Category Archives: Entertainment

The FX-Men: Mutants on TV in Marvel’s “Legion”

“Who teaches us to be normal when we’re one of a kind?”

Those words, spoken by Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett (yes, named after that Syd Barrett), define one of the many incredibly grounded, human themes playing in the background of FX’s Legion, a new television series based on one of Marvel Entertainment’s many successful X-Men comics of the same name.

In this new superhuman endeavor, created by Noah Hawley (known for his work on FX’s “Fargo” series), Dan Stevens (of “Downton Abbey” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame) plays David Haller, a man who is believed to suffer from paranoid schizophrenic delusions, but may be much more than anyone thinks.

legion
A view on a millennial’s way of watching “Legion” – aka, the blessing of being able to watch DVR’d television on a laptop.

In the comics, David Haller is Legion, the antihero son of Gabrielle Haller and Charles Xavier, the telepathic mutant famously played on film by Sir Patrick Stewart. While Dan Stevens lacks Legion’s infamous high-top hairstyle, his spirit remains the same – a manic, uncertain man coming into an incredible amount of power and not being sure what to do with it. At its core, “Legion” is about a man going through a cycle of acceptance, and the reality of that shows very clearly on Stevens’s face. As extreme as David’s situation is, he’s someone people can connect with on a very deep, very human level, despite the fact that he can hear others’ thoughts and send kitchenware flying with his mind.

Aside from Dan Stevens, the rest of the cast is incredibly smart and well-cast, filled with televisions veterans and newbies alike. Amber Midthunder and Bill Irwin make a fantastic team as Kerry Loudermilk and Cary Loudermilk (yes, you read that right), and Aubrey Plaza makes a wonderfully bizarre Lenny Busker – a role originally written for a middle-aged man.

Jean Smart dominates as Melanie Bird, the stoic leader of “Legion”’s band of mutants. She carries herself with the style of Miranda Priestly and the biting wit of Rizzo from “Grease”, shutting down antagonists with unforgettable one-liners like, “You’d better learn to fly like a bird, because the age of the dinosaur is over.”

Jemaine Clement, known for his comedic work in HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” and 2014’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, brings well-placed laughs as Oliver Bird, the eccentric and long-suffering (or so everyone thinks) husband of Melanie with a fondness for beat poetry and jazz music.

Each character is a scene-stealer in their own right, but the real gem of the show is Noah Hawley’s ability to create an atmosphere that feels foreign and dangerous, getting audiences inside David Haller’s head and projecting his frenzied emotions onto viewers. Prime-time television has seen some other well-received superhero television shows – like the CW’s DC properties and ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – but nothing quite like the acid trip that “Legion” delivers. The show shifts from reality to imagination (and maybe even further) seamlessly, often blurring the line between the two so strongly that viewers have difficulty distinguishing them. In one moment, everything seems normal, and in the next, soldiers are piled together in a floating heap, or a character is literally dancing through the fabric of reality to Bassnectar’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”. And that’s just how Hawley likes it.

The series reads like one long Kubrick film, and isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to production value. Subtle hints to the show’s origins are worked into the set or the camera work – like the circular windows with the x-shaped frames that look eerily similar to the famous X-Men logo (also seen in the show’s title cards) – but they also aren’t shy about using cinematography to drive the story.

Hawley and his team aren’t afraid to play with color and color symbolism, often surrounding their actors with bright hues in the setting or washing them in pure colored lighting to signify something important. Whether it be the bright blue of innocence and safety that shows up in places like the “astral plane” inside the characters’ psyches, the orange that connects David back to his time in Clockworks Mental Hospital, or the dark, sinister stoplight-red that colors a frame every time an antagonist has the upper hand, Hawley colors his show like a child with a set of neon markers, and it works out wonderfully.

Some may call it strange, but most would call it a masterpiece. Noah Hawley and his cast of mutants have succeeded in telling a story that few would be able to translate to the screen, pulling viewers into what David would call a “romance of the mind”.

 

Balance & Composure’s Third Album Brings Something New (but Not Necessarily Enjoyable for Their Old Fans) To the Table

I’ll admit it. I was a late bloomer to my “emo phase.” I don’t think I’m entirely over it yet.

Bands like Manchester Orchestra and Brand New still haunt my Spotify playlists. A notable band from my emo-childhood is Balance & Composure. Having all of a band’s records on vinyl keeps me listening to them. Recently, their second album, “The Things We Think We’re Missing,” has been spinning nonstop. This rekindled relationship led me to check out their newest effort, “Light We Made,” which was released in 2016.

Forming in 2007, Balance & Composure started to garner success in 2013 when “The Things We Think We’re Missing” reached 51 on the Billboard 200 and 10 on the Independent Albums chart. The band, who hail from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, have had a consistent alternative rock sound since their conception. It only makes sense that the band would branch out on their newest release. I would liken “Light We Made’s” sound to shoegaze… now I just wish I liked it.

The first song “Midnight Zone” sets the tone for the whole album. Starting off with a lilting fuzz loop, I was immediately turned off by the mixing of the vocals. Throughout the rest of the album, the vocalist will go on these incomprehensible rants. (I would’ve missed half the lyrics if I didn’t have them open in another tab while reviewing this.) When the vocalist’s voice was brought back to the center of the song, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him trying falsetto.

“Midnight Zone” features repetitive lyrics of a confusing relationship. This was new to me. Their older songs moved through well-crafted scenes of remorse and selfishness, rarely following the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. With that in mind, there seems to be a new lyrical theme of looking beyond oneself and allusions to “Separation” with lyrics about flowers in songs like “Mediocre Love” and “Loam.”

“Spinning” continued to push me away from the computer with the distant vocal effect, but had remnants of their old music buried within it. I liked the sonar effect that can be first heard on this track and is used on other songs like “For A Walk.”

“Afterparty” is the standard Balance & Composure song. If I was introducing a friend to this artist, I would share this song with them. It featured loud guitars, though I felt like I’ve heard four songs of theirs with the same guitar part. This song also marked the first time I could hear the bass in the album. It was not nearly as interesting or as prominent as old tracks like “Stonehands” and “Quake.” On the next track, “For a Walk,” the bass suddenly becomes too loud after only being subtly introduced in the previous. I audibly exclaimed, “Hell that’s a fuzz bass!” when the song began. It scared me a bit to be honest.

There are consistent lyrical themes of sex and death juxtaposed. Death is used only as analogy for ending the problems within a relationship or ending the relationship itself. For example, “For a Walk” features lines like “Undress me, the lights low. I’m dying in your bedroom.” “Mediocre Love” does the same: “Underneath your linen fabric, lay yourself to rest.”

“Postcard” was the only single I listened to before I fully-immersed myself in this album. I first heard it when they posted a music video for the song. While the music video is a good combination of sound and visuals, the music alone has little to offer. The beat is impossible not to dance to, but I feel as though this song (as well as the whole album) was made with the intention of being background noise. Something you would only put on against the backdrop of a noisy house-party or ignore as you write a research paper.

I adore listening to music and up until “Light We Made,” Balance & Composure used to make that kind of music. I’m nostalgic for the stories of regret and self-pity and how well they used to display raw human emotions in their lyrics. I miss the loud instruments and grunge vocals of years past. If Balance & Composure doesn’t want to make alt rock music anymore and move forward with their sound, I’ll respect it. I just can’t guarantee that I’ll enjoy it as much.

All in all, I would say I didn’t mind checking out “Light We Made,” it just might be a while before I check it out again. Songs that I enjoyed the most are “Afterparty” and “Fame.” On a scale of one to 10, this album gets a strong 3/10, maybe leaning towards a low four. If this review in any way encouraged you to check out “Light We Made” or any of Balance & Composure’s other music, you can find them on iTunes or streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.

How popular are the ads compared to the Super Bowl?

Super Bowl 51 was played last night to an average of 48.8 rating and 72 share according to Nielsen ratings.
Super Bowl 51 was played last night to an average of 48.8 rating and 72 share according to Nielsen ratings.

On Sunday February 5 , the Super Bowl was viewed by 70 percent of the country according to variety.com. In-between all the balls passed, the touchdowns, and halftime show, commercials were shown to sell their products to the viewers of the game.

According to statista.com, 111.9 million people in the U.S. watched the Super Bowl last year, and each year more and more commercials are added to showcase the company’s’ different ways of persuading us over to their side. After looking around different articles about “Best Super Bowl commercials”, these few stuck out due to the year and views on each video.

Older viewers of the Super Bowl might remember the Bub Bowl ads or even Apple’s first commercial back in 1984, while the newer generation recognize Volkswagen’s “The Force” and the Ebates baby commercials. Volkswagen and Ebates have a total views of 87 million on YouTube where the first Bud Bowl and Apple’s first commercial only have a combined view total of 888,000

With the advent of the internet, the newer the generation the more views older and more modern ads receive. While viewing inc.com, four out of the ten ads listed were ones made for Doritos: Crash the Super Bowl contest with views ranging from 28 million to 56 million views on YouTube.

This year commercials had a tougher time to be sell their products due to each 30 second commercial costing $5 million. Most if not all the commercials were longer than 30 seconds, so companies were shelling out $5+ million just to get us to buy their products. The ads that stand out to the media sources after the game are the ones that tell stories in them (not counting movie trailers due to them having a story in a two hour film.) and gets us connected to the people in them.

When talking to a someone who know little about football, but loves to watch the big game for the excitement of the event and the commercials that come with it a few questions pop up, such as, which commercials do you remember the most, what makes a good commercial to you, why do you enjoy the commercials and what commercial was the best this year?

Alison Parsons, a sophomore at Elizabethtown College was the only person to respond to these questions out of the three people asked. When asked about what makes a good commercial Alison said “A good commercial must be unique and positively focused. I also like commercials that have a family friendly humor that makes them memorable.” Out of all the ads shown last night she lists the Buick-Pee Wee Football, Honda- Yearbook of celebrities, Bai-Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken, and Mr. Clean-Cleaner of your dreams as the ones she remembers the most. With different people enjoying different ads Alison enjoys them because “They’re creative and display humor that makes me chuckle.”

That wraps up the Super Bowl. Here’s hoping more ads make an impact next year.

Fantastically Fantastic Beasts

Released on Nov. 18, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has launched the world back into the world of Harry Potter as created famously by J.K. Rowling. The film follows Newt Scamander [Eddie Redmayne] through New York City with, quite literally, a suitcase full of fantastic beasts. As soon as Newt gets to the city, he’s presented with anti-witch sentiment, a former Auror named Tina [Katherine Waterson], and a “No-Maj,” otherwise, a Muggle, named Jacob [Dan Fogler]. Tina and Jacob grow close with Newt and are the first to tag along with him as his beasts begin escaping and running all over New York City.

And, boy, are his beasts believable. I think this movie has some of the best effects that I have seen in a long while. Not only are the beasts represented in ways that look similar to some animals that we No-Majs have, but the level of communication that Newt, their “mummy,” has with every single one is incredibly real. Without receiving much backstory on why Newt has all of these beasts, we can see how dedicated he is to both studying and saving them.

I think the movie also did a great job of setting up the franchise. This could easily work as a stand-alone movie, but with a giant twist at the end, I’m sure that won’t be the case. There were definitely a few strings left untied that I hope to see taken care of in the future.

Additionally, the screenwriters did an amazing job of tying in old elements of the Harry Potter films into this one. Newt using spells like, “Alohomora,” and, “Petrificus Totalis,” tugged at my heartstrings, as well as the subtle mention of the beloved Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. Other subtle name drops have also really set the audience up for this new filmic environment, taking what viewers knew about the series and applying it here. Needless to say, I’m excited, and a bit scared, to admit that I will most likely find myself neck-deep in this franchise just as I found myself with the original Harry Potter series. I’m already ready for more.

Sensitively, Spring Awakening

Elizabethtown College students, faculty and staff walked into the Tempest Theatre at various times in the past two weeks expecting a show, and it was a show they got. The college’s theatre department decided to put on Frank Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening,” directed by Michael Swanson with music by Duncan Sheik. Despite the various warnings posted in the programs, outside of the box office and the announcements prior to the show, the risers were packed with people who came to be awakened and watch their peers be awakened themselves.

“Spring Awakening” takes place in a small town in Germany in 1891 and focuses upon the minds of the youth and changes going on with them at that time. From 1890 to the end of World War I, Germany experienced a kind of social and moral conservatism that was promoted by state government officials and prevented a lot of “body” knowledge from reaching their youth. Michael Swanson said that the adults held a “unified but ancient discipline and the teens [yearned] for modern freedom.” Most of the cast represent characters who are in their pubescent years, discovering their bodies and minds, and, generally, figuring out how the world works. Although the characters in this musical are played by college-aged students who are in a different stage of life, several actors have found similarities between the actors whom they played and their own lives.

Kevin Hughes, a senior communications and German as a foreign language double major, played the main male lead named Melchior. “Wanting to know all things all the time is definitely something that I can relate to,” he said. “It’s very easy to let yourself slide into a bad place, and there’s a certain amount of self-checking that you have to do throughout the show. There are abuse scenes, sex scenes, a suicide, a funeral. There’s a certain part where I have to ‘hit’ my counterpart, Wendla, with a stick, and, of course, I don’t actually hit her, and the first thing we do after we get off-stage is to check to make sure that both of us are alright and that there aren’t any emotions that are left brewing in us after that. It’s a lot to consider and more to handle.”

It is important to remember that these actors are not being paid for what they are performing. Hughes continued to say that he has absolutely no connection to the theatre department on campus aside from the fact that he enjoys performing. But what kind of toll does this take on the students who are performing in these sensitive roles and balancing schoolwork and looking to see how their peers are reacting?

“There were certain moments when I was emotionally overcome by the stuff I was portraying, and that’s a lot to say because I’m participating in this just because I can,” Hughes said. “My studies have definitely slipped under the radar. Sometimes I think we all forget we’re at school, not just in the theatre.”

Connor Burke, a senior theatre major, played Moritz in “Spring Awakening.” Even with a clear interest in theatre, Burke found it hard to be involved. “My sleep definitely suffered,” he said. “You’d think it would be good for my time management skills, but sometimes we drown in our schoolwork and three-and-a-half hour practices. It’s alright. It helps that my friends are all in the same boat too.”

It seems to be a sensitive balancing act for the student-actors to keep their “real life” and “stage life” separate from one another. With constant reminders that these students are here to learn, the directors and play selection committee seemed excited to put on “Spring Awakening.” Burke, a member of the selection committee, was especially ready to participate since he had a role in picking what to put on.

“It’s been a huge learning experience for all of us,” Hughes said. “We’re not being paid. I’m still a kid, just like Melchior. Still trying to figure stuff out. There wasn’t anything we could do but take it one scene at a time, something I suppose we, metaphorically, do in real life, too.”