Jungle Book reboot captivates audiences with CGI technology

Lately, the Walt Disney Company has been making everyone’s childhood dreams come true with a number of live-action reboots of their most popular movies. We’ve already seen Maleficent—an alternative perspective of Sleeping BeautyCinderella—a new fantastical twist on the classic tale—and Pan—the story of how Peter Pan never grew up. Everyone is also abuzz about the new Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid remakes, which have A-list celebrities such as Emma Watson set to star in them. The latest Disney remake to hit theaters is The Jungle Book, written by Justin Marks and directed by Jon Favreau. The Jungle Book was originally a collection of tales written by English author Rudyard Kipling and later turned into an animated film in 1994.

The film is a combination of computer-generated imagery animation and live acting. The only human actor in the film is Mowgli—played by 12-year-old Neel Sethi. Both the animals and the jungle environment are CGI, but in order to create a heightened sense of reality, animal behaviors were acted out by their voice actors and then translated into animation. What results is animation so realistic that one cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is computer-generated.

That being said, the film is not without star-power. A famous cast of actors—both new and old—voice the key jungle animals that most fans will remember from the 1994 film. Among the fairly new actors are Lupita Nyong’o—who was celebrated for her roles in 12 Years a Slave and Star Wars: The Force Awakens—as well as Idris Elba—star of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the BBC hit “Luther.” Nyong’o plays Raksha, the fiercely loyal mother wolf who raised Mowgli from a baby to a young boy, while Elba plays the chief villain of the story—Shere Khan, the ruthless tiger who harbors resentment against all humans and their “red flower.”

The film also includes seasoned actors, most notably Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and Scarlett Johansson. A lot of the buzz has surrounded Murray, whose character Baloo is a seemingly perfect fit for the actor. Baloo is a lovable oaf of a bear who cracks the film’s only jokes, in many ways mirroring Murray’s down to earth personality.

Kingsley’s role as the ever-so-wise and accepting Bagheera was a perfect fit as well. Kingsley is a revered actor sensitive to social issues; just as Bagheera is respected in the jungle for his reason and guidance, but is also able to see when change is needed.

Johansson and Walken voice two more of the films villains, Kaa and King Louie, respectively. Disney fans will remember these two from the 1994 film because of Kaa’s sly tricks and Louie’s large-and-in-charge personality. Although they may be well remembered, these two characters had insignificant roles in the newer version.

We meet them both because they try to take advantage of the young Mowgli when he is alone in the jungle, but these characters left the film just as quickly as they came in. This is interesting, especially because both Kaa and Louie introduce the audience to very important plot points: Mowgli’s past and “man’s red flower”—what the animals call fire.

Perhaps this de-emphasis on Kaa and King Louie is to make room for a larger concentration on characters that were ignored in Disney’s previous adaption of Kipling’s stories, such as Raksha and Akela—leaders of the wolf pack that took Mowgli in as their own “man-cub.”

Many viewers love this departure from Disney’s first attempt at The Jungle Book because of its amazing computer animation and the dedication of the voice actors. But it seems as though the chief reason that the film is doing so well is because it’s for young and old audiences alike. Its message of embracing differences and finding a place to belong are timeless.

Zayn forces maturity on debut solo album

When Zayn Malik left One Direction a little over a year ago, fans didn’t know what to expect. There was a lot of uncertainty about when people would hear from him musically again. Then, on New Year’s Eve 2015, he posted a simple tweet: “Z016.” After that, Malik announced his first solo album Mind of Mine, which he would release as ZAYN. He promised that his lyrics and musical style were headed in a much more mature direction from his previous work. With much of One Direction’s fan base considering Malik to be the strongest vocally in the band, it’s understandable that many people—including myself— had high expectations for Malik’s return to the music scene.

The style of Mind of Mine is certainly a departure from the pop sound of One Direction. Malik worked with producer Malay—who has previously worked with artists such as Frank Ocean—to create a heavily R&B-influenced album. It’s not surprising to see that Malik has already been compared to other contemporary R&B singers, including The Weeknd and Usher.

One of the first songs on the album is its first single: “PILLOWTALK.” The lyrics are certainly more mature at first glance, centering on sex and featuring profanity. These lyrics, however, come off as so focused on trying to appeal to an older audience that it reaches the point where it feels forced. Despite that, the song is catchy and works well as a single.

In some of the more upbeat songs—such as “BeFoUr”—Malik’s powerful vocals manage to get lost in the loud music backing him up. He strikes a skillful balance between his voice and the music in “sHe,” however, which I found to be one of the strongest tracks on the album. Malik’s artful lyrics create a vivid picture of who “she” is with lines like, “She puts her spirit in a nightcap/She always knows where the crowd’s at/She puts her mouth ’round the cigarette.”

This powerful imagery continues in the following track “dRuNk.” Again, Malik proves that he can make a song that knows exactly what it’s trying to do. Here, he creates an intimate atmosphere with simple, yet expressive lyrics. His vocals take precedence, especially when he hits his trademark falsetto.

One of the shortest songs on the album is also one of the most beautiful. “INTERMISSION: fLoWer” is less than two minutes long and it’s sung in Urdu—the first language of Malik’s father. Featuring a sparse guitar and Malik’s echoing voice, the song is touching and emotional—even if you don’t speak the language.

In an interview on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, Malik spoke about his song “wRoNg,” which he said was originally written to be a rap. Now a song featuring singer Kehlani, it falls flat. As the only duet on the album, “wRoNg” disappoints by not utilizing Kehlani’s voice as much as it could have. It sounds more like two tracks were awkwardly strung together rather than one cohesive song.

While Mind of Mine is an accomplished album, it still flounders in some respects. Malik’s audience was promised more mature lyrics—and Malik did deliver—yet many songs feel flat and emotionally detached. But when the lyrics are strong, they’re amazing.

Malik had a goal when he set out to create this album and while it’s definitely a step in the right direction, he still has a long way to go until he’s truly established himself as a renowned solo artist.

KINO film event explores college racism, power of student activism

Director Justin Simien’s Dear White People explores contemporary college racism and the effect that discrimination can have not only on individual morale, but also on the collective spirit of a university. KINO presented the film in the Hunt Room of the MacVittie College Union on Friday April 8. Dear White People tells the story of students dealing with racism across their campus at Winchester University. Biracial college student Sam White—played by Tessa Thompson—hosts a radio broadcast called “Dear White People” that criticizes white college students and faculty for their racist assumptions and comments.

Tensions already run high at the prestigious Winchester University, where black students like Sam are divided in a segregated manner. The dining halls and dormitories are all separated by race. Furthermore, the college only has one hall for the black students—the Armstrong and Parker house. This segregation generates an acute division among students of different cultures throughout the campus.

Sam is a strong-willed and fearless student who challenges this division with her controversial radio show, as well as through her thought-provoking films. Black, gay college writer Lionel Higgins—played by Tyler James Williams from “Everybody Hates Chris”—also explores this division on campus when he is assigned by his editor to write a story on Sam and her actions of resistance.

Fellow black student Troy Fairbanks—played by Brandon Bell—develops his own strategy in dealing with the racism he faces as he attempts to rise in power and become head of the Armstrong and Parker house. But racism isn’t the only struggle Troy is dealing with; he also faces unyielding pressure from his father, Dean Fairbanks—played by Dennis Haysbert—as he pushes his son to pursue this leadership role.

Sam runs against Troy and ends up winning the election for head of the house, causing hostility across the campus to escalate. Sam gets little respect from anyone on campus—including faculty and staff members—and the backlash from her peers for winning this role is immense.

The strain on campus finally erupts when Kurt Fletcher—son of the school’s president, played by Kyle Gallner—and his club throws a blackface-themed party in response to Sam’s radio show. After finding out about the highly controversial theme, a group of black students—Sam, Lionel and friends—show up to the party to disband it, spurring outrage and violence amongst the students.

Dear White People was created in response to a large amount of controversially-themed parties that have occurred on college campuses across the United States in recent years. For example, Arizona State’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity held a “Martin Luther King Black Party” in 2014 and Penn State’s Chi Omega sorority held a “Mexican Party” in 2012. Both parties involved students dressing and stereotyping each respective race and involved the students sharing pictures across social media, catching the attention of the media nationwide.

Simien’s film weaves together contemporary racial issues among students and staff, bringing attention to the larger problem of systemic racism that plagues our society. The wit and brilliance that characters like Sam convey presents a refreshing and poignant angle on racism in the country. With social media platforms keeping record of almost everything college students are doing across the nation, it goes to show that while racism prevails among universities today, students like Sam can inspire change.

Rochester native creates dream pop album, emphasizes nature’s ephemerality

With this year’s surprisingly warm, sans-snow winter in Upstate New York, it’s odd to be reminded of last year’s freezing winter by this snow on the ground in April. Rochester native and singer-songwriter Susanna Rose does just that, however, with her latest album Snowbound. With a title like Snowbound, it’s no question that this album will bring back those peaceful winter tunes we all know and love, such as “Once Upon a December” or “Winter Wonderland.” As Snowbound was released on Nov. 22, 2015, the album’s release is far enough away for listeners to have overlooked—but not have completely forgotten—the frigidly cold winter season.

“This album was written during and inspired by Rochester’s coldest winter ever, the winter of 2015,” Rose said.

The songs’ lyrics emphasize that winter motif, especially in the titular song “Snowbound.” Rose sings, “It’s a cold night out there/So come on in/And let’s pretend/ We don’t know how this ends, we don’t know how this ends.” So many of us don’t wish to dwell on the winter snow and harsh winds—it’s much nicer to go indoors, bundle up in warm sweaters next to a fire and drink a hot chocolate, just as Rose suggests.

Although the other songs on the album aren’t quite so apparently winter-themed as “Snowbound” is, the mellow acoustic guitar—mixed with Rose’s soulful voice—create an alluring type of dream pop music that is ever-present throughout Snowbound. Developed in the 1980s, dream pop is like alternative rock, except its emphasis is on creating a more ethereal and dream-like sound. Dream pop is the type of music a person would play while trying to lull into a sleep—or while trying to warm up from a cold hike in the snow.

Snowbound’s plethora of songs are a perfect depiction of dream pop. It is especially apparent in “Lullaby,” a three-minute song that discusses nature and how Rose simply wants to “catch” the sky’s snow. “Lullaby” ends perfectly with, “So goodnight, my dear/Sleep tight” to finish off the dream pop vibe to Rose’s album.

The background music to “Lullaby” is also very hypnotic and airy, as if listeners truly could “sleep tight” while listening to it. “Separate Ways” promises an OK future of dreams, too, as in “Lullaby”—because right now, Rose’s dreams are ‘unsettling.’

That otherworldly quality is apparent in the other tracks of Snowbound. Though these songs don’t quite have the same emphasis on snow and nature like “Lullaby” and “Snowbound,” they do mention these qualities, such as in “Ancient History.” In “Ancient History,” Rose discusses how one can’t always just sit on a porch drinking lemonade—you’ve got to face reality, because there is a brevity to nice weather that people have to accept.

This idea of nice weather being short becomes a symbol of the transient nature of happiness in the other songs on the album. Rose explores harsh, yet relatable topics that people face in their lives; “Old Broken Heart” showcases the pain of having someone you love fall in love with someone else, while “Working Girl” explores the disenchantment that comes with having a job that leaves you feeling only tired and empty.

“Don’t fear that the good times won’t last,” Rose sings in the song “Benediction.” “Because you know of course they can’t.”

And she’s right. The good weather will not last, and neither do picture-perfect times. But with ethereal music like Snowbound, one can have something to listen to and enjoy while it’s snowing outside or while life seems to be crumbling beneath you.

Allegiant falls flat, leaves viewers uncertain

It’s a shame that many popular young adult film series’ finales are adapted into two separate films these days—the result is usually an unevenly distributed plot, which only makes the finale of an epic storyline fall flat. Unfortunately for Divergent fans, the third film of the series—Allegiant—falls into that very trap. At one point, protagonist Tris—played by Shailene Woodley—boasts to the council of The Bureau of Genetic Warfare that they keep making the “same mistakes.” It’s a startling coincidence, actually, since director Robert Schwentke and his fellow filmmakers seem to be having the same exact problem.

Allegiant’s preceding film Insurgent ended with the downfall of Kate Winslet’s dictatorial character, Jeanine, and the citizens of a futuristic Chicago ready to cross the wall that divides them from the rest of the post-apocalyptic world. In Allegiant, however, it seems like the characters forgot all of what has happened, as they allow a new tyrannical leader to rise: Evelyn. Portrayed by Naomi Watts, Evelyn forbids anyone to go to the other side.

Naturally, this doesn’t stop Tris and her strong-willed boyfriend Four—played by Theo James—from going over the walls with their friends Christina—played by Zoë Kravitz—and Tori—played by Maggie Q. Tris’ brother Caleb—played by Ansel Elgort—and their “frenemy” Peter—played by Miles Teller—accompany the four to the other side.

What ensues after this rebellion is an exploration of a new landscape and civilization that seems very anticlimactic based on the actors’ reactions and dialogue. Their response to encountering so many new things is underwhelming, making the film more unbelievable than it already is. For instance, their initial reactions to both a Mars-esque world and a high tech bunker are as simple and boring as, “Wow.”

That’s not to belittle some of the solid acting from the leading stars, however. Woodley and James shared a pleasant chemistry and had independent moments in which their characters showed determination and power. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t go for the rest of the character dynamics.

Teller’s character cracks out-of-place jokes as comic relief—jokes that are unoriginal and almost annoying. Jeff Daniels—who plays David—brings no spark to a very unoriginal character. As time goes on, the interest in all of the characters diminishes and all we’re left with are explanations of the plot and non-thrilling action.

The twists in the film were only anticipated by the audience and Four because Tris chooses to believe that this new society—the Bureau of Genetic Warfare—doesn’t have any flaws, regardless of the fact that they’re the ones that created the chaotic and divided city in the first place in order to create a pure genetic race.

The problem with Allegiant stems from the struggle to split Veronica Roth’s novel into two adequate and entertaining parts. This has been a trend among popular franchises ever since the last of the Harry Potter films were made. But because Allegiant was clumped into this group, the audience is left with as many questions coming out as they had going into the movie.

The characters’ dialogue was mainly based on exposition and the conflicts were quite similar to the other films, such as the issue between Johanna’s—played by Octavia Spencer—allegiant group and Evelyn’s faction-less group. Overall, nothing felt accomplished. Sure, we may know more about this world, but it feels as if one of the two hours could have taken care of this story.

Maybe the final film will be better and the questions as to what will happen to Tris, Chicago and the rest of the world will become clearer. But for now, Allegiant stands as a disappointing lull amongst the Divergent films.

Indie rock artist channels 90s grunge sound

Freddie’s Extra Teeth is a new album from South Dakota native and indie rock artist Von Zimmer. The album’s title is an allusion to a story about Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury and his unwillingness to have his extra teeth removed for fear of losing his ability to hit his trademark high notes.

Though the album’s title would imply a musical connection to the Queen front man, Zimmer’s coarse vocals and lo-fi sound on Freddie’s Extra Teeth seem to have been inspired more by artists such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who helped cultivate the famously grungy, lo-fi sound.

Accompanying Zimmer’s vocals are an electric guitar and drums, with pianos and strings occasionally peppered into songs. The guitars and drums often seemed muffled and distorted, almost feeling un-mastered and mixed at times. This allows the pianos and strings to really shine during their parts in the songs, however. Along with Zimmer’s raw vocals, this gives songs a garage-like rock feeling.

Where Freddie’s Extra Teeth lacks, however, is in the repetitiveness of the songs. For instance, the guitar riffs often repeat over the length of any song. Furthermore, the drums and vocals feel flat at times, causing some of the songs to become stale and boring very quickly.

Despite this, there are a number of bright spots on Freddie’s Extra Teeth, including “The End of the World” and “Where Were You”—two tracks that benefit from the raw sound. Zimmer’s vocals blend well with catchy guitar riffs and the solid percussion is very audible on these two songs.

John Golden—a respected producer who has worked with industry elites—mastered Freddie’s Extra Teeth. Golden’s experience in the industry leads one to believe that it was a conscious decision on his part to keep the songs sounding lo-fi and demo-like, perhaps in an attempt to give the album a grungier personality and sound.

Where Freddie’s Extra Teeth succeeds is also where it unfortunately fails. The album attempts to channel its inner Cobain—and it does achieve this at times. It doesn’t achieve this consistently, however, which can create a disjointed listening experience.

Despite this, Von Zimmer is an undeniably talented young artist who delivers a few solid tracks with this album, making it worth a listen.

Freddie’s Extra Teeth is available for listening through Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud and YouTube. Rough mixes and demo versions of the songs are also available at Von Zimmer’s SoundCloud page, which offers listeners some insight into the creative process behind the music and how the songs came to fruition.

It will be very interesting to see where Von Zimmer goes from here—and it’s always fun to brag to your friends that you heard an artist first.

Zootopia encapsulates Disney wit, charm

Zootopia—Disney’s newest solo animated film—continues the franchise’s legacy of spectacular animations through the use of creativity and relatable situations. Zootopia seems to do something those other films haven’t, though: create its own unique world for its inhabitants to live in. In Zootopia, directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush create a world similar to Disney Pixar’s Cars and Monster’s Inc.: one purely based on the creator’s imagination. The city of Zootopia is divided into multiple districts for the myriad of different animals in the world, including the Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and the Rainforest District. Each district has its own little quirks that fit to the inhabited animals’ lifestyles.

The film follows rabbit Judy Hopps—voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin—who dreams of becoming a cop in the city of Zootopia. Zootopia is a place where animals of all kind—prey and predator alike—coexist and have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be, regardless of their own natural instincts that pit them against each other.

Even though Hopps passes through the ranks and becomes a cop at the choice of Mayor Lionheart—voiced by J.K. Simmons—she struggles to gain respect from her superior Chief Bogo—voiced by Idris Elba—and the rest of her community because of her identity as a rabbit.

While attempting to prove herself as more than just a bunny and a “meter maid,” Judy meets the charming con-artist fox Nick Wilde—voiced by Jason Bateman—and eventually blackmails him into helping her with her case. Together, the duo attempts to solve the case of a missing otter, who is among 13 missing ex-predators from Zootopia.

The film started with a fairly corny opening, as the young animals boasted about individuality and being able to surpass the fictional universe’s limits and expectations. It seemed as if the film was going to be strictly for children, but as Disney usually proves, the film’s intended audience extended beyond adolescents.

The film steps up from its initial impression by dropping in bits of humor that will resonate for people of all ages, making the film enjoyable for everyone. Whether it’s the animal version of Shakira—Gazelle—or the extremely slow-working sloths at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the film’s clever and subtle humor sparks plenty of laughs.

Without giving away any spoilers, the ending was a bit too trite. It was a conventional, “surprise” ending with the villain who you’d least expect, but with an obvious motive that was perhaps foreshadowed too obviously. For a children’s movie, however, the plot was a bit more substantial than usual.

Regardless of any trite moments, the film was filled with entertainment from start to finish. The actors were perfectly casted, as the always sweet Goodwin—known for her role as the “goodie” Snow White on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”—proved to be the perfect opposite for the usually snappy Bateman. I personally enjoyed the dynamic between the duo.

Although it doesn’t contain catchy musical numbers like Frozen and it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings like Big Hero 6, Zootopia is a must see for all Disney lovers.

Macklemore’s album haphazard, disappointing

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released their unforgettable, number one Billboard Hot 100 hit “Thrift Shop” over four years ago. Fast forward to 2016: when the hip-hop duo released their fourth album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made on Feb. 26. Among other notable artists, Ed Sheeran and Chance The Rapper are featured on this album.

“Thrift Shop” jumpstarted Macklemore and Lewis’ careers. With his succeeding albums, however, Macklemore proved to the world that he was not a one-hit wonder. The Heist was a hugely successful album with hits like “White Walls” and “Can’t Hold Us.” In contrast, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made turned out to be a complete flop.

“Try-hard” is the only phrase that can accurately describe this album. It’s apparent that Macklemore was merely trying to stay relevant after The Heist’s huge success—a plan that completely backfired.

Successful music reaches its listeners through its messages and artistic quality. In this album, however, the messages did not translate and the music was lost. At times, it felt as if Macklemore were talking in a conversational setting rather than rapping in a studio.

It’s tough to say which was worse: the music or the lyrics. “Downtown” raps about mopeds to the beat of funk music—a true tragedy of a song, in my opinion. The song itself is a gag inducing, peppy version of “Uptown Funk,” and it’s hard for me to see how this song could appeal to any demographic.

“Brad Pitt’s Cousin” was arguably the least understandable song on the album. In the song, Macklemore jokes that he’s Brad Pitt’s “ugly” cousin, calling out to all his “Angelinas.” What was supposed to be a lighthearted, funny song only worked to reveal Macklemore’s completely bizarre, unsympathetic sense of humor.

“Let’s Eat” is a track that centers on dieting, in which Macklemore raps, “My girl shaped like a bottle of Coke/ Me? I’m shaped like a bottle of nope.” This song was embarrassingly terrible, highlighting Macklemore’s declining songwriting abilities.

Lastly, “Buckshot” focuses on how Macklemore grew up in a poor and vandalized property with graffiti—a song which directly contradicts his persona. In “Buckshot,” Macklemore identifies with the poverty-stricken population that many rappers come from and use as inspiration in their music. In “White Privilege II,” though—and seemingly the rest of his music—he identifies with a more privileged population that has never had to overcome hardships. If a rapper does not know who they are, how is their music supposed to be understood, let alone appreciated?

In the past, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been known for cleverly bringing social justice issues to light through their music, as seen in “Same Love” featuring Mary Lambert. “White Privilege II,” however, is just short of a disaster. Macklemore raps for nearly nine minutes about the different opinions surrounding the current racial climate, addressing issues from culturally appropriated rap to marching as a white man in Ferguson protests. 

“Black Lives Matter” is chanted throughout “White Privilege II,” along with people voicing their opinions about the movement. Miley Cyrus, Elvis Presley, Iggy Azalea and Mike Brown are all somehow mentioned in the same verse. While dissing other artists through a song is not a new phenomenon, it can be tasteless—especially when done in a song that deals with such heavy topics as the shooting of Michael Brown. The track comes off as tacky and Macklemore seems like another white male trying to convince others of his understanding of the black struggle.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made was exactly what the title implies—a complete and utter mess. Connecting with listeners seemed to be the main struggle of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ album, with bad songwriting and poor musicality not helping their cause. While there may be a few tolerable songs off this album, overall, it gives white rap a bad name.

The Oscars 2016 Review

Much hype and controversy surrounded this year’s Oscars. The 88th Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday Feb. 28. Leonardo DiCaprio’s first win, the debate regarding racial discrimination within the nomination process, Lady Gaga’s tribute to sexual assault victims and many other aspects of the event generated an emotional roller coaster for attendees and viewers alike. Chris Rock seemed to be the perfect choice for the host, guiding the audience through a witty opening monologue addressing the discrimination accusations. He referred to the ceremony as “the White People’s Choice Awards” and said, “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage.” He went on to add that, “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Rock’s comedy strategically dealt with the heavy issue that was the elephant in the room. He acknowledged the controversy’s credibility while also lightening the mood in preparation for the awards. Race issues were tackled throughout the show. In a video clip bit, actors including Whoopi Goldberg and Kristin Wiig comically recognized racist undertones in today’s pop culture.

Winning the first and last award of the night for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture was the drama Spotlight. This was no surprise considering its quality director and its saturation of A-list names as well as its focus on the importance of investigative journalism working to address the pervasive but largely ignored epidemic of sexual abuse within Catholic clergy. From there, the awards continued as they annually do, but with an emphasis on promptness regarding winners’ acceptance speeches. Another memorable highlight from the night was Mad Max: Fury Road winning six Oscars.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the ceremony was the Best Actor Oscar—finally awarded to DiCaprio. His nomination for his role in The Revenant was his sixth nomination, but his first win. In his acceptance speech, he stated his appreciation, but also took the opportunity to use the spotlight to address environmental issues.

“Climate change is real; it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our species,” he said. “Let us not take this planet for granted—I do not take this night for granted.”

DiCaprio’s win marks the end of a meme trend poking fun at the ridiculousness of his lack of Oscar wins, but opens the floodgates to an entirely new meme onslaught such as a picture of him behind the text, “The Revenant: The epic tale of what one man will go through just to win an Oscar.” Joking aside, much of the public would agree that DiCaprio’s award was well deserved and long overdue.

Another star of the night was 9-year-old Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay, who was commended by critics for his role in Room. His Room co-star Brie Larson won the Best Actress award. Larson high-fived and hugged Tremblay in an adorable show of friendly affection and acknowledgment of each other’s teamwork.

Additionally, Lady Gaga’s performance of her powerful song “Til It Happens to You” was an incredible part of the night, paying tribute to victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault. She and Diane Warren specifically wrote the Best Original Song nominee for the documentary The Hunting Ground, which explores sexual assault on college campuses. Gaga’s performance was emotional and captivating, especially in the wake of Kesha’s recent legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke following rape allegations against him.

To say that the 88th Academy Awards was bursting with social issues and historic moments would be an understatement. The memorable ceremony undoubtedly brought audience members and viewers to tears of empathy, cultural frustration, joy and everything in between.

“Full House” revival full of nostalgia, lacks innovative plotlines

Nearly 20 years after “Full House’s” original series premiered in 1987, Netflix released a “Full House” revival series on Friday Feb. 26. Titled “Fuller House,” the series showcases many of the original cast members, giving them the cheesy narrative arcs that only “Full House” could get away with. The nostalgic feeling in “Fuller House” was extremely prevalent, starting with the title sequence. The opening credits successfully made its audience feel sentimental, featuring a poppy cover of the original theme and displaying pictures of the cast from “Full House” next to the new—but older—cast members. To tug on the heartstrings even more, the credits showcased new film sequences of the cast acting the same as they did in the original title sequence. For example, just as Danny Tanner—played by Bob Saget—threw around a football in the “Full House” sequence, he is shown throwing a football in the same setting 20 years later.

The show managed to sign on most of the original cast, including Candace Cameron Bure as DJ, Jodie Sweetin as Stephanie and Andrea Barber as Kimmy. As guest characters, the show has Saget as Danny, Dave Coulier as Joey, John Stamos as Jesse, Lori Loughlin as Rebecca and Blake and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit as twins Nicky and Alex. Although the show was unable to enlist the second pair of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to play Michelle, “Fuller House” is stockpiled with fan-favorite characters.

Right from the start of the first episode, it’s clear that the writers have used the same cheesy tropes that made “Full House” such a family-friendly show. DJ Tanner is now DJ Tanner-Fuller, a single parent with three boys—very reminiscent of single Danny with his three daughters. Although Kimmy and Stephanie have their own lives now—as Kimmy is raising her teenage daughter Ramona and Stephanie Tanner is trying to start a singing career—family comes first on “Fuller House,” so the two decide to move in to help DJ raise her family in the original “Full House” house.

The show still maintains its fun, G-rated humor with cute little remarks. Kimmy hasn’t changed one bit on the show, still wearing the tackiest outfits as she displays her ever-present stinky feet. Even the Tanner-Fuller children are funny—similar to Stephanie’s classic, “How rude!” catchphrase, middle child Max tries to get his own with “Holy chalupas!”

Although it was very heartwarming to see these beloved characters back on screen together, the plotline past the pilot episode was lacking. Any “Full House” revival series is going to be cheesy—and that’s fine. If viewers don’t like corny shows, then they probably didn’t like “Full House” to begin with. But “Fuller House” had misleading messages that should not be spread to viewers.

For one thing, with Kimmy’s relationship with her ex-husband Fernando, “Fuller House” sends the message that it’s OK to be cheated on and forgive a significant other when they try to get you back by buying you an outrageous amount of gifts. No, not by apologizing through words, but with gifts. And that’s ignoring the fact that the show was racist in its portrayal of the Hispanic Fernando.

In addition, the cast constantly makes snide remarks regarding the fact that the Olsen twins didn’t come back on the revival. In the pilot, Danny says, “Michelle sends her love, but she’s busy in New York running her fashion empire” and the cast shatters the fourth wall by staring at the camera for more than 10 seconds. Stamos can comment all he wants that the lines weren’t digs, but when Kimmy said, “[With the Olsen’s clothes’] prices, no wonder they don’t need to act anymore,” it was clearly meant to insult the twins. Sorry that the Olsen twins are too busy running their successful clothing line to come back—they’re more than just childhood stars like Bure and Sweetin.

Perhaps the most perplexingly misrepresentative plotline was DJ’s, with a love triangle with former love interest Steve Hale and new suitor Matt Harmon. Throughout the series, she strings the two along by dating both of them until the end when she still leaves them hanging onto her with her choice to choose “me.”

Other than these hiccups, however, the show is indeed a cute revival—the original also had some questionable plotlines. It was nice and refreshing to see the cast reunited, and I am looking forward to another season, as Netflix renewed “Fuller House” for a second season on Wednesday March 2.

The 1975 explores different genres, take risks on sophomore album

The 1975’s latest album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It was perhaps one of the most highly anticipated album releases of the year. The 1975 took drastic measures to ensure that fans would understand the grandeur of their second album. First, they deleted all of their social media accounts after tweeting cryptic messages revealing lyrics—a highly successful publicity grab.

Released on Friday Feb. 26, the album contains 17 tracks. This album contained more electro-pop songs than previous releases, however it still had many slow songs—in line with older works.

In addition to electro-pop, the band experiments with both gospel and ballad music on the album. The 1975 is widely known as an alternative rock band. With this album, however, the band pushes its boundaries by exploring different genres that many rock bands would not dare to venture into. On top of it all, the band was able to maintain its angst—something so beautiful that seems to disappear every time a rock band steps into the pop genre.

Every mainstream album has at least one or two defining songs that blow up in popularity due to their repetitive, catchy sound. The 1975 decided to make these songs readily available for the public to enjoy as samples of the album. “The Sound,” “UGH!” and “Love Me” are the three pop songs on this album that are most likely to be overplayed on the radio and get stuck in people’s heads. While undeniably mainstream-friendly, these songs carry a unique electronic sound that works to maintain their originality.

Fans of The 1975 crave their slow, romantic songs alongside their pop songs. “A Change of Heart” and “Somebody Else” are the typical heartbreak songs that listeners love so much. With deliberate melodies and long notes, the two songs are dreamy, beautiful break up songs.

For the track “If I Believe You,” The 1975 traded in slow melodies for jazzy gospel music. “If I Believe You” was a huge risk for this band to take—alternative rock bands seldom experiment with gospel music. The song turned out to be a success, though, and the soulful gospel choir complemented lead singer Matty Healy’s voice extremely well. The amount of emotion expressed is so tangible in this track—especially with the addition of the gospel choir.

Many songs on this album deal with the psychological, a topic that can be very difficult to present in a comprehensible way. “UGH!” is a reflection on Healy’s cocaine addiction, delving into his frustration and shift in mental state through the pure angst of the lyrics. “The Ballad of Me and My Brain” is more explicitly named regarding the exploration of the inner psyche and discusses the less glamorous aspects of being famous.

The album closes with “She Lays Down,” a song about Healy’s mother going through depression shortly after giving birth. Despite many critics’ opinions, The 1975 is not a band catered to 15-year-old girls. The deep, self-aware lyrics indicate that The 1975 is a sophisticated, mature band.

Too often, rock bands lose touch with who they are after their debut album. Pop culture infiltrates their music to the point where they become part of it. Paramore is a prime example of this, as they lost their angst throughout the years as exemplified by their latest album, which was disappointingly pop. I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It may have a ridiculous Fall Out Boy-esque name, yet it is hugely successful in combining the pop sound that a general audience likes so much while also keeping their originality and identity.

The 1975 experimented with different genres of music on this new release, a true sign of an extraordinary band. The sophomore album has lived up to expectations and was the antithesis of a “sophomore slump” for The 1975.

Deadpool slams box office, emphasizes comedy over drama

Sorry Avengers members, looks like you’ve got some competition. Debuting as the eighth installment in the X-Men film series, the R-rated Deadpool has all but obliterated its competition in the box office, currently grossing $497.6 million since its release on Feb. 12—a total which The Guardian notes is greater than the totals from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier combined. While I am a huge Marvel fan and love all of the aforementioned movies, it’s clear after watching Deadpool as to why the film has done so well. The prototype for a superhero-centric film is drama with bits of comedic relief sprinkled throughout. Deadpool, however, flips the script on the generic model, using incessantly outrageous and clever humor throughout the movie to create a refreshingly new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For instance, watching protagonist Wade Wilson—Deadpool—break the fourth wall in intense action scenes to quip with the audience about whether or not he left his stove on or why “that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kebab” brings a much-needed sardonic playfulness into a film genre that is often executed with excessive seriousness.

Arguably, the largest factor in Deadpool’s success is the superb acting of Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Reynolds plays the sassy, obscene pansexual mercenary with endearing charm and authenticity, dropping F-bombs and sexual innuendos left and right while fighting off bad guys. Reynolds’ ability to portray the multi-faceted nature of Deadpool’s personality keeps the film from becoming too kitsch. He is a sweet and devoted boyfriend one minute, an immature teen giggling about teabagging a villain the next. He’s fun, he’s flirtatious and he uniquely brings both elements into his fighting style.

Not only did Reynolds shine in his role, but so did the supporting cast members. Deadpool’s bespectacled bartending best friend Weasel—played by T.J. Miller—is sweet and funny, deadpanning brilliant one-liners like, “You are haunting, you look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado.”

X-man Colossus—voiced by Stefan Kapičić—is a giant teddy bear of solid steel, acting as a patient advisor to badass female trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead—played by Brianna Hildebrand. When teaming up with Deadpool, the chemistry between the three was great and I hope to see them work together again. I also really liked Morena Baccarin as Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa, but since Reynolds has hinted that his character may have a boyfriend in the sequel, it’ll be interesting to see if she sticks around for long.

The only time I thought the characterization fell flat was when it came to the antagonists. In the opening credits, we learn that the movie features “a British villain.” And that’s pretty much all the substance we get from said villain and mutant: Ajax. His motivation to experiment on humans to make and sell mutant “slaves” to wealthy clients wasn’t developed well at all—neither was any indication of how these individuals lose their agency. Ajax’s henchwoman Angel Dust is no better in terms of personality—or lack thereof. I was surprised and disappointed that both villains were so underdeveloped.

While I do agree with many critics that the plotline is pretty standard, the utterly unique characters presented in the film, their hilariously shocking actions and their comments kept the audience captivated and itching for more. Deadpool unapologetically tore down antiquated constructs of what makes a superhero film great—and judging by these box office numbers, people are very happy with the result.u

Kanye’s album dynamic, reminiscent of older work

“A gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it” is how Kanye West described his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo, which was released on Feb. 14. This sparked excitement amongst the many fans that favor West’s first album The College Dropout, an album known for its soulful feel. Though reminiscent of the spiritual sound associated with earlier West, the final product is something much more than anything a younger, College Dropout-era West could have made. The album is a beautiful mess. It opens with one of West’s best songs ever, “Ultralight Beam,” which features Chance The Rapper and a full chorus. This song is reminiscent of “Jesus Walks” from The College Dropout.

Following “Ultralight Beam” are what can only be described as gospel-trap songs titled “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2,” produced by Metro Boomin. This pivot in musical style foreshadows the rest of the album.

After its upbeat beginning, the album moves into a more somber tone with “FML” featuring the Weeknd, “Real Friends” and “Wolves” featuring Frank Ocean. Each of these songs retain the album’s gospel feel, but also focus on heavier subjects such as failed relationships, bad friendships and depression. An intermission titled “Silver Surfer Intermission” and four bonus tracks—with guest appearances from artists such as Kendrick Lamar and André 3000—follow.

Though the gospel vibe remains constant throughout the album, West layers this with other music styles and with lyrics that reflect his own personal experiences with the pitfalls of fame and past relationships—which some people consider to be controversial and misogynistic.

With the release of his sixth studio album Yeezus in 2013, West offered a new, minimalistic sound that won over many listeners who were initially skeptical about this sound. Making musical departures has been commonplace for West, as he excels at making music that is sonically ahead of the game. The Life of Pablo is no different.

West took the non-traditional tactic of inviting the public into the creative process that led up to the release of TLOP. West changed the album’s title multiple times and tweeted out multiple track lists, then added and removed songs seemingly at will.

On top of this, West—unafraid to speak his mind—unleashed a Twitter tirade on fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose—West’s ex-girlfriend and Khalifa’s ex-wife—after Khalifa tweeted his displeasure at one of the previous album titles.

An early version of the album was unveiled during a fashion show at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11, where West also launched his third clothing line. Following an erratic performance on “Saturday Night Live,” the full album was released for streaming to eager consumers three days later on Tidal.

While the changing styling from song to song on TLOP can seem as if it is haphazardly thrown together, it’s almost certain that this was an intentional move by West. Ever the perfectionist, West continues to tweak the songs daily on Tidal.

With its sonic highs and lows, The Life of Pablo perfectly encapsulate what seems to have been West’s mindset when making the album. Religion ties together the offerings, whose themes range from depression to pure elation.

With Paul the Apostle—a teacher of Christianity in the first century—as the album’s namesake, West seems to signal that he, too, is bringing Christ’s teachings to the modern world in his own strange, beautiful and twisted way.

Sia’s This Is Acting boasts superior songwriting abilities

You may have first heard of Australian singer-songwriter Sia due to her chart-topping single “Chandelier,” which rocked radio stations throughout 2014. The hit “Elastic Heart” was also featured in various television shows and movies, and both successful songs are off of her 2014 album 1000 Forms of Fear. To the surprise of many, however, Sia has actually been in the music scene since the late 1990s. She has even written songs for big artists—such as Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” and Rihanna’s “Diamonds” along with countless other hits you’ve most likely heard on the radio. While songwriting is Sia’s primary craft, she is also known for her raspy, powerful belts and cracked, slurred vocals.

Although Sia likes to keep away from the spotlight—she began to hide her face with a blonde wig beginning in 2014 to avoid the attention that fame brings—her music often shows her vulnerability, personal struggles and fight to be alive.

Her most recent album This Is Acting is so named because virtually all of the songs on the album were written for other artists. Therefore, Sia is “acting” by singing these songs.

1000 Forms of Fear and This Is Acting sound very alike sonically—with the beginning of “One Million Bullets” sampling the beat of “Chandelier”—but this is not a bad thing.

Prior to 1000 Forms of Fear, Sia’s music was collectively alternative/new wave. Beginning with 1000 Forms, though, Sia delved into dance beats, techno synths and electropop. This Is Acting is a continuation of Sia’s newfound, more upbeat sound.

“Alive” features a chilling, belted chorus, similar to that of “Chandelier.” Though the song was originally written for Adele, Sia could not have done a better job of encapsulating the power and raw emotion of the song with lyrics like, “I wanted everything I never had/Like the love that comes with light/I wore envy and I hated that/But I survived.”

For those seeking a dance track, “Move Your Body”—fittingly titled—offers a break from the independent, introspective theme of the album with its upbeat and suggestive lyrics.

This Is Acting’s impressive number of highlight tracks makes it a five-star album, with powerful songs such as the opening track “Bird Set Free,” which speaks about rising above from criticism. “Unstoppable” is another inspiring song and speaks of being a “Porsche with no brakes.” The songs “House on Fire” and “Footprints” are also must-listen-to songs.

Produced by Greg Kurstin, “Cheap Thrills” is one of the most memorable tracks on the album. The track is accompanied by Chipmunk-esque vocals and cheerleading squad chants echoing in the chorus.

Lyrically, though, “Reaper” is a much stronger song. The song discusses the struggle of battling with depression and suicidal thoughts. In the song, Sia speaks to her mental illness, singing in the second verse, “Don’t come for me today/I’m feeling good, let me savor it/Don’t come for me today” and singing in the pre-chorus, “So close I was to heaven’s gates/But no baby, no baby, not today.”

A final standout song from This Is Acting is “Broken Glass,” a four-minute track where Sia speaks to her lover about their violent relationship. Sia pleas for peace, comparing their fights to stormy weather and rough seas, but still lets her lover know that she will not discard them so carelessly like broken glass.

Sia may not have written these songs for herself, but at the end of the day, the lyrics shine through her. This Is Acting clearly demonstrates how much heart and soul Sia has placed into every one of her songs—even if other artists rejected them. The album drips with emotion, emphasizing Sia’s musical talent in singing and songwriting, all while also showcasing liberation from her personal battles.

Rihanna’s newest album avant-garde

It has been more than three years since R&B and dance-pop singer Rihanna released her last album Unapologetic. Rihanna’s lengthy hiatus is surprising to many because ever since she released her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, she has released or re-released an album nearly every year. Her hiatus was broken, however, with her much-anticipated release ANTI. ANTI arrived after various delays and much confusion. With Rihanna switching labels, distancing herself from the spotlight, venturing into acting and avoiding album discussion, many were hard-pressed and clueless as to what her ninth studio album would sound like.

In early 2015, however, Rihanna officially broke her silence. She returned to the music scene by releasing her new singles “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen.” A final single titled “FourFiveSeconds” was also released, with Rihanna collaborating with Kanye West and Beatles legend Paul McCartney. Additionally, Rihanna performed at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Surprisingly, none of these songs actually appear on the album.

ANTI is an experiment and feels much more like an experience than an album. It subconsciously showcases how far Rihanna has come as an artist, where she stands now and how she has once again reinvented her image. ANTI shifts from your “conventional” Rihanna album full of chart-topping hot singles, a variety of reggae-infused melodies and some pop ballads.

Interestingly enough, ANTI manages to complete Unapologetic’s trajectory. With Unapologetic, Rihanna began to venture into the world of unconventional production and complex rhythms with songs like “Phresh Out The Runway” and “Jump.” ANTI takes it a step further, delving deep into diverse genres such as folk, psychedelic and experimental. Tracks like “Woo” mix abrasive beats with grunge-like layered vocals, whereas “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a cover of Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala’s song “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”

“Work” features Canadian rapper Drake. “Work” ignores all of the hype following Rihanna’s 2015 singles—it creates its own. The song quickly becomes a reggae track, showcasing Rihanna’s prominent Barbadian accent. It is one of the most danceable songs on the album, even though the production still incorporates a soft techno beat.

“Kiss It Better” is introduced with a faint electric guitar. Rihanna follows through with a memorable chorus and layered vocals. While the vocals of the song are classically Rihanna, the meticulous structure of the song is not.

Many songs span from one to two minutes and seem to be intentional cuts, each sounding drastically different from one another. For example, “James Joint” is a vibrant one-minute hymn about marijuana and love, as opposed to “Higher,” which is a two-minute mini-ballad with intoxicated and croaky, heartbroken vocals. It’s also backed by a crooning, noir-esque violin melody.

The highlights of the album, though, lie in ballads, such as the nearly four-minute long “Love On The Brain” where Rihanna uses her voice in an innovative way. Her raspy, jazzy vocals do not even sound like her at certain points.

“Never Ending” is another highlight of ANTI. Had I not known this was a track off of the album, I would’ve thought it was sung by a folk musician. The country-esque vibe of the song is backed by acoustic guitars and soft, light vocals. I found this song distinct due to its sound; it offers a refreshing break from the overarching experimental sound of the album, even though “Never Ending” is ironically experimental within itself; toying with a genre and sound that Rihanna hasn’t explored before.

Though some may not have found ANTI to be worth the wait, I think it is an asset to Rihanna’s discography. No one could have expected what ANTI was going to be like and if that was one of Rihanna’s goals, she surely accomplished it.

Hinds’ debut album enthusiastic, dynamic

Spanish indie rock band Hinds released their first album Leave Me Alone on Jan. 8. The all-woman four-piece hails from Madrid and has played music throughout Europe since 2014. The band played numerous shows in America in 2015—including 16 shows at the South by Southwest festival—and have a few American dates lined up for their 2016 tour. Hinds is a perfect mix of grungy, yet fun; they are cute, yet intimidatingly tough rock. The opening track “Garden” is one of the best songs on the album, giving a strong introduction to the band’s style with its punchy guitar riffs. Singer and guitarist Carlotta Cosials starts the track with her attitude-filled and whiny—in a good way—vocals with, “How many secrets [do] you have that keep you smiling that way?”

Later in the track, Cosials and second singer and guitarist Ana Perrote enthusiastically scream together, “Show me the game/show me the rules again/because I’ll play it, I’ll play it, I’ll take it now”—making it irresistible to sing and dance along to this song in your bedroom.

The track “Castigadas En El Granero” has the best chorus on the album. Perrote and Cosials sing back and forth, with Perrote singing about the cows and corn in the granero—meaning barn—and Cosials—in her effortlessly sultry voice—responding, “I know you’re hearing that voice … a smoking roll… daddy let me go… oh father let me go.” The track is a perfect rock ‘n’ roll hit reminiscent of The Vaccines or punk band Jawbreaker Reunion.

The next track “Solar Gap” is where Hinds really shows its musical and artistic talent. The song is two minutes of dreamy instrumental, making you feel like you’re floating on a cloud. The track’s emotional simplicity makes it stand out from the upbeat tracks on the album.

My favorite track on the album is the playful “Bamboo.” Bassist Ade Martín starts off the track before an explosion of guitar and drums. Once again, Cosials and Perrote choreograph their vocals, bouncing from Cosial’s coy, “I want you to call me by my name when I am lying on your bed” to Perrote’s, “How could I show you without looking freaking mad/that I am not always gonna be around?” The song feels familiar and relatable while still being naturally fun and quirky.

The track “And I Will Send Your Flowers Back” feels like a bittersweet complement to “Bamboo.” It carries an air of melancholy from lost love as the pair sings, “And I’ll send your flowers back/What goes around comes around.” If “Bamboo” tells the story of a flirty new fling, this track is the ending chapter of the relationship. It feels raw and honest—almost like your best friend giving you tough advice after a break-up.

The last track “Walking Home” ends the album on an upbeat and positive note. The dynamic instrumentals—especially drummer Amber Grimbergen’s catchy beat—make this track unique and original.

Hinds feels down-to-earth and easy-going, yet you can tell that they take their music very seriously. It is such a pleasure to discover female musicians who are easily on their way to global success.

Panic!’s sound evolves on new album

Fans of Panic! at the Disco are well aware that the band’s sound has evolved dramatically over its decade of existence. For instance, the folky ambiance of their sophomore album Pretty. Odd is a great departure from their pop-punk debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. Panic! at the Disco has also seen many members come and go. Notably, the band’s last album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is the last in which drummer Spencer Smith appeared, leaving front man Brendon Urie as the only remaining original member of the band.

Because of the loss of Smith and the previous album’s disappointing lyrics and forgettable songs, I was apprehensive about the release of their fifth studio album Death Of A Bachelor on Jan. 15. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by Urie’s complex and memorable lyrics, vocal diversity and catchy instrumentals.

The album starts off strong with “Victorious.” It sets the mood for the rest of the album, building the feeling of power and excitement on a fun night out with lyrics like, “We gotta turn up the crazy/Living like a washed-up celebrity.”

The second track “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” doesn’t disappoint, either. Beginning with a sample of The B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” its lyrics tell a story of waking up after a night of debauchery. The unique lyrics and explosive chorus are strongly reminiscent of the band’s debut album.

In the song “Emperor’s New Clothes,” Urie outdoes himself. The catchy line “finders keepers, losers weepers” that repeats throughout the track is sure to get stuck in the listener’s head. The chorus brings to mind ghosts and ghouls from “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s an interesting surprise that fits the song’s underlying dark vibe perfectly.

The album’s title track “Death of a Bachelor” immediately hooks you with its strong bass line. This song is also where Frank Sinatra’s influence on the album appears most clearly. Urie pays homage to Sinatra’s jazzy croons while simultaneously displaying his own broad vocal range. From a lower intonation on the verses, he seamlessly shifts into a falsetto on the chorus. In typical Panic! at the Disco fashion, the song’s bridge features a synthesized electronic pulse that complements the classic feel of the rest of the song.

One of the album’s most memorable songs is “LA Devotee.” Starting off with a catchy drumbeat, this track is one to dance to and one that could definitely be found playing on the radio. It’s more exciting and engaging than many of Panic! at the Disco’s attempts at accessible pop in the past both in terms of lyrics and beat.

Death Of A Bachelor is, as all of Panic! at the Disco’s albums are, an experiment—and a successful one at that. Even if the last album left you disillusioned, I would recommend giving Panic! at the Disco another chance. I would even go as far to say that beyond warranting a simple nostalgic listen, Death Of A Bachelor has at least a few songs that you’ll fall in love with and have stuck in your head for the next few weeks.

Star Wars returns with same thrill, fresh dynamic

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the original Star Wars trilogy entranced the world with its epic space graphics and valiant heroes—something the prequel trilogies didn’t seem to offer with their constant talk of politics and weak writing. The newest installment of the Star Wars films—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—revitalized not only the pure excitement of the original series, but also nostalgia and appreciation for the franchise. Taking over for director George Lucas, J.J. Abrams reignited the spark that the first films had with a trio of highly likable heroes and the reappearance of fan favorites such as Han Solo—played by Harrison Ford—Leia Organa—played by Carrie Fisher—and Luke Skywalker—played by Mark Hamill.

The film’s plot is similar to the first film, Star Wars: A New Hope, following rogue stormtrooper Finn—played by John Boyega—and scavenger Rey—played by Daisy Ridley—as the two unlikely heroes team up with Solo and Chewbacca to fight with the Resistance against the new villain of the galaxy: Kylo Ren—portrayed by Adam Driver—and the First Order.

Ren serves as a “misunderstood” villain, throwing silly hissy fits if something doesn’t go his way. Attempting to follow in Darth Vader’s footsteps, Ren’s villainous nature helps bring back memories of the first film. Although he has great potential, Ren’s character seems somewhat underdeveloped; lacking a backstory or a strong motive. Hopefully, this will be something that is expanded upon in later films.

Ridley shines in her role as the daring, independent female protagonist. She has huge potential to become a positive role model for young girls with her new identity as a Jedi-in-training. Boyega, on the other hand, serves as the determined and loyal companion to Rey and his action and wit help the team move along. The valiant and highly skilled pilot Poe Dameron—played by Oscar Isaac—completes the trio as he works to stop the First Order and their plans to destroy the Resistance.

It’s hard not to believe that Finn, Rey and Poe will become the new faces of the franchise, replacing the Han, Luke and Leia trio. Even other new additions like the energetic and adorable BB-8 seem promising in continuing to entertain audiences, a change from previous additions like the infamous Jar Jar Binks in the prequels.

The trio’s diversity and relatable humor amongst characters like Finn and Han are what made the film so likeable, even for audience members who have no knowledge of the previous films. It’s hard for a film like Star Wars to be appreciated the same way it was originally, especially when audiences today are spoiled with such thrilling and stellar graphics. The characters, however, really aided in making the film more welcomed by today’s audience.

Abrams rejuvenated the franchise with this film, making up for the prequel trilogy that garnered so much criticism amongst the fandom in the 2000s. The Force Awakens recaptures the classic “heroes versus villains” feel of the original films.

Whether you are rooting for Rey and Finn or lamenting over the loss of old-time favorites, The Force Awakens evokes that feeling you had when you first watched Star Wars.

Bieber reignites music career with sophisticated album

Justin Bieber released his latest album Purpose on Nov. 13, creating huge waves in the music industry. Bieber sold over 649,000 copies in the first week of the release, breaking his previous records and making this his sixth consecutive number one album on the Billboard 200 chart. Despite his constant presence in the news for delinquent actions, it is impossible to ignore the immense talent and growth he has displayed as an artist. Purpose represents the maturity in Bieber’s music, both in substance and vocals. Bieber was signed to his first record contract when he was only 14 years old. At the time, Bieber had a much higher voice, but the progression of his albums highlights the changes his voice has undergone—which in and of itself is an incredibly unique aspect of his music, as many artists do not have this experience.

In terms of substance, this is probably one of the most distinguished records that Bieber has released. As a whole, it is more serious than any of his other works—all of which were more playful and pop-oriented.

In his lyrics, Bieber expresses deeper and more meaningful themes which were never present in his earlier, teenage albums. In the second track “I’ll Show You,” he comments on the superficial way that people view him. In the song, Bieber talks about how they don’t really know him for who he truly is. As far as lyrics go, this song further proves how far Bieber has come since his “One Less Lonely Girl” days.

Bieber’s previous albums were full of catchy, fun music and were prone to being overplayed on the radio. His music was made to satisfy his 15-year-old “Belieber,” not to express himself as an artist and a person. This is something that many mainstream singers do today and, while it sells records, it does not establish them as respected singers.

Purpose does not emit this same feeling, however. Now, Bieber sings for himself, not for his audience. While a few of his songs such as “Sorry,” “What Do You Mean?” and “Love Yourself” have definitely become huge hits, they are not shallow and repetitive like some of his other songs.

The song “Love Yourself” has quickly become a favorite for many people. The title of the song is misleading. At first glance, it seems as if the song is about an insecure girl—an overused and drawn out trope in pop culture. It’s actually quite the opposite, though. Written in collaboration with Ed Sheeran, the track is about loving a self-centered girl and why it’s necessary to move on. The main chorus states, “If you like the way you look that much/Oh baby you should go and love yourself.” The song is lyrically rich and seems to express some of Bieber’s life experiences—something that captures the essence of his entire album.

The release of Purpose has shown his immense growth in character and as a musician. This album is the equivalent of Kanye West’s Yeezus—incredibly different from anything ever released by the respective artists.

Purpose is a significant album in Bieber’s career, symbolizing his transition from a teen into an adult. It has even shocked many non-listeners into becoming fans of his music. It shows the world his true potential as an artist and sets the bar high for his future albums, which will likely surpass expectations once again.

Peanuts cast have heartwarming reunion, foster hope in despondent time

With so much horrific violence and prejudice spotlighted in the media this holiday season, it can be hard to look at the world in a positive light. Luckily for all of us weighed down by the lack of apparent goodwill in our society, there is a heartwarming cinematic work to renew our sense of hope and belief in the best of ourselves and others: The Peanuts Movie. I know the notion of an animated children’s movie instilling a newfound sense of joy and comfort in college students and adults everywhere may seem far-fetched, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I left the film feeling changed—or at least feeling a lot more optimistic. I laughed, I cried, my boyfriend laughed at me for crying and I laughed some more.

The main plotline of the film centers on the lovably insecure underdog Charlie Brown and his misadventures with the Peanuts gang as he attempts to show everyone that he’s a winner to win the heart of the Little Red-Haired Girl—a character who he is hopelessly and adorably smitten with in both the comics and previous films. The inclusion of canonically accurate elements such as this, the Kite-Eating Tree, Lucy’s counseling stand, Snoopy’s typewriter and the “B” story of Snoopy’s encounters with the Red Baron all serve to enhance the overall quality of the film—and make it that much more special for long-time fans like myself.

Brown’s determination to impress his crush is endearing and relatable. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching him work so hard to try to win the school talent show with a magic act or practicing dance moves in his room with Snoopy so he could be crowned the contest winner. The funniest attempt for me, however, was watching Brown complete an entire book report on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace while the Little Red-Haired Girl—his assigned project partner who was visiting her sick grandma—wouldn’t have to worry about finishing the assignment.

In true Peanuts fashion, however, all of his attempts to triumph are met with failure. He sets off the fire sprinklers at the dance contest and his book report is shredded to bits. But in these failures, we see the unyielding selflessness and perseverance of his character.

He skips his chance to perform at the talent show by helping out his sister Sally, who is bombing miserably onstage with her cowgirl act until her big brother comes to the rescue by running onstage as a cow. Despite his own struggles to successfully fly a kite, he helps another child to do it and doesn’t feel bitter. When he receives a “perfect” standardized test score and suddenly becomes the most popular boy in school, he sacrifices the admiration of his peers when he realizes that the score was actually Peppermint Patty’s—and admits it to a whole auditorium. These simple, moral acts show who he really is—as blanket-toting Linus gently reminded him, “a good person.”

The Little Red-Haired Girl, too, is able to appreciate Brown and chooses Brown as a pen pal at the end. I cried not only at this, but with his sincerity in asking her, “Why me?”—a really poignant moment for any of us who have ever failed to see our own worth. She explains that she loves his compassion and his honesty—I was left smiling with mascara-smudged cheeks.

The film’s narrative and thematic elements shined through to convey an important message about the power and beauty in the kindness and support of others, as well as the importance of believing in oneself. And in a world with so much darkness, it was a refreshing reminder that you and those around you can make all the difference in creating light.