khaledhosseini

The Ancient Greeks believed that three women known as the Moirai, or today the Fates, carefully measured, wove together and ultimately cut short the threads of our lives.

Like the Fates in Greek mythology, Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini weaves a cohesive story from many different threads that stretch across continents and decades in his newest novel, And the Mountains Echoed.

Riverhead Books published the book in 2013.

“I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us,” Hosseini writes.

Although the narration begins with the promise that the storyteller will tell “just the one” tale, And the Mountains Echoed ultimately reveals many intertwining stories belonging to different characters.

In this way, And the Mountains Echoed differs from Hosseini’s previous novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Each individual story is so intricate and rich that it feels as if one of the many stories could fill all 299 pages of the novel.

Yet, just as the Moirai sister Atropos cuts the individual threads of life to make way for the rest of the tapestry of our collective story, Hosseini often leaves one storyline to pursue another.

His graceful prose carries us to Afghanistan where, in one of the most heartbreaking threads of story, an Afghan-American doctor contemplates taking on the responsibility of caring for an orphaned girl.

Other threads lead to Paris, the United States and to Tinos, a small Greek island.

But the center of this multilayered narrative rests Hosseini’s most compelling story about the surviving bond of two siblings, impoverished Afghan children Abdullah and Pari.

The night before their journey across the desert, Abdullah’s father tells a story about a loving father called Baba Ayub who must give one child to a div, or a demon, in order to save the lives of his other four children.

When Baba Ayub, overcome with guilt, finally journeys to the div’s dwelling to take back his favorite son, he discovers the child playing happily in a garden, unable to see or to remember him.

The div tells Baba Ayub that this was his test and that he has made the right choice, for if he had refused to give up a single child then all five of his children would have suffered and perished.

When the fable that Abdullah’s father tells begins to reflect the events in Abdullah’s own life, as his parents “sell” his sister Pari to be adopted by a wealthy couple, Hosseini eloquently illustrates how our choices echo across generations.

The intertwining stories reveal how one small action in our lives can come to shape someone else’s own story and how, while we see ourselves as the heroes or heroines of our lives, the other people around us see themselves in the same way as well.

In And The Mountains Echoed we see people through their own eyes but also through the eyes of others.

In this way, Hosseini creates realistic characters such as Nabi, a loyal servant who must choose whether to stay with or abandon his ailing master, and Adel, a young Afghan boy who must decide whether to believe his frightening, powerful father or his impoverished friend.

Through the multiple lenses of separate but interconnected storylines we come to know the characters’ shades of personality.

How do we use stories to create meaning in our own lives? How do our stories impact the stories of others?

The questions Hosseini asks reverberate across his intertwined storylines.

“I should have been more kind,” he writes. “That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person.”

He then asks, how do we define an act of kindness? Does kindness justify the abandonment of a child?

These are the kinds of questions that Hosseini has woven together, thus creating a touching and thought-provoking web of story.

​The many echoes of this book will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

—By Amy Krivoshik

 

 

ASO

Americans were left confounded when their government fell into a shutdown in early October 2013. On a smaller and less nationally-recognized scale, Atlanta’s classical music community was left confounded earlier this month when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) began to slip into a shutdown of its own.

The ASO has been unable to reach musician contract agreements and has fallen into its second lockout in two years, physically locking out its musicians from Midtown’s Woodruff Arts Center, the orchestra’s home base. This time, however, the lockout is accompanied by the orchestra’s $2.5 million deficit and arguably much more controversy.

National Public Radio’s (NPR) Tom Huizenga explains that, similar to the 2012 lockout, the orchestra’s musicians and managers have failed to agree upon contract conditions. The results of the disagreements have been disastrous, and the players “have literally been prevented from entering the Woodruff Arts Center and stripped of their salaries and health benefits,” Huizenga wrote.

With expired contracts and a now ambiguous negotiation deadline, there is no doubt that relations between musicians and the managers are strained beyond an easy fix.

Ameliorating the situation may be even more difficult than some think, however, considering two actions that have been taken against the musicians and the community.

First, the ASO management has disabled the commenting feature on its website due to the multitude of negative comments posted in reaction to the lockout. Essentially refusing to acknowledge concerns from critics and the general public, the orchestra’s management is driving itself further away from speedy reconciliation.

Additionally, as stated by Slipped Disc website founder Norman Lebrecht, the orchestra’s “board and management may soon resort to using bodyguards, as they did in Minnesota.” Earlier this year, Minnesota’s orchestra experienced a lockout of its own that lasted for 15 months. The musicians were unable to perform with their orchestra for 488 days, until finally a three-year contract that included salary and health care cuts was settled. Mirroring this lockout is the ASO’s current situation, but nevertheless, the orchestra’s musicians have refused to bow down.

Instead, they staged a subdued but attention-grabbing demonstration on Tuesday at the Woodruff Arts Center. The musicians paraded with signs reading quotes such as, “excellence is not negotiable.”

No, excellence should not be negotiable, which is understood by both the musicians and the management of the ASO. But in the presence of a preexisting $2.5 million debt, stingy managers’ negotiations fail and salaries tend to remain stickier than desired.

The effects of this drama have inflicted frustration upon musicians and classical music enthusiasts alike. The community surrounding the orchestra has especially begun to feel the tension, including members of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) and its corresponding music programs.

College freshman Lauren Firestone, for example, who plays the oboe with the ASYO, has previously lost valuable time and experiences due to ASO controversies. Firestone and others cannot attend auditions in the normal venue, nor can they guarantee that they will perform onstage until the lockout ends. The ASYO conductors are musicians from the adult orchestra, who are currently unable to enter orchestra facilities.

While the general public often exhibits little to no opinions on classical music in contemporary society, Firestone claims, “People who appreciate it can’t even appreciate it.”

That’s all to say, the orchestra’s managers have been focused on making money rather than supporting their performers, and as Firestone notes, “Classical music is a small, tight community” with no surplus of supporters. Headquartered in several major metropolitan areas including Atlanta, the inclusive classical music community should focus on communicating to solve problems instead of allowing members of the community to work for only his or her individual benefit.

While the ASO’s lockout — and near shutdown — may not be as universally concerning as the 2013 United States government shutdown, Atlanta’s musical community has certainly been negatively impacted by this plight.

Performers have been deprived of their salaries and practice time, while listeners have lost the opportunity to hear the performances.

In pursuit of a successful 2014 season, the ASO must continue toward agreements for all parties, and this should not include implementing bodyguards, as the Minnesota orchestra did, or muting public opinion, as the loyalty of the public is imperative to the ASO’s success. “Excellence is not negotiable;” it never has been and never will be.

—By Emily Sullivan

netflix

Have you ever just sat there and wondered what in the name of sweet [insert deity or Beyoncé here] you just saw? I’m assuming the name for this particular emotion is “Escape From Tomorrow,” coincidentally also the title of an independent horror movie you can find on Netflix.

The film follows a husband and father of two, Jim White (played by Roy Abramsohn), who is planning on enjoying his last day of vacation at Disney World with his family when he receives a call telling him that he has been fired from his job.

Thus begins his descent into madness, as well as the audience’s descent into a disorienting 90 minutes.

That’s not to say that the plot of the movie is confusing. It’s relatively easy to follow, but there’s a giant black cloud of “WHY?” hanging over the viewer’s head.

After reading the description and watching the first couple of scenes, I was expecting this low-budget flick to go along a “The Shining”-meets-slasher-film route, but then the slow burn of surreality kicks in and, before you know it, the movie straps you in for a one-way trip to Crazytown.

However, this horror flick never becomes surreal in an immersive sense. It’s more like the director really wants you to know he watched “Eraserhead” this weekend (and he totally gets it).

My utter confusion about how crazy-pants this movie gets can be attributed to the plot provided on Netflix — a mere “on the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, Jim learns that he’s lost his job. Soon thereafter, he begins to lose his mind.” That minimal description made me think this was just going to be a standard B-movie.

But if you know what you’re getting into, maybe the last third of the movie might not seem quite as, well, weird. I have no issue with strangeness in a movie, but this one left me asking how much of it was even necessary.

Plot points begin and end with no significance to the larger story. For example, there’s a side plot involving a former Disney princess performer becoming obsessed with Jim’s daughter that goes nowhere. The numerous plot diversions are pretty distracting and pointless. I will give the plot this though: it’s pretty darn unpredictable.

The acting as a whole is nothing spectacular, but it’s serviceable. Abramsohn as Jim does a decent job of portraying a man losing it in a theme park. A few of the side characters (including a former Disney princess performer and an obese hillbilly in a scooter) are understandably cartoonish (it is a horror film about Disney World, after all), but this is more campy than scary.

I would normally tally that up as horror parody, but the tone of the film is too creepy for this to be a joke. The side characters and their greasy wigs give a painfully lousy performance — the kind that used to be reserved for cheesy 1980s drug PSAs. It’s a little rough to watch.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why would Disney allow people to film a low-budget horror movie involving their theme park? Answer: they didn’t. Thanks to the director’s use of guerilla filmmaking they shot large portions of the film in Disney World with zero permission from the Big Mouse. This required the crew to use small handheld cameras and no lighting equipment for many of the scenes.

All of this considered, the cinematography and audio are surprisingly good. There are a few slips in quality here and there but nothing unusually bad for a low-budget movie. The fact that this movie could be filmed, edited and distributed without legal repercussions is kind of amazing in and of itself. However, that hardly makes it a fantastic film.

While the production history of the film is interesting, that does not give it a pass for the aimless story and mediocre-at-best acting. It’s unique, strange and fun to watch though.

Watch it if you’re interested in guerilla filmmaking or weird, campy horror movies. Feel free to skip it otherwise. 2.5 stars.

—By Erin Penney

After a summer of relentless pop hits and mindless power choruses, we’re all in need of some new music to get those hooks out of our heads. The slate of albums set for release this fall offers a greater depth of artists and more sophisticated sounds. From highly-anticipated indie debuts to veterans gone solo, this lineup offers something for everyone.

What’s even more exciting, however, is the many artists who are rumored to release sometime this fall, but have yet to announce a date. This trend of surprise releases and mysterious recordings has revitalized the industry, both financially and socially, adding excitement and spontaneity to artists’ marketing campaigns. Since Beyoncé’s self-titled surprise release at the end of 2013, several artists have followed in her footsteps. Just last week, U2 rattled the music industry when the band released its newest album at the Apple product launch event, offering it to half a billion iTunes users for free.

Here’s a preview of some of the most noteworthy albums scheduled for release through the end of 2014, followed by a list of artists rumored to release music this season.

Banks

Banks
Goddess
Now Available (Harvest)

With more buzz and critical acclaim than perhaps any other artist this summer, Banks is on top of the indie music world. Having just toured with R&B wunderkind The Weekend and set the blogosphere ablaze, her highly anticipated full-length debut Goddess arrives right on cue. Whether you’re a fan of Lana Del Rey or Frank Ocean (or neither), you should give this album a try. With her multiple festival appearances and trademark dark R&B sound, Banks is definitely an artist to watch.

KarenO

Karen O
Crush Songs
Now Available (Cult)

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman has proven time and time again that she’s an exceptional songwriter and a gifted vocalist. From her memorable high-energy performances with her band to her delicate Oscar-nominated soundtrack work for the movie “Her,” Karen O is as versatile as they come. But the real test comes with her first full-length album as a solo artist. Dating back to 2006, recordings like “Comes the Night” and “Day Go By” have a warm, homey feel. The rockers and film buffs are standing by, waiting to hear what she does next.

AltJ

Alt-J
This Is All Yours
Sept. 22 (Atlantic)

Following the release of the band’s debut An Awesome Wave, Alt-J have become an alt-pop sensation. Their unique, charming sound and complex songwriting has garnered buzz and propelled them onto the charts. The spotlight is certainly on the quartet-turned-trio (multi-instrumentalist Gwil Sainsbury left the project in early stages of recording) as we await the group’s sophomore effort. The diversity of the three singles already available confuse listeners as to what to expect from the album, other than certain variation. “Hunger of the Pine,” with its spooky quiet edge and Miley Cyrus sample, could not differ more from “Left Hand Free,” which takes on a nostalgic rock vibe. Either way, Alt-J are sure to split genres and continue to innovate.

JulianCasablancas

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
Tyranny
Sept. 23 (Cult)

With his sophomore solo album, Julian Casablancas continues to bend genres, but this time incorporates a rebellious political message. In a recent press release, the Strokes frontman explains, “Most decisions seem to be made like ones of a medieval king: whatever makes profit while ignoring and repressing the truth about whatever suffering it may cause (like pop music, for that matter).” His statement makes sense of the title of his newest effort and demonstrates that we can expect something truly unique this time around. But Strokes fans, fear not: Casablancas expects to re-direct focus to the much-loved band in early 2015.

SBTRKT

SBTRKT
Wonder Where We Land
Sept. 23 (XL Recordings)

For his second full-length album, British electronic/dubstep artist Aaron Jerome said he recorded with guests in a “glorified garden shed.” The caliber of musical talent, however, makes up for the location. From Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend to ASAP Ferg, it’s evident that SBTRKT’s second effort will be dynamic and inspired. The album’s hypnotic and hard-driving “New Dorp. New York,” is available now, and SBTRKT just announced a North American tour.

Weezer

Weezer
Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Oct. 7 (Republic)

Weezer’s newest single “Back to the Shack” off their ninth LP certainly has fans “rockin’ out like it’s ‘94,” and that’s exactly what listeners need. The band’s last effort Hurley (2010) was a commercial and critical disappointment, as many fans felt they lost their mojo. However, judging by the new single and snippets teased of other tracks, Everything Will Be Alright in the End may just be the rebirth of that ‘90s rock feel we have all been waiting for. In fact, the lyrics on these tracks even apologize for all of Weezer’s recent music and admit earnestly, “I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks.” Ric Ocasek, who produced the Blue and Green albums, returns, and Everything Will Be Alright in the End marks Weezer’s first release with the band’s new label, Republic. All signs indicate change for the better.

TaylorSwift

Taylor Swift
1989
Oct. 27 (Big Machine/Republic)

With the release of Swift’s latest single and summer smash, “Shake It Off,” the country songstress has undoubtedly taken a turn toward full-blown 1980s-infused pop. Although not everyone is excited about this new direction, through interviews, press releases and even in her lyrics, Swift dismisses the haters and says she’ll continue just doing her thing. For those who don’t see it, this unique focus offers her limitless potential. She is free, at this point, to make the music she wants. I’m willing to bet that by the time 1989 is released, we will all be singing along … even the haters.

FlamingLips

The Flaming Lips
With a Little Help From My Fwends
Oct. 28 (Warner Bros.)

For those of you who don’t know, this psychedelic powerhouse announced over the summer that the band would release a track-by-track cover of The Beatles’ 1967 classic, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As if that’s not tantalizing enough, the album promises featured spots from MGMT, Miley Cyrus, Grace Potter, Phantogram, Dr. Dog and more. Enough said.

LilWayne

Lil Wayne
Tha Carter V
Oct. 28 (Young Money/Republic)

Believe it or not, Lil Wayne’s fifth and final installment of Tha Carter series, rumored to be his final album ever (yeah, right), was on my summer preview list. The album’s release date was not finalized, but now, fans rejoice per an announcement on SportsCenter confirming the album’s actual release date. Wayne spent the summer touring across 31 cities for the “Drake Vs. Lil Wayne” tour and released the hit single “Believe Me.” Other, perhaps intentional, track leaks like “Grindin” and “Krazy” tell us a few things about Weezy’s latest effort: it’ll obviously feature Young Money artists, Wayne will continue to talk smack and you never know if he’ll actually stick to the release date.

FooFighters2

Foo Fighters
Sonic Highways
Nov. 10 (Roswell/RCA)

“I really believe that the environment in which you write or record an album influences the musical result,” Dave Grohl said in the trailer for the HBO documentary series “Sonic Highways,” which chronicles the making of the band’s upcoming LP. This explains why the group decided to record each track of Sonic Highways in a different city, working with a different guest artist each time (including Zac Brown, Gary Clark, Jr. and Joe Walsh). The group promises that this record still carries their distinctive sound, but we can expect deeper meaning and a vast array of musical elements that collectively reach from the history of American music.

Tweedy

Tweedy
Sukierae
Sept. 16 (dBpm)

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s first solo project is not really a solo project. After setting aside his Wilco responsibilities following their last tour and release of The Whole Love (2011), Tweedy set out to record as a solo act. However, along the way, his son Spencer began playing drums and, naturally, began playing on his father’s tracks. The full album arrives this week, but many of the tracks, like the simple but beautiful “Wait For Love,” have already been made available online. The set list on their upcoming tour will include songs from Wilco and Jeff’s previous band Uncle Tupelo, in addition to songs off of Sukierae.

Rumored Releases from:

Kanye West

Alabama Shakes

Kendrick Lamar

Fleet Foxes

Nicki Minaj

Frank Ocean

Belle and Sebastian

—By Jason Charles

Missed out on Dragon Con 2014? Click through our gallery to see some of the best sights and events at the convention.

Paradegoers

Paradegoers
Picture 1 of 21

If you were walking in downtown Atlanta, you may have noticed a variety of different people cosplaying.

Features editor Ashley Bianco also detailed the weekend’s happenings here.

– Photos by Ashley Bianco 

hulk1

If you managed to find yourself in downtown Atlanta last weekend, you may have been slightly disturbed by seeing people dressed up as zombies, “Game of Thrones” characters and even crew members of the “Star Trek” Starship Enterprise. The varieties of such people were cosplaying for Dragon Con, the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in Georgia.

Dragon Con is essentially the South’s Comic Con, featuring an entire weekend full of attractions and events that appeal to one’s inner nerd. In 2012, the convention reached its all-time high with 52,000 participants. This year, more than 62,000 participants joined the convention.

At the convention, there are a multitude of attractions you can see and experience. The average Dragon Con weekend includes going to panels with visiting celebrities, walking the “hall of fame,” meeting and greeting your favorite celebrities, attending midnight parties based on your favorite sci-fi show and even buying some merchandise. While Dragon Con can be overwhelming, it’s a beyond-worthwhile experience.

Gallery: More photos from this year’s Dragon Con

 

The convention started on Friday and ended on Monday. On Friday, the day started with sci-fi and fantasy authors doing readings and signings, along with a few smaller panels. For instance, Evanna Lynch and Scarlett Byrne, the actresses who played Luna Lovegood and Pansy Parkinson in the “Harry Potter” films, held a “Growing Up Potter” panel where they discussed funny behind-the-scenes moments and their thoughts on portraying each of their characters.

On Saturday, the day started off with a parade of the best cosplaying characters from the weekend. The parade offered a host of characters, ranging from Doctor Who to Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to every superhero imaginable.

Saturday also saw the start of the Con’s most-attended panels. Most of these panels featured popular celebrities such as actors and actresses from “Arrow,” “Star Trek,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Lord of the Rings.” Most of these panels were offered on both Saturday and Sunday, so those who were unable to grab a seat on Saturday could still sneak a peek on Sunday.

The convention artfully combines smaller, more intimate gatherings with more arena-worthy panels, giving the attendees an array of experiences that appeal to all. The smaller panels which featured only one speaker focused on the individual and getting an up-close and personal experience with the actor or actress. One of those such actresses was “Person of Interest” star Amy Acker, who held her own panel on Saturday about the “Whedonverse,” or what it felt to be apart of famous director Joss Whedon’s (“The Avengers,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) movies and TV series. From the panel, one could see Acker as a shy actress who loved her job and enjoyed the twist and turns of playing in Whedon’s “Angel.”

In larger panels, the audience had the opportunity to see the playful side of the actors or actresses and get an inside look at the behind-the-scenes dynamic of the TV show or movie. The cast of “Arrow,” for instance, appeared at a panel dubbed “The Rule of Law,” in which they answered questions about the filming of the show and the performance of the stunts. The actors and actresses were clearly a tender family, cracking jokes and rolling eyes at their fellow actors/actresses responses to questions.

Similarly, in the “Lord of The Rings” (known affectionately among fantasy geeks as LOTR) panels, the actors acted like brothers. Craig Parker (better known as Haldir) brought a construction cone on stage and used it to spy the audience members who asked questions, and Billy Boyd (lovable hobbit Pippin) laughed until he cried as he retold a story about a silly game called “Tig” that they created behind the scenes. Each of the panels showed off the human side of the celebrities, along with their individual personalities.

At the Walk of Fame, the celebrities laughed and talked with each person that visited them.

Had you visited Adam Brown, or Ori from LOTR, you would’ve had an awkward side-hug and some chuckles.

If you visited Manu Bennett from “Arrow,” he might have given you a gigantic bear hug along with some advice as to where to travel in New Zealand. Acker might have nervously tittered about her new character on the TV series “Angel.”

Yet the convention also brought together a sense of shared companionship amongst the attendees. Throughout the convention, each person was eager to meet another and share his or her crazy experiences of Dragon Con. In the long lines that preceded the large panels, con-goers sat on the floor, striking up conversations about their favorite TV series or movies.

It was the idea that each person was free to completely and totally delve into their secret obsession with “Star Wars” or “Doctor Who” and not be judged.

The convention provided events that were fun for all, whether it meant partying it up like it was your “Yule” ball or fan-girling over the cutest actor of your favorite TV show, it is a must-have experience. College senior Aniqa Alam, who attended Dragon Con this year and in previous years, described how she felt about the experience and said that she recommends Dragon Con for all those that are “nerds at heart.”

“There’s everything under the sun at Dragon Con, including some things that you probably — or preferably — would have never heard of,” she said. “If you’re still making sense by the end of the day, you didn’t do Dragon Con right.”

Click here for a photo gallery of this year’s Dragon Con.

 

— By Ashley Bianco

The summer of 2014 exploded with Hollywood’s most anticipated movies. This year has been full of sequels, and many of them lived up to the hype that they were generating among the fans and even the casual moviegoers. An avid movie fan myself, I watched these movies and had a great deal of fun, even though amongst the notable movie releases, there were the occasional disappointing stinkers. Here are my picks for the summer’s best and worst movies.

 

xmen-days-poster

“X-Men: Days of Future Past
Whoever said that comic book movies are too childish should seriously see “X-Men.” In the series’ best installment yet, the action-packed “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a serious tone that exemplifies how big the stakes can be. Inspired by the comic storyline of the same name, the movie focuses on the aspects of time travel. In a not-so-distant future mechanical robots called Sentinels are ruling mankind and eradicating mutants. Wolverine, played by the ever-beefed-up Hugh Jackman, must go back in time to prevent an assassination by the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), in order to stop a chain of events that will lead to the end of mutants everywhere. The acting and dialogue of the movie’s ensemble cast are top-notch, and the story incorporates the cast of director Bryan Singer’s original “X-Men” trilogy with the cast of “X-Men: First Class” to introduce a film that is both dark and lighthearted, as well as awesome and tearjerking.

dawn of the planet of the apes

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
A sequel to the reboot of the franchise, the film follows Caesar (portrayed by the genius of motion capture, Andy Serkis) the ape with advanced human intelligence, 10 years after a simian flu virus has caused humanity’s collapse. Caesar is living peacefully in the woods as the leader of his enormous community of evolved apes, not having seen humans for a long time. However, tension builds as humans appear at his home, seeking a new source of energy for the humans’ survival camp. The movie introduces different characters of conflicting ideologies, and the special effects are so brilliant that I wondered if they actually used real animals for the film. Although the plot is admittedly formulaic, the direction of the storyline and the depth of Caesar and his loosening grip on peace between the two species made for an entertaining film.

 

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_46

“Guardians of the Galaxy”

Initially, when news of the film broke out, I, like many other people, was skeptical as to whether a relatively unknown team of pseudo-Avengers would be able to compete in the box office. Boy, was I wrong. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is so far the No. 1 grossing movie of 2014 domestically, featuring a cast of characters that’s shamelessly irreverent and rebellious, echoing an ‘80s-era feel similar to that of “Star Wars.” The movie follows Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), teaming up with fellow outlaws Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), in order to prevent cosmic destruction from a feared madman. Although the film takes place mostly in space, the aliens have a human element that renders them both relatable and sympathetic. Its comedic tone proved to be a hit with audiences everywhere, and the old-school soundtrack, along with impressive special effects, produced one of the most fun movies of the year.

amazing spider man

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Another sequel to a reboot, the movie was hyped up to be (ahem) amazing due to the success of the reboot two years prior. However, the result was, for lack of a better word, messy. I cannot even give a simple plot line to introduce the movie because there are so many plotlines, muddling up the direction of the story. While the characters are entertaining, the pacing of the story feels too inconsistent and makes certain characters’ actions questionable. A positive in the movie is the cast, which includes Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Jamie Foxx as the main antagonist Electro/Max Dillon. However, the movie ends up cramped as it has too many villains, so many that the final act of the movie becomes rushed. The tone of the movie is also erratic: cheesy in one scene, then depressing in the next. It looks like Sony has to be reminded once more that with great power comes the great responsibility to not make another bad Spider-Man movie.

 

transformers “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

Now, I’m the not the biggest Michael Bay fan, but I do recognize that there are people who might enjoy the same Michael Bay-isms of explosions, special effects and mindless action. However, this does not hide the fact that this movie lacks interesting protagonists, a focused plotline, convincing acting, an appropriate runtime and any heart. The story follows the consequences of the third movie: Now, Transformers are being hunted by the government. However, a bigger threat arrives with the intention to wipe out humanity — you know what, it doesn’t really matter. What the viewers need to know is that there are EXPLOSIONS! AND NOISY PANDEMONIUMS OCCURRING LIKE THIS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MOVIE! In all seriousness, this is the first movie without the original cast, instead featuring Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci and nobody else important. However, even those talents cannot break through the abysmal dialogue and characters. In the end, although the movie at first seemed like a refreshing new start to the franchise, it ended up with the same traits as all the previous “Transformers” films: simplistic and loud.

I regret not being able to mention all the other good movies that came out, including “Edge of Tomorrow,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Neighbors,” “22 Jump Street,” “Godzilla” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” However, I can truly say that it’s been an impressive line of films so far this year. Let’s hope that they can keep the streak going until the end.

— By Jake Choi

magic in the moonlight

We have all believed in magic. From Santa and Disneyland to a mother’s kiss instantly healing a scraped knee, magic surrounds the innocent. As we grow up, we conclude that the innocent are also ignorant. We believed in magic because we did not know the trickery behind each fable.

But is the definition of magic limited to disappearing elephants and fairy tale lands? In the romantic comedy “Magic in the Moonlight,” director and writer Woody Allen humorously explores the greater meaning of magic.

However, not every character willingly accepts this exploration. Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) stars in “Magic in the Moonlight” as the realistic, arrogant, great magician Stanley. He asserts, “I am a rational man who lives in a rational world, every other way is madness.”

Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, “The Amazing Spider-Man”), a naive and girlish yet opinionated psychic is there to prove Stanley wrong and show him that magic is alive and well.

Sophie has traveled to England from Michigan with her mother, and begins, without fail, to confirm to Stanley that her telepathic gift is not deception but true magic.

“Just because you can duplicate my miracles in no way proves mine are not real,” she boldly states to Stanley. Stanley cannot be easily convinced to believe in magic because it “challenges our whole concept of reality.”

He recognizes Sophie’s gift but is afraid of the unknown. If magic were real, he would have to re-question life, death, the metaphysical — everything — for magic means faith, and faith is not realistically logical.

Stanley becomes torn between reason — what he has based his entire life off thus far — and magic, which people are convinced of but he has never believed himself.

Together, the pair of Firth and Stone is excellent. They are both fabulous actors on their own, but together, their strengths shine. The mixture of Firth’s quizzical looks and endearing, accented rambles, and Stone’s comedic style give way to a movie where the viewer continues laughing and loving every minute of the pair’s interactions.

They’re awkward, but it’s the kind of awkward that works. Combine this duo’s acting with Allen’s directing and writing and some might call the resulting art magic.

Set in 1920s England, the staging of “Magic in the Moonlight” is impeccable. The scenery and styling is remarkably realistic, transporting the viewer to the time of elaborate flapper dresses, badminton played on grass courts and romance where emotions were conveyed through spoken words as opposed to texting.

The film’s soundtrack includes tunes of the time and is very telling of the mood, as it builds drama and tension according to the emotions of the characters. And each scene seems to have been filmed at the light’s golden hour. The glorious lighting, background sounds and 1920s visuals enhance the movie’s theme and open the viewer up to the possibility of magic.

As stubborn Stanley expresses, “I believe each of us must find a reason to embrace life.” That reason may be faith, love or passion, but finding the part of life worth living for is what we all desire to discover.

I left “Magic in the Moonlight” feeling hopeful and optimistic; a truly innocent, feel-good movie is hard to come by. Allen created “Magic in the Moonlight” to give viewers a sense of hope — hope in life.

And who knows, maybe we will find a little magic along the way.

— Contact Blake Massullo

This fall’s line-up of new television shows seems to have something for everyone, with different series’ filling all the niches. There’s a new comic book-based action/drama, and a few channels over, you’ll find a new Ken Burns documentary miniseries. Here are some of the shows I’m most excited for this season:

Bad-Judge-nuovo-poster“Bad Judge” (NBC)
You know those shows you feel a little guilty admitting you watch? NBC’s “Bad Judge” just might be one of them. Starring Kate Walsh as Rebecca Wright, a Los Angeles County Circuit Court judge, “Bad Judge” tells the tale of a judge who’s just, well, bad. In the courtroom, Wright is your quintessential law-and-order, tough-on-the-bad-guys judge, but in her private life, she is quite the party girl. Nightly drinking and hooking up provide a solid backbone to her busy schedule as a judge, but this lifestyle is challenged by the introduction of an eight-year-old boy to her home. It’s one of those shows that will prove to be either satisfying in the trashy way or so atrocious that on top of never admitting publicly that you watched it, you’ll attempt to excise it from your memory completely. But there’s only one way to find out. “Bad Judge” premieres on NBC on Thursday, Oct. 2.

the roosevelts

“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS)
For the history nerds among us (myself included!), PBS is back. And they’re premiering a brand-new Ken Burns documentary, this time covering one of the United States’ top aristocratic dynasties: the Roosevelt family. A seven-part miniseries, the documentary tells the story of the three most famous members of the family interwoven into one seamless narrative. Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are covered in such a way that they will have both their flaws and their successes illustrated, and it looks to be a balanced approach to some of the more controversial American leaders and their legacies. Covering over a century of American history, from Teddy’s birth to Eleanor’s death, ”The Roosevelts” promises to provide an insightful, fresh look at the 20th century’s leading progressives. The series premieres on PBS on Sunday, Sept. 14.

gothamtease

“Gotham” (Fox)
Riding on the past few years’ wave of superhero fandom, Fox’s new show “Gotham” tells the tale of the Batman series’ Commissioner Gordon as a detective in his younger days. Starring Ben McKenzie as Detective Gordon, the show promises to fill in the backgrounds of a score of Batman’s nemeses, granting backstories to the likes of perennial favorites such as the Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler and, of course, the Joker. “Gotham” premieres on Fox on Monday, Sept. 22.

— By Sam Budnyk

 

Imagine Music Festival

There’s a growing phenomenon on the horizon: hybridization.

Polar bears and grizzly bears are becoming pizzly bears, and beluga whales and narwhals are becoming narlugas.

And the latest development in this trend is the blending of psychedelic music and electronic dance music (EDM). The two cultures are normally separate entities; concertgoers may exchange smiles at Bonnaroo or Electric Forest as they head to different stages, but at Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta, the two musical species became one.

The festival filled the 17 acres of Historic Fourth Ward Park and extended into part of Atlanta (I could even hear one set from my parking spot at Kroger). The musical acts performed on three uniquely designed stages.

The smallest stage, called the Imaginarium, was located behind the park’s pond. One main stage was underwater-themed, with spumescent bubbles and mermaid-costumed dancers.

“It was easy to see that the Iris [Presents] event coordinators really thought about us when planning the event,” said Ashley Connor, a College junior who attended the festival.

Instead of the common flow of music festivals, where fans follow a strict, structured schedule, sticking to their pre-arranged stages throughout the day, the short distance between the two main stages encouraged a peregrine attitude among the fans weaving through bright stage lights.

And light shows weren’t the only source of color. EDM favorites like neon tutus or “fluffies,” and psychedelic items like body paint and flower garlands were the habiliment of the festivalgoers.

“I honestly think these two cultures are intertwined nowadays,” Connor added. “You’re surrounded by people with positive attitudes.”

The aura was contagious in these crowds. “Positive vibes are all you need” has been the message the two cultures have been spreading for years ­— it’s actually amazing they didn’t come together sooner.

Hybridization, however, did not just occur within the people: the acts were also greatly affected. Musical acts like Beats Antique, Infected Mushroom and Crystal Castles can transcend both genres.

Some of the more mainstream acts played alternative shows. A sliver of people disparaged the changes.

When the first notes of “Crimewave” played, one festivalgoer sprinted to the front of the crowd. He later complained, “this is not Crystal Castles,” as he headed towards the exit. Most fans, however, seemed to embrace the new dynamic tunes, as evidenced by their liberal dancing and wide smiles.

As a seasoned music festival veteran, few things surprise me. But Destroid, a live bass band consisting of Excision, Downlink and KJ Sawka, was the final act on Sunday night, and by far the coolest show I saw all summer.

It was frightening. The bass felt more powerful than a mid-sized earthquake, and each artist looked like the original Predator, except with an LED skeleton. Excision and Downlink played custom MIDI guitars with LED fretboards, and KJ Sawka brought the bass on the drums. The frenzied show of Excision would have been too much for old-school psychedelic hippies, but the new generation was jumping, dancing and borderline moshing.

If you missed the festival, Iris Presents hosts EDM acts every Saturday at Rush Lounge on Buford Highway. In fact, KJ Sawka is playing there this upcoming Saturday.

And if his stellar performance at Imagine was any indication, it’ll be kickass.

— By Caroline Eggers

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