Movie review: Divergent is delicious

I didn’t read Victoria Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I have this thing about reading popular books. I don’t like to read them until the hype dies down. Also, my time is so limited these days that any spare time I have I try to work on my own writing. It’s unfortunate because reading is my guilty pleasure. There’s nothing more I love than curling up with a good book. But when I read, I feel guilty because that time is time I could be using to finish my own work. I’ve made a deal with myself: in between writing I take a few months to read everything I stacked up on my nightstand (see what I did there?) – decompress from my own mind if you will, and then start on my work after I’ve had a chance to truly step away from the world I’ve created and been working in and start fresh again.

So… in a few months I will get to it, in addition to about twenty other books I am foaming at the mouth to read. However, like Hunger Games (I know, I heard your audible gasp, didn’t get to read that either) I will read after seeing the films and while part of me worries the film will influence the images and characters of the book, I know my mind and know that I am pretty good at letting it make up its own mind and not be driven by whatever images the film drove.

I saw Divergent last night and liked it. I thought it was a pretty high quality film, like Hunger Games, and not at all like Summit’s Twilight films. (Those vampire weaves, come on!) Also, I really love Shailene Woodley — I think she’s a pretty talented young actress — and I like Theo James. He’s different from some of those actors out there right now. Of course he was also in Underworld Awakening, one of my favorite movie franchises ever, so well, I am a little biased. Kate Winslet’s performance was a bit underwhelming. She is capable of so much more, so part of me wonders if she was in the film because  her daughter asked her to be, like Glenn Close did when she took the role of Cruella Deville for Disney’s 101 Dalmatians? Is her daughter that old? I don’t know. It’s a theory so don’t hold me to it and frankly, I don’t have the time to look up whether or not she has a daughter (can’t remember at the moment) and if so, her age.  It was nice to see Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn. AND…a strange twist (or maybe purposeful), Shailene’s co-star from The Spectacular Now (which was underwhelming, I will admit) Miles Teller, as well as her co-star from The Fault in our Stars, Ansel Elgort. Is it really just a small world, or does Shailene have incredible pull with her film’s casting directors in getting her friends jobs?

I thought the movie also did a great job bringing to life Roth’s dystopian Chicago. Dystopian novels bother me a bit because of their settings, but I like to see how director’s bring them to life on the screen and make them a bit raw and sexy (is it ok to say that?) and not creepy and morose. And well yeah, I will admit, love Tris and Four. I am a sucker for YA/fan fiction couples. But doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that why these books are so popular?

Perhaps my favorite part of the film was 1) the painless tattoo Shailene’s character Tris gets. No wonder everyone in Dauntless is tatted up. If it was a sticker like approach now, I’d be in that chair, stat! And 2) the presence of more than one Ellie Goulding song in the film. Two of my favorite Ellie songs are featured in Divergent: one, “My Blood”, featured in the film, and two, “Beating Heart,” which is featured on the credits. I am obsessed with the latter, but don’t be fooled. Was totally obsessed by the former when it first came out, too. I love Ellie’s music. Totally, and completely. Nothing she does bothers me. I could listen to her all day. Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to also hear her cover of Active Child’s “Hanging On.” Including all three below because her voice is stunning.

“Beating Heart”

“My Blood”

“Hanging On”

 

Divergent was delicious and I am anxious to see the second film. Who knows, maybe I will read the trilogy before the second film comes out. I should be finished with my second novel by that time (shit, I hope so!) and have some trips planned in the coming months. Maybe my mind could use a nice deep dive into Roth’s dystopian’s world.

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Maleficent is Magnificent!

maleficent-movie

Maleficent is in one word, perfection.

In more words, it is everything about a fairy tale origin story I want. Unlike that tragic Snow White and the Huntsman featuring she who can’t act to save her life, Kristen Stewart.

Much has been said over the years about Maleficent, the antagonist in Disney’s adaptation of the classic fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty.” Her voice, her walk, her crow, her dragon…she is the evil character we love to hate because in a word, she is fabulous. That’s why when rumors started swirling a few years back that Jolie was set to bring the deliciously wicked character to the big screen I, like others, got excited. If anyone could bring to life the character epitomized by the late actress Eleanor Audley, it would be Jolie.

And bring her to life she did.

Jolie’s performance was exactly as you would think; her voice eerie, not as commanding as Aduley’s, but unique in its own right, befitting of her Maleficent. Jolie’s Maleficent is strong and regal and wicked and endearing and just perfect! Her statuesque presence, dazzling eyes (emphasized by special effects of course, but no less gorgeous), power and grace, not to mention moments of frailty – yes frailty –  has you actually rooting for her. Rooting for her…the evil fairy!  And if you’re wondering if that is a typo …it’s not. You read it right. Maleficent, in this story, is a fairy. Without giving away too much, that was a new twist on the tale. And overall, I absolutely loved what the writer’s did with Maleficent’s origin story. Without giving away any spoilers, love is the key to both the damnation and salvation of both Maleficent and Princess Aurora – but in a surprising twist from what we’ve been told all these years.

Let’s face it, I am a sucker for love stories. And when love is the background behind the twisting evil of some of movie’s most villainous foes – think Wicked Witch of the East, Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter – it brings me to my knees. Who wasn’t touched by the story of Elphaba? Whose heart wasn’t shattered when Anakin thought his wife and unborn children were lost? Who didn’t mourn for the family of Hannibal Lecter? (Before you think me weird, if you’ve not seen Hannibal Rising rent it, now. It will give you a whole new level of …understanding, dare I say, for the epitome of evil characters, Hannibal.) You understand  these characters better, and the heart of their plight. You may not agree with their approach to dealing with their grief, but you get it and a part of you supports their quest for vindication. (Except for the whole eating people thing in Lecter…that is still horrifying.) This is what I loved about Maleficent. All these years, finally, we understand her wickedness and guess what, if you’re like me, you understand and emphasize with it.

I wasn’t too impressed with Elle Fanning’s performance, but then again, I’ve never been a fan of Princess Aurora. Of all the princesses, she always bugged me. Not sure why. Her father, King Stefan, has an interesting background in this adaptation, and is at the heart of Maleficent’s curse. He is actually pretty annoying in the movie, bordering on dirty dirt bag material.

These two things aside, Jolie’s costumes were gorgeous, the look and feel of the film kept it very close to the beloved Disney classic, and the ending credits even featured one of my favorite voices, Lana Del Ray, covering the classic “Once Upon a Dream,” featured in the 1959 animated film.  I love this song. I sang it to my son every night at bedtime when he was a baby, and he still smiles when he hears it to this day.

I will be buying the film when it comes to DVD, as we have with every version of the Disney classic that has come to VHS and DVD. What can I say, it’s a bit of a favorite. And now the origin story is, too.

Lana Del Ray – “Once Upon a Dream”

Praise for the score master, John Barry – from Peggy Sue Got Married to Indecent Proposal, his music still gets me

Classical music has been a part of my life for a long, long time. The first piece I fell in love with was “A Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith Orchestra. My mom had the 45. She skated to it as a teen and would listen to it when cleaning the house when I was little. I loved the sound, it seemed to tell a story through whimsical strings and cheerful flutes.

Next for me was the film score.

I love film scores. As much as I love  soundtracks. And there have been many to land a place in my heart over the years. Among some of my most favorite, those by the masterful John Barry. John Williams and Hans Zimmer are incredible, but something about Barry’s music connects with me. It reaches into my soul and wraps around my heart.

What are some of my favorites you ask? Well…

“Peggy Sue Got Married” – I literally can not listen to this piece without tearing up. I just can’t. I loved this movie so much. It would be years before Nicholas Cage got all weird on us, but I will always love him for being Charlie in this incredible movie by his uncle Francis Ford Coppola about a woman who passes out at her high 25 year high school reunion, only to wake up in her senior year and either make the same choice twice, which included marrying her high school sweetheart to whom she is in the middle of divorcing, or set out on a new fate.  The hairs on my arms stand up at the 1:39 mark and whenever I hear this I see Peggy Sue (played by Kathleen Turner) entering her childhood bedroom, surrounded by innocence and a connection to a life she seems to have lost over the past 25 years. The emotion that fills her as her sister Nancy enters the room (played by Coppola’s daughter Sophia, long before she would give us The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette) is palpable and a lump forms in my throat every. single. time.


“Out of Africa”  – one of the first real love stories  I remember seeing. My mom was obsessed with it. Robert Redford is in it, so well yeah, even I can understand her appeal to the film. But it wasn’t until years later that I sat down to watch it with a more mature look on life, that I really understood the story. It is absolutely beautiful and the incredible Meryl Streep does an amazing job as the Danish baroness/plantation owner that has a passionate love affair with a free-spirited big-game hunter played by Robert Redford. It is an incredibly moving film, set against the breathtaking beauty of Kenya. Barry’s score captures the love kindled between the two, and the magnificent beauty of Africa. Listen and you tell me if you get goosebumps at the 1:10 mark.

“Dances with Wolves” – I have always had a deep fascination with the Native American people.  When my sister and I were little, we’d ride in local parades as cowboys and Indians. Once we rode together, she was the cowgirl of the Wild West and me the young Indian girl. She rode her Paint horse and I our Palomino. Yes, the horse is called a Paint. Look it up.  I wore moccasins and yes I even wore a feather in my hair. I will spare you the picture, but it was really fun and such a great memory. In high school our mascot was a Redskin. I was in sports. I was an avid supporter of our school pride. We beat the tribal drum during homecoming week 24/7, taking rotations through the day and night. I never felt a sense of shame for the gorgeous embroidery of the Native American Chief on the back of my letter-man’s jacket or when we painted our faces in “war paint” when supporting the  team on Friday nights. Of course I understand now those activities are more insulting than prideful, but at the heart of it all was a curiosity of a people who as years go by, seem to be more and more forgotten.  It would be years later that my fascination turned into real pride when I married someone whose father was Native American, born on Cherokee Nation. My son carries Cherokee blood and it has become a passion of mine to find out as much as I can about his ancestors so that he can teach his children and they theirs, so the Native American people are never forgotten.

There are few movies about Native Americans that I can stomach but one that I really did love was “Dances With Wolves.” I had a huge crush on Kevin Costner at the time so it didn’t hurt that he was in it. But, I must have listened to that score a thousand times over the years. It is so beautiful and moving and I can’t help but see the Great Plains and scores of buffalo roaming its hills when I hear it.

“Indecent Proposal” – you know the movie. Diana (played by Demi Moore) is paid a million dollars to spend the night with billionaire John Gage (played by Robert Redford).  Diana and her husband David (played by Woody Harrelson) need the money to save their half finished dream home from being foreclosed on by the bank and so they think, big deal, it’s one night. But well, everything unravels and turns to shit and its a crazy concept that was at the heart of one of my most favorite movies of that decade and even today, when I hear this piece from the score, I can see David losing his mind, trying to get to Diana in time to tell her the deal is off….just in time to see her depart with Gage.

Have I ever told you I loved you?

No.

I do.

Still?

Always.

Sigh…..

 

And now well, these days I also love opera. And that took years to appreciate. But that’s a post for another day. For now, enjoy this trip down memory lane, compliments of movies from the 80s and 90s.

Old love for Foster the People’s new song “Coming of Age”

I’m a writer, but I’m often without words. There are some moments in time, feelings, and memories that are just too hard to describe. Moments that have left me breathless. Speechless. Utterly unable to put a string of words together. And as a lover of words, that’s hard to admit.

But music…music has that potential, and for me, has always been that one thing that has helped me to say what it is I am trying to remember, what I am trying to feel, what it is I am trying to describe. And in Foster the Peoples new video “Coming of Age,” they have managed to capture a moment in time that has always been hard for me to describe as one of my favorites: the 80s.

I loved the 80s. The music. The movies. The excess. The way the world worked and my perception of that big world while looking up at it from my childhood.  It wasn’t just a time of neon, hair bands and New Wave. It was the time of my youth. Of recording “Friday Night Videos” so I could watch the next morning. Of dreaming Jake Ryan was my boyfriend. Of friendship bracelets and parachute pants. Of The Go Go’s and Valley Girl. Of mixed tapes and Michael Jackson. Of everything about growing up I think back to fondly because it was the most simple and fun time I’ve had. The most fun that we’ve all probably had, only mine was in the 80s, while yours could have been in the the 90s or 70s, maybe even 60s. It was my childhood and I was just lucky enough to experience it through the Aqua net haze of the 80s. And this video so effortlessly summed that up by putting to music the excitement, fun, and energy of my youth.

Well done Foster the People, well done.

Kicking 2013 to the curb with DJ Earworm’s “United State of Pop 2013: Living the Fantasy”

I for one, wasn’t sad to see 2013. And I know I’m not alone.  I think the year sucked. On one had, I landed my dream job, which was pretty incredible, and met some incredible new people and traveled a bit, to places new and familiar. On the other, it well, kinda sucked. The energy was weird, the struggles, when they occurred, were big, and I just felt this black cloud looming overhead all year long. I can’t say anything nice about 2013 other than I’m glad its over.

However…

DJ Earworm, AKA Jordan Roseman, a San Francisco-based mashup artist, released his annual “United State of Pop” mashup in mid December – an ode to 2013 called “Living the Fantasy.” Featuring the top 25 songs of the year including Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” Lorde’s “Royals” and Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” pretty heavily,  I think it is not only his best United States of Pop mashup yet, but one of the best pieces of music I have heard in a long, long time. He has to be a mad genius to bring together so many songs and tell a story – and pull together a video to accompany as well. I was sure he had some help there, but apparently he does that, too. See where trolling away on your Macbook can take you?

I play it daily. It makes me happy. It reminds me that while 2013 may have been a year of black clouds and twerking, there was some good tunes in it and they deserve to be celebrated. It also reminds me that ding dong, the year past is gone and 2014 has arrived with great energy and  signs it just may be a pretty damn good year.

Cool Songs in Movies (and on TV): Mariah, Mercy, a McDonald and a Matthew

I was disappointed in Oz The Great and Powerful. As far as movies go, I was left wanting more. I thought the colors were incredible, but the talent of Rachel Weisz and James Franco incredibly wasted, and Michelle Williams too soft and vapid. Mila Kunis was gorgeous, but her Wicked Witch of the West paled in comparison to Margaret Hamilton, who to this day is the only actress to portray the character beyond imagination. I said all this months back when the movie first hit theaters. You can check out my review here.

All this said, now that it has hit the Starz channel and on rotation nearly daily, I’ve had a chance to watch it again and while I still think it was capable of so much more I did discover the second go around, a gem – a song during the end credits that I may have caught had perhaps I stuck around the theater long enough the first time. But I hadn’t. I broke my golden rule. Credits = music, and assuming the score would be as much of a bore as the flick, I hightailed it out of there instead of sticking around for hidden surprises like behind the scenes outtakes, sneak peek’s at future movies and well, music. After all, the end credits were the best part of the first Twilight film; the samples from the soundtrack that accompanied the millions of names scrolling up the screen  worth the hour and a half of bad teen angst acting.

But I digress….

Back to Oz.

I had to Shazam it because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. For a music lover with a deep appreciation for the human voice, I was stunned. The tune was glorious in the way only one accompanying a major Hollywood film would be, but it was that voice. It was familiar, but almost forgotten; its divinity  lost years ago.  It was …Mariah Carey? A non-shrieking, solid vocal performance from the diva whose music I once sang along to before she got all Honey on me? Mon dieu!

I have never heard this song until a few days ago, but have to say, I was impressed and hope there is more tricks left in MC’s bag. I sure hope so. The Emancipation of Mimi album was LONG overdue and I am anxious for another solid album.

“Almost Home” by Mariah Carey

Two other recent discoveries come from the CW’s new show, The Originals. I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries’ spinoff. Set in the city of New Orleans (my kindred soul mate, if a city could be one), the show focuses on the remaining members of the original vampire family – siblings Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah. The acting is solid  – both Joseph Morgan and Claire Holt incredibly talented, stealing many scenes of TVD episodes over the past few seasons – and plot line compelling, a well written new spin on the witches vs. vampires tale started over on TVD and carried deliciously over to The Originals. And…like most CW shows, the music featured in each episode is just the way I like it: indie and emo, with a tad of edge to keep it interesting.  Many of the artists featured in episodes so far I was introduced to through TVD. But so far this season a couple of favorites are singles from Mercy and Moby featured in episode 3, “Tangled Up in Blue.”

“Mercy” from Hurts

“A Case for Shame (with Cold Specks)” from Moby

I also must share a new tune discovery from one of my fun favorites Drop Dead Diva – a show which thankfully found new life after having been cancelled by its home network and producer, Lifetime.

Sometimes the emotions in a friendship are stronger than words can describe, and Shawn McDonald’s song “Through it All” was the perfect song choice for Season 5’s Episode 11, which saw best friends Jane and Stacey finding meeting in the middle after…well, you just need to watch the show because it’s too hard to explain. But it was after an “oh no she didn’t!” moment that I thought nothing could repair.

I found the version of the song they used in the episode on iTunes, but all of the videos on You Tube are a different version and trust me, the one from the show was incredible.  So, for now, a small clip will have to do. Click here and then click on the song title, “Through it All.”

And lastly, this ethereal beauty was discovered in last week’s episode of Witches of East End on Lifetime. And before you judge me, I will say the show is fabulous! I thought it would be a cross between Desperate Housewives and that tragic show about scandalous maids on Lifetime, but it’s not. It’s fabulous and wicked and I hope (fingers crossed) good enough to make it another season.

Matthew Perryman Jones’ “Canción de la Noche” caught me totally by surprise.  It was quiet, and simple, and haunting, and everything about music I love. A song that reached into my chest and squeezed tight. It’s a powerful song, telling a story that seems to be of both this world and another. Check it out, you’ll see.

That’s it for now. But I have a ton of shows to catch up on, so don’t be surprised if you see another post in the days following with more delightful discoveries. Until then download these finds, slip on your headphones, and drift slowly off to sleep.

Cool Songs in Movies – “Here it Comes” from Brit psychological thriller Trance

If  you’re looking for a cool movie, something that’s different from all the usually tired stuff that’s out there,  check out Trance. It’s on PPV this month and it’s in one word, fabulous. I rank it up there with movies I was pleasantly surprised by and can never shake. Movies like Drive, Lucky Number Slevin and Wanted. Funny I should mention that last one, Scotland’s own James McAvoy (of Wanted) is one of the stars of Trance, along with Vincent Cassel (that skeevy  instructor from Black Swan and criminal mastermind from Derailed) and Rosario Dawson.
Not sure if it was widely released in the US (the British psychological thriller film was directed by Danny Boyle and released in 2013). But I wish it was because I want more people to see it. In short, the movie is about “an art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.” (Thank God for IMDB because I couldn’t summarize it in less than a paragraph).
It’s a really, really, really great movie. The plot is pretty twisted and soundtrack pretty divine. Including this great tune from Emeli Sandé & Rick Smith, “Here It Comes” heard at the end.
Enjoy and trust me, if you’re looking for a rental suggestion this weekend I give Trance an enthusiastic  two thumbs up.