Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Pretty Reckless - Going To Hell (2014)

Vinyl cover; the CD cover is disappointingly cropped

So, apparently, actress Taylor Momsen (who seems most known for her childhood role in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and her more recent tenure on Gossip Girl) is also a rock star. Who knew, right? I only found out a week ago when my roommate showed me the music video for her latest single, Heaven Knows. It's a raucous, rebellious tune, caught somewhere between Queen and Pink Floyd, with a schoolyard setting, religious symbolism, and themes of corrupted innocence. What's more, Taylor Momsen is apparently not shy about showing off her body. So, it was pretty much right up my alley. I drove out the very next day to pick up her band (The Pretty Reckless)'s latest album, Going To Hell.

And it's very good - with, perhaps surprisingly, a lot of the sort of tunes that get stuck in your head, despite this most emphatically not being a pop record. It's hard rock, even a little metal - but the kind that I can appreciate. Even though, as I understand, the rest of the band is made up of men, this music fits very well into my current "women who rock" phase of obsession, alongside Courtney Love, and Stonefield, and the Japanese girl group Gacharic Spin that I'm going to see live next weekend.

Highlights of the album are the single, Heaven Knows, and the title track, but also a stirring number called Sweet Things, as well as Why'd You Bring A Shotgun To The Party, which is (as I read it) a very fun and unpretentious response to the disturbing trend of school shootings that's been going around for a while now. But the rest of the album is more than just filler, with some other good songs  - like Burn - that maintain the general concept of the album as well as provide just enough balance to the heavy sound that prevails. The latter is in particular evidence on the two acoustic bonus tracks that demonstrate the solid songwriting ability of this band.

The Pretty Reckless, you have yourselves a new fan.

Did I mention Taylor Momsen is super hot?

Divergent (2014)

My roommate, who is an avid moviegoer, went to see Divergent today, and I decided to tag along. I'll be honest, I was ready to write Divergent off as a Hunger Games clone, but I'm glad I gave it a try, because I really enjoyed it. In fact, I probably liked it more than the first Hunger Games movie (but not the second). I liked it enough I'd even go and watch it again.

Sci-fi dystopia stories are a dime a dozen - it's true - but then again, I guess you could say the same about any genre, including horror. Divergent takes place in a part-ravaged, part-technologically advanced post-apocalyptic war-torn Chicago, within which survivors have created a haven separated from the unnamed dangers that lurk beyond the wall built at the city limits.

The society is split into five factions: Abnegation, consisting of the selfless, who help others; Dauntless, which breeds soldiers and enforcers; Erudite, the intelligentia and scientists; Amity, the members of which tend the fields and value kindness above all other virtues; and Candor, who are servants of truth and honesty. When a person in this society reaches maturity, they must make a decision as to which faction they will join.

Naturally, there is some tension between the factions, but more importantly, the existence of "divergents" - people who do not conform to a single faction - are viewed as a lethal threat to the smooth running of the system. Enter Beatrice "Tris" Prior, a girl raised in the Abnegation faction, who nevertheless associates more with the Dauntless, and soon finds out that she is one of these divergents.

I thought Divergent did a good job of telling a fairly confined story, while serving as the preface to further conflict in what is, like The Hunger Games, based on a trilogy of novels. I liked the main characters: Shailene Woodley was both pretty and emotive as the primary protagonist; Theo James did a great job of portraying the tough but sensitive love interest; and Kate Winslet channeled a chilling detachment for the divergent-hunter who would pay any price to keep the system running.

I'll be looking forward to seeing where the story heads in future installments.