January 28, 2014

Don Jon~Movie Review

By Philip Rearich

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Don Jon: Dashing Directorial Debut
Directed and written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jon “Don Jon” Martello Jr.
Scarlett Johannson as Barbara Sugarman
Julianne Moore as Esther
Tony Danza as Jon Martello Sr.

Rating: 5/5

Ever wondered what an R-rated version of (500) Days of Summer would look like? That’s this movie. That movie was sort of a satire on rom-coms and how people idealize relationships to them. This movie, on the other hand, viciously satires them along with how people, especially guys, are with sex and porn.
Now, the character of Don Jon himself. He is not a bad man. He is a ladies man, a man simply being a man. Sure, he acts like the “Joisey” stereotype seen in Jersey Shore at times, but it’s meant to be funny. He’s obsessed about his image, thinks himself a sex god, his accent is all Italian-Americanish, his friggin hair is even slick back with gel, and of course his clothing, mostly consisting of muscle shirts just so he can show off his muscles a lot. If his “relationships” with women aren’t weird, then his relationship with his family is weird. His parents (his dad played by Tony Danza, good to see him again) are always harping on him about his life and relationships and his sister is always texting and rarely speaks, but when she finally does, it sums up Jon’s breakup with the blonde Barbara and why, yet I can’t help but feel it might’ve been a little too convenient that she just talks up about it near the end of the movie.
I love the funny commentary on relationships like with Summer, in that there is a one-sidedness on both sides of relationship. Jon was being the guy who was fine the way things were going and Barbara wanted to control him. It’s just funny to see a power struggle in a relationship like this, almost as if it were real, but at the same time it’s not and it’s a satire on the thing as a whole. Jon is only able to truly be himself, albeit softened up, with Esther the older (and in my honest opinion sexier than Barbara in a way) woman.
This was the directorial debut of Levitt. He was offered a part in Django Unchained but declined because of this movie, and honestly I’d say it was worth it for him. He’s able to handle the tasks of directing, writing, producing, and even acting in this movie very well. Such a shame he wasn’t nominated for any major awards at the Oscars or Golden Globes or something, but hey it’s his first time doing this. He’s like an anti-Woody Allen, in the sense that he’s more confident, optimistic (maybe a little pessimistic at times), almost always in control, and not neurotic. If this movie comes out as offensive, being a satirical comedy about romantic stereotypes, sex, porn, and whatever else you may have a problem about this movie, it’s probably not for you, but worth checking out at some point.

January 28, 2014

The Hobbit~Movie Review

By Philip Rearich

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug: More like 45 minutes of Smaug (not a joke)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Richard Armitage as Thoren Oakenshield
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug and The Necromancer/Sauron
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
Ken Stott as Balin
Aidan Turner as Kili
Luke Evans as Bard
Manu Bennett as Azog

Rating: 2/5

You know, very rarely do I ever yell out in a theater about something I thought was bad in a movie. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Anyway, after this movie was over, and I mean abruptly over (I’ll get to that in a bit), I was yelling my head off about it and I didn’t care. It made me mad. That’s what this movie did.
I haven’t seen the other Hobbit movie and at this point I don’t really care to. If I’m in the mood for it I’ll watch it, but right now I just don’t care. Just the notion, must less the idea of it actually happening, of a trilogy based on The Hobbit is so off-putting through it trying so hard to capitalize on The Lord of the Rings as a while that it’s just simply sad and pitiful. I was okay with it originally being a 2-part adaptation (cause those are all the rage now), but a trilogy? How desperate are they? Well, I’ll give em credit for at least having more, I don’t know, quality than the people doing the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.
For a movie that’s supposed to be about, oh I don’t know, SMAUG, it sure takes its time to get to him. I can understand they would wait for 30 minutes to get to him, but it’s way longer than that. You know what it’s all about before they get to him? We see the main characters going from prison forest to prison town. No seriously, that’s it. They get imprisoned by elves led by Legolas (who is a jerk and has bright blue eyes for no reason whatsoever), Tauriel (who becomes infatuated with a dwarf and he with her, so insert interspecies mating joke here), and Thranduil (who yells his mouth so wide and is so stereotypically snobbish he might as well be a male version of Charlize Theron from Snow White and Prometheus). They get out by riding on barrels, with lots of hijinks, and have to remain in hiding in a town for an awful amount of time. Oh and a bunch of stuff happens with Gandalf and others trying to stop The Necromancer who turns out to be….dun dun dun, Sauron! (how obvious could it be, really?)
And now, finally, at last, to Smaug. Only it felt like there was only 45 MINUTES of him in this movie. This is probably the only highlight of the movie for me. The visuals for him are stunning and great, way more useful than for the orcs (honestly they are so fake-looking, whatever happened to the makeup that made them scary before?). I wasn’t sure how Cumberbatch was gonna be able to do motion capture for a dragon, but whatever he did worked here. He seems so comfortable and at such ease for a raging fiery beast that it’s almost kinda cute in a menacing way. I’d love to maybe ride that dragon or have him as a pet. This is the best dragon ever to be put on film, at least for live action. Heck, this is how dragons (at least talking ones) should be done in live action from now on. And there isn’t much difference between Cumberbatch as Smaug and as Khan, because they’re both open about who they are, what they are, and what they’ve done in their lives, aside that this is fantasy and the other is sci-fi. Andy Serkis may have made Gollum real, but Benedict Cumberbatch is a force to be reckoned with here.
So, what is it that made me so mad? Well, it’s not the 45 minutes of Smaug, really, but rather the ending. I’m not gonna spoil it, but I am gonna say that it’s a total lie. I just kept yelling and yelling and yelling at what a lie the ending was all the way from the theater to my car in the parking lot, and that was a long walk. I thought it was gonna end a certain way that would transition to Hobbit 3, but not in the way that it was actually done. It just makes the whole reality of The Hobbit trilogy so contrived and ridiculous that it’s amazing it’s actually happening. Of course everyone will love it, they’re entitled to their opinions, it’ll make lots of money as the moviemakers wanted it to, and then it’ll hopefully be all over when Hobbit 3 comes out. Just let it be over and done with.

January 23, 2014

American Hustle~Movie Review

Am Hustle

By Philip Rearich

American Hustle: The best movie of 2013

Rating: 5/5

Directed by: David O. Russell

Written by: David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer

Starring: Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso

Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensley

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld

Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito

Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen

Jack Huston as Pete Musane

Michael Pena as Paco Hernandez/Sheik Abdullah

Shea Whigham as Carl Elway

Paul Herman as Alfonse Simone

Robert De Niro as Victor Tellegio

Wow. I mean…wow. And I’m not saying “wow” sarcastically, but in the sense of how awestruck I am by how awesome this movie is. This is the best movie of 2013, hands down. I mean, there have been plenty of good and bad movies, but this one is the best movie I’ve seen all year and probably one of the best films I’ve seen in my entire life. It is that good of a movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, GO SEE IT NOW. I’m serious. Also, I just wanna throw this joke out of the way, that this movie can also be looked at as not just about the ABSCAM operation, but also about Batman getting it on and working with Lois Lane and Mystique while also working and messing with Rocket Raccoon and Hawkeye, proving that Batman can do great and mess with Marvel and DC simply because…HE’S BATMAN!!!!

Last time I reviewed a David O. Russell movie, it was Silver Linings Playbook and that was awesome. This time I check out American Hustle and it’s more awesome than that. I can’t emphasize how serious I am on that. This movie is like the dark twin of O.Russell’s previous film. While Playbook was a little more upbeat and kinda down to earth, Hustle is more nasty and cynical and whatever positivity there is can only be found at the end…somewhat. And while this is somewhat based on actual events, I’m not gonna comment on that because once you put in “some of this actually happened” at the beginning of the movie, accuracy be damned and just watch this movie however you want to. Another reason not to be so strict on the “true story” stuff is that the movie just focuses more on the characters themselves than the plot, which does well for this.

I’m not gonna single out anyone for praise, with a little exception to Jennifer Lawrence (yeah I’m another one of the gazillion Lawrence fanboys, sue me). Everyone in this movie just acts perfectly. Bale, Cooper, Renner, Adams, Lawrence, Huston, C.K., and even De Niro (though he is uncredited, which confuses me), are just sights to behold. We’re not just watching them act, we’re watching them as masters at work. They’re performances are so chameleon-like that they could just be the people they are portraying in real life. And remember how I said that this movie can be the dark twin compared to Playbook? Well, Jennifer Lawrence in this movie is like the dark twin compared to Jennifer Lawrence in Playbook. She’s manipulative, hypocritical, whiny, and downright nasty, yet you just gotta love her for it not just because it’s Jennifer Lawrence, but it’s a great performance regardless.

This is a surefire contender for the Oscars in almost every way possible. If it doesn’t win the awards it deserves (picture, acting, writing, directing), then I’m gonna freak. Or I’ll just calm down. I don’t know. This movie drives me nuts, but in a good way. So go on and hustle on over to American Hustle NOW.

 

 

 

 

 

January 23, 2014

The Wolverine: Marvel’s Batman~Movie Review

By Philip Rearich

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Rating: 4/5

Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank

Based on: Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller

Starring: Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine

Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida

Rila Fukushima as Yukio

Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen Yashida

Famke Janssen as Jean Grey/Phoenix

 

First off, I just wanna say this: Wolverine is Marvel’s Batman. Now, others would say “no way, Iron Man is Marvel’s Batman,” and while they are entitled to their opinions, I still think it’s Wolverine. Sure, Iron Man 3 can be Marvel’s version of The Dark Knight Rises (the hero questioning himself and being depressed, the guy that was thought to be the main villain isn’t the main villain), but The Wolverine is Marvel’s The Dark Knight…sort of. Let’s face it, Wolverine is the most overused character in the X-Men movies, the ironic fact being that he wasn’t even originally created as an X-Men character but rather debuted in an issue of The Incredible Hulk. Somewhere along the way, he joined the X-Men and has been the character mostly identified with them, though he has been with other superhero teams in comics such as The Avengers, and has even stood on his own as a solo character. Yes, Iron Man does have similar traits to Batman (rich guy, genius inventor, dark past, etc.), but Iron Man is more flippant and open, not to mention a substance abuser, whereas Wolverine is more of a loner and sometimes a team player, using the most drastic means to get the job done (yeah I know he kills and Batman generally doesn’t). Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the movie.

As if the other X-films weren’t Wolverine-centered enough (with exception of First Class, even though he had a cameo), there are now two Wolverine solo films with another rumored along the way. While Origins (the prequel movie released in 2009) was somewhat enjoyable, it did have a lot of problems. It tried to cram in every Wolverine origin story (trust me, there are A LOT of them) and rush it out in a 2 ½ hr narrative, characters (especially fan favorites) were simply glossed over and/or simplified either just to put them in there or simply fan service (not to mention provide their own movies; speaking of which, where are the Deadpool and Gambit movies?) because Wolverine trumps them all I guess, and it tried too hard to be like Batman Begins only more rushed (fitting I guess since Wolverine is a berserker). Thankfully, this movie is a major step up from that.

Originally, this was gonna follow on from Origins, but it doesn’t. Instead it takes place after the third X-Men movie. While it’s not a sequel, it does feel like an aftermath movie at times (to much better effect than Iron Man 3 was to The Avengers), yet can still be its own movie. Wolverine is depressed, living in exile, and not with the X-Men anymore after killing the love of his life, Jean Grey. He gets called back into action when a supposedly old friend of his from Japan offers to take away his immortality so he won’t continue living in despair. What follows is a battle for survival against various foes that feels like something out of Japanese anime, only in live action.

I loved Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, ever since the first X-Men movie. He practically IS Wolverine. There are few actors who could actually be the comic book characters they portray or are most identified with in their media portrayals and Hugh Jackman is one of them when it comes to Wolverine. In this one, he is ripped as Hell and he’s still got it, for every time he’s been Wolverine. I like the idea that this movie focuses on how he deals with his immortality. Others would say “what’s there to complain about being immortal” and I would say to them “watch Highlander and find out.” This movie evokes that kind of feel. When you’ve been immortal, living for so long and seeing people you’ve grown to care for die around you and you wished they wouldn’t go, then you’d probably want to die or want your immortality taken away so it doesn’t happen anymore. Wolverine is tempted to take the offer and almost does (actually almost forced on him but whatever), but realizes there is still evil around and has to be the best he is at what he does, even though it may not always be nice. Also, how awesome was it when he said “go bleep yourself”? I know it’s something that not even the comics would do, but given he said it before in First Class and now this film, it just seems fitting for him.

For those who don’t know, this is actually based on a Wolverine story simply titled Wolverine. Basically he goes to Japan and gets his butt kicked by samurai and goes through great lengths in order to beat them. The film utilizes this story well for the X-Men movie universe, but it does have its problems. I didn’t really like the changes to Silver Samurai, changing him into a differently named character who wears a mechanized suit of armor instead of a mutant who can charge his sword with energy. Viper just seems more like a background character instead of a major villain. The tone is excellently dark, but sometimes overshadowed by the special effects, which seem a little overabundant and gawdy at times, something that has been consistent with past couple X-Men movies, but fitting given that it takes place in Japan and feels like a live action anime. With the end leading up to the next X-Men movie, Days of Future Past (also based on another iconic X-Men story by Claremont), there will be that kind of special effects, but mixed in with the tone of the first two X-Men films. Regardless, this film is the best there is at what it does (being a dark comic book movie featuring a dark brooding antihero), but what it does and what’s seen in it may not always be nice.

December 17, 2013

R.I.P.D.: Surprisingly funny

By Philip Rearich

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Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds as Nick Walker
Jeff Bridges as Roy Pulsipher
Kevin Bacon as Bobby Hayes
Mary-Louise Parker as Mildred Proctor

You know, Ryan Reynolds has been in four comic book movies now, each of them where he played a different character (Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, Wade Wilson/Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in Green Lantern, and this one). To be fair, not all of the movies were great (even Green Lantern, my favorite superhero; though the movie is a guilty pleasure for me at times), but this one was okay. I don’t get why it’s despised so much by other critics, some of whom call this movie “the worst comic book movie since Howard the Duck.” I don’t know too much about the comic it’s based on, but it seemed pretty decent to me. When I first heard about it, I was expecting sort of a Gothic-horror noir film with some comedy, but this was not the case. In tone, it’s way too similar to Men in Black and Ghostbusters, but doesn’t really try to rip them off.
This movie was really funny. I couldn’t help but laugh at every scene. Jeff Bridges, though, can be REALLY annoying. From the accent (trying to satirize his True Grit role a bit too much) to his mannerisms (including his weird obsession with ankles, which make no sense). Kevin Bacon, on the other hand, is awesome. He’s slick and in control, even if things are supposedly not going according to plan for him. He doesn’t seem to be lazy in his performance, but at the same time he could be doing something better. There is a lot of underlying sense of menace, though some of that is taken away when he “reveals” what he really looks like.
Some of the parts of this movie don’t make any sense or were pointless. I don’t know why there had to be narration and flashback since they didn’t really serve any purpose and there wasn’t any more of those things after they were used. Why do the “Deados” hate Indian food? What’s with the game of 20 questions these “officers” have to ask their “suspects”? This movie is clearly trying to establish some kind of franchise, but I doubt that’ll happen (unless sequels are direct-to-video).
It’s ironic that this movie came out the same weekend as RED 2. Both star Mary-Louise Parker, one movie is directed by the director of RED and another is a followup to RED. Sadly, from what I hear, both of those movies did a bangup job on release. These action-comedies based on comics are starting to get a little lazy, and pretty soon they’re gonna have to step up their game or resort to canned sitcom laughter just to assure them that they’re funny.

December 17, 2013

Carrie: The ONLY horror movie that came out in October 2013

By Philip Rearich

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Rating: 4/5
Directed by: Kimberly Pierce
Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lawrence D. Cohen
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie White
Julianne Moore as Margaret White
Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin
Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell
Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross
Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen
Alex Russell as Billy Nolan

I love Stephen King. He’s my favorite writer of all time and the reason why I want to be a writer at all. I’ve read 5 of his books (The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, IT, and Pet Sematary) and currently reading The Stand. I’ve also seen a lot of his adaptations and read some of the comics either based on his work or original comics he wrote. He truly is a modern-day master of horror. His first work, Carrie, isn’t so much as horror as it is a tragedy, though. Maybe that’s why there are so many adaptations of it. Already there has been a 1976 film, a REALLY bad musical that came out in the 80s, a bad 1999 sequel to the 70s film, an attempted 2002 TV pilot which failed, and now this. It’s become King’s equivalent to Dracula or Frankenstein. I bet you there will be another Carrie movie coming out in the next 20-30 years. And this isn’t a bad movie, either. It’s actually really good.
This movie is a decent adaptation of the book. It manages to stay faithful to the source material while adjusting it to modern times. And I gotta say, the methods of bullying in this film are EXTREME. In the times the book came out and the original adaptation, it was just insults, beatings, or something else. Nowadays, and also much better applied to in this version than 1999 or 2002 did, there’s technology, social networks, and even YouTube. It just goes to show how much worse bullying as gotten over the years. Though just like in the book, there are consequences, and they are deadly.
In the 1976 version, the characters looked a little too glamourous, but here, some are pretty and some are rough around the edges. Chloe Grace Moretz looks cute, but is also vulnerable and shows her demonic menace when pushed to the edge. Julianne Moore is just crazy. I can’t tell whether any of her dialogue is something of a religious fanatic or a mental ward patient.
All in all, this was a pretty decent movie. It does look a little glossy at times, but it’s okay. It was fitting for Kimberly Pierce to direct it, given her experience with Boys Don’t Cry, and for Alex Russell, star of Chronicle which was inspired by the original Carrie, to star in it. The only thing that really nags me is that this is the only horror movie released in October, at least in theaters.

December 17, 2013

Thor – The Dark World: Bring on the thunder!

By Philip Rearich

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Rating: 5/5
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Marcus, and Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Tom Hiddleston as Loki
Natalie Portman as Jane Foster
Christopher Eccleston as Malekith
Anthony Hopkins as Odin
Idris Elba as Heimdall
Ray Stevenson as Volstagg
Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis
Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig
Rene Russo as Frigga
Jaime Alexander as Sif
Zachary Levi as Fandral

Finally, a movie that erases the stain of Iron Man 3. In comparison, Iron Man 3 was like an Avengers aftermath rather than an Iron Man sequel. Fortunately, this is not the case with Thor: The Dark World. There are references to The Avengers (Loki being arrested and a cameo by Captain America, though not the kind you’d expect), but it manages to stand on its own two feet.
In the previous film and The Avengers, the main villain was Loki. See, in most comic book movies, if there’s a series of them, if a villain is used in every film in the series, he/she is in danger of becoming the annoying comic relief, like Lex Luthor in the old Superman movies (though Kevin Spacey was thankfully menacing, more so than Gene Hackman). Thankfully the comic relief goes to Kat Dennings, who fortunately is not annoying but charming and witty. This is not the case since Loki isn’t the villain, but that doesn’t mean he can’t cause mischief. He puts in a funny line every now and then, however he’s able to stand his ground and prove that he’s not worthless and weak. And also they seem to make him more, well, sly and slick and fresh, probably because he’s become a sex symbol for some reason (I kinda get why). Malekith, the villain of this film, is truly a force to be reckoned with. Here’s a guy who doesn’t really want to conquer the universe or anything stereotypically supervillainy. He just wants everything to end, pure and simple. He wants the world to go back to darkness, like it was before, and leave it at that. He’ll do anything to get what he wants. ANYTHING. Plus, the whole movie can be summed up as The Ninth Doctor versus The Norse God of Thunder, so with that said there’s bound to be mayhem and destruction.
With Alan Taylor’s directing, this movie manages to jump off from comics and/or Norse mythology to something akin to pure fantasy fiction. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor was more like an underdog story. This, on the other hand, is a fantasy epic. There’s more action, more beautiful visuals, an ensemble cast, truly wonderful or terrifying characters, and a lot of fun.
The endings (yes I said ENDINGS) indicate there’s more to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie and anything that could possibly follow up on this movie. Still, this movie is something to see and a true visionary experience to behold.

December 17, 2013

The Hunger Games – Catching Fire: May the sequel be ever in your favor

By Philip Rearich

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Rating: 5/5
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Amanda Plummer as Wiress
Alan Ritchson as Gloss

Okay, two things. One, though I have read the first HG book, I haven’t read the rest yet, so I might get some details wrong or whatever. Once I read it, I may do a “re-review,” who knows. Second, and this is something I’ve been annoyed at and wanted to address for a while: to anyone who thinks that The Hunger Games is a ripoff of Battle Royale or whatever, just shut up. Seriously, not a joke, just shut up. I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sure that others are too. It’s annoying as Hell and I’m sick of trolls just mouthing off saying how it blatantly rips off Battle Royale and blah blah blah, boo-friggin-hoo. Granted, I haven’t read Battle Royale, and I may not get to in the near future, but I can safely say that as far as entertainment goes, almost everything is a ripoff of something.
Anyway, on to the movie itself. This is seriously better than the first. I’m not kidding around. I was cautious at first due to the director change, but it seems that Francis Lawrence knows what he’s doing. For one, he got rid of the “shaky cam” problems from the first. Though I guess it tried to capture the chaos that was going on with the tributes getting their weapons and starting the whole Hunger Games, it was annoying for others watching it, so now it’s more straightened out in this movie. There’s also a lot more extravagant special effects this time around since more time is spent in the Capitol and the arena. Plus the arena being one big clock was cool too. Funny that Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction realized this first. Too bad she couldn’t go to the bathroom yet (spoiler alert; plus I wanted to put in a Pulp Fiction joke in there somehow).
The movie serves as the “dark sequel” to the previous installment. Honestly, the tone and seriousness and everything else in this movie puts it on the same level as other “dark sequels” like The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, Wrath of Khan, and Into Darkness. The stakes are higher, the risks are greater, and it’s just do or die for everyone, and not everyone may make it out alive. There are characters that you’ll be sad to see go and you’ll be left wondering how the rest of them will fare out in the future. Though I can’t help but feel that there were some things left out or needed explaining, especially Gale Hawthorne. If he’s such a main character, why does it seem like he’s only in it briefly? It’s like this guy is Jacob Black here, only not so stupefied by Twilight-syndrome.
Now, I know that Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is the big star of the movie. Not only is she able to pull off a greater performance than before, but she gets better and better as the movie goes on. Like Ellen Ripley, she has to face her demons from what happened before, and boy does she triumph. Not only does she have a fighting chance, but she’s able to get others to side with her and ultimately try to better the world in some way. Though despite her awesomeness, I couldn’t help but also focus on Jena Malone as Johanna Mason. She’s tough, smart, beautiful, and always has a sharp wit for everything she says. She’s someone with nothing to lose, but isn’t going to lose anything else she gains that may help her with her troubles. She just pretty much steals the spotlight for whatever scene she’s in. She deserves her own spinoff book or something, but that’s just me.
In the end, the stage is set for the two-part movie finale of The Hunger Games saga. Katniss Everdeen is ready to take on the next challenge, and so are her allies. I just hope that whatever happens, the end will always be in someone’s favor.

December 5, 2013

Interview with Dr. James Colonna

On Tuesday, November 26th at around 1:30PM, Javvieaus Stewart interviewed Dr. James Colonna. He is a newer professor of various subjects such as Orchestration and Arranging and Wind Symphony here at YCP and has already been a great influence on his students. He has taught in other places, but has been teaching at YCP for about four months. Dr. Colonna has done various things in his life, and they are not all musical. He is already accomplishing great things at YCP and will continue to do so.
Question 1: When and where were you born?
Answer 1: I was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on May 2nd, 1970.
Question 2: Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
Answer 2: As a child, I would say my dad. I wanted to be my dad. My dad was a high school band director at Punxsutawney Area High School. He was rare because he stayed there his entire career (38 years).
Question 3: How would you describe yourself as a student, both socially and academically in high school?
Answer 3: In high school – nerd. I was the guy who tried to look nice all the time. It was the 80s, so I would wear blue jeans, golf shirts with the collar. I dressed sort of preppy-ish. As far as my social life, I always wanted to date girls that were way beyond my league – all of them very, very, very good looking. But, being that I was the trumpet player and not necessarily the athlete and didn’t have the social skills I needed in high school, I spent a lot of time alone or with a small group of four or five people. That’s just how it was in high school, but mostly because I went to Catholic school as an elementary and junior high school student, the class size was about 8 to 10. Once I got to high school, I was surrounded by all the public school students who I had no clue who they were and they didn’t know me. Academically, I was in the general curriculum because I was told that I wouldn’t be bright enough to do things like foreign languages and sciences, which was not accurate because I was just lazy.
Question 4: Did you ever dream that you would be a doctor of music?
Answer 4: Yes, absolutely. I played basketball in ninth grade, and then left the athletic arena and really pursued trumpet. Starting in high school, I played every day for six hours, including Sunday. At first, my goal was to be the best trumpet player ever, not necessarily the University teaching – I wanted to be a performer. I caught the conducting bug when I went into the army and then said “That is what I want to do: teach at the University level.”
Question 5: What was your rank in the army?
Answer 5: I was a Private First Class. Because the army has it set up in a neat way, if you have a skill that you’re going to use for the military, you’re paid for the knowledge of that skill. So, because I had been playing the trumpet since I was six years old, the military looks and that and goes “Well, you’re coming with a skill that I didn’t have to teach you…” so they take us in as Private First Class first. And then I became a specialist for it, and that is what I was in the end.
Question 6: For how many years did you serve?
Answer 6: I served the standard 3 to 3.5 years contract. I just happened to hit desert storm the first time around.
Question 7: What did you learn from the army that benefited you most in life?
Answer 7: How to be independent, how to think on my own, and do what I need to do for my own survival. I was stationed in Fort Knox, which was about 12 hours away from where I lived and grew up. And the thing that was great about it was that I learned how to say “Okay, I just got paid. I am going to spend it on this, spend money on this with my friends, etc.” I didn’t have to go through the whole college freshman thing where I didn’t know what I was doing and was “running around in the dark.” I had no choice but to know. I think that was great that [the army] helped me become independent. [But] it caused a lot of conflict with my family relationships because they wanted me to be the “Jim that left” and I came back as the “Jim that I wanted to be. “
Question 8: What was your first job?
Answer 8: My first job was army bandsman. Before that, in high school, I delivered prescription drugs to people that couldn’t get out. So I worked for a drugstore in Downtown Punxsutawney, and every day after school, I’d clean the store, stock the merchandise, and there were tons of orders that had to go to old person’s facilities. And I would deliver them.
Question 9: Who was the biggest influence in your career?
Answer 9: I would have to go back to my very first teacher after serving in the military. My first teacher was Jack Stamp at the University of Pennsylvania. He is still there and is going to retire in a year or so. Big influence – he’s a composer and conductor. He taught me that music is something to be loved and something to be shared, but at a very, very high standard. And you can’t drop your standards for any reason. And I think that Jack has been by my side from the beginning and still is now and if I were to apply for other teaching positions or composition things, he’d write a letter of recommendation for me in a heartbeat. So he’s been a very big influence. His approach to teaching was really different from mine so it opened my eyes.
Question 10: What is your goal as a parent?
Answer 10: My goal as a parent [of two children] is to teach independence, how to think, the ability to love, but not to make love the only thing. I believe that children today are treated two different ways: either as property, which is a terrible way to go because then you don’t see them as an individual person. They begin thinking that when they are first born. They are not property. The other side is the “everyone is okay and everyone gets a trophy” side. I’m very opposed to that. For example, my son’s soccer team came in second in the Championship, but they got a medal just as big as the team who came in first. It’s supposed to be self-esteem building, but it creates a false expectation. I’d rather be honest with my children. When they don’t do something well, I tell them. When they do something well, I tell them. It has to be a constant communication because my goal is that when they are on their own, at first they don’t make the mistakes I made which both [my children] will probably do, and the other is to make sure they understand that it is okay to be [themselves] and it is okay to make mistakes. They have an opinion and it matters. I hear often from my daughter, in certain situations, that she feels like some people treat her like she’s just furniture. She’s not furniture. She has an opinion, and she’s thirteen now. Her opinion matters. My nine year old son – his opinion matters. [My son’s] not always right and neither is [my daughter], but their opinions do matter. And I think that it is important to show them that they are valued and they have to work hard for what they get. And sometimes, you’ll work really hard and not get the rewards you want. And that’s a tough lesson to learn. But I want them to learn that that could happen. And what do you do? You refocus.
Question 11: What does the word “family” mean to you?
Answer 11: Family, to me, means people that will accept you for who you are no matter what has gone on in your life.
Question 12: How would you describe yourself as a parent?
Answer 12: I’m extremely loving and I’m extremely open. Maybe more open than some people would like, but I’m very open. Again, to give my kids independence, I listen to what they want and what they think, and I work with that. I’m a communicator, and I think that is really important with [my kids]. So, as a parent, I’d say my role is to be communicative and not their friend, but yet, I am their friend. But I communicate; I listen to their thoughts. For instance, my daughter and I always talk when we’re driving. And she will ask the deepest questions and I give her my cornball, but well thought-out answers concerning religion or politics and any other things that she is starting to think about. And I tell her how I think it is, and often she says “You should teach my blah-blah-blah class,” and I say “No because that is not everyone’s opinion.” But it’s a chance for them to be free-minded and be able to choose things and not to be so sheltered. I was sheltered when I grew up. I didn’t know about other cultures, and so when I went into the military, I see all of these Latinos and African Americans and people from the Pacific Islands, and I just remained quiet until I could figure things out.
Question 13: In what ways have your parents influenced you?
Answer 13: The positive things: My parents did really instill in us to work hard and you’ll have success. There’s a two-sided story to that because, like I said with my own kids, I work hard, but have things turned out the way I want? Not at all. But is it a disappointment? Not really. What I’ve discovered is that the work hard thing is good. It’s to work hard at what you are doing and to be present in that and not to always be looking around the corner for the next good thing.” [My parents] didn’t teach that part, and so I’ve met a lot of frustration in that area. My parents were very good at letting us express ourselves in a certain parameter. Sometimes, I hold that on my kids, but not as much as my parents did for me.
Question 14: Do you wish that you had been raised differently?
Answer 14: Yes and no. No, in the sense that I grew up with really good morals and a really good understanding of things. Yes, in the sense that those morals and restrictive ideas prevented me from exploring things that other people my age were doing. And I’m not talking drugs and alcohol, though that is part of it. I was the kid who, until I was 21, did not sip a single drink of alcohol because that was wrong. I wish that I had a little more of a rebellious streak and would have gotten away with things a little bit more just so that I can relate to other people my age. I’ll hear people talk about their great experiences they had in their youth, and I’ll look at that and go “That was nowhere to be found.” And some of that has caused problems in my social interactions and even my professional life.
Question 15: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Answer 15: My ensemble at Utah University earned a spot to play at National Convention. That was a great accomplishment.
Question 16: What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
Answer 16: That’s a great question. I talk about this a lot, not that I plan on dying anytime soon. I always look back [at my life] and say “Well, what do I want people to say?” And I ask [my girlfriend], Kayla, this all the time. I tease her and say “What do you love about me?” [I ask this because] I want to have a gauge on whether I’m succeeding those areas. I want people to remember this: I’m very serious about what I do (performing music, composing music, teaching, etc.), and I’m very serious about making things on the musical side of things really great. But more importantly, I want people to realize that I’m a very kind human being. I’m a very loving human being. I will have your back until the end. However, I want people to remember that I will drop them when they became “disloyal” or counterintuitive to what I think was best for the relationship. I want people to say that “[Jim] was a lot of fun.” It’s hard, sometimes, when people look at what I do for a living as [just] seriousness. I am a ton of fun if you just let me be a ton of fun. But really, in the end, on my death bed, I want to be able to look back and say “I did this as a musician. I did this as someone who loves other human beings.” And then, personally, I rode my bike thousands and thousands of miles a year… That is very important to me because it makes me feel good about who I am. But in the end, I want people to say that “He was always friendly.” That is the key.
Question 17: Aside from being a professor here at the college, you bike, you compose music, and you do paranormal investigations. Can you please talk about all three of those?
Answer 17: Cycling is the most important thing! I’m very disappointed this year because my computer says that I only rode 3,996 miles, and I need one more day to go out and get those other 4. As a cyclist, the reason I love it is because it’s not music. But you learn cycling the same way you learn music. [When] you can’t do something, you practice the thing you can’t do and you get better. Cycling will always be a never-ending learning curve for me. It includes diet, nutrition, and weight-lifting for me, so it’s fascinating for me. As a composer, I’m working on a piece now that is not commissioned which is rare for me. I’m working on a piece that is about all the school shootings. I’m extremely distraught about it and my anxiety comes out sometimes. But I’m working on this piece that is for Chamber Orchestra. No voices. The piece is called “A Piece of Quiet: Silencing the Voices.” It’s sort of a multimedia/orchestra piece so I’m working on that now. That’s my greatest piece because that is what I’m working on now. As a paranormal investigator, people think I’m a little odd, but I haven’t done it since I moved here [near the York area], which is weird since there is more stuff going on here [in Pennsylvania] than in Utah [where I used to teach]. It’s only because I don’t have my team, and my team had the right combination: Me, the “want-to-believe-it’s-there”; Kayla, the extreme skeptical person; and then one other person who is neutral and in between us. It worked perfectly… I have heard things that confirm, for me, that ghosts are real. Spirits exist. I’ve confirmed, in my mind, that there are demons, which means that on the other side, there has to be something good. And when you do paranormal investigations, I try to avoid Christian religion and demonic whatever. I don’t want to be on either side of that. I want to be in the middle because it’s not always bad when it’s bad. [For example], if you’re a grumpy person in life, you’re going to be a grumpy person in death… It’s more of an experiment. What am I going to do with my evidence? I don’t know. I’m writing a book right now that’s all about [the paranormal investigations], all of the evidence I’ve collected, and my opinions. Will anyone read it? Who knows? But I love doing it for the proof more than anything. And sometimes it’s a thrill.
Question 18: My final question is this: What is the biggest piece of advice anyone has ever given you in your lifetime?
Answer 18: Be in the now. For me, that is hard to do. But be in the now and enjoy what you have now because you don’t know what’s next.

December 5, 2013

Quinoa: A Hungry College Student’s New Quick Fix

By: Taylor Gamber

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Tired of microwaveable Ramen or Kraft Mac n Cheese?
Yet, you lack either the kitchen space or the time to really cook anything that takes more than 30 minutes? Well quinoa might become your new, healthier alternative.

Before I delve into how to make quinoa and what to pair it with, I should first explain what exactly quinoa is. According to Bon Appétit magazine, the wonderful quinoa, (pronounced kin-wa), is often mistaken as a grain, when in fact, quinoa is the seed of a grain-like crop and is comparable to beets.

However, dissimilar to beets, quinoa has a bland taste and a crunchy texture. This nearly tasteless aspect of quinoa is one of the reasons I love to cook with it – it goes with everything!

There are a few variations of quinoa: white, red, and black. White quinoa, sometimes called simply ‘quinoa’ or ‘ivory quinoa,’ is the most commonly used. Red quinoa is known for maintaining its shape after cooking, complementing meals where a grain-like texture is needed. Black quinoa differs from red and white quinoa in its noticeably sweeter taste and richer color.

I usually cook with white quinoa because it can be more easily found in stores. However, I have recently been using tri-color quinoa (a combination of all three variations) and I have grown fond of this kind as well.

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