Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cinema Fancy - The Hunger Games

I'm not much of a reader, I'll be honest.  I read a LOT at work, being in Information Technology, and much of it is dry research.  So when I read outside of the office, it's often just articles on the internet or blog posts about my hobbies, much like the stuff I write for this site.  As such, it's not in my nature to go after novels, regardless of how engaging their storyline might be, because casual or recreational reading is just not something that interests me.  I feel no shame in this, it's just not my speed.  I'm more of a comic book guy.  But there are books I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, and there are times I wish I had more motivation to read.  As much as my wife and I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series of movies, there are times when I wish I had read the novels to get an idea of where they differed from the movies.  When I saw the three Lord of the Rings films, I was tempted to go back and re-read the books.  And though I know the 1985 Dune film took MANY liberties (I still love it!), I have read and enjoyed the first novel immensely.  Still, I'd generally much rather watch the "Cliff's Notes" version of the novel in the movie and get the general synopsis and essential story points where I can.


Okay, so it's bordering on trendy at this point to talk about this movie.  I get it.  And no, I'm not trying to get in on the trend, but I was really intrigued by the movie's premise, based on what I had heard about with the books, and the fact that it seemed like a fleshed out version of a short story I read during high school about a "lottery" where someone's name was drawn at random out of the village and eliminated because it was a custom, not just because of a hunger issue or some political ploy.  In any event, the concept itself was interesting enough for me to warrant wanting to go see the movie, at the very least.  With that in mind, my wife and I, along with a couple friends, went to see the movie a week or so ago and I've had time to ruminate on it.

Without going into too much detail or over-simplifying the plot, the story centers around what is essentially a post-World War III country that is made up of what was North America and several large territories or districts.  Each of these districts seem to be made up of a very polarized class-based society where there's a very large divide between the "haves" and "have nots" of the day.  The "haves" want for very little with their lavish clothing and hairstyles, and overabundance of food and amenities.  The "have nots" are left doing all the more menial tasks such as coal mining.  They also end up having to hunt for their food sometimes, as they are often without much food.  This is where we discover the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, as she is hunting for food for her family due to an absent father and mother who can't function too well on her own.

"The Hunger Games" ares an annual occurrence whereby one male and one female child from each district is chosen at random to participate in a savage contest that pits the youths against one another until only one youth remains alive.  It is a game of fear that allows the "haves" to more easily subjugate the "have nots".  Poor districts (like the one Katniss is from) have kids thrown into the contest primarily as fodder, while richer districts have kids that train for the games all their lives and essentially volunteer for service in the games as a way to honor their district.  Katniss is the first to volunteer from her poverty-stricken district, but only because her younger sister was the one chosen to be in the games.  Thankfully for Katniss, her prowess with the bow and arrow gives her an advantage over just the average kid.

I'm pretty handy with this thing, so don't cross me!

There are a lot of socio-political undertones and overtones in the film.  I think the agenda is largely a left-wing approach that shows the kind of overly classed society that happens when the scales are tipped to far in favor of the upper class, thereby eliminating the middle class and creating the huge divide we see in the film.  I don't necessarily think that the left-wing political agenda works here, however, because it is precisely the more conservative, free-market economy approach that will keep this kind of society from forming.  Socialism, by its very nature, cannot succeed long term without total subjugation of its citizens, because eliminating the drive to succeed will ultimately stifle scientific, engineering, and other advances because the incentive to do so is gone for all but the most ardent, curious, and philanthropic of minds.  That said, this kind of socio-economic fallout would be expected following a major World War, though 74 years after the fact it's a bit hard to believe that there's still THIS much poverty rampant.

Politics aside, the storyline is almost tailor made to cause controversy and get dinner table conversations going.  How can a society, 70+ years after reconstruction following a Third World War, continue to participate in this kind of savagery?  That is the inevitable question that many moviegoers will be asking themselves, and for good reason.  Aren't we, as a society, above all that?  But then, this is not our society.  This is a different world born from different circumstances.  So you help control the lower class people by striking fear in the hearts of parents and children alike by continuing to punish them in this manner.  Why strive to succeed in a district where there's no money, because you can't rise above the poverty line.  Not to mention your kid might be whisked away to die some day in the games.  Life becomes more about pure survival than about relishing any real joy in it.

I was a bit surprised at how disaffected I was about the kids being killed.  Perhaps its because I went in knowing that, perhaps its because it was kids killing each other in a contest they knew they had no choice but to participate in, or perhaps it's because I am less affected by it than I might have been had I been 20 years younger.  The first time I saw The Terminator and watched Arnold smoke those 2 teenagers after appearing on Earth just so he could steal their clothes...well, let's just say I was shocked and a bit incensed.  Why would someone depict that in a movie?  It was only years later that I truly understood the perspective, and so it is that understanding that likely fuels this.  Not that kids dying doesn't affect me; it does.  But I think what affected me more than that is how nonchalant everyone else in the movie was about it, save for the main characters.  Notice how carefully things were planned for Katniss - she only directly killed a couple fellow youths when she was in immediate danger and her life was threatened.  The girl she killed indirectly by dropping the wasp nest down to the ground from the tree-tops wouldn't have happened if the girl wasn't actually allergic to the wasp stings, though Katniss knew that was a risk.  Most of the other kids killed heartlessly, because those that didn't die in the initial run were from the more affluent districts and were kids who had been training for the games their whole lives.  But what strikes me about Katniss and her District 12 accomplice is that they bend the rules as much as they can - never intentionally killing other kids just to win the contest, but actively avoiding conflict until absolutely necessary.  When Katniss honored District 11 by giving the girl Rue a posthumous send-off with flowers and a sign of respect for the cameras, it invoked the kind of outrage and outcry that moviegoers had probably been hoping for, even though the short-lived "revolution" that happens within District 11 is quashed ever so quickly by the police state's forces.

Peace out, homie.

Visually, the movie is at once lavish and understated.  I love the contrast between the impoverished districts and those flowing with riches.  I also love the contrasts between the clean, stylized environments of the district where the games are held and the outdoor locales where the games take place.  I also like how the movie sort of subtly recalls the outlandish, over-the-top fashion sense of Luc Besson's The Fifth  Element, one of my all-time favorite science fiction films.  In some ways, The Hunger Games as a storyline owes a debt to the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, whether the connection was intentional or purely accidental.  The casting choice was also smart, with a number of unknown names and a handful of actors still toiling in obscurity.  Wes Bentley is enjoyable as the game director, and newcomer Lenny Kravitz (yes, THAT Lenny Kravitz) is understated but plausible as the "celebrity stylist" hired to help make Katniss and her district partner more attractive to game supporters.  Elizabeth Banks is somewhat brilliant as the District 12 Hunger Games spokeswoman - she is gleefully overwrought and excessive, and a beautiful woman is transformed with make-up, hair and clothes (as well as character flaws) into somewhat of an ugly person.

Perhaps the thing that makes the movie so intriguing when it's all said and done, is that it gives us a glimpse into one of the possible futures we face if our world continues toward the path of turmoil, and affords us a unique opportunity to peer into the proverbial magic mirror to see what's to come.  Does this mean we'll have a highly divided class-based society and sacrifice children for the sake of government?  I can't say these things are outside the realm of possibility, given that human nature is more selfish than selfless, and in times where there's very little to go around, the greed of those who have all they need further exemplifies the destitution of those who don't.  As one who hasn't read the book series, I will be very curious to know what they're going to do with the next movie.  With this film having one of the best opening weekends of nearly any film in history, and with it still being a big deal weeks after its release, there's very little chance that a sequel isn't already in the planning stages, if not in the works.  I look very forward to what's coming next in this franchise, because this movie has sparked as much self-reflection in me as both Inception and Limitless - and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Gamut - tonight's playlist!!!

New premiers tonight from Mortification's new EP, along with a new song by POD from their forthcoming album!  Tune in at 9 PM EST and listen in via !

Tonight's playlist!
Prosthetic - Avundens Harskare (Death Metal)
Sanctifica - Lavendar (Avant-Garde Metal)
Atomic Opera - Justice (Progressive Metal)
Carrying the Fire - Bleeding Hearts and Bloody Hands (Hardcore)
Sass O' Frass Tunic - The Lord is a Well (Blues/Alternative)
Tefilla - Exorators Chapel (Technical Thrash Metal)
Eternal Mystery - The Purpose Driven Business (Grindcore)
Stryper - The Trooper (Classic Metal)
LSU - Magical Rainbow Door (Alternative Rock)
ReinXeed - Reach For the Sky (Power Metal)
Fourth Estate - The Hammer Song (Instrumental Guitar Rock)
Gorilla Warfare - The Great Depression (Hardcore)
Kekal - To Whom It May Concern (Avant-Garde Metal)
Love Coma - On My Way (Alternative Rock)
Essence of Sorrow - Trail of Tears (Progressive Metal)
Asher (CA) - The Shadow Hour (Female-fronted Melodic Metal)
The Clergy - Purity (Female-fronted Punk/Alternative)
Mortification - Scribe of the Pentateuch (Thrash/Heavy Metal) -- The Gamut Premier!!!
POD - Eyez (Rapcore) -- The Gamut Premier!!!
Bloodgood - Shakin' It (Classic Metal)
Blah - You're Gonna Lose (Punk)
Rob Rock - Conqueror's Hymn (Power Metal)
Hero - Punch In the Face (Melodic Metal/Ballad)
Disciple - Not the Same (Groove Metal)
Divinefire - Hero (Power Metal)
Mortal - Alive and Awake (Industrial)
Disaffection - Stupid Ideas (Thrash Metal)
Sympathy - Bearing the Plague (Death Metal)
September - Lines Are Falling (Female-fronted Pop-Rock)
Fall of Echoes - Groaning (Progressive Metal)
Harmony - Fall Of Man (Power Metal)
Ecthirion - Immortality (Symphonic Extreme Metal)
Breaking the Fourth Wall - Nobody Names Their Kid Barbara Anymore (Post-Hardcore)
Pesticides - Nightmare (Death Metal)
Recon - Alive! (Classic Metal)
The Rekoning - Necessary Violence (Punk Rock)
Seventh Seal - Free (Commercial Metal)
I Built the Cross - Head High Heavy Heart (Technical Deathcore

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Album of the Moment - "The Prophecies" by Kenziner

Kenziner is a band I had heard of a time or two but hadn't picked up their albums. This is due, in part, to the fact that I hadn't seen them in stores, and also because every time I got the inkling to order one online (after listening to samples), there was always something that I wanted more or needed to order as time-sensitive because I would miss out on a pre-order special or limited edition thing. As such, they completely passed me by during their short run. A few weeks ago, however, I stumbled across the band's "The Prophecies" album during a little shopping trip with the wife. I was browsing through the clearance section of the Hastings Enertainment store in the community we were in (I remain a Hastings devotee), and found to my delight that there were a number of obscure metal releases in the clearance section, as well as a number of used titles that had been marked down as clearance. So I ended up snagging this Kenziner CD for all of $2 used. Pretty good deal, especially considering I didn't know that there would be other metal fans in the state of Nebraska that would even have heard of this band. Miracles can happen, though, right?

Also to my delight, the CD is as good as I was expecting, based on the samples I had previously heard a few years prior. This isn't going to be the power metal revalation that will convert you to being a fan of the style if you're not already, but certainly for fans of the style, this is a solid entry. I will say that it's not exclusively power metal in the Helloween, Hammerfall, or Gamma Ray vein, however. There are at least 3 songs on this CD I would call "ballads" in the classic sense, and more mid-tempo material than you might expect from a band who comes raging out of the game like these guys do with both "Live Forever" and "The Razor's Edge" as the first two tracks on the CD. The more tempered material, like "Trail of Tears" and "Like a Paradise" slow things down enough so that the more speedy material doesn't become rote, but then that is also helped by the incredibly hooky choruses.

One of the things that I really love about this CD, and this band in particular, is vocalist Stephen Frederick. The man bears more than a passing resemblance to one of hard rock's golden voices, one Mr. Graham Bonnet. Stephen has this uncanny ability, like Graham Bonnet, to be both gritty and smooth at the same time. Scoff if you will at that statement, but it's a quality that very few vocalists can pull off. Some of it, I suspect, can be chocked up to natural ability. Some of it is perhaps training and conditioning. But Stephen's tone and sound are strikingly similar to that of Graham's, and that's not necessarily a band thing. For all the guys that have aped (and somewhat badly, I might add) Robert Plant or David Coverdale over the years, it's about time someone did a worthy Graham Bonnet impression. And while I suspect much of Stephen's sound is just the way his voice sounds, one can't help but wonder if perhaps Stephen is a big fan of Mr. Bonnet.

Regardless of the similarity in vocals (scary similar at times), Kenziner still manages to be unique enough in their sound to stand out just enough. Their faster numbers can be a touch long-ish, but then those hooky choruses help keep them fresh and moving along without overstaying their welcome too much. I think the overlong songs that don't leave as much impact are the more ballad-oriented numbers, those can get stuck in your head too. But I challenge you, after listening to this CD a couple times, to not tell me that you have the chorus to "Razor's Edge" stuck in your head for days. I dare you.

More content coming!

I must apologize to the 3 (okay, 2) readers who keep up with this blog, as other than weekly announcements of the playlists for my radio show (are you listening yet?) and updates to my vinyl collection (yay!), it has been slim pickings here of late. I had hoped to have at least weekly content, if not more than weekly, but life sometimes gets in the way. Never fear! I am going to make a more concerted effort to try and rectify that by posting as much content as I can in spurts. That doesn't mean the content will be less quality than it has been, but it should mean that every few days (or couple weeks), you'll see between 2 and 5 posts that are NOT related to my radio show, though videos of my collection updates will likely be part of that process as well.

Speaking of videos, if you haven't visited my YouTube channel yet, I would encourage you to do so and check out all my historical content. In addition to all the long format review videos I have and the collection videos, I will be undertaking a large-scale project to encompass my entire media collection. Aside from the collection videos where I brag about incoming vinyl albums, I plan on doing an album-by-album "Mini-Review" of each CD, cassette, and vinyl album or 7" release in my collection, including demos, re-issues, and variations. One-to-one duplicates (where the cassette, vinyl and/or CD versions are exactly the same) will be passed up. Due to the large size of my music collection (2,500+ CDs, 400+ vinyl albums, 100+ cassettes), some folks think I can't possibly have listened to all the music in my collection, but I have listened to nearly everything, save for a few vinyl oddities or CDs that I purchased almost entirely for collection purposes. That said, I plan on intentionally listening to each and every CD that I have, as well as each vinyl album and cassette that I plan on covering. Each of these mini-reviews will be a video recorded on YouTube and then posted to this blog with a small blurb.

But wait, there's more! I did say "media collection" above, didn't I? So not only will I be covering my entire music collection, but I will also be doing mini-reviews and bits on all my video games, DVDs, some classic VHS videos I have, as well as my comic book collection. I may even include my old magazine collection if I get the urge to, which includes several back-issues of the classic "Video Games & Computer Entertainment" magazine, as well as years-old issues of Heaven's Metal and HM Magazine, along with a few odds and ends (GamePro, EGM, Game Informer, Sega Visions, Turbo Magazine, etc). Of course, as I add more media, I will be including that in the mini-review list. I also hope to continue to do little reviews and blogs on favorite TV shows, movies, and current media.

So while it sounds like this will be a giant, daunting task, this isn't something that will be done overnight, and certainly not something I hope to accomplish in some pre-determined length of time. I simply want to undertake this as a way of sharing my somewhat niche music and media collection with everyone and exposing people to stuff they may not have heard of or may know by name, but have no reference for. Hopefully, I can either help bring nostalgia to some, expose some to new music, movies or games that might be right up their alley, or at the very least, shed more light on the things I enjoy so that others have at least had a chance to hear about them. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Gamut - tonight's playlist!!!

New premiers tonight from Mortification's new EP, as well as the new single by The Sacrificed from their excellent new album "III"!  Tune in at 9 PM EST and listen in via !

Tonight's playlist!
Fasedown - The Lie (Groove Metal/Metalcore)
Bloodgood - The Messiah (Classic Metal)
DigHayZoose - Doubt (Funk/Alternative/Metal)
Aleixa - Disfigured (Female-fronted Techno-Rock)
ReinXeed - The Final Hour (Power Metal)
Common Children - free (Alternative Rock)
Entorn - Home Sweet Mental Home (Doom Metal)
Once Dead - Devosion (Thrash Metal)
Jetenderpaul - Indie Pop
A Plea For Purging - Heart of a Child (Metalcore)
Veer Chasm - Wounded (Techno-Rock)
Krig - Hideout of Demons (Death Metal)
Apostisy - Dance Of the Dead (Black Metal)
Liptocoal - When I Fall (Modern Heavy Rock)
Eternal Mystery - Cheap Cliches (Grindcore)
Haven - Unchanging (Power Metal)
Mortification - Jaws of Life (Thrash Metal) - The Gamut premier!!!
The Sacrificed - Words ont he Gin (Power Metal) - The Gamut premier!!!
Kingston Falls - Too Hot For Cold Feet (Melodic Metalcore)
Crimson Thorn - Grave of Rebirth (Death Metal)
Blood Covenant - Metanoia (Black Metal)
Eisley - Memories (Female-fronted Indie Pop)
Bloodline Severed - Coalition (Melodic Death Metal)
Tourniquet - Microscopic View of a Telescopic Realm (Progressive Thrash Metal)
POD - Let the Music Do the Talking (Rapcore)
Pantokrator - Words of Agur (Death Metal)
Rob Rock - Saviour's Call (Power Metal)
Diamoth - Unfaithful (Black Metal)
Sacrament - Absence of Fear (Thrash Metal)
Undercover - I'd Rather Stay (80s Rock)
Sincerely Paul - The Black and the Blue (Alternative Rock)
Venia (FIN) - A Sigh of Redemption (Female-fronted Power Metal)
Barren Cross - Imaginary Music (Classic Metal)
Mad At The World - No Mistakes (Alternative Pop/Rock)
Inevitable End - Collapse in Reverse (Technical Death Metal)
Under the Sun - To Sleep With Anger (Doom Metal)
Noggin Toboggan - Iron (Punk)
Onward to Olympas - Accuser (Metalcore)

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