Thursday, May 31, 2012

At the Movies – June 2012 – Part 3: Most Anticipated Films

Must See of the Month:

Prometheus (Ridley Scott) – Sci-Fi Horror – Jun 8
Summary: Taking place in the same universe as the Alien series, a team of space explores set out to look for the origins of mankind, a journey that takes them to the darkest parts of the universe. Filmmakers: Director Ridley Scott is finally returning to hard sci-fi with Prometheus, much to the delight of fans of his films Alien and Blade Runner. He is working with frequent collaborators composer Marc Streitenfeld and production designer Arthur Max, and new to the team is great cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean series). Cast: The cast is also fantastic with Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliot, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, and Patrick Wilson. Expectations: For sci-fi fans, Prometheus is the most anticipated release of 2012 – based on a combination of nostalgia for Scott’s brilliant past work in the genre and the wonderful viral clips and trailers released. Everything I have seen suggests that this is going to be one of the best films of the year. The cast and crew are top-notch as well. For non or intermediate sci-fi fans, this is still worth your time as it will be a great action horror film and a visual treat. Without question, this is the must-see of the month (and is probably the second best film left this summer after The Dark Knight Rises). Trailer: Here. Review.

Worth Checking Out:

Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell) – Adventure Fantasy – Jun 22
Summary: Merida is not your typical princess, prissy and refined. She is not content to merely be married off. Rather, she wishes to seek out her own destiny. However, in defying the customs of the land she brings chaos to the kingdom and must rely on her own bravery and archery skill to save the day. Filmmakers: The trio of directors has a solid background in animation. Mark Andrews was a storyboard artist working on films like The Iron Giant, Spider-Man and Cars. Steve Purcell has a background in video games, working on the Monkey Island series (and writing and creating the Sam and Max series). Both, however, are making their feature directorial debut. Brenda Chapman worked as an animator in the 1980s on Dennis the Menace, The Real Ghost Busters and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, co-directed The Prince of Egypt and worked on the story for Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Cars. They are working with composer Patrick Doyle (Thor). Cast: The film features voice work from Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, and Craig Ferguson. Expectations: Initially, I was a little skeptical of this project. Sure, it is a Pixar film, and in being so comes with a high level of somewhat assured quality (the Cars films aside). But, the directors have not really directed anything before, let alone a Pixar film. However, they are being shepherded by executive producers Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) and John Lasseter (head of Disney animation). My fears seem completely unfounded now though after watching the trailers, as the film looks great. It is also nice to see Pixar embrace a female lead and heroine for once. It looks like Pixar will retake their place atop the animation world (and the Oscar) again after stumbling last year. Trailer: Here. Review.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

At the Movies – June 2012 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman) – Musical – Jun 15
Summary: Drew and Sherrie come to 1987 Los Angeles set on making their dreams a reality. They meet. It is love-at-first-sight. But, love, as always, must overcome a number of obstacles (and this time with singing). Filmmakers: Choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman is Hollywood’s go to director for musicals, having made Hairspay and a number of music videos. Justin Theroux is scripting (his third produced screenplay after Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2), and Shankman is working with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (Burlesque) and production designer Jon Hutman (Coyote Ugly). Cast: Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough star, with a great ensemble supporting group featuring Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Will Forte, and Mary J. Blige. Expectations: Being that Adam Shankman has never made a truly great (or really even good) film, I am not overly enthusiastic for this – though I do love 1980s nostalgic ridiculousness. Sure the supporting cast is good, but when was the last time Hollywood made a good commercial musical? 2002’s Chicago? And, the leads are more singer/dancers than actors. Best case scenario, this will be an entertaining rock musical with touchstone nostalgic songs and good performances from Cruise (playing a sort of washed up rock god) and others. Also, I would say that best case scenario achieved, this is still probably only a rental, because it does not look too good. Trailer: Here.

Summary: Earth will be destroyed. It is a given as an asteroid approaches (seemingly Bruce Willis et al. have failed, or was that Robert Duvall and company). Dodge finds himself abandoned when his wife leaves in a panic. So, he decides to take one final road trip in the final days to find his high school sweetheart. Penny, his neighbor, decides to tag along. Filmmakers: Writer-director Lorene Scafaria makes her directorial debut. She wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (this is her second produced screenplay). She is working with composers Jonathan Sadoff (A Good Old Fashioned Orgy) and Rob Simonsen ([500] Days of Summer), cinematographer Tim Orr (Your Highness) and production designer Chris Spellman (Jeff, Who Lives at Home). Cast: Steve Carell stars and Keira Knightley co-stars, with a great supporting cast: Melanie Lynskey, Adam Brody, Gillian Jacobs, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Derek Luke, William Petersen, Rob Corddry, and Rob Huebel. Expectations: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sounds like a very ambitious and potentially wonderful road trip film. Will the world actually end when the film finishes? I like both Carell and Knightley, and think they will make a compelling onscreen duo capable of comedy and drama, but more so the eccentric mix of bit players should produce many funny scenes. This is my dark horse for the second best film of the month (because, honestly, is anything going to be even close to as good as Prometheus? Probably not). Trailer: Here. Review.

Serious Films:

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh) – Drama – Jun 29
Summary: Mike is a male stripper who enjoys his lifestyle – dancing, partying and making lots of easy cash. However, when he meets Paige, a girl he likes who is not necessarily comfortable with Mike’s lifestyle, Mike begins to rethink his life. Also, Paige pushes him to want more for himself. Filmmakers: Steven Soderbergh is directing and shooting the film (something he commonly does). Cast: It stars Channing Tatum (who is also a producer on the film), with Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey, and Cody Horn co-starring. Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn, Riley Keough, and Wendi McLendon-Covey feature in support. Expectations: Magic Mike is essentially about Tatum’s own life prior to his film/commercial career, and thus the realism should be apparent. Soderbergh is also a good choice to direct; he both is very capable of making good films on a small budget and has been on his game lately (I really liked his film Contagion last year). The cast is also good; McConaughey is touted to have a comeback-like performance in this. It definitely has the potential to be one of the better films this month, looking like a good drama (and may even be a good character drama – it is hard to tell how much it will delve into the character of Mike from the trailer). Trailer: Here. Review.

People Like Us (Alex Kurtzman) – Drama – Jun 29 [limited]
Summary: When Sam’s father dies, he is bequeathed his father’s shaving bag. In it he finds $150,000 and a note requesting that Sam give the money to a child (a sister to Sam never knew about) that his father had with another woman. Now, Sam has a dilemma. He is broke and desperately needs the money, but his father wanted him to give it to his half-sister (and meet her and her kid in the process). Filmmakers: This seems like a strange project for producers/writers Alex Kurtzman (also making his feature directorial debut) and Robert Orci, as they typically make/write action and sci-fi projects (Fringe, Transformers, Star Trek to name a few) not family melodramas. They are working with good people in composer A.R. Rahman (127 Hours), cinematographer Salvatore Totino (who shoots most of Ron Howard’s stuff) and production designer Ida Random (No Strings Attached). Cast: The film stars Chris Pine with Elizabeth Banks co-starring. Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde, Jon Favreau, Mark Duplass, and Philip Baker Hall make up the supporting players. Expectations: At first glance, this seems very generic and a complete mismatching of material and director (which is made stranger by the fact that the director co-wrote the script), but upon a second glance there is some promise. Chiefly, the cast is good (though not great), and this family drama should play as good counterprogramming to all the blockbusters surrounding it. That said, this is probably still at best a rental. Trailer: Here.


Snow White and the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders) – Adventure Fantasy – Jun 1
Summary: We all know this story more or less – there is an Evil Queen who is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom (and she eats the hearts of young women to stay that way), but one day there is a young girl, Snow White, who is destined to become even more beautiful than the Queen. Thus, in a rage, the Queen orders a huntsman to find and kill Snow White, but the huntsman falls for her (how could he not) and joins her rebellion against the Queen. Filmmakers: Director Rupert Saunders makes his debut on this very ambitious film, but he is working with wonderful people including: composer James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games), cinematographer Greig Fraser (Let Me In) and production designer Dominic Watkins (Green Zone). Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron star, with Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Sam Claflin, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Lily Cole, Eddie Marsan, and Bob Hoskins in support. Expectations: Going into 2012, we knew there would be two Snow White films released during the year – this and Mirror Mirror – the latter looked terrible, and was, but Snow White and the Huntsman surprisingly looked interesting. First, the cast is fantastic (especially the supporting players), with dwarves being played by the awesomeness of Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins among others. Second, this looked to be a much different take on the story we all already knew from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Snow White is wielding a sword and wearing armor in this one. And third, the trailer dropped, confirming our highest aspirations for what the film could be, and reminding us that Charlize Theron is a perfect casting decision for the Queen. I am almost shocked how good it looks, and how much I am looking forward to seeing it. However, there is still the consideration that Rupert Saunders has never made a film before, and thus we have nothing to base his skill behind the camera and with the actors on. True, the trailer is great, but I am still hesitant to call this a surefire great film because of Saunders lack of experience. What we do know is that if nothing else, this is going to be visually astounding. Trailer: Here. Review.


That’s My Boy (Sean Anders) – Comedy – Jun 15
Summary: When Donny was a teen he fathered Todd, and then carelessly raised him as a single dad. Donny was a terrible father and Todd bolted on his 18th birthday to forge a new life on his own. Years later, Donny is broke. Todd, however, is about to marry into a wealthy family. Donny sees this as a great opportunity to reinsert himself into Todd’s life. Filmmakers: That’s My Boy is the next in the ever-worsening line of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. This time around, director Sean Anders (who wrote and directed Sex Drive) is helming and working with composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (Jack and Jill), cinematographer Brandon Trost (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and production designer Aaron Osborne (Wanderlust). Cast: Sandler stars with Andy Samberg, while Leighton Meester co-stars. Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Nick Swardson, Ciara, Ana Gasteyer, Eva Amurri Martino, Susan Sarandon, Dan Patrick, and Rex Ryan feature in support. Expectations: There is not much to say really. We all know what to expect from an Adam Sandler film. Only, for those that grew up with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, his Happy Madison comedies since Little Nicky (other than 50 First Dates, maybe Click, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan cracks me up) have been bad, and seemingly getting worse (for those who saw Jack and Jill), which is disappointing because we loved those comedies when we were in middle school and high school (though, I have a theory that the quality never really changed much, we just grew up). That’s My Boy does not look much better than his usual fare, but Andy Samberg is funny. Trailer: Here.

Ted (Seth MacFarlane) – Comedy – Jun 29
Summary: When John was a child he wished that his teddy bear would come to life and it did. Now as a middle-aged man, he is starting to regret it a little. Filmmakers: Ted is Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show’s creator Seth MacFarlane’s feature debut, both as a writer and director. He is working with a comedy oriented group featuring composer Walter Murphy (who works on MacFarlane’s TV shows), cinematographer Michael Barrett (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and production designer Stephen Linewaver (Role Models). Cast: It stars Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane (voicing the teddy bear) and co-stars Mila Kunis. Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Joel McHale, Jessica Stroup, and Laura Vandervoort have supporting roles. Expectations: The film looks hilarious, basically like Peter from Family Guy as a teddy bear. However, will MacFarlane’s brand of humor play in a feature format and is Ted too similar to Peter? I am inclined to think that this will be a very funny R-rated comedy, and probably among the best of the year. Or, is that just me hoping it is (as a big fan of Family Guy – at least the first few seasons)? Trailer: Here. Review.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov) – Horror Action Thriller – Jun 22
Summary: We all know the story of the 16th President of the United States – honest Abe freed the slaves – but did you know he also hunted and killed vampires? He did. Filmmakers: Director Timur Bekmambetov has made a few good horror films, but is best known for Wanted, making him a good fit for this project. He is working with producer Tim Burton, composer Henry Jackman (also scoring this month’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (National Treasure), and production designer Francois Audouy, making his debut (though he was the art director on Transformers). Cast: It stars Broadway star Benjamin Walker (a star to watch this summer) with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper, Alan Tudyk, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson, and Marton Csokas in support. Expectations: It is hard to predict whether or not this will be good. On one hand, the concept is so out there that it sounds great just on a ‘what!?!?!’ level, plus Bekmambetov is well regarded among many action fans for Wanted, but on the other hand the last Civil War era horror action fantasy was Jonah Hex, and we know how that turned out. It looks like a good action film, and I like the cast. Not sure if I will be seeing it in theatres, but I am certainly renting it. Trailer: Here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At the Movies – June 2012 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton) – Dramedy – Jun 15 [limited]
Summary: After the death of his brother, Jack looks to getaway for a few days. His best friend Iris invites him to stay at her family’s island retreat. Jack startlingly encounters Iris’s sister Hannah at the remote cabin, and they engage in drunken romance, which is only made more complicated when Iris shows up to surprise Jack. Filmmakers: Mumblecore writer-director Lynn Shelton (known for her film Humpday) makes sort of her Hollywood-indie debut with Your Sister’s Sister, given that the cast is made up of better known actors than her normal fare. She is again working with her Humpday collaborators composer Vince Smith and cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, as well as newcomer production designer John Lavin. Cast: The film stars Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass (one of the summer stars to watch). Expectations: The Duplass Brothers brought mumblecore to the indie-mainstream with Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Shelton will try to continue the genre’s movement to garner bigger audiences. The cast is fantastic, and the main reason I am looking forward to this. I do hope, however, that the aesthetic style of past mumblecore films (which sets out to cheapen the visual experience for no reason) is absent. I think this will be a good (not great) drama with some sad and funny moments. Trailer: Here. Review.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin) – Drama – Jun 27 [limited]
Summary: Six-year-old Hushpuppy lives with her father in a Delta-community, but everything changes when environmental adjustments release prehistoric creatures making her community unsafe. She is also faced with her father’s faltering health. Hushpuppy decides to embark on a great adventure to find her mother. Filmmakers: This marks the feature debut for writer-director Benh Zeitlin and most of his crew, featuring: composer Dan Romer (who is co-composing with Zeitlin), cinematographer Ben Richardson and production designer Alex DiGerlando (he, however, has worked in the art department on The Darjeeling Limited and Across the Universe, among others). Cast: The film features a cast made up of unknown actors, however Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, both making their debuts, star. Expectations: There is a ton of positive buzz for this film as it came out of Sundance winning the Grand Jury Prize. It looks to be a great fantastical journey, debuting wonderful new talent in director Zeitlin and star Wallis. Trailer: Here.

Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley) – Drama – Jun 29 [limited]
Summary: Margot is happily married to Lou, but then she meets Daniel, an artist who lives across the street, and falls in love with him. Filmmakers: Actress-turned-writer-director Sarah Polley’s first feature Away from Her was very well received (garnering two Oscar nominations – acting and writing). Take This Waltz is her second feature. She is working again with composer Jonathan Goldsmith and cinematographer Luc Montpellier, new to the mix is production designer Matthew Davies (Fugitive Pieces). Cast: The film stars Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby, with Sarah Silverman in support. Expectations: Michelle Williams starring and Polley coming off the critical success of her last film combine to immediately put this on most critics’ watchlist. Seth Rogen was also good in 2011’s dramedy 50/50. It is not often that Canadian productions see wider distribution in the States (and this can thank Williams and Rogen for its distribution), but this has played to positive buzz on the festival circuit and mostly good reviews. It looks to be a good drama that is part funny (Rogen and Silverman are in it after all) and part tragic (as Williams’s character Margot is going to come a crossroads of sorts). It is one of the smaller films I am looking forward to this month. Trailer: Here. Review.

Art-House Comedies:

Lola Versus (Daryl Wein) – Comedy – Jun 8 [limited]
Summary: Lola is approaching 30, and being recently dumped a mere three weeks before her wedding, she is doing so a single woman (quelle tragique!). Thus, she sets off on a series of adventures to give herself perspective. Filmmakers: This writer-director Daryl Wein’s second feature (and first to see wider distribution). He is working with composer Fall On Your Sword (Another Earth), cinematographer Jakob Ihre and production designer Teresa Mastropierro (30 Rock). Cast: It stars Greta Gerwig and features supporting work from Joel Kinnaman, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger, Zoe Lister Jones, and Jay Pharoah. Expectations: Lola Versus has played to mixed reviews during its festival run, but star Greta Gerwig, a somewhat beloved actress among indie fans, probably makes this worth checking out (and Bill Pullman is generally great in small supporting roles). I will rent this one. Trailer: Here.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) – Dramedy  Jun 8 [limited]
Summary: Kenneth places a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel. Magazine employees, Darius and Jeff, come across the ad and are intrigued. They set out to interview Kenneth, but Darius gets pulled into more than she ever expected. Filmmakers: Director Colin Trevorrow makes his feature debut, working with composer Ryan Miller, cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke (also shooting this month’s Your Sister’s Sister) and production designer Ben Blankenship. The Duplass Brothers (Mark and Jay) serve as executive producers. Cast: It stars Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass (both summer stars to watch), while Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jake Johnson, Jeff Garlin, and Kristen Bell feature in support. Expectations: Safety Not Guaranteed sounds like one of the most original and interesting films of the summer, and is certainly the indie film I am most looking forward to in June. This could be the first real breakout hit for the Mumblecore genre (if you want to count it as part of the genre). The cast is great with Plaza, Duplass and Johnson, and it played to great buzz at Sundance, winning a screenwriting award and being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Trailer: Here. Review.

To Rome with Love (Woody Allen) – Comedy – Jun 22 [limited]
Summary: An ensemble comedy about people in the Italian capital Rome – some residents, some visitors – and the day-to-day adventures they have. Filmmakers: Writer-director Woody Allen is coming off arguably six good films out of his last seven, notably his last Midnight in Paris won him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and was nominated for Best Picture. He is working again with wonderful cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en) and production designer Anne Seibel. Cast: The great ensemble cast features Woody Allen, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Alison Pill, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Benigni, and Judy Davis. Expectations: Going into 2012, this was one of the films I was most anticipating, however it has played at a few festivals and has been received with mixed reviews, limiting my current expectations. Woody Allen has been a little hit-or-miss in the last decade plus. Personally, I love his Scarlett Johansson trilogy and Midnight in Paris, and enjoyed Whatever Works and Cassandra’s Dream, but starting with the year 2000 he has made six movies (of twelve) that I did not think were very good at all. In summary, I am hesitant about this at present, but still want to see it. The cast is fantastic and Allen usually has great dialog. Trailer: Here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Movie of the Week – Rosemary’s Baby

This week’s movie is Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

The film is about a young couple who moves into an apartment building that has a history of strange occurrences. When the wife becomes pregnant, under mysterious circumstances, paranoia begins to rule her life over the safety of herself and her unborn baby. Writer-director Roman Polanski made his Hollywood debut (this being his first American film) with this film, working with famed low-budget horror producer William Castle, composer Krzysztof Komeda (one of his final films), cinematographer William Fraker, and wonderful production designer Richard Sylbert (who would collaborate again with Polanski on Chinatown). The film stars Mia Farrow (making her feature debut), and has a fantastic supporting cast with John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon (who won an Oscar for her performance), Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, and Charles Grodin. Rosemary’s Baby works on many levels – it is thrilling and scary, has a good mystery plot and features good dramatic performances. Polanski does an excellent job relating Rosemary to the viewer, so that the paranoia resonates within the viewer as well, making the viewer uneasy – this is a difficult film to watch, as the viewer actively participates in the terror (which can be overwhelming for some). Polanski’s shooting style, framing and mise en scene also play off the paranoia that Rosemary and the viewer are feeling. It is one of the great horror/thriller films of the 1960s (and of cinema in general) and a must-see for genre fans. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ab-Soul – Control System (2012) – Review

Review: Ab-Soul is probably the least known member of the Black Hippy crew (Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock), but like the other members is a very talented MC. His second album features an eclectic mix of musical styles, all of which Ab-Soul rhymes over very effectively. The record is peppered with supporting guests from his Black Hippy crew to Jhene Aiko, Danny Brown, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Alori Joh. Though, I would say that he is at his best when sharing a track with a member of his crew. TDE’s usual group of producers also feature heavily on the album, and provide excellent beats as usual. Control System is a good album, musically different than most things out right now and well worth hip hop fans’ time (the song ILLuminate is worth getting for sure if nothing else), but Ab-Soul is still not quite on the same level as Kendrick, Q and Rock (who have all put out better albums in the last year). 3/5

Editor’s Essential Tracks:
1)      ILLuminate – Produced by Skhye Hutch, featuring Kendrick Lamar
2)      Black Lip Bastard (Remix) – Produced by Willie B, featuring Black Hippy
3)      SOPA – Produced by Nez & Rio, featuring ScHoolboy Q

Available on Digital Download

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 Mixtape (2012) – Review

Review: The Philly MC Meek Mill, member of Rick Ross’s MMG, is one of MTV’s 2012 Ten Hottest MCs, along with other MMG members Ross and Wale. Though, personally, I am very surprised to see him there, especially with his latest mixtape Dreamchasers 2, the follow up to a fairly weak Dreamchasers Mixtape. Much of Dreamchasers 2 is mixtape quality street bangers. Musically, the album is not very interesting, as most of the beats are generic throwaways. Though, Jahlil Beats, Cardiak, KeY Wane, and Beat Billionaire provide some decent stuff – but again, mixtape quality. Normally, this would be fine, but many of today’s best new artists in hip hop put out mixtapes that are better than most other artists’ albums, and thus there is a high bar to strive for, and this tape is nowhere near as good. Not to mention, Meek Mill is often overshadowed by his many guests. Big Sean, Wale, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake all outshine him on the tape. It is not to say Meek Mill is bad, as that is not the case. Dreamchasers 2 is just disappointing because Meek Mill is supposedly one of the hottest MCs right now, and fans of his music know he can put out great tracks like Tupac Back. This mixtape is fine for fans of MMG and Meek Mill, but certainly not a must for fans of hip hop in general. 2/5

Editor’s Essential Tracks:
1)      Take U Home – Produced by Beat Billionaire, featuring Wale and Big Sean
2)      Flexing – Produced by Jahlil Beats
3)      Burn – Produced by Jahlil Beats, featuring Big Sean

Available on Digital Download

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

TV Series of the Month – State of Play

This month’s TV series is State of Play (2003).

The six-part crime drama is about a London newspaper that investigates the murder of a local politician’s research assistant, uncovering a mystery that they never could have expected. Airing on the BBC, the miniseries is by writer Paul Abbott (who also created the British Shameless) and director David Yates (who directed the last five Harry Potter films). It has a brilliant cast (featuring a few actors who have since become well known in the States) with John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Bill Nighy (Macdonald and Nighy also starred in Yates’s TV movie The Girl in the CafĂ© and each had a small role in one of the Deathly Hallow films), Philip Glenister, David Morrissey, James McAvoy, Amelia Bullmore, Benedict Wong, Marc Warren, Rebekah Staton, and Polly Walker. In 2009, Kevin Macdonald adapted the series into a Hollywood film (also called State of Play with Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck) but it is nowhere near as good. The series really draws the viewer in as the mystery unravels, taking its time allowing for wonderful character development. The supporting players are great (lead by Nighy, Macdonald and McAvoy), but the leads (Simm and Morrissey) are phenomenal, driving the narrative forward (AMC’s The Killing reminds me a little of this series). State of Play is often considered the best British TV Drama of the last decade and is a must-see for fans of crime dramas. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD

Monday, May 21, 2012

Movie of the Week – Paths of Glory

This Week’s Movie is Paths of Glory (1957).

The WWI film is about a company French soldiers who refuse to continue an impossible attack on a Prussian stronghold. Their superiors contend to make an example of them by executing a member of each of three platoons. The company commander, Col. Dax, seeing the injustice of this punishment, decides to defend them at their court martial. It is the second great film from writer-director Stanley Kubrick, who worked with composer Gerald Fried (for the second time in a row – he also scored The Killing), and German cinematographer George Krause and art director Ludwig Reiber. It stars Kirk Douglas (who also produced the film, and this is the first of his two collaborations with Kubrick – the second being Spartacus). It is probably his greatest performance of his career (and certainly the best film). Paths of Glory plays as one of the great anti-war films, attacking the sheer absurdity of soldiers being ordered to their deaths for no reason. It casts the soldiers on the front as a scattered array of everyday Joes, while those in high command sit comfortably in luxury, frivolously disregarding them (alive or dead). It is a striking blow to the idea of patriotism, and yet it also promotes the perseverance of the human spirit – the ability to ‘soldier on’. It is one of the most affecting and powerful films and a must-see for fans of human dramas. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Friday, May 18, 2012

Essential Songs of 2012: Part 2 – Music Spotlight – May 2012

Artist: Ab-Soul Song: ILLuminate Producer(s): Skhye Hutch Featuring: Kendrick Lamar Album: Control System

Artist: Animal Kingdom Song: Strange Attractor Producer(s): Animal Kingdom Featuring: N/A Album: The Looking Away

Artist: A$AP Rocky Song: Goldie Producer(s): Hit-Boy Featuring: N/A Album: LongLiveA$AP

Artist: B.o.B Song: Out of My Mind Producer(s): Dr. Luke & Billboard Featuring: Nicki Minaj Album: Strange Clouds

Artist: Kanye West, Pusha T & Big Sean Song: I Don’t Like Remix Producer(s): Young Chop Featuring: Chief Keef & Jadakiss Album: GOOD Music - Promo

Artist: Purity Ring Song: Obedear Producer(s): Corin Roddick & Megan James Featuring: N/A Album: Shrines

Artist: Redgrave Song: Dick Moves Producer(s): Angie Mead & Stephen Howard Featuring: N/A Album: National Act

Artist: Reks Song: Straight, No Chaser Producer(s): Statik Selektah Featuring: Slaine Album: Straight, No Chaser

Artist: The Shins Song: Simple Song Producer(s): James Mercer & Greg Kurstin Featuring: N/A Album: Port of Morrow

Artist: Soundgarden Song: Live to Rise Producer(s): Soundgarden Featuring: N/A Album: Avengers Assemble: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reks – Straight, No Chaser (2012) – Review

Review: Boston MC Reks is back with his fourth studio album Straight, No Chaser. There was a lot of anticipation for this release (me included), as his last album Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme was excellent, and one of the best hip hop albums of 2011. For this record, Reks works exclusively with Boston producer Statik Selektah (who has collaborated with Rek’s in the past), giving the album a uniform sound – being one of a classic hip hop record (in many cases, this sounds like something that could have come out in the early 2000s or late 1990s). Lyrically, Reks delivers a very personal message of getting by – against the odds and in a world that is not necessarily fair. Reks is all about promoting a positive message with his music, and is not boastfully talking about money and woman over everything. But, he does boast about his skills as an MC, as he rightfully should. His flow is wonderful. Compared to his last release, Straight, No Chaser does not have as an impressive guest list or group of producers, as it is almost completely a Boston hip hop album (producer Statik Selektah and guests like Termanology, Kali and Slaine), though Action Bronson is featured on the track Riggs & Murtaugh. That said, it is still a very good release and well worth checking out for fans of the more classic hip hop sound. The title track featuring Slaine is brilliant, and the standout. Issue wise, the album drags a bit in the latter half with a few weaker tracks. Overall though, it is a great record. 4/5

Editor’s Essential Tracks:
1)      Straight, No Chaser – Featuring Slaine, produced by Statik Selektah
2)      Parenthood – Produced by Statik Selektah
3)      Sins – Featuring Alias, produced by Statik Selektah

Available on CD and Digital Download

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wes Anderson – Movies Spotlight – May 2012

Wes Anderson, 42, is known for his eccentric and quirky style, influencing many of America’s new auteur (and non-auteur) filmmakers emerging in the 2000s. Anderson, like many auteurs, writes, directs and produces his films, and has an almost overzealous attention to detail – crafting the mise en scene of every frame to look exactly right. This month he has a new film that he is directing, producing and co-wrote with Roman Coppola called Moonrise Kingdom. While it stars newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the supporting cast is brilliant featuring Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and frequent collaborators Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It is about two young people that run away from a small New England town, causing the grownups to form a search party to look for them (here is the trailer).

Early Career:

Anderson got his start while attending the University of Texas at Austin. While in school, he made friends with the Wilson brothers (Owen, Luke and Andrew), and made a short with them called Bottle Rocket. They took the short to Sundance, where it was screened and noticed by producers James L. Brooks and Polly Platt. Brooks and Platt brought Anderson and Owen Wilson to Hollywood and commissioned them to write a feature based on the short, giving birth to Anderson’s feature directorial debut (also called) Bottle Rocket. It was a box office failure, but critics began to take notice of Anderson’s talent and unique cinematic style. Most notable among these positive critics is Martin Scorsese who named the film among his ten favorite from the 1990s. Thus, despite the commercial shortcomings of Bottle Rocket, Anderson had carved a niche for himself as an indie art-film director, with cult/pop culture appeal.

Style and Influences:

Wes Anderson films are easily recognizable due to the director’s individual style. Anderson has listed animator Bill Melendez (who worked on Charles Shultz’s Charlie Brown), Shultz, Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut (and really a lot of the French New Wave filmmakers), and Hal Ashby as his major influences – and a lot of their works shows up in his (many times in direct reference). He is a director who explicitly cares about every facet of his films, from the overall aesthetic and thematic look all the way down to the minute detail of which font print material should be presented in (typically Futura). He has a very theatrical style, often breaking the fourth wall visually by drawing attention to how the camera is moving, the significant and highly stylized action blocking, and/or to the artistic touch of a shot or scene – he likes to use wide-angel anamorphic lens, take/double take shots, slow-motion tracking shots, lots of background action, and logistically astounding ‘virtuoso’ shots. The theatre itself plays a role in his films, with stage productions occurring within the films and the use of curtains to signify the beginning or end of chapters in the narrative. Anderson continues to use the same players and filmmaking collaborators on his films (for example, of his seven films including Moonrise Kingdom, Bill Murray has appeared in six, director of photography Robert Yeoman has shot six, and Owen Wilson has co-written and/or appeared in six, and there are many others who have appeared in or worked on two or more). He also constantly plays with the same themes: a broken family circle, someone who was once great but is now in decline, adults who act like children, and more. Anderson often uses a color pallet with subdued washed out colors (especially lots of yellows). And, he infuses his films with brilliant soundtracks, generally made up of British rock from the 1960s and 1970s, but some French pop has started to find its way into his work (probably due to his living in Paris). All these aesthetic and thematic trends across his work make them feel familiar, to an extent that fans know exactly what to expect when they see ‘A Wes Anderson Film’. His films are funny (with wonderfully dry wit) and sad (as many of his characters are quite melancholy), and while they fall under criticism for the role of director being highlighted over the narrative and characters this is more an attack on Anderson not fitting into the general narrative filmmaking style than a comment on the quality of his films (as they are all very good). He is an extraordinarily ambitious filmmaker, in which every element is specifically done to fit both the style and overall narrative of each film. He is truly one of America’s great auteurs.

Rushmore to Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Films of Wes Anderson:

After finishing Bottle Rocket, Anderson decided that he wanted to have complete control over every creative aspect of his films, thus he needed to not only write and direct them he also needed to produce them. He set up American Empirical Pictures as his production company. The new company’s first film was 1998’s Rushmore. Originally set up to be distributed by New Line Cinema, co-writers Anderson and Owen Wilson put the film up for auction, having not come to an agreement over budget. Joe Roth the chair at Walt Disney made them an offer they agreed too and the film went into production. Wilson and Anderson wanted to create a feeling to the story of a Roald Dahl children’s book, but still have a slight edge to it. Max Fisher, the film’s protagonist, was modeled on an amalgamation of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and he attends a prep school similar to the ones that both the Wilsons and Anderson had attended in Texas. Starring Jason Schwartzman (launching his career), Bill Murray (serving as an indie resurgence for his) and Olivia Williams, the film opened to critical acclaim. Anderson won Best Director at the 1999 Independent Spirit Awards, while Murray took home Best Supporting Actor. For their next project, Anderson and Wilson co-wrote The Royal Tenebaums, influenced in part by the novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The film stars Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson (with Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in support), and was another critical hit of Anderson, as well as a surprise box office hit. Wilson and Anderson were nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the film. To date, it is the last film that Anderson wrote with Wilson – some saying that without Wilson Anderson’s work is less grounded. The Royal Tenenbaums is often considered his best film (but, my favorite is Rushmore). With the box office success of his last film, Anderson amassed a much bigger budget than usual a set out to make (an epic of sorts in) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which he co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. The film stars Bill Murray as a formally great oceanographer and adventurer who goes on one last expedition to find a mythical shark that ate his best friend and kill it. The film is brilliant (at least I think so) – wildly ambitious and strange. Anderson makes what amounts to an action adventure in which characters are melancholy, deadpan and seemingly totally disconnected from the reality in which they exist. Of course, the film was met with mixed reviews and poor box office receipts. However, I contend that the film will long be remembered and held in acclaim (above many other films from 2004, which was a good year, especially for genre films) – plus, Murray is fantastic in it. For his next project, Anderson decided to make a short film in Paris. Hotel Chevalier stars Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (who Anderson recruited through his business side producing partner Scott Rudin, who is probably the best indie film producer in Hollywood). It took two days to shoot in the Hotel Raphael. While editing the film, Anderson realized that Schwartzman’s character closely resembled a character in a new script he was writing and decided to combine both projects (as sort of a part 1 and part 2). Hotel Chevalier was met with much acclaim both for the film (and Anderson’s directing) and for Portman’s performance. Part two became The Darjeeling Limited, which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola and Schwartzman. It stars Owen Wilson, Schwartzman and Adrien Brody, as three brothers who reconnect on a spiritual journey through India. Anderson wanted to make a film in India to pay tribute to his love of the films of Satyajit Ray, and has also stated that Jean Renoir’s The River and Louis Malle’s documentaries on India were major influences on the film. The film opened to mostly critical praise and is called his most mature film as a writer (it is my favorite film of 2007). Anderson’s 2009 film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, began in 2004 as a stop-motion collaboration between himself and Henry Selick (who had worked on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), but the studio the picture was set up at folded and Selick left to direct Coraline. Co-written by Noah Baumbach, based on the Roald Dahl story and starring George Clooney and Meryl Streep, the film marked Anderson’s first non-live-action film. However, to give it a naturalistic sound to the voice performances, Anderson recorded the dialogue outside with the actors playing their characters. The film is one of Anderson’s best reviewed films, universally loved by the industries top critics. It was nominated for Best Animated film at the 2010 Oscars. What I like about Anderson’s films is that he expects viewers to have a strong knowledge of cinema (its history, filmmakers and how films are made, the process and aesthetic choices), as if he were making them for people who love and live cinema.

Commercials and Producing:

Anderson has produced all but one of his own films, and he also produced 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, written and directed by his co-writer of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (and subsequently Fantastic Mr. Fox) Noah Baumbach. The film was met with critical acclaim and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination (it, along with The Darjeeling Limited, is among my favorite 25 films from the past decade). He also helped friend Sofia Coppola cast Bill Murray in her film Lost in Translation (credited with a ‘thanks’). While Anderson is best known for directing features, he also has a successful commercial reel. In 2007 directed a few commercials for AT&T as part of their ‘Your Seamless World’ campaign (Reporter; Actor). Next, he starred and directed an American Express ‘My Life, My Card’ commercial with Jason Schwartzman (here). It is a great commercial for fans of Anderson, as it feels like a spoof both of his films and his perceived personality. In 2008, he directed a SoftBank (a Japanese cell phone) commercial with Brad Pitt, inspired by Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (here). Recently, he directed a few commercials for the Hyundai Azera (Modern Life, which I particularly like, and Talk to My Car).

Wes Anderson Career Highlights:

1)      Bottle Rocket (1996) – director, writer (Blu-ray, DVD)
2)      Rushmore (1998)* – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD)
3)      The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)* – director, writer, producer (DVD, Streaming)
4)      The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)* – director, writer, producer (DVD, Streaming)
5)      The Squid and the Whale (2005)* – producer (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited (2007)* – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks