Z Challenge, and my first one as a minion to one of the amazing co-hosts. So unlike previous years, I was determined to have all my posts scheduled ahead of the start of the Challenge, to enable me devote enough time to my duties as a minion.

Doing so has left me with one burning question though: is it still a "challenge" if the actual challenge of blogging everyday has been taken out of the equation? I mean, I know the point of it all is for participants to discover new blogs, but isn't the act of writing your posts on a daily basis an important part of the overall experience? Well, whatever the answer may be, I am still glad I was able to schedule my posts as planned, because it really allowed me to visit more blogs than ever.

There were many great themes on display this year. I especially loved those bloggers like Annalisa Crawford and Nick Wilford who chose to write flash fiction, mainly because I didn't know what to expect from them each day. I equally enjoyed voting on S.L. Hennessy's movie smackdowns. Then there was Keren Amaechi's medical-themed posts, which were not only informative, but loads of fun to read. But I think of all the themes I encountered this year, my favorite one has got to be Mithila Menezes' Harry Potter and Hogwarts theme.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank all the co-hosts for making the 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge a resounding success. I would also like to thank everyone that visited my blog during the Challenge, especially those that left a comment on one of my music-themed posts. You guys are the very definition of awesomeness, and to you all I dedicate one of my favorite songs of the moment. Enjoy.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Movie Review)

First off, I'll try to make this review as spoiler free as possible, for the sake of those of you who are yet to see the movie. In other words, I wouldn't be touching upon any specific plot points, beyond what can already be gleaned from watching any one of the movie's trailers. Secondly, I'll do my best to answer the all important question: is the movie as good or better than the first one?

To answer that question, we would first need to put things in proper perspective. A lot has happened to peoples' expectations since the first Avengers movie was released in 2012. Man of Steel has raised the bar in terms of superhero action. Captain America: Winter Soldier has raised the bar in terms of intelligent storytelling. Guardians of the Galaxy has raised the bar in terms of comedic performances. So you should understand why expectations are high for the Avengers sequel.

Right off the bat, the movie opens with the Avengers doing what they do best, avenging. This time around, it is against the Hydra villain, Baron Strucker, who had been conducting experiments using Loki's scepter. After retrieving the scepter, Tony Stark decides to conduct some experiments of his own, having discovered what looked like code for an artificial intelligence inside the artifact. This inadvertently gives birth to Ultron, the titular villian who is hellbent on bringing the human race to extinction.

One of the highlights of the first Avengers movie was in the strength of its villain, the brilliant Loki. So it is almost impossible to avoid comparing him with Ultron, even though comparing the two of them is like comparing apples to oranges. That said, I think that Ultron more than holds his own, having been depicted as a surprisingly altruistic robot with a touch of a superiority complex. He is beautifully voiced by the ever-amazing James Spader, and stands as a highlight in his own right.

In terms of action, the movie more than delivers, with the Iron Man and Hulk fight being one of the most memorable. The action might prove difficult to follow for some though, with too many things happening at the same time and barely enough room to process it all. In terms of character development, we got to learn more about the somewhat mysterious Clint Barton (aka. Hawkeye). We also got glimpses into Black Widow's back story, even though her character had already benefited from being featured in three different movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

But perhaps the movie's greatest shortcoming is the presence of too many players. Aside from the Avengers themselves, there were a number of supporting characters from other movies in the MCU. I'm talking about Nick Fury, Heimdall, War Machine and Falcon. Add that to the introduction of new characters like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, not to mention a certain key player who I would say nothing about (other than the fact that he is quite possibly the most awesome character in the entire MCU), and you have a movie that often felt like it was bursting at the seams.

So, the big question. Is it better than the first one? Well... it depends on how you choose to look at it. It definitely felt like a logical progression of events from the first movie and the other movies in Phase Two of the MCU. Although I must confess that I was one of those who was initially disappointed that the movie wouldn't deal with the Thanos threat. So on that note, the whole thing felt like excellent buildup to Phase Three and the next movies in the Avengers franchise, Infinity War Part I and II.

Now drop everything you're doing and go out to see the movie, if you haven't already. But not before you prepare to have your mind blown.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Z is for Zedd

Zedd is a Russian DJ and music producer who rose to fame for his remixes of songs such as Lady Gaga's Marry the Night and Skrillex's Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. Born as Anton Zaslavski, he grew up in Germany where he was classically trained. He developed an interest in electronic music after listening to by French electronic duo Justice. His debut album, Clarity, was released in 2012.

While the album itself was met with mixed reviews, its title track would help bring his music into the limelight, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning him a Grammy for Best Dance Recording. A deluxe edition was later released, and it contained the song, Stay the Night, a collaboration with Hayley Williams that served as the reissue's lead single. His other production credits include Justin Bieber's Beauty and the Beat, Ariana Grande's Break Free, as well as the Lady Gaga songs, G.U.Y., Aura and Donatella.

His second album, True Colors, is slated for release on the 19th of May. Its lead single is a collaboration with Selena Gomez, his rumored girlfriend. The song, titled I Want You to Know, was co-written by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. Its video was inspired by 70s disco and music videos from that era, like ABBA's Dancing Queen which I'd highlighted at the start of the 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and as such it serves as a perfect close to my month-long, music-themed posts.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Y is for Yeasayer

Yeasayer is an American rock band made up of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, Anand Wilder and Cale Parks. They are known for the experimental nature of their music, which showcases worldbeat and psychedelic pop influences. Their debut album, All Hour Cymbals, was released in 2007. It was met with critical acclaim, with Pitchfork placing it at #197 on their list of top 200 albums of the 2000s.

Their second album, Odd Blood, was released in 2010. It contained the singles, Ambling Alp, O.N.E, Madder Red and I Remember. It was also met with critical acclaim, placing high on many year-end lists, including a number one placement on MySpace Music's list. Their third album, Fragrant World, was released in 2012. It contained the singles Henrietta, Longevity and Reagan's Skeleton.

While they are yet to score the kind of breakthrough success they surely deserve, Yeasayer continues to record new music, with their as-yet-untitled fourth album expected to drop sometime this year. Their second album remains one of my favorite records, after more than four years since its release. And of the ten songs featured on the album, I have chosen to highlight Madder Red, whose odd yet powerful video features Kristen Bell of House of Lies and Veronica Mars fame.